Monday, December 19, 2011

Chameleon Reunion - 12/10-2011

Ray Brown organized a reunion show, held Saturday the 10th, of performers from the Chameleon days, the period from 1989 to 1991 when Lach oversaw an open mic that was a precursor to what emerged at Sidewalk a few years later. The Chameleon was located practically next door to Sidewalk, on Sixth Street, just East of Sidewalk.

It's clear from talking to Ray and also from listening to the performers the other night, that they all felt the time at Chameleon was vital and special, much the way many of us felt whenever we entered Sidewalk for the first time and thought we'd discovered a secret universe of musical joy.

It was nice to have a chance to connect with the specific vibe of the Chameleon through the folks who played the reunion. Remarkably they all seemed fit and good looking. I don't know if Ray decided to book based on who still looked good, but the Chameleon folks have held up well. As for the music, well..my notes of Saturday's show are kind of a mish-mash, but one thing that stood out is the quirky humor that was threaded through each set. Dave Keener's song Moist, Tender, and Flaky for example, is a very funny comic anthem about what a guy expects from a relationship.

I don't know why this humorous strain in the songs would surprise me. In fact it kind of reminded me of the humor that I found at Sidewalk and identified with from the very beginning. It was interesting, though, in any event, to see this as an antecedent to what I found when I arrived years later.

Dave Keener reminded us that the Chameleon was not all about music but also showcased numerous standup comics. He read a series of jokes by Danny DeVito (not the actor, but the comic now known as Danny Vermont). Dave also brought on Tom Keener-who I assume is his brother-to perform Christmas in Brooklyn. And Dave also did a song with Dave Foster, who lots of folks know through Bubble, which I saw when they played the Beatles album Revolver live in its entirety.

Mark Humble read a note from Lach--or at least something he said came from Lach--it seemed very Lachesque anyway--a story about the legend of Kwanicamas--the all purpose holiday celebration. Mark played a long set with a mixture of touching and funny songs.

Something I noticed about both these guys and about James Graham whose set I only caught a bit of--is that they both are excellent guitarists. It's not that they were playing flashy solos or anything, but they used what seemed to me more interesting chord voicings than most of the Sidewalk regulars and played with taste and a nice touch.

Thank You Mary was Ray Brown's band with James Graham and Cybele Merrick. They played a very short set that included "I Want You to Drink Wine with Me"--actually that's not the title, but according to Ray it was a song he wrote in High School "You Can Rock Me' and a rendition of "Those Were the Days" (yes, the Those Were the Days we all know). There was a song in there that was kind of a punky patter song that I liked a lot--"Beg Me." And one about he wind blowing...."that's what it usually does." I wish Thank You Mary had played a little longer so I could have gotten more of the sense of where they were coming from, but I was still glad I got the chance to hear them.

Unfortunately I missed the early part of the show, which included sets by Ray and by James Graham. I'm sure that Ray was as brilliant as always. And I was intrigued by what I did hear of James at the tail end of his set and when he played with Thank You Mary.

When Ray first came back to "the scene" we talked a lot about the Chameleon Days. One of my questions was "whatever happened to these folks." At this point I wonder that too about some of the performers I've met who came through Sidewalk with burning energy but then eventually moved on. It seems as if many of the Chameleon folks have continued with their creative endeavors but in different contexts--I know some of these guys live out of town now. And I assume it's the same with others who have moved on from Sidewalk. In any event it was nice to connect with this encapsulated part of the scene's heritage.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Times Article on Jeffrey Lewis

I figured a major New York Times article on an artist with a deep Sidewalk connection was reason enough to bring this blog out of its slumber, at least temporarily. The Times has a big article on Jeffrey Lewis, who even years after having expanded his artistic horizons in many directions beyond 6th and A maintains his connections to the community there. The article touches on Jeff's history with Sidewalk, but also talks about how even though his career proceeds on a modest scale, through a disciplined and smart approach he manages to make a decent living.

Congrats Jeff. It's nice to see someone who is genuinely talented and who also seems basically grounded get some strong recognition. However, I'll be interested to hear if Jeff thinks the article is accurate. It seems to hit the main points that I know about, but I wonder how Jeff feels about being described as a "professional-grade neurotic." How are those grades determined exactly? Are there City inspectors for that sort of thing--the same guys who do the restaurants, maybe?

Enjoy the article.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New York Folk Festival Strikes Back

The article on the Antifolk Fest that ran in the New York Times's Arts Beat blog generated the following comment from Ted Geier:


Ted Geier
Queens, NY
September 29th, 2011
12:08 pm

I have seen the story about the New York Folk Festival rejecting these gentlemen repeated in various media by the founders of the Antifolk Festival. To set the record straight, I am confident they never approached our Festival, which I produced from its founding in 1981 to final season in 1987. The Festival was in part dedicated to expanding the definition of folk, and was similar in its programming to what these guys are doing, featuring street performer shows, blues, soul, punk, jazz, funk, singer-songwriters, and rock, as well as traditional and modern "folk musicians," in venues as diverse as Times Square, Prospect Park. I think we were gone before they started, and I don't think we were "folk music snobs." Finally, I don't believe there was ever a "New York CITY Folk Festival," but I could be wrong on that one. In sum and in my humble opinion, they are doing good stuff and have a good story that doesn't need a villain.

I wanted to air Ted Geier's comments further, especially since I was involved in getting the Times some of the background information for their story. The New York Folk Festival very well may have been as open, progressive, and varied as Mr. Geier reports. And he's right that no villain is needed in this story. I think his comments provide valuable perspective and I'm sure as the producer of the Festival, he is justifiably proud of what he accomplished with it.

However, for better or worse, it does seem from everything I've read, and heard from folks directly involved--that The New York Folk Festival, which was happening at the same time they etablished the first Antifolk Festival, represented to Lach, Kirk Kelly, etc. the more mainstream Folk establishment, which they were reacting against. It's not that they applied to The New York Festival and weren't accepted, but that they felt rejected from the folk scene as a whole [and the Times story is accurate in saying that none of the AF crew were invited to play the NY Fest]. In the end it seems as if the Antifolker preferred doing their own thing anyway.

So, as a matter of history, mentioning The New York Folk Festival is relevant. However, I think it is interesting to see this issue looked at from two sides. Ted Geier feels that he was presenting a diverse and inclusive Fest. The Antifolkers felt it was mainstream and closed. Probably both sides have some validity. And it definitely is worth being reminded that more often than not shades of grey are more prevalent than black and white in any two (or more) - sided issue.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Antifolk Festival Ends with Blackout Night, 9-25-2011

There are times when I can't explain even to myself what it is that draws me to focus so intently on Sidewalk Cafe. But there are other times when moments of such beauty, grace, and plain fun occur that I can't understand how the rest of the world lives without it.

The last night of the Antifolk Festival provided some of those more awe-inspiring moments. The atmosphere had something to do with it. Sunday was blackout night, which meant that everyone performed without amplification and the room was lit only with candles. Because the performances were unamplified, most of the audience was clustered up front, and it felt a bit like everyone was gathered around a campfire. I missed some of the early sets, but Ray Brown's show in particular provided numerous moments of soulful charm. Ray's songs are deeply emotional, often on unexpected--sometimes harsh-subject matter. His melodies and voice are rich and interesting. In particular I've grown fond recently of his song about an infatuation at Catweazle. On Sunday, Morgan Heringer, sang with Ray from her seat in the audience near the stage on a couple of songs, and something about the sound and vibe, especially the laid back, spontaneous feel of the whole experience was really transcendent. As a little zinger, Ray ended his set with a kind of medley of "I Don't Know How to Love Him," and "Oh Happy Day." 'That's it Ray--throw us off base.' After the frankness of some of his other songs, testaments to Jesus weren't exactly what I was expecting--but we all loved it anyway--and sang along.

There were many other nice moments last night. In particular Rachel Devlin brought us to some ecstatic high points on a couple songs with Dan, and they did a nice cover of Crazy and the Brains's 'Sexy Magazine.'Debe Dalton closed things off. Debe was back on banjo-- Never can get enough of her and it was a nice way to close out the Antifolk Festival. As Debe sang her last song Ben blew out all the candles on stage.

I felt a lot of community spirit throughout the week. For one, three or four of the nights were organized by individual folks from the scene. And then I saw lots of people who came out to shows on many or most of the nights. Congrats and thanks to Ben Krieger for organizing a great week--and for keeping our little world of creativity and fun on track.

By the way, it looks as if I never posted here the link to Myron the Magnificent's video guide to the Antifolk Festival:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpTZr8iLdMU

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Antifolk Festival

Yeah, I guess I've been ignoring this blog a bit.- But I've had lots of fun at the last few Monday nights, even stayed all the way through tea the other night, which may be only the third or possibly fourth time I've done that. Seen some fun and nutty things lately....like Chris Faroe's impromptu concerto with cell phones and voice mail messages. Anyway, there is lots going on, what with the upcoming Antifolk Festival and all. I think it's one of the better schedules in a long time, with a diverse range of artists from all eras of the Antifolk scene. Kirk Kelly, who was there at the beginning with Lach will play, then people from every period in between. There are many acts I'm looking forward to...Anyway, I helped write up a press release for the event, and also Gina Mobilio wrote a nice advance piece about the Fest for American Songwriter. Recognizing this is a bit of a cop out to defer to those pieces, but they do have all the info. If you go to the actual link for the American Songwriter article, you can see the conversation it has generated about Antifolk.

(I tried posting the text of the release and article in this blog post, but something went haywire with the formatting--I'll have to straighten it out later, but the links will take you to the referenced information.

http://sidewalkmusic.net/Antifolk%20Festival%20Fall%202011%20Release.pdf

http://www.americansongwriter.com/2011/09/jeffrey-lewis-discusses-the-fall-2011-antifolk-fest/

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Monday Night Open Mic, August 29, 2011

It was a good one. Hamster Rap (by Neesa Sunar) ruled.

