Will The Circle Be Unbroken

I was introduced to Joe Chambers. I told him about getting squeezed at their free concert in Boston Common, and stunningly he remembered it and started reminiscing.

Then we got into a long conversation with Richard Foos about Gary Stewart and…

We were at Tom Hayden’s widow’s house for a benefit, the fusion of Get Lit and the Ash Grove Music Foundation. Get Lit brings poetry to inner city schools and the Ash Grove Music Foundation… Actually, Ed Pearl, the proprietor of the Ash Grove, was in attendance, they showed a short film about him and one was brought back to the time when music was dangerous, before the Beatles, when folk music ruled and we all knew it and sang it and…

Ultimately we heard some of the prizewinning poets, but we were really there to see Jackson Browne.

But first was this woman Barbara Morrison. She sat on stage, she’s had both legs amputated, and when she opened her mouth… They may have singers on TV, but they don’t have the music in them. Barbara reached deep down inside and she was testifying, and the assembled multitude could only sit there in rapt attention. You can command a room with just your voice, if you know how to do it.

And Jane Fonda gave a speech about the camp she and Tom opened up, about literacy and…

I think that’s a California thing, where you stay friends with your ex and their new spouse(s). It was Barbara Williams’s home, i.e. the new spouse, and the two got along famously.

And there were other singers, and John Densmore accompanying Luis Rodriguez and then…

Jackson took the stage, with two backup singers. He tells a good story, off the cuff, it’s much more than HELLO CLEVELAND! And he led off with “Some Bridges,” from his overlooked LP “Looking East.” Have you heard the title cut on his acoustic album? He changes the groove and it’s infectious.

And he played “Off of Wonderland” from his 2008 album, “Time The Conqueror” and ’86’s “Lives In The Balance.” He said one of the schools wanted to do a gospel version, and added a new verse, and he was flummoxed that they’d chosen this number, but he said to give it a go, and they did, and he even sang their additional verse on Sunday.

Now you’ve got to give Jackson credit. He was infected with the gene of giving back way back when, which most others seem to have lost. Music and causes used to be aligned. Jackson shows up at benefits all over SoCal, and he does it for free, you’ve got to applaud that.

But the quid pro quo is he gets to play what he wants, these album cuts, which is great for the diehard fan.

And when it came time for the final number, I thought it would be one of his hits, maybe “The Pretender,” or “For Everyman.” So when he called the previous performers to the stage to sing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” I was a bit disappointed.

But that was the highlight of the afternoon.

Music can move you, it’s just not entertainment.

And in my world, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band made the most famous version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” that three record set is a revelation from this distance. But…

Barbara Morrison was testifying once again, and Joe Chambers, in jeans, t-shirt and white hair, was reaching down deep with his bass voice and it sounded like he was wailing in church. And that’s when I realized…it was a religious moment.

I was standing. There were only about fifty or sixty people there. But we were all enraptured by the sound coming from the end of the living room. This was better than any of Jackson’s hits. Everybody was in the groove, the room was levitating. Suddenly all my problems faded away. I started singing, I couldn’t help myself. And when it was all over and I came to I felt like I’d had a dream, been taken to a place where people mattered more than money, where humanity was more important than algorithms, where music could change the world.

Jake Gold-Sirius XM This Week

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Tedeschi Trucks At The Orpheum

How can you be so good and nobody knows?

Used to be about the hit single. Hell, Tom Petty even wrote a song about it. You were outside the mainstream, you had fans, the key was to come up with something radio-friendly, even if you had to hire Desmond Child to co-write the song. Then again, that was about the last time rock was preeminent. Of course, there was the Seattle/grunge/indie scene of the nineties, but once we hit the twenty first century, the old paradigm was blown apart.

Acts like the Dave Matthews Band and Coldplay, never forget that their careers were goosed by videos banged on VH1, at the tail end of that outlet being about music.