Now available: chess boards in the back room.

Good to see all the folks, old-timers and new.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Opening Night, August 10. 2011

Dad's Rec Room.
Colorado Ski Lodge
Howard Johnson's Hotel Lobby, 1974
College Rathskellar, also 1974

These are a few of the ways the new interior of Sidewalk's backroom was described at its opening Wednesday. Yes, the music room does have quite a rustic feel to it now. The walls are lined with wide boards that evidently come from an old barn. And the rest of the decor has a rough hewn feel, almost like a self-conscious imitation of a country breakfast restaurant.

After all the anticipation the truth is, it really doesn't matter. The basic layout of the room is the same as it was. There are plenty of benches built in all around the walls, and tables in the center--just like the old days---plus a new stage that is bigger than the old one. As soon as the lights went down and Ben got up and started doing his schtick, it was just like Sidewalk as usual.

Although it felt like a regular open mic, it wasn't really because most of the acts in the early part of the evening had been selected by Ben to represent different eras of Sidewalk Cafe-dom. I don't know how I ended up first on the bill for the night except that I had a show scheduled for the next day--but I kicked things off with nervous renditions of a couple of my songs. There were too many others to go into lots of detail on them all, but the bill included folks like: Erin Regan, Howard Hughes, Phoebe Kreutz, Adam Green, Bible Gun, Debe Dalton, Steve Stavola, Brooke Pridmore, Sam Grossman, Prewar Yardsale, Bendix, Morgan Heringer, Dan Penta, Jon Berger, Dan and Rachel, Bernard King Presents, Elizabeth Devlin, Rav Shmuel, Charles Mansfield, Emily Hope Price, Albert Goold, Emily Einhorn, Rick Patrick, M. Lamar, Jim Flyn, JJ Hayes, Jen Kaplan. I left at 1 a.m., and I'm still trying to find out what Jason Trachtenberg did that got everyone so worked up at the end of the night (he arrived after I left).

I played a show on Thursday night and the best thing I can say about the sound system is that I didn't notice it. In other words of all the things I had to think about, whether I could hear myself on stage wasn't one of them. I think it will take some time to assess that new system but from what I can see so far, it's a big improvement over what was there previously. There's also a new lighting rig and all new lighting instruments. The thicket of random wires that used to snake around the ceiling is gone--as is the old disco light. The mirror ball remains. All the keys on the piano work and the music stand there is back.

The rest of the place has, of course, also been upgraded and although the main dining area wasn't yet open, the bar was going full tilt. I don't know how all the young, attractive folks hanging out there got the idea to come by on the first night, but the place was already busy.

I guess I'm kind of glad that the restaurant's decor--although definitely clean, modern and brushed up, features some odd and incongrous choices. It will carry on the tradition. After all, what the heck were those two large playing cards painted on the wall near the old entrance all about? And the random skeletons all over the place. Some day the new sliding barn door into the ladies room and the wine label wall paper in the bathrooms will stand out the same way.

All that said, Sidewalk's owners deserve credit for investing in their restaurant, including the back room. In general the spiffed up new joint is an improvement all around.

Congrats to Ben for keeping us all together over the last 5 months and for working on getting the back room up to speed. And to Brian for planning and installing the great new sound system. It was good to be back. It was good to see Ben behind the board and Debe in her rightful place. It was good to see Berger storming all over the stage and into the audience, and it was even good to face the wall while playing the piano. Our little clubhouse is up to speed again. See you there soon.

See you all at the Sidewalk.

Pictures to come....soon....

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Last Night and Tonight

Hey There-Yeah, Sidewalk reopened last night. The most remarkable thing was how normal it seemed to be there. Everyone just fell into their groove. Anyway, I was there and I took a lot of pictures and have more to say and I will have lots of stuff up as soon as possible. The delay, however, is partially due to this little show I'm playing tonight.

I'm so excited to be playing with the guys in the band again. We've worked out some really fun stuff and I hope you can be there.

The Key Lime Pie Revue Reunion
Sidewalk Cafe
Tonight, August 11, 2011
9 p.m.
Also on the evening's bill: Elastic No-No Band, Steve Stavola, comedy from Jack Dishel, Debe Dalton

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Web Sites-A-Poppin

The sidewalk music calendar went up today on Ben Krieger's sidewalkmusic.net site, and Sidewalk the restaurant launched its own site at sidewalkny.com. It's good to have these sites up, finally, like 'whew, things are back to normal.' There's a full list of performers up for the Sidewalk stage, showing in a new easy-to-read calendar format, and, although the restaurant's site doesn't have too much info, it does have the complete menu. While the food choices are almost entirely new (so long to my veggie penne) it has the same kind of feel as what was available at the old Sidewalk with a variety of moderately priced sandwich, salad, and breakfast choices as well as a selection of entrees. I was a little worried for a second that Sidewalk was trying to go upscale on us, but honestly the menu seems to offer a good range of selections, and while the prices of things have gone up a little bit, for the most part they seem pretty fair. There are many fewer choices altogether--for example no more omelettes, no more nachos, no falafel, no black bean burger (but Jon Berger gets to keep his Chicken Schnitzel).

There's a clear link from the restaurant site to the music site, but I wonder if having two separate sites isn't a little confusing for the end user than if it all had been integrated into one overall Sidewalk site--or at least if the sites looked as if they were related.

Well, I hope word is getting around about tomorrow night's opening celebration. I'll bet it will be a fun one. See you there.

Sidewalk All-Star Extravaganza - Wednesday

Here are the details regarding Sidewalk's Opening Celebration tomorrow night. It's a nice bill of folks, and I'M looking forward to the show, but I assume people will also be coming by to check out the new joint and try some of the paper-baked tilapia. I wonder if they got the Debe Dalton plaque back in place. And, ahem, a reminder that some of us are playing later in the week, like even the following night (scroll down the page for details). See you Wednesday.

Sidewalk Opening Celebration
Wednesday, August 10 at 7:00pm - Thursday at 12:00am
Sidewalk Cafe, 94 Avenue A at 6th Street

An army of artists from the NYC antifolk scene celebrate the second coming of Sidewalk. Each perform will play 2 songs, open mike-style, and then we'll open up the stage for a one song wonder round that will go until it ends or they kick us out. To sign up for the one song wonder round, just show up and see Ben at the sound booth.

Performances in the first part by (in no particular order):

Emily Hope Price
Bible Gun
Prewar Yardsale
Phoebe Kreutz
Steve Espinola
Rav Shmuel
Dan Costello
Emily Einhorn
Brook Pridemore
Sam Grossman
Jack Dishel
Charles M
Erin Regan
Dan Penta
Morgan Heringer
Mr. Patrick
MMM
Joe Bendik
M Lamar
Bernard King
Debe Dalton
Give to Light (Andrew H)
Elizabeth Devlin
Jon Berger

Each artist will perform two songs. An open 1-SONG WONDER ROUND will follow at 11pm til late.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wrapping Up at Tribes - Back to Avenue A

Although I wasn't entirely crazy about the vibe (and certainly not the smoke) at Gallery of Tribes, I do think it's impressive that Ben managed to keep the Sidewalk culture alive and thriving there during the months that Sidewalk itself was closed for renovations. Unfortunately I had to be out of town for the final night at Tribes, but I gather it was a fun evening. I WAS there for the second to the last Monday and finally found myself connecting to that old 'you just don't know what's going to happen" feeling that has been a defining part of the Sidewalk experience at its best. It was a fun and slightly wacky night. Morgan Heringer and Ray Brown filled in for Ben who, one imagines, was home with his newborn. Morgan seemed to take most of the MCing responsibility and although she was hesitant at first, things started to flow after a while. Jen Kaplan cracked me up with her explicit tales of dating life which also inspired a brief audience colloquy about certain expressive practices of interrelating.

Anyway, I'm getting off the topic. We're getting close to Sidewalk's reopening and information about the new place is coming out in dribs and drabs. The most specific details so far have come out in the following article in the Village Voice online.

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2011/08/sidewalk_cafe_r.php#more

There are several interesting points here, including that Sidewalk has hired a publicist. It really cannot hurt to have people who know what they're doing help with promotion. But I hope that the publicists are tying into the most notable and newsworthy factors of the Sidewalk story. I would be thrilled if the "housemade potato chips," "paper-baked mustard tilapia" and "rustic hanging lanterns" help Sidewalk achieve great press. But to my mind what Sidewalk has going for it that other places don't is a deep subculture of artistic expression that despite its small size physically has had a large impact in the City's arts world. While I gather the music activity at Sidewalk pays off for the restaurant, its owners and managers still deserve credit for nurturing this shaggy scene for so many years. I have always gotten the sense that their heart is in it.

When Sidewalk opened in the 1980s, the East Village was filled with similar places--informal, cheap restaurants, patronized by the young artists and striving New York newcomers who moved to the area when it still was on the edge. In recent years Sidewalk has been one of the few remaining throwbacks to that time. I gather until the current renovations relatively little had changed at all since it opened, so in recent years it was easy to get the feel of the old East Village, just by entering. It's great that Sidewalk is being updated--it was about time really. No matter what though, I'm sure that I will always value Sidewalk for fostering artists and for its connection to the old East Village. I hope that Sidewalk's publicists see the value in telling the story of how the power of the Sidewalk community is so strong that it stayed entact over 5 months, waiting to return in full force to Avenue A. In the meantime, I'll look forward to trying some crème brulée French toast.

By the way, it would be great if we could see the schedule of upcoming shows. Some of them--mine included--are coming up soon.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Key Lime Pie Reunion and Birthday Blowout, Sidewalk Cafe, August 11

Hey Folks-We've heard your demands. The Key Lime Pie Revue will be back on stage performing all its chart-toppers and funky favorites on August 11 at Sidewalk Cafe. Come check out the new and improved Sidewalk and help with a birthday blowout too! The Key Lime Pie Revue is Ariel Bitran, Trudy Williams, George Boziwick, Marc Steve, and Herb Scher. Dance captain is Jon Berger.