And then came the collapse of radio. AOR split into Active Rock and Adult Alternative and the only people listening were oldsters, you couldn’t break a band there to stardom. You could break them into the echo chamber of holier-than-thou public radio listeners and “New Yorker” readers, but the tracks could not cross over to pop, the only format with traction, the only one that mattered, the only one that still matters. Top Forty was and still is about pop and hip-hop. And so are the major labels providing these wares, they only go where the money is.

And with the advent of Spotify, hip-hop became dominant, because hip-hop lived online and didn’t begrudge the new paradigm while all the rockers and oldsters couldn’t stop bitching about audience theft and low payments, not knowing that without an audience, you don’t have a career. Fans keep you alive, not fickle radio, not one-dimensional streaming, you’ve got to go directly to the fans.

To the point where the records don’t mean anything.

You don’t need to own a Tedeschi Trucks album, you just need to go to the show. Which is different every night.

Now the problem Derek Trucks has is his last name. People believe he got a pass because of his uncle Butch. But if his last name was Smith, or something else, anything but Trucks, the accolades would be raining down. He’s John Mayer but with a completely different personality and playing style. He doesn’t emote, he barely moves, there are no wringing facial expressions. And he never talks on stage, even though he’s fully capable of expressing himself off it. He just wails. It’s astounding, he’s world class.

Actually, last night he told Wayne that the audience was better than the band in the first set, and he had to rectify that. I don’t know if he rehearsed during the break, which he and the band frequently do, but from the very first note of the second set, Derek was wailing he was floating above the audience. The only reference point I can give you is “Statesboro Blues” from “Fillmore East.” You know, you’re sitting there complacent and you drop the needle, Derek takes the stage and whew, he and you are immediately into it. It’s like he casts a spell on you and you’re taken along for the ride.

And you’re enjoying it.

I’m loath to go see the usual suspects these days. I’ve seen them when they made it, on their comeback tour, on their cleanup tour… I want something new.

And if you go to the arena, other than Ed Sheeran, who’s in a class by himself, all you get is pre-programmed junk. It’s all about timing the production and Tedeschi Trucks has no production. Oh, you might see a bird or the moon on the backdrop, but really it’s all about the music.

Furthermore, cell coverage is nearly nonexistent at the Orpheum. So, other than people shooting video, phones are in pockets, you’re forced to watch the show.

So it’s like the days of old. During the quiet numbers you sit there contemplating your life, thinking about where you’ve been, where you’re going.

And yes, people were sitting, except when they were forced to stand up by the joy of the music. All that hogwash about the energy of GA (general admission for the uninitiated)… I don’t care what they say, it’s a way for promoters to squeeze more bodies in, even though they deny it. Then again, these are the same people who keep two sets of books, one for the act and one for themselves…which they have to to stay in business, since the acts demand outrageous guarantees.

But last night you could contemplate the music, you could go on a journey. It wasn’t an event, it was a party.

Everybody friendly.

And everybody aged.

Sure, there were some thirtysomethings there, but mostly it was Gen-X and baby boomers, the people who caught the Allmans and the Dead the first time around. “Vision Of Love” was thirty years ago, millennials and Gen-Z have never even been exposed to this music.

Call it jam band, but that’s not really accurate, there was almost no noodling, the act was tight.

Call it music. You remember music, don’t you?

So, they’ve been slugging it out for ten years. Building an audience. They did two sold out Orpheums, they could have done three, but if you’re not in the know, you don’t know.

That’s 2019.

Tedeschi Trucks has a deal with Concord. One of their albums debuted at number 11, two others at number 12 and 15. In the old days, they’d be rich, in the new days they’ve just got to go back on the road.

And it ain’t cheap. You’ve got the band, with its two drummers and keyboard player, and a horn section and backup singers. You can make more money by stripping it down, but you don’t create the same magic, and it’s the magic that gets people to buy tickets.

Now the music is kind of a cross of the Allmans and the Dead. You don’t know what you’re gonna get. And when the band broke into “Sugaree,” the assembled multitude jumped to their feet, this music is in their DNA.

But there were a lot of other surprises, like “Space Captain,” with the same arrangement as “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.”

So what I’m saying is despite more people making more music, the conversation is dominated by hip-hop and pop. Drake and Ariana Grande. And it’s not that they’re not successful, but acts in other genres are successful too, and these other acts make their nut by selling tickets, not streams. And that’s the world we live in. Where it’s all about the road.

And oftentimes once is enough.

But with Tedeschi Trucks, you’ve got to go every time, because you don’t know what you’re gonna get.

The fans know.

But we live in a media monoculture, which doesn’t square with the real world. Now, more than ever, there are acts not playing the radio/streaming game who have dedicated fan bases, big dedicated fan bases. You go to see Tedeschi Trucks and you’re elated, by the fact that in their world it’s the same as it ever was, with no hard drives and musicians who’ve paid their dues.

I guarantee you, if the youngsters went they’d get it. Hell, they might even be tempted to pick up a guitar. Because they’d want to be on stage, having fun. Sure, the road is a grind, but if you can play what you want as long as you want…now that’s something to look forward to every night.

It’s not nostalgia, it’s just a continuing thread.

This is not Blues Traveler on MTV having a hit and driving an audience, this is an act with no spotlight fighting it out in the trenches. To the point when you go, you can’t stop testifying about the experience. That’s part of the fun, spreading the word.

So Tedeschi Trucks gives me hope for music.

But it also launches an inner mounting flame inside me, a glimmer of light illustrating we may get back to where we once belonged, just you wait.

Woodstock 50

Who wants to go?

This is like the Fyre Festival in reverse. The litigation happens before the festival plays and the proprietors go to court first. Will Michael Lang go to jail? So far, Dentsu is not asking for its money back and tickets have not been sold so the public has not been defrauded, but the planning of both festivals seems to be the same. An idea. But execution is everything, ideas are a dime a dozen.

But at least people wanted to go to the Fyre Festival, go hang with their peers, the stars of today, THE INFLUENCERS! Twenty and thirtysomethings don’t want to hang with Fogerty or Plant, but people impacting the culture today. In a can-do society, where everybody is a star, Fyre festival attendees wanted to rub shoulders with internet stars, not musicians, with the hope that they got not only stories, but a blueprint to make it themselves.

It’s kinda like coming up with a new gas-guzzling sedan in not only the age of SUVs, but electric cars. Unless you go really retro, steampunk, Civil War re-enactment, there’s no buzz, it makes no sense. Hell, Lang would have been better off promoting the original acts, from Mountain to CSN to Arlo Guthrie to everyone else who is alive. And for those who are dead, there could be stand-ins, like Gary Clark, Jr. for Hendrix, after all, Clark plays ‘Third Stone From The Sun.” Oldsters would pay to see that, after all they’re selling out stadiums for the Eagles, and even Journey and Def Leppard do good business in the ballparks, there’s a business model there, but the young ‘uns don’t care.

These multi-act festivals are no guarantee. Arroyo Seco had Neil Young, the Pretenders and Jack White and it did not sell out. But this year’s Cure-ated festival? A slam dunk. Because Cure fans are DEVOTED! They need to see this band that hasn’t burned out the market, and they like the other similar acts too.

Goin’ up the country died with the seventies, Bonnaroo has been struggling, it’s all about city-oriented festivals. Sure, Coachella is the granddaddy in the desert, but there’s always an outlier and in this case a massive inventory of hotel rooms.

But Lollapalooza, ACL, Outside Lands…they’re all city-based festivals. Hell, if they had JazzFest in the hinterlands it wouldn’t sell out. People love New Orleans, for its color and its restaurants.

And we know oldsters don’t want to camp. So it’s a nonstarter for them, especially with no hotel rooms.

And the people who are willing to camp aren’t into this lineup.

It is not a field of dreams, if they build it people still won’t come, but can they build it?