Key Lime Pie Revue
Reunion
Thursday, August 11, 9 p.m.
94 Avenue A at 6th Street
No cover, drink minimum

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sidewalk/Darwin/Caged Animals

Despite the international news blackout on the subject, I think I am safe in letting you know that the Sidewalk is reopening in August after its five-month renovation. I'm looking forward to seeing what they've done with the old place.

In the meantime Darwin Deez's song Radar Detector is still playing in my head after seeing Darwin and the band play a headlining show to a full house at the Bowery Ballroom last (Friday) night. Darwin also brought along friends like Vin Caccione whose new group Caged Animals opened.

I'm sure the last time I saw Darwin was at Sidewalk, maybe even at a Monday open night. His songs have the same feel as they did back then when he played solo with his homemade backing tracks. Several of the songs are based around guitar riffs that have a light funk feel. But what I hadn't seen was the shape of Darwin's full-length show. Threaded through the performance are some goofy moments, including four or five breaks in which the band performs choreographed dances to recorded tracks. There was also a side trip into rap, and a tune that evolves into a cover of You Can Call Me Al. It's not exactly that Darwin and his band don't take themselves seriously, because I think they really do, but there's a spirit of humor running through the show that adds to its enjoyment. Some of Darwin's songs--particularly Radar Detector and Constellations are infectiously catchy. I really have to congratulate Darwin for where he's gotten with his music. He's getting to perform his stuff for large audiences around the world and it's great to see. It was good to have a chance to say hello to him last night and to see the other Sidewalk folks who were on hand. One of Darwin's partners in playing is our friend Andrew Hoepfner who has been touring with Darwin, most recently on guitar. Andrew seemed to be having a great time on stage last night as did the rest of the group.

It was also exciting to see Vin Caccione along with Magali Charron and his sister Tayla (and a drummer I didn't know) open for Darwin in their group Caged Animals. Vin and his folks were playing rock infused with the sound of electronically processed instruments, a much different sound than Vin's group Soft Black. They reached a high point in the last song of the night when Vin brought things up to a boiling guitar crescendo and the two women sang in a kind of gloriously climactic moment. Vin has a 7 inch disk out on white vinyl that he was selling at the show.

Glad to say it: See you at the Sidewalk.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It was so nice to see everyone yesterday at the Fourth of July spectacular at Goodbye Blue Monday. It feels like it's been forever since there's been a big event that has drawn a large cross section of the community, but I had that great feeling when I arrived yesterday of walking into a place where the vibe of groovy friendship was strong. It was fabulous to see people like Matt, Nan, Dan, Rachel, Brian, Elizabeth, Annabel Lee, Debe, Doug, Isaac, Uchenna, Jen, JJ, Joe Crow, Jon, Brook, Erin, Dan, Erin, Brer, Brent, Mark, Gina, Ray, Adam, Madison, Josh, Ben, Justin, Barry, Amos, Michael, Jason, TPM, Charles, Reginald, Scott, Vin, Luke, Mike, Morgan, Betsy, Mary, and....(yeah, I know I'm probably forgetting someone important...sorry if it's you).

Goodbye Blue Monday has really spruced itself up recently and the backyard area now is a very comfortable place to sit and schmooze with people. So comfortable in fact that I think I did more schmoozing then concentrated music listening. The barbecue that was going on out there was a nice touch too. But there definitely was lots of energy in the performances that were swirling around in the front stage and in the backyard space. Among the performances, most notable for me was seeing Debe Dalton play a set for the first time after her recuperation from her finger injury. Debe played the dojo instead of the banjo, and her show also included the reading of some poetry by Walt Whitman.

So, congrats to Brian and Dan for organizing a great show!

I also managed to stop in briefly at Scapegrace for Sexual Independence Day. It's the first Fourth of July event I've attended that featured dildo-making and naked body painting (along with a backyard kiddie pool and a barbecue). I was glad to get to hear Susan Hwang and Julie Delano, both among my favorite performers, alternate songs in a short set. I believe that Jacinta Mack and Yoko Kikuchi were the main organizers of the event. It was kind of cool that there were two interesting functions going on that involved people connected to the same community. I hope they both continue next year, but if so, maybe the organizers can communicate and find a way to stagger things so more people can go to both...especially since the locations are so close.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wakey Wakey

Hey- I came across this interview with Michael Grubbs/Wakey Wakey. Michael played Sidewalk lots way back when...maybe 2005/6-ish or so. In the course of the interview he also mentions Andrew and Creaky Boards...

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/wakey-wakey/video/interview_1002773.html

Now that I'm poking around I see Mike has an occasional role on One Tree Hill too where he gets to play some of his songs and also make out with good looking actresses...I had no idea.

By the way, if you haven't checked out the Wolfgang's Vault site, it's kind of amazing what you can find there. Tons of free concert recordings and live videos. Especially strong in 1960s/70s acts like The Who, Stones, CSNY, Hendrix, etc...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Weather Sucks!

Really, I just had to say this. Will I see you at Morgan Herringer and Isaac Gillespie's show tonight at Cake Shop? Maybe so.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What's A Scene Without a Home

Is a scene still a scene if it has no home? In the last week or two I've attended the Monday Night in Exodus at A Gathering of Tribes as well as shows at Brooklyn Tea Party, Project Parlor and Goodbye Blue Monday, all of which featured performers and audience members drawn from our world at Sidewalk.

It's interesting although a little abstract to think about what a "scene" actually is if it has no central nucleus. While it is comforting to see familiar faces at the various places where things are happening currently, Sidewalk has until now been the feeder system for the broader network, continually bringing in new creative energy that eventually flows out through other tributaries. I wonder whether the basic tribe would stay connected without Sidewalk there to kind of link us all together. Hard to say.

I may have given up on the Monday night in Exodus at Tribes merely because of the smokiness of the place. While I like the whole open vibe of that space, I really was not happy to be reminded of the days when smoking was common in bars and clubs and you would get home with all your clothes infused with that smell.

Joe Crow's day long extravaganza celebrating his new vinyl release started in the afternoon at Project Parlor a laid back bar in Bushwick with a nice backyard, which is where the performances were held. It would have been nicer if the weather had cooperated better--I think it was in the 30s or low 40s about the whole time. Joe Crow brought in a few groups who he knew from hanging out at Project Parlor and elsewhere, and regulars like Thomas Patrick Maguire, Justin Remer, Feral Foster, and Myron the Magnificent also performed. It was a fun afternoon.

Things then shifted over to Goodbye Blue Monday where Purple Organ was playing as many of us arrived. Lach, Jordan Levinson, Telethons, Dan and Rachel played, but unfortunately I couldn't stay for most of the sets....I really like GBM's new setup though, which I saw for the first time. It seems a lot more comfortable and the food I ordered was not bad at all. That steel tower in the back is quite a work of engineering. Impressive.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sidewalk Talk Show - with Guest Brian Speaker


Hello and welcome to the online edition of The Sidewalk Talk Show. While these conversations originally were held as live talks from the stage at Sidewalk, during the time that the club is closed and the open mic is being held in exile, we are holding some of these interviews on this site.

My guest today is Brian Speaker, who is involved with the scene surrounding Sidewalk Cafe on many fronts. Brian is a songwriter and performer, proprietor of the music venue Brooklyn Tea Party, and operator of his own recording studio.

Anything else I'm forgetting, Brian?

I think that's a pretty good start.

First off, although I want to talk about a lot of other things, since you originally were going to be in charge of upgrading the sound system and backline at Sidewalk, I wonder if there's anything new to say about what's going on there at the moment in terms of the future of the music activities there.

Well, there is in fact an update. Before Pini got the can, Ben and I spoke in great detail about what the club’s needs were. We made a few lists, one being absolutes, one being upgrades, and one being the dream list. Since that time, many things have gone down regarding the Sidewalk employees and Pini, but the list makes sense to whomever is in charge, and as it was well thought out, it has been seen by the new GM and he agrees with our proposed assessment. We've been approved to go ahead with the negotiated terms we had with Pini.

Well, that's comforting to hear. So, I guess that means that the renovation is proceeding and the intentions are to keep things flowing in the back room.

The back room has long been in need of an overhaul. New clubs like Rockwood, or not so new now a days, are changing the game for live music in small venues in NYC. When I worked at Sidewalk it was always thought that the back room needed a lift, and now, after all of this, it seems we're finally going to get it. It’s not going to be an elite system, but it will be better than most people will be expecting.

Any further sense of how long the process will take from your end or from theirs?

I'm sure that information will find its way to people once the renovations get a little further along. I mean, by the looks of things, the place is being torn apart to the bare bones, to build it back up again. They want to eliminate any low grades from past health or city codes. They want the place to be respectable from the ground up. However long that takes, is up to the construction of the renovations.

Ok, so, now on to other things--Brooklyn Tea Party, the venue that you run from your home in Bushwick [and which has nothing to do with the similar-sounding political group]. I have enjoyed many shows there, and what I especially like is the combination of a party and performance. There's something so enjoyable about the intimate scale of the place and the feeling of hospitality that goes along with the music. I'm wondering, for those who might not be familiar with BTP, if you could give a short run down of its history.

BTP began with Dan Costello, Rachel Devlin, Brook Pridemore and Michael David Campbell. They moved in together with the intent on having a place to practice, perform and party. They built the stage in the living room and put in place the basic touches of wiring and sound so the place could be used for their own music. Later it became a venue, when they started inviting friends to play and perform.

And then how did you get involved?

I moved into BTP in the spring of 2008. Brook was out on tour, as the usual for him those days, and so I began to sublet his room. As I was living there, it was discussed that the other folks were ready to move out come August. The space was and is perfect for my recording studio set up, so Brook and I took over the lease until Brook eventually moved out. Scott Loving moved in sometime before that, and now he and I reside here with his girlfriend, Assylia.

So, it's great that you kept things going with the performances there. One of the things that I like about it is the underground nature of it--I guess really what that means is that yes, you have to know about it from friends, or whatever, but also that no one is really trying to make money from what goes on there. But I know it takes a lot of work for you to put on those shows. Can you talk about why you do this and what your general kind of idea or aesthetic for the place is?

Well, I too want and need a place to practice. It’s great to be able to have The Everybody Knows over in the middle of an afternoon and work on songs, or record an album in an environment where we're not watching the clock. But, first and foremost, I loved this place before I lived here. I got what those guys were doing and I knew coming into this space, it was meant to be used for shows. The vibe is good, the sound has been upgraded since I moved in, and I wanted to keep the place going. When I began doing shows here, it was costing us money, so we cut back shows from two a month to once a month. As the financials of the days began to get worse, we knew we had to make some changes to keep the place going. We began by putting a $5 donation at the door. This ensures we're going to be able to pay the bands something at the end of the night. Then, Scott and I decided to offer cheap beer for a donation in order to put towards our electric bill. That way, we can give the $5 donation tally to the bands, and we have a chance to put a small amount of money towards our bills. It’s not much, but in this day and age, every little bit counts.

Do you have any general overriding concept for the type of shows you put on? Or is it just that you look at who's out there and pick what you think you would like to hear?

Mostly, we want to put shows together that give a bit of variety. I mean, how many times have you been to a show of 5 acts and you can see that same show every month, or every other month? It gets old quick. Mixing and matching is fun, but in the end, Scott and I have to enjoy the night, because it’s our home, our party. We don't put ourselves on the bill at every show like the old guard used to do either. That was important for me to feel like we are doing this for others and enjoying it for ourselves. We also like to put new people on so our audience gets a chance at seeing someone we respect, who might not be very well known.

Are there any shows or moments that stand out as highlights for you either since you've been running BTP or before?

You know Herb, my favorite moments at any show, are those where I literally get lost in the music. It used to happen to me when I would come here before I moved in, and it still happens for me, more often here than anywhere else. I'll climb up to the loft area and sit behind the lights and just transcend. That being said, my favorite performers are the ones that are really, really good at music!

Why, how diplomatic of you, Brian.

But I know what you mean. There are definitely times at BTP where I've gotten totally caught up in the performances.

In my own case I remember some amazing Schwervon! shows, Debe's live concert recording, and the shows of that first July 4 extravaganza (couldn't make it to the second one).


The Fools, Toby Goodshank, Barry Bliss...
Debe's live concert, I just recently mixed and mastered after all this time, and it is truly wonderful!

I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Sometimes the openers are the best part of the night for me. Scott Rudd, Charles Mansfield, Emily Einhorn... I mean these are the beginning of the night and it’s like WOW, where do you go after that?

So, in Ben K's interview he said that he tries to stay aware of what's going on at other venues so as to not program events that will conflict. I have to admit that early on in BTP's history I was not altogether thrilled when they hosted Jeff Lewis on the same night I was playing at Sidewalk (because otherwise I'm sure my show would have been overflowing). I guess this is a little less of an issue now with fewer shows, but how do you feel about this question of "competition" within our community of performers and venues?

In my opinion, its not competition. This is NYC, and this is Brooklyn. You are swimming in a sea of things to do, shows, arts, culture, fireworks. There are always going to be other things going on, and sure, attendance will vary because of that. That being said, BK and I do talk about upcoming shows, but we try not to be concerned too much if someone else is having an event on the same night.

Any specific plans for the future with BTP you'd like to mention or anything else you'd like to say about it?

Yeah, I would like to say, we need community support. We need people to support our shows because, it’s such a fragile thing. The world is in such a financial shut down, and we feel it here. We try to keep this place going, and allow folks to have good nights with great music for not a lot of money. Places are closing down, and we don't want to.

Also, there is a magic that happens here and I don't want that to end. My favorite part of any night is when a performer takes me aside and is awe of what just happened. They thank me and say, when and if they can play here again, they would like to, and that makes me feel great!

Well, you've got a great show coming up this Friday which I'll bet a lot of people will attend: Rebecca Seatle, Crazy & the Brains, Prewar Yardsale--and a special unannounced guest, right?

Yeah, that's this weekend!

Any hints about the special guest???????

It’s going to be fucking amazing!!!

Prewar Yardsale hasn't played together in front of an audience in over one year. It’s like a reunion show.

So... no hints!

Ok--well, I think you summed up the BTP experience well when talking about the magic of the place, and I hope anyone not familiar with it will come out and see for him or herself. I want to move on and talk a little about what you do during the day there--which includes running a full-fledged recording studio, right? I know you recorded The Everybody Knows's album, and Debe's recording, and did some work for Eric Wolfson and others. How are things going with that?

Things are going pretty well. I am making, and helping to make some pretty incredible records. I've recently invested in some new pieces, including a 1959 Wurlitzer electric piano, that is absolutely amazing. And then I have this 1940's electric guitar amp that has such a unique sound. I'm currently looking for an analog tape machine. I've always wanted to be proficient on an analog machine, and now i have the chance to do that. i just have to find the right fit.

Maybe you should tell people about your overall setup.

I run Protools with wave plug-ins, a focusrite octopre, which means I can record 16 tracks simultaneously, and I have a few really nice mics and preamps. My main line is a Neumann U87 microphone through a Universal Audio LA-610 preamp. The live room has a lot of character and we can use the three bedrooms for isolation in recording full bands with very little bleed. You can check out some of the audio samples on the new bandcamp page...http://speakersonic.bandcamp.com/

Brian-when we first met--if you remember way back--it was when Eric Wolfson, Vin Caccione and I disrupted your work by taking over the stage at Sidewalk for a rogue photo shoot while you were maintaining some of the audio equipment there. So as long as I've known you--in addition to performing and running BTP--you seem to have had a fascination with capturing sound--Is there anyway to put into words what it is about this that you find so interesting.

By the way, I think you were pretty pissed off at us. I hope you've forgiven us.


Capturing sound, yes, I do have a fascination with that, but moreso I have a fascination with the sound and its source. When you hear a voice so unique as Julie LaMendola, sailing along in your living room, it’s magic. When you hear the incredible vibe of a Vincent Caccione's guitar leads, when you hear the slippery keys of a Preston Spurlock, or the abrasive smash of the perfrect snare, you want to capture what you hear. You want it to sound on record the way you hear it in your ears and reverberating around in your head. That is truly awesome and I want to capture it!

I vaguely remember that the Sidewalk back then was truly a fucking disaster. The lack of maintenance of their system and the dirt and gunk, made it hard to fix things and to do my job. You guys coming in to disrupt that was also something I learned was part of the gig. 

So, it's not a matter of playing around with cool gear?

Of course its about the gear too! I LOVE gear, but more than anything I LOVE knowing how to use it, and how, when someone tells me what they hear in their head, I can make said thing happen. Sometimes it’s gear, sometimes it’s experiment, sometimes it’s accident, but the sonics must be represented. The process is also the best part.

Well, from what I can tell you've been doing a good job at that. I'm looking forward to hearing more of your work--although  the snippets I heard of The Everybody Knows's album the other night sounded really good.

Also, check out Boo Hoo's record, Afghan Hounds. That is still one of my favorite records to be released that i've ever been involved in.

Cool. I will....So, thanks for hanging on with me through this with all the typing and everything--I'm sure I could go on for a while--but I do at least want to get to your songwriting, especially The Mars Chronicles. You put a ton of work over a long period into creating what is essentially an opera or a musical having to do with exploration of Mars and a cast of characters from earth and space. I think you've presented it in full at least twice with a large cast and a quite lovely sequined costume that you wear. For one, I was suprised to realize that you must have an affinity for musicals to some extent--but in any event can you tell me what inspired you in creating The Mars Chronicles?

The Mars Chronicles began with my song a day project, Spiral Notebook. I guess about 25 songs in, I thought it would be fun to have a story to continue if I felt like it. Also, I was watching the NASA rovers land on Mars. This was big news at the time, so the story was based on the idea that folks have talked about for a long time: "when are we going to Mars?" As the story continued, it took different turns and began to become something in itself. After 13 songs, I had to set the project aside because it was very apparent, it needed its own head space and some time to find the rest of the story. Once I finished Spiral Notebook, I came back to The Mars Chronicles and began performing it as a concert Space Rock Opera. Now, it’s in consideration for the NY Fringe Festival, and I'm working with two partners, Dan Costello and Jason Surratt to try and complete the story so it can be ready for full production by this summer.

So, you guys are writing more songs?

I've written and finished two other songs for the album, which I plan to release sometime later this year as a concept record. There are several other songs that I've written, but Dan and Jason are helping primarily with the story. But, yes, there are going to be several other songs written for the show. In the end, it will be a full length musical/space rock opera for the stage.

So, I recently learned of your involvement as a teenager with a hard rock band that played around at fraternity parties, etc, but did you have any previous experience or interest in using music theatrically. Or did you you secretly spend a lot of time listening to Evita and Cats and stuff as a kid?

After my high school rock band broke up, I was a little lost and in search of something that wasn't going to fall out beneath me. I mean the band breaking up was something i did not want to happen, and I had absolutely no control over. So, being a bit of a choir nerd, I loved singing in our high school shows and such. I began to take voice lessons and even took a role in a community theater show in my home town. I decided to study theater at Purdue University, where I absorbed as much about lights and sound as anything else. I did listen to and learn to sing a lot of rock musical tunes and still love them to this day, but more like Chess, Les Mis and Tommy. On a whim I auditioned for Busch Gardens, Williamsburg and got the job. I spent the spring/summer doing 635 performances as Northrup, a one man, musical magic show in Virginia.