Doubtful. The wheels of government turn slowly, and everybody’s seen the havoc festivals have wrought, have you heard of Woodstock ’99? Unless there’s serious cash for the locals, they don’t want the disruption.

So first you need permits. Then you need infrastructure. We saw how this worked with the Fyre festival, constantly changing venues and unable to deliver infrastructure,

People don’t want to sleep in tents anymore. The same way they don’t want hot dogs and french fries at the venue. The whole world has gone upscale. Actually, food is more of a star than music. There are multiple food networks and if you’re still watching MTV you’re blind.

Things change. And you’ve got to change with them.

Concert promotion is serious business. You’ve got to have deep pockets and experience, furthermore, one-offs make no financial sense. Ever notice that almost all the festivals are either owned by AEG or Live Nation? Ask yourself why the initial promoters sold out.

But they could move the show, to a stadium, kind of like Made In America in Philadelphia. The same festival didn’t work in Los Angeles, who wants to go downtown? That’s why we have venues to begin with!

As for financials…theoretically Michael Lang could find another investor, after all, Dentsu has already paid all the acts, you’d need just another $20 million or so to make it happen. But who is going to invest when both AEG and Live Nation said no and Dentsu pulled out? Festivals are not cutting edge, they’re settled business, people can see the numbers. This is not John Roberts in ’69, an ignorant deep pocket who didn’t get his money back until 1980. If you want to take a flier on a new idea, go to Silicon Valley, the VCs are loaded with cash, but they require a business plan and good numbers and not only do they take a lot of the stock, they put someone with experience in charge. It might be your idea, but chances are you don’t know how to build a company.

You might say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one

Dreams died in the twenty first century. Life became hard, people did what was expedient, because they didn’t want to be part of the underclass, they didn’t want to starve. Meanwhile, there’s more war today than there was back in ’71 when John Lennon wrote “Imagine.” And he got shot and died.

That’s the world we live in. One of violence and cold hard cash. If you expect peace and love to reign in a field at Watkins Glen you’re delusional.

So expect Woodstock 50 to be a blip in history.

Then again, the Stones didn’t get around to touring big until their 51st. But people didn’t refrain from buying tickets because it wasn’t an anniversary year, they wanted to see the Stones.

Do people want to see the Woodstock 50 lineup in the middle of nowhere?

Almost definitely not. The festival was ill-conceived to begin with.

We never got our flying cars and if we want to see nudity we just fire up our browser. Everything’s virtual these days. But, if people want to connect, they expect creature comforts, that was one of the selling points of Fyre.

If Lang was smart, he’d be filming the whole thing, like AEG with the Michael Jackson rehearsals. So when it’s all said and done he could sell the movie to Netflix, you know they’d buy it, and for a pretty penny. And then Michael Lang could go on a lecture tour, telling his story to those who want to know how you dupe a major advertising agency to drop that much money.

After all, the original Woodstock was saved by the movie.

You’ve got to think out of the box.

Unfortunately, Michael Lang has been thinking inside the box, but one without even four sides. The original Woodstock was an envelope-pushing revolution that captured a national zeitgeist the major media had missed. Woodstock 50 is just a me-too event. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, we want something new and different, that was the appeal of Fyre, an exclusive group hanging together and making connections.

Never forget it’s about the audience today, more than the acts. They want to text and shoot selfies and do drugs and post it all to Instagram to embellish their brands. Acts come and go, but individuals are here forever!

So you’ve got to think backward, like the VCs, what does the public want, what do people want to buy?

They don’t want Woodstock 50. At least not enough to ensure a success.

As the Who once sang, this song is over, no one wants to sing it in the wide open spaces, no one wants to sing it to the infinite sea. But the question is, are they searchin’ for a note, pure and easy, playing so free, like a breath rippling by?

Actually, they are, they call it Newport Folk, off the radar but legendary, and continuous.

There’s a way to make festivals work.

This isn’t it.