Man-musicals and magic-you and I should go on the road. I'll have to talk to you more offline about the magic stuff.

The magic was the mutli-million dollar theater.

I have to admit that in the past I've had mixed feelings about "rock operas," which is kind of weird in a way since I'm such a big fan of musicals. I've always liked Tommy because I love The Who and I think some of those songs are great, but then again there was a point where some of the stuff that followed Tommy got to be pompous and overbearing-I can't think of any specifics at the moment but you probably know what I'm talking about. But then again I loved Rent, although I consider that more of a musical than an opera. I guess some of the lines are blurring really, but where this is leading is to whether there's anything you can say as to what it is about the form of the piece--the idea of a "rock opera”--that interests you--and also if there are any specific themes in what you've written that you are trying to deal with or if it is just kind of what it seems to be about on the surface. Yikes--a long question....

The Mars Chronicles is about Love and Inter-Galactic Peace on the "surface," but it also has some deep rooted social and political currents that are very much in step with what's going on in our world today. The rest of the show, was always part of the plan. Finding exactly how to say it and where to take it, has been the windfall. Barry Bliss recently asked me if I was ever going to be "finished" with it, or if it was something I would be working on for the rest of my life. I think if you ask anyone today working on, essentially a novel set to music, the word "finished" isn't in the vocabulary for the first five years. Just ask Phoebe Kreutz who has been immersed in a team of writers on her musical which I had the good privilege of seeing in a showcase. Amazing! It’s been years in the works.

I do, however, plan on releasing the record as its own piece, like Tommy was a concept record before it became a "complete show.” But unlike Tommy, The Mars Chronicles was meant to be a full story. I just haven't finished the entire songwriting part of it yet 

Yeah, it would be good to have a recording of it. I'm looking forward to that. Although I'd like to see more performances of it too. I just had a flash of Ariel singing that song about the United Nations Space Organization.. Also that whole press conference section I really like--just to name two parts--Anyway, good luck with the NY Fringe Festival--that's cool to hear it's up for consideration there. By the way, in the course of this you mentioned your song-a-day project--which was a very cool thing. I remember thinking at the time that it would be hard to keep writing good songs under those kind of circumstances, but I remember any number of very interesting pieces that you devised and sang at Sidewalk around then. Anything you want to say about that experience.

It was a challenge, it was hard, it was frustrating, it was time consuming and it was worth it. I think experience is the key word. It taught me a lot about myself and it changed me for the better. I plan on releasing that catalogue as an all in one DVD very soon. It’s long overdue.

Wow, we're covering a lot of ground here.

Ok-one more thing-I know that earlier you were working doing professional voice over work--then I heard you on TV as the voice of a fruity drink--are you still doing any of that kind of stuff?

I partake in the occasional audition and even a job from time to time, but the truth is, that industry, like so many others, has changed dramatically over these past few years. I used to go to casting offices all over the city, where I was up against 25 of the the top guys in NY. Now I go to my agent’s office, where I'm up against 10 guys in my office along with 10 guys in every office from NY to LA. I'm now up against upwards of 500 people for one job. Big or small, experience does not matter in that realm. It’s only if your voice matches the voice in someone else's head. It’s frustrating, but that world gave me the gift of being able to afford a comfortable life in NYC for so many years, and honestly, 6 years of voicing that juice drink, bought my recording studio, which is where my life is headed. I will do voice work as its available to me. I really do love it. I've had the chance to be in some AMAZING recording studios and work with superstars. It’s a privilege.

OK--well, I know we've been at this a while now--and thanks so much for your time--My last thought is something I come back to all the time and it is about the community of folks connected to our scene. I have a feeling that connection to a community of that nature is something that also is of value to you and so to finish things up is there anything you'd like to say about that or anything else before we sign off.

In a place like NYC, where there are so many people scratching out a life in art and  music, it is nice to feel like I'm part of something. This is a tough scene to understand sometimes, just like its name, it's hard to define. But, the littlest bit of support can mean a whole lot to a lot of people.

OK Brian--thanks a lot for your time and the thought put into this. See you soon.

Cool, thanks for your interest Herb. I'm glad to take part.

###

Friday, March 11, 2011

More news..

See Ben Krieger's post over at OJ for a new wrinkle on what's up at Sidewalk. http://www.olivejuicemusic.com/forum/2011/03/11/1112.

While Ben still feels that the music scene in the back room will continue, these latest developments seem to open the possibility that anything could happen. Of concern is that all the members of the Sidewalk service staff have lost their jobs.

I hope that the back room in fact does continue as the home of the scene that this blog documents. In the best case scenario the restaurant will reopen with a nicely renovated and more comfortable space for the performers and audience. However, it is interesting to conjecture what might happen if that doesn't turn out to be the case. The scene on which so many of us thrive is not inherently dependent on its venue, but for it to continue in approximately the same manner things would have to fall into place the right way. It will be interesting to see how things build at A Gathering of Tribes.

It is, by the way, easy to imagine the Sidewalk space being turned over to other purposes. I'm sure that someone could come along who feels that the value of the real estate could be maximized through other means. Again, I really hope this doesn't happen, but we've seen numerous cherished places close in recent years and anything is certainly possible.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

American Songwriter Piece on Antifolk Fest


I was in touch with Evan Schlansky, who was at one time a regular at Sidewalk and is now an editor at American Songwriter magazine based out of Nashville. I asked Evan about the possibility of shooting photos for the publication and he invited me to submit shots of the Antifolk Fest along with some captions. Well, the captions swelled some into a photo-essay type deal. It's all online here. I was glad to have a chance to do this story and to get some publicity for Sidewalk, the Fest, and those featured. I was also sorry that for a variety of reasons it was impossible to include absolutely everyone who performed in the Fest. In any event, I hope you enjoy the piece. Here it is.

(That's Brook Pridemore in the photo above, one of the shots included in the American Songwriter piece).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sidewalk Talk Show Online - with Guest Ben Krieger

Thanks for tuning in everyone to the first online Sidewalk Talk Show. We usually do these live on stage at Sidewalk Cafe, but during the club's renovation, I thought we could try some online interviews.

I'm very pleased to have as my first online guest Sidewalk's very own head honcho, Ben Krieger. Welcome Ben.


Hey Herb, glad to be here!

First off, I want to say that I think we solved the problem of finding an appropriate catch phrase for the talk show.

We did?

You brilliantly came up with it last night.

Wait, what did I say?

“Hey Little Buddy, Let's Go”

Heh! You know, that's actually a pretty good one. Let's use it!

Definitely. So, that gets us to the point that the Monday Night Open Mic is now operating in exodus from A Gathering of Tribes on East 3rd Street, and last night was the first night it was held in this new temporary location. How did you feel it went?

It went well. There were 15 performers, which is small compared to what we're used to, but I felt like all the key elements in terms of personalities were there. We had a bit of everything, and people from each "generation" of the Sidewalk scene. I've already had a bunch of inquiries re: next week, so I can't wait to see things build.

I thought it was lots of fun and I liked the intimate feel last night. Because of the people there, in combination with the setting, I really felt comfortable, which enabled me to try some things I might not have with more people around.

That was a great new song. It really opened up the feel of the evening.

Thanks. I always wanted to write and perform a song in the same night and I was glad I was able to do so last night....but really, I just wanted to say that there was a good feeling of comraderie and ultimately some wackiness last night. You guys ended up with an inspired Crabs on Banjo set.

Yeah, it really worked! I really hope the tape Bernard made came out.

So, can you talk a little about what is actually going on at Sidewalk. Any details for us?

I don't know too much. Pini (the SWalk owner) is working on the renovation plans now, and Brian Speaker (sound tech) has been in touch with him regarding upgrades to the backline and sound system. Other than that, I'm trying to keep out of the loop for a few weeks. It's not often that I get to NOT think about the Sidewalk much. I haven't felt like this in almost 3 years.

OK--but I need to ask this because I think some people have been wondering--is there any chance that Sidewalk will close altogether?

No chance at all. There is no way Pini would be spending any amount of money if he wasn't planning on reopening. More importantly, Pini is pretty straightforward about things like this. If he says we're renovating, that's what we're doing.

Cool--let me get back to what you said above--you haven't felt like this in almost 3 years--what do you mean by that?

Booking a music venue is exactly like Tetris. I've talked with other bookers about this and they feel the same way. There's always another week on the horizon, always a potential snag on a particular night, maybe a last-minute cancellation. To be free for 4-6 weeks and know that there is nothing I need to worry about at 94 Avenue A is a huge weight off my shoulders. I care about the club a lot but can't help thinking about it. It never turns off. And right now I feel a bit more relaxed than usual because it's closed.

So, this is a good chance to ask you about what it's like to run Sidewalk, both on a day to day basis and more broadly.

From what you wrote above I see-and it's probably only the tip of the iceberg--that you have lots of day-to-day details to deal with. Do, you also get to think more broadly about how you want to shape things? In other words, do you think about what you want the overall flavor, image, feel of the club to be and do you try to move things in any direction.

The day-to-day can be pretty overwhelming, so it's hard to think about how I want to shape things, but I've been getting better at that. Keep in mind that before Sidewalk, I had never booked a club more than one night a week. So I've grown a lot as a booker, and I've started to put together systems where I keep track of the acts better and can begin to shape events/evenings that are regular, cool events at the club. This is in addition to the antifolk activities. When I started, it was antifolk/not-antifolk. Over the past year I've started to focus more on all of the talented acts at the club who aren't part of that scene, putting together bills that are more cohesive. One act recently told me that the bill I put him on in February was the best bill he's ever been on. I had made a conscious effort to assemble those acts and it felt good to get that feedback. I'm trying to do much more of that.

I just want to run a good club and try new things. That's my basic MO. And I try to maintain the most unique open stage in the city.

I'm not sure what you mean by the "antifolk activities." What is that exactly vs. not-antifolk?

When I got to the Sidewalk, there was this active antifolk scene with festivals, alumni, a history, legacy. I spent a lot of time working with acts on the scene, trying to put together events like I Heart U to maintain the momentum. I booked other acts at the club, but I wasn't as familiar with them. Keep in mind that sometimes I listen to an act online and within 30 seconds I know I want to book them. 3 months later they play their show and it's great. They play again, and again. And if they are consistently playing on nights where I'm off, then 2 years later there are some great acts at the club whose sound I don't know at all. I just hear about it from the sound crew. Meanwhile, I'm catching the Purple Organ a zillion times all over the city simply by hanging out with my friends. So for a while I felt like--especially with my commitments as a father--that there was a large group of amazing acts coming through the Sidewalk who had nothing to do with the antifolk legacy. They were getting booked, but not as thoughtfully as I would have liked. About a year ago I started to focus on changing that.

OK--I see, so it's not just that you're booking acts that you discover at the Open Mic, but other people who approach you or you find elsewhere, or whatever? I guess I never really thought too much about how you book acts other than people you see at the open mic.

A lot of acts approach me online and get booked that way. Sometimes they bring their friends on a bill and I end up booking the friends regularly and separately.

There are some great acts--some of the best, actually--who have never come through the open stage.

Cool. So, I certainly can understand your sense of relief at having a break for a few weeks, but now that you have been at this job for almost three years, how do you feel about it? Do you like it? Do you hate it? Some of both? Do you feel you are providing a service? Do you think that you are contributing something to the world...or what?

I love it. I feel like I'm contributing a service to the people who chose to play there and show up on Mondays. While "draw expectation" is one of those things that artists grumble about, I also feel a huge sense of responsibility towards the staff. I'm in charge of the revenue for a third (symbolically) of the club, and also a lot of the bar traffic. I want to see the staff be able to eat and pay rent. I think performers should have a great place to play. In terms of the sound crew, I think we should always make the artists sound good.

It can be really exhausting. Sometimes the toughest thing about Sidewalk is that I care about it. Because I also care about my family, my health, my art. And when you care about everything in your life, when there isn't anything you are willing to walk away from, it can leave you pretty exhausted. There are times where I wish I made my money cleaning toilets. Because then I could walk away easily if I wanted to. But I'll settle for exhausted.

What do you love about the job?

I love the music and I love bringing people together in positive, meaningful ways. More than anything else, I love those two things.

When you took over the job you were following in the footsteps of He Who is Known as Lach--who certainly had a following and his own style. The Sidewalk had a reputation for hosting the City's leading open mic and we all know of the names of notable artists who emerged from there over the years. When you took over were you intimidated by all this? And, while this may be similar to some of the other things we've already covered, do you think your style is different from Lach's and how?

Lach and I are different in several ways...

First of all, Lach has an incredibly healthy ego and a rock-star amount of confidence. He's really good at talking with pretty much anyone, no matter who they are because, hey...he's Lach. I approached this job a little less confident than that, particularly in terms of the performers who were now notable artists. I certainly felt I could do the job, but - and here's an example - when Regina Spektor used to show up, I was a little nervous talking with her. For Lach, or for anyone who has known her for a long time, she's just Regina. I was nervous. It's taken me a few years to deal with that. Now it's no longer an issue.

I don't see too much of a difference in the way Lach and I run the open stage, but this is because I mostly experienced a post-child, milder Lach. I'm about the same age Lach was when he started things at Sidewalk. I get a sense like he was a bit more of a devil back then.

(The good thing about conducting an interview via chat is that you can take a break when your subject needs to go pick up his daughter.)

Hey there....

So, picking up where we left off... I understand when you talk about nervousness with individual well-known performers, but I wonder if you were ever concerned about the whole thing, i.e. the obligation/challenge of carrying forward something that had been so well-established at that point.

Initially I was nervous about it, but it becomes easier as time goes onwards. You start to notice the patterns: new people coming in who connect with the scene, people moving on, leaving the nest after a few years and playing out more, coming back. Once you start to recognize the ebb and flow, things become more manageable. You start to understand what you have control over and what you don't, and you dive in to the opportunities you have.

This gets into what I wanted to talk about next, which is the community aspect of Sidewalk. I guess it may be preaching to the choir to talk about this here, but my experience has been, as has that of so many other folks I talk to, that while so many performers turn up at SW for the opportunity to play, they often get caught up deeply in the community aspect of the place. There are so few opportunities these days to really interact in a common setting with like-minded people that Sidewalk can be enveloping in that way. This isn't so much a question as a comment, I realize, but maybe you can respond as to your own perspective on this.

One thing that I've gotten better at is playing meet-and-greet. The community is there, but it's my role to make sure that people don't leave without brushing a few shoulders. This way, they have a reason to come back. The community definitely needs to be nurtured.

Another thing that changed during the last year or two that Lach was at the helm was the development of the Brooklyn Tea Party. There was some resistance at first on Lach's part, some concern that the BTP was taking away from the scene at the Sidewalk. One thing that I did when I took over was try and get out to events all over the city where the Sidewalk community had spread to. It wasn't like you had to twist my arm - it's fun to go to the BTP and Goodbye Blue Monday! But I felt it had to be done. And that was hard at times. Trying to be at Sidewalk, trying to catch a show at BTP, trying to be a family man. This is no ordinary booking job. But it has been worth it. Lach, post-retirement, has embraced the BTP much more readily. I think it's nice that the community has spread all over and that people come back to the Sidewalk to play a comfortable show or the festival when they feel like it.

Yeah, and there are other offshoots too, like everything that Matt is doing with OJ, and other similar endeavors, but I feel that in some respect it all links back to Sidewalk, even in cases in which the connections to it are floating further out there than they once did.
It's interesting, because sometimes I come across people who haven't been on the scene in a long time and who I've never met, but if I explain that I hang out at Sidewalk, it immediately gives us a common basis for conversation.


I should add that in some ways, if I'm not careful, the BTP and other events DO take away from Sidewalk from a business perspective. An ill-timed birthday party can cut attendance at an antifolk-related event by 20 people. That could be a $200 loss for the club that night. There's only so much I can control, but I do try and keep tabs on major events like BTP shows, Huggabroomstock, major OJ events, to make sure that there isn't a conflict when I put together nights at the club.

Like I said, no ordinary booking job.

So, you just finished up with the Winter Antifolk Festival, and I'm wondering what your thoughts were about that both in terms of the duration and format this year and the performances.

I am glad that it was limited to a week. When I booked my first festival back in 2008, I had basically looked back at Lach's old calendar, counted how many days the fest was, and tried to fill that up. It was usually 10 or 11 days, not including the Monday. That got to be incredibly exhausting. The festival wasn't always that long. It seems like at some point it was a lot smaller but kept growing over the years. I'm glad I scaled it back. For one, it still felt pretty damn full, with amazing performances. Secondly, after such an exhausting first week, if we had to go through 4 more days, we all would have dropped dead.

I liked the format...I think people should have a little more time and I'm going to continue with that.

With the shorter Festival it felt more like what I originally thought was its intention, to highlight the performers who stand out on the scene at the moment--to put a special focus on that group--In any event, were there any particular performances or moments that stood out for you?

Crazy and the Brains have really come a long way. Their show was amazing. Emily Einhorn is always great. Isaac Gillespie just keeps getting more interesting. I was really happy with the Penultimate blowout, the Timothy Dark section in particular.

Those were some good highlights, although I didn't get to see Isaac's set, unfortunately. Crazy rocked the place. I was really glad to have been there for that, and I thought Emily was amazing. The Penultimate Blowout was a combination of your sound/art stuff with other performers. I wonder in respect to your own work are you focusing more on that kind of "noise" stuff or are you actively writing more traditional songs or are you doing some of it all?

I try not to think about it too much and just go with whatever seems to be inspiring to me. I would say that while some of the noise and sound collage that I've done has been inspired by the records I have soaked up over the past few years, it's also a reaction to hearing so many singer-songwriters on a daily basis. I haven't felt the need to express myself with verses and choruses over the past few years. And I have so many songs in that vein as it is. I do write a lot, but many of the songs are studio creations and don't translate well live.

One more thing about your stewardship of Sidewalk--is this something you see continuing with well into the future or do you ever mull over thoughts of doing other things--making a living-wise that is?

I don't see an end at this point. It's been a great ride so far. When Sidewalk does eventually end for me, things will definitely get even more interesting, that's for sure. I mean, unless I needed to, how could I take a job that sucks after this?

Well, I have finished with all the grueling 60 Minutes like questions, so I'd like to say, as someone who has benefitted very much from all your efforts at Sidewalk, thanks for all your work at keeping our little club house going in such a vital fashion.

You're welcome.

Oh wait, one more intensive question--any clearer sense of when SW will open again?

I was told that the renovation was planned for 4 weeks, but because it's a renovation and things happen, 6 is more realistic. The Sidewalk is being booked from May 1 onward. There are some late April dates already booked and as March moves onwards I'll have a better sense of how April is shaping up. Definitely no performances before April 10.

So, that's getting to be it for me. Is there anything else you want to add about anything?

I think that's about all I can muster for now. 

OK--that about does it. Just to circle back, Crabs on Banjo last night played a song that had to do with Gilligan, among other things and Ben came up with the refrain "Hey Little Buddy, Let's Go." So that is where The Sidewalk Talk Show's new catch phrase came from. Ben, thanks for doing this. I hope we'll have more of these online chats, but in the meantime, see you soon, and "Hey Little Buddy, Let's Go."

Later, sir, thanks for doing this, it was fun.

###

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sidewalk in Exile

While renovations are underway at Sidewalk Ben Krieger is bringing the Monday open mic to "A Gathering of Tribes," the same location that hosts Catweazle.

While Ben suggests in his email (run in its entirety below), that he needed something to keep him occupied, I think also there is an organic need for a place to accommodate the intense energy of mass personal expression that has filled Sidewalk week after week on Monday nights.

Here's Ben's email:

Hey Everyone,

Bernard King is right. I lasted exactly 24 hours doing nothing before I lost my mind.

While the Sidewalk is closed for renovations (I was sent some crazy demolition shots that I'll post soon), a "scaled down version" of the Monday event will be held at A Gathering of the Tribes. Many of you know this place as the home of Catweazle and the exiled Post Script Coffee House. Steve Cannon has been gracious enough to host us for a bit while the SWalk is being refaced.

You know the part in Goodfellas where they are all in jail, cut off from their normal life, but still making do with what they have and stirring the sauce? THAT is what this will be like.

Sign-up is at 7:30. The event will start at 8pm, one song for all, and we'll start around the list again if we need to. The event officially ends at 10, but people usually hang out to enjoy themselves for a good bit after that.

There is no cover for performers. The tip jar will support Steve-and I strongly encourage you bring some money to support this great guy-with non-performers encouraged to donate $5. There is no liquor license at this apartment and I will have cans of PBR in a cooler for guests. If you would like to have someone hold your beer while you throw me a few bucks to support my temp unemployment, that's cool. Please don't plan on partaking if you are under 21.

If you really stick it out to the end, there will be hot tea as usual.

Please spread the word to any regulars or SWalk alumni you know who may be interested. It will be over before you know it, so say you were there!

THE MONDAY NIGHT EXODUS
at
A Gathering of the Tribes
285 East 3rd St, 2nd Floor
(between Avenues C and D)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Breaking News...

Just got word that Sidewalk will be closed for 6 weeks and all acts in that period will be cancelled. Evidently the issue has to do with renewal of the club's liquor license, and while that is being worked out Sidewalk will take the opportunity to conduct renovations. This will include some updates to the sound system and backline as well as some new decorating work by Mr. Krieger. I'm pleased to hear he will be conducting research at the Bernard King Antifolk Archive (BKAA for short) in search of historic Sidewalk posters to decorate the club.

Here is the email announcement from Ben that summarizes the latest news:

Hey Everyone,

As of today, Tuesday March 1, the Sidewalk is closed for renovations and will be open again in mid April. ALL shows and events until mid April are CANCELED. This email is being sent to all acts who are affected by this sudden news. It was sudden to me as well (I found out last night).

We will be upgrading the club's backline, sound system and back room. Heavy renovations will be done to the bar and restaurant area.

I am actively answering my emails, booking May onward. If you need to contact me in order to reschedule your show for the spring, please do so.

I can also provide you with a fuller story regarding this news if you are curious.

UPDATES WILL BE POSTED ON THE SIDEWALK WEBSITE, including any news regarding Monday's regular open stage.

On behalf of the Sidewalk, I am sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you. Believe me, I can sympathize - I'm out of work and pay for 6 weeks I wasn't planning on.

Let's be in touch and I'll see you on the other side. The silver lining on this is a big one - renovating and upgrades are always fun.

Sincerely,

Ben

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Festival So Far

From what I've seen so far, the energy of the Festival has very much inspired some tight and compelling performances. There was a lot to enjoy Wednesday night, starting with Domino's typically offbeat but wondrous performance. While there were moments where she sort of seemed to lose her way, there also were some sections where I couldn't believe the sounds she was making. She also did some cool dance moves. Amanda Nicole played a beautiful set with just herself and an electric guitar--dense and ethereal at the same time. Crazy and the Brains totally rocked the place. Everyone at Sidewalk was on their feet dancing most of the time. It was the best C&TB set I've seen. I caught the beginning of The Telethons with John standing up and playing drum. It was rocking along, but unfortunately the late hour caught up with me and I had to head out.

Thursday--Jon Berger gave a strong spoken word set which included some of the newer material he's been writing. His parents were there and I always wonder how they react to some of Jon's more...personal pieces. Jordan Levinson's material is very much influenced by traditional country music. She played some covers including one by Townes Van Zandt and another by Blind Willie McTell. Jordan's finger-picking was effective and her vocals were particularly strong, drawing at times on the sort of yodeling style that is woven into some country music. I'm not so familiar with a wide range of country artists, but I did fall in love at one point with this album by Iris Dement, and I often feel that Jordan's voice has a quality similar to hers. In any event, she sounded great. Comic Rob Shapiro appeared as a substitute for the originally announced Bernard King Presents. While I've seen Rob give rollickingly funny performances, his brash and confrontational style wasn't a good fit with the rest of that night's bill and he lost the audience as he soldiered on. Brook Pridemore sat for most if not his entire set, something I don't remember him doing before, but he still gave a very energetic performance. Brook stepped into the audience and then led us all out to the street for his finale. That was cool. When he finished his last song, Brook ran away up Avenue A.

One of the things about the Antifolk Festival is that it give you a chance to see some performers in a different frame. I sat close to the stage during Lenny Molotov's set and was getting into his guitar work in a way I hadn't before. I liked the song he finished with--Dick Will Rise--which I think he said he hadn't played in 12 years. It was about Richard Nixon. Emily Einhorn's set was stunning. What can I say? She has it all. Her songs are very rich and her singing is inventive and gorgeous. That was one of the best sets I've seen at Sidewalk in a while. She played "In the Office," which is a song I love--plus some new songs--"Hollow" and "Roses" (among others) which I am looking forward to becoming more familiar with. In the song Nonsense--mostly through the stylized way she sang the chorus sections--she found a fresh approach to looking at unfortunate relationships. Lach was back and played a warm, tight set. There was a good balance to the material he chose, including songs on both guitar and piano, and he was connecting with the audience. I can't imagine anyone not enjoying a set by Phoebe Kreutz. There's such a lightness and humor to her songs. She played a couple numbers with Gary Adler, with whom I believe she collaborates on musical theatre pieces--and the one about the character who marries her second cousin is hilarious. She also had other friends on stage as special guests including Toby Goodshank, Angela Carlucci, Yoko Kikuchi, and Matt Colborn. I caught the beginning of Isaac Gillespie's set. It turns out he asked a friend--a woman-to sing most of his songs--which gave them a different quality. I couldn't stay for the whole thing but I enjoyed what I saw at the beginning. Isaac was also projecting film footage during his set which gave it a surreal feel.

It's intense to be at Sidewalk night after night for hours at a time. For one, you need to have a lot of dollar bills with you. But I do think the shorter Festival schedule makes it manageable. We're heading into the home stretch. I will see you there.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Open Mic, Monday, February 21, 2011m, Festival, etc.

There was more than the usual vibration and energy at Sidewalk Monday as a cross-section of folks from past and present eras gathered in the spirit of promotion for the Antifolk Festival. There was also, I think, coincidental visitation from folks who have been away for a while. Among those I chatted with or just saw on site were Isaac Gillespie, Jordan Levinson, Jeffrey Lewis, Deborah T., Aaron Invisible. The Festival is shorter this time, just a week, which I think is a good thing. It had grown so elaborate in recent years that it became a challenge to navigate. Also, condensing the schedule should heighten the specialness of the week. Of course, there are lots of folks missing from this year's schedule (me included!), but it will be interesting to see if this approach results in a different feel.

The second week of my renewed Sidewalk Talk Show Monday featured an interview with Emily Einhorn who is playing during the Festival this Friday. I remember finally clicking into Emily's stuff when I saw a Festival show of hers--maybe last year at this time. What stood out most strongly to me is that Emily's songs often depict a cast of characters that seem very different from her. So many songs that pour from the stage at Sidewalk are these autobiographical expressions of frustrated love that it was refreshing to encounter someone taking a different approach. On top of that she has a unique style as a performer.

Anyway, I was looking forward to talking with Emily about her work and about songwriting in general, and I think that we did touch on some intriguing points. Emily revealed, for example, that she only began writing songs at age 18--I don't know her current age but I gather that wasn't too long ago--and that prior to her efforts as a songwriter she was intensely devoted to Irish dance! Seriously.

I am continuing to refine my approach to this onstage talk show and am glad I have the opportunity to shape it from week to week. The main challenge is how to have a conversation of substance in a very condensed time frame. My tendency is to want to ask many questions on wide-ranging topics. But I'm beginning to learn that perhaps narrowing the focus extremely would allow for a more relaxed and ultimately more expansive feel. I'm still trying to figure out how to get these interviews posted here online...it will happen.

I am planning on attending several of the Festival shows starting tonight. Don't miss Domino at 7pm. Hope to see you there.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Open Mic, Monday, Feb 14, and Sidewalk Talk Show

Last Monday marked the reintroduction of the Sidewalk Talk show, my little interview program held on the Sidewalk stage during the open mic. Ray Brown was the first guest of this new wave of the endeavor. Ray hung out and performed at the Chameleon, one of the spots where Lach's open mic scene developed before moving eventually around the corner to Sidewalk Cafe. After things wrapped up at the Chameleon, Ray stayed away from his guitar for something like 20 years before returning to Sidewalk about a year and a half ago. During out interview Ray talked a little bit about the scene at the Chameleon, including recollections of artists like Paleface, Jason Trachtenburg, and Beck. Ray also talked a bit about his own songs, including the change in his songwriting style from the days of the Chameleon until now. The Sidewalk Talk show returns tonight, featuring an interview with an amazing artist who is performing on the Antifolk Festival bill this week.

Last week's open mic on Valentine's Day included "I Hate You" an opportunity for participants to play songs they hate--in contrast to the more frequent "I Heart You" sessions which feature covers of more appreciated tunes by other artists on the scene. There weren't too many I Hate You selections featured, although Ben Krieger played Hallelujah, Keith Hammond played Steve Earle's Guitar Town, and JJ Hayes did Seasons in the Sun.

Other folks who gave it a stab last week included Ryan Martin, The Fools, Sima Cunningham (who sang Dolly Parton's Jolene), Josh Blanco, and Blueberry Season.

See you tonight with more Sidewalk Talk Show and the launch of the winter Antifolk Fest.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Debe's Hand

As many of you know, Debe Dalton severely injured her right middle finger when trying to stop herself from falling after slipping on a patch of ice Saturday. Her finger was cut deeply and required surgery by a hand specialist. With the help of Dan and Rachel Debe was taken right away to the Bellevue emergency room and underwent a six-hour operation. She is now recovering in the hospital and seems in relatively good spirits. Her hand is kept immobile on a nest of inflatable pillows filled with warm air. Debe was also proud to explain (and show) that part of her treatment involves the use of leeches. Yes, actual leeches to help with the bleeding.

Despite the trauma of the accident, Debe seems confident that her recovery will go well. Maybe it was the pain killers talking but in general I was glad to see how optimistic she is. I'm sure it helps that many of her friends have been visiting.

It's still pretty treacherous out there with the ice, so be careful everyone. Every time I go outside I'm afraid of wiping out.

And send good thoughts to Debe. We want her back soon. As of now, Debe expects to be in the hospital through Sunday.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Poetry Slam, Patsy Grace, Sidewalk, January 20, 2010

I came in on the tail end of a Poetry Slam at Sidewalk last night. It was the first time I'd been to one, and while I was glad to see it so heavily attended, I realized that I really don't like my poetry slammed. I much prefer it recited or even read. One feature of the slam I found peculiar is that each poem was given a score by a panel of judges after it was performed. I'm not really sure what the point is of making poetry the basis of a competitive event. What sense does it make to compare works of art and say that one is better? Poems, songs, paintings, plays, movies, ballets, are each unique items created out of the singular motives and inspiration of an artist or artists. There isn't even any logical or objective scale on which to compare different works of art. It's not like a track meet where you can compare times or distances jumped. But beyond that, why do people want to evaluate art works like this. They should be judged and enjoyed individually on their own merits, on the way they make us feel, on how they shed light on the world or the condition of humanity. While I guess there is a certain entertainment value in watching the Academy Awards, for example, I still find the whole premise of it absurd. I think it has something to do with the nature of our country's culture, which seems to like to make us all feel like we have to be "winners."

I heard from folks that had been there the whole evening that there was some good poetry heard, and I think it's nice that something like this gets a bunch of folks involved in literature, but for the moment I'll stick to reading my poetry in books (more likely on those signs in the subway cars, actually).

And by the way, after hearing the poetry slammers, I have an enhanced appreciation of Jon Berger's unique style of poetry delivery which doesn't rely on many of the beat-style cliches that seemed in evidence during the slam.

I caught the end of the slam because I came to hear Patsy Grace. Some of you probably know that Patsy was a Sidewalk regular years ago, before my time, maybe in the early 2000s or something-not entirely sure about that. After leaving New York I know Patsy lived in New Orleans and that may very well be where she resides today. Patsy casts a warm, laid back, earthy vibe in her performances and is a compelling performer. Some of her songs are particularly catchy, and they have interesting structures and some surprising musical ideas, but I feel that much of the spell she casts comes from the mood the songs create all together (check her out on MySpace if you want to know what I mean).

Patsy had a really good violin player with her a guy who she said was from New Orleans. While my first thought was that this dude was way too slim and handsome for his own good--he did have a nice feel for the material and added some very tasteful accompaniment and solos. I'm sorry I didn't catch his name--every time Patsy pronounced it I thought she was saying John-O. And it's quite lame of me that I didn't verify that or find out his last name which I think was either Freedberg or Fishburg.

Patsy had a cold last night and kept implying that her singing voice wasn't in form, although I think she sounded just fine. I wish I'd been around during the years when Patsy was active on the scene--or had some sort of time machine to check in on those days. Somehow I'll bet that in the context of that era-bolstered, prodded, and nurtured by the other heavy-duty talents of the day she must have made quite an impression.

I seem to be making it out to fewer shows these days, as I mentioned in another post. Although I want this blog to continue to tie into the world of Sidewalk Cafe, I realized that at times when I don't have too much to directly report about performances from the scene that I could use this space for general thoughts and rants. So don't be surprised if sometime soon I do a little more aimless rambling about things. I hope it'll be fun for everyone, but who knows? See you then.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monday Night Antihoot, 1/10/2011, Venus Flytrap, Susan Hwang, Sweet Soubrette

Debe Dalton was in town last night and so some semblance of order and balance was restored to Sidewalk, which I think accounted for the richer and more interesting stuff that was happening on stage. I wasn't keeping notes and so a lot of what went on last night has already slipped away, at least from my storehouse, but I did enjoy a number of the acts. In particular it was nice to hear Debe play and I appreciated her pulling out my favorite song, "Tuesday, Wednesday." I also decided to get back on stage to play for the first time in a while and it was lots of fun for me to trot out my song about Tower Records. It really HAD been quite a long time since I'd sat down at that piano and it brought me back to all the fun, nervousness, and awkwardness of the times in the past when I faced that brick wall. By the way, I do remember that Ben Krieger kicked things off by singing Squid on My Head into the bottom chamber of the piano--from which he'd removed the front cover. This was, Ben explained, his way of getting natural reverb--it was also a repeat performance from the "Blackout" show he'd done Sunday night.

On Friday, I made it for all of Venus Flytrap II, Bernard King's epic assemblage of an all female bill. It was a nice night with many good performances, but the acts that stood out to me were the ones, I think, with which I was most unfamiliar. In particular I liked Julian and the Lopez Dispensers, which featured Julian Lopezmat the center of a three piece group (piano and electric guitar). Some of their tunes, I thought, seemed almost to have an underlying feel of cowboy songs, yet many of them also rocked. Julian was impressive as a singer and frontwoman. I look forward to hearing more from them.

I also really enjoyed Julie Delano's anguished but elegant set. She started off playing a duet with Sam Grossman that they repeated at the end of the show. That's something I've always thought about doing--playing a song a second time. In my case it would be to get it right, but I think for Julie it was just because she enjoyed playing the song.

There was lots of other good stuff going on all through the night. Rebecca Seatle's lyrics about "spindle limbs" have been running through my brain for the last few days. Julie Hill played mostly standards/covers with a friend of hers from music school, including "Oh Darling," but also played an improvised song. Angela Carlucci had a line in one of her songs that I appreciated...something about how everyone she looks up to is trying to look and act young--but she's too old for that.

On Saturday I went to Sweet Soubrette's cd release show at Bowery Poetry club. She isn't really a figure at Sidewalk. I think I got to know her or at least hear her stuff initially through the Bushwick Book Club. Her show was impressive, amazing really, with something like 10 musicians on stage including a horn section, backup vocals, keyboard, guitar, drums, etc. Sweet Soubrette (also known as Ellia Bisker) plays mostly ukelele--and thank god her brother was there to tune it for her throughout the show. Her songs were about lonely City People, being a gold digger, and a love interest in Isabella Rosellini, among other topics.

I was also interested in hearing Susan Hwang's performance with a band, a mix of covers and original tunes. Susan wore an amazing shimmering silver floor-length dress that must be the best vintage store find ever. It seemed to fit well with a kind of 60s girl-group sounding song about "Jimmy" a character I gather Susan knows. Julie Delano and Nan Turner provided appropriate backup vocals. Susan also sang a song about the "girl pool" and a rousing closer about how "This Will be Our Year." Susan is a great singer and terrific songwriter and I enjoyed the set.

I had every intention of making it to the Blackout Night at Sidewalk on Sunday. I'm a big fan of Steve Espinola and most of the other folks who were on the bill too, but life intervened and I couldn't make it. In any event, I'm a big proponent of unamplified music and I was glad to hear Ben say last night that he planned on offering more of these events in the future. It's kind of surprising to me sometimes that most performers take for granted that we need an intermediating device between our voices and the audience. What this means though is that we almost never hear the natural quality of the human voice in performance and also that other people beside the performer (i.e. audio technicians) are making decisions about how a performer sounds. Because of the prevalence of amplification everywhere, we've pretty much forgotten how to listen without it. You actually can hear people fine in most (or at least many) settings without mics but you just have to listen more intently. Ultimately once you adjust your expectations and scale of listening, it's a much more satisfying experience.

Friday, January 7, 2011

This Weekend

Good shows all throughout the weekend: It'll be more than a five-hour night if you make it through the whole slate of performers tonight at Sidewalk. Bernard King has pulled together another of his all-women bills. While we can debate the merits of gender-based programming, I can without any question give Bernard credit for putting together a slate of fine acts, all of whom I am looking forward to hearing. You may know many of the names, but I heard Anna Haas do a song for the first time Monday at the Open Mic and was very captivated by her voice and style. There are a couple other newcomers on the bill as well. Check out the details here. Also, on Sunday, Sidewalk is presenting its second blackout night. I am a big proponent of unamplified music and so I am looking forward to this show. Unfortunately I had to miss the last one but I heard it was a great night. Here's the bill: Sunday, January 9: BLACKOUT NIGHT at Sidewalk! 8-Steve Espinola, 8:45-Elizabeth Devlin, 9:30-Adam Bricks, 10:15-Ben Krieger, 11-Debe Dalton

Finally, a plug for an intriguing show on Saturday at Bowery Poetry Club. Susan Hwang is playing with an interesting band featuring among others, Julie Delano and Nan Turner as backup vocalists. I will be interested to see how Susan interprets her material with this group. She is opening for Sweet Soubrette who is releasing a new CD called Days and Nights.

Hope to see you at one of the shows. They're a good reason not to stay snowbound.