FolkWorld #76 11/2021
Innovation in the midst of a pandemic
The roots music community, like the rest of the world, faced an uncertain future as the pandemic essentially destroyed everyone's plans for 2020. However, a number of musicians and industry leaders figured out a way to navigate across unknown waters with grace and bravery. The Bluegrass Situation invited five members of the roots community to share their thoughts on how they harnessed their creativity and embraced innovation over the past 12 months.
Billy Strings, Winner of “Breakthrough Artist of the Pandemic” at the 2021 Pollstar Awards:It was almost kind of a welcome break, you know? He was tired, man. We went on tour and I was like, I don't know if I can keep doing this. Then all of a sudden this thing happened and we had a great opportunity. And now I realize how lucky I was. Now, there's nothing I'd like more than to be stuck in a hotel room somewhere after a concert with random people at 3 o'clock in the morning, just hanging out and having a good time. On the one hand, I wanted to get the quality [of the live stream] better than what I could do at home. It started with just me on my couch playing, and the next thing you know we're doing that tour where we do Exit/In and do shows in Nashville. It was kind of cool and creepy and weird. I'm just thinking, I know there are people out there watching us, but they're not here and I can't see them. When you're used to playing to crowds, it's like, man, this sucks! [Laughs] We debuted a lot of songs at the Capitol Theater when we did our concerts there in February. We played like 16 new songs when we were there. ...People will go to fan pages and be like, "Shit, did you hear that song?" I don't want to pay too much attention to that, because it feels like you're playing for the internet, but then it's nice to have a good idea of what songs they're looking for.
Mercy Bell, singer-songwriter and cast member of the new documentary, The Sound of Us:I think a fallow season is really important for everyone, or we're producing from an empty pit. Not creativity, I think creativity is always there, but contrary to popular opinion of the tortured and manic creator, even artists need to sleep and drink eight glasses of water a day. Like all of us, I spent 2020 trying to get by. I had a nervous breakdown. I lost my job. I had a broken heart. I turned to art, pop culture, movement, exercise, my cats, meditation, to keep me going. …There was a period of time where I didn't know if I would make it. I was in a pretty dark place before I got a new treatment for my mental health. I was obsessively walking 14 miles a day, really scared, really not wanting to be alive, quarantined away from my family, unemployment not coming. Scheduling live streams gave me something to look forward to. Playing music for my fans, all over the world, made me feel less alone. I don't know how any performance will top that. We really needed each other. Singing to people gave me a reason to keep going in the most literal sense. And my followers kept me fed too! All those $5 tips kept groceries in my fridge. And then Netflix and podcasts, Cardi B's "WAP" and my cat saved me. It gave me something to look forward to. That's the power of art, pop culture, and pets. It reaches places we can't reach. He got me through each day, one day at a time. Without giving too much away, The Sound of Us highlights a variety of musicians and the incredible impact their work (or lack thereof due to COVID) has. Some of the standouts include people working to bring music to underprivileged neighborhoods, prisons and hospitals, working on researching lost artwork from the Holocaust and other genocides and, of course, how musicians were affected by institutional racism. and the pandemic. When I saw the screening, I cried and took off all my eye makeup. It is an incredibly emotional and profound documentary. I am very proud to have been a part of this.
Robert Meitus, Co-Founder and Vice President of Industry Development at Mandolin.com:Roots music fans tend to have a strong connection to artists and a desire to connect frequently and deeply. Also, the nature of roots music itself is one of intimacy, vulnerability, and honesty, so the desire for connection really works both ways. Mandolin's vision has always been to build a space in the digital world where the noise of the industry fades away; one where a musician and his fans can connect not only through a concert broadcast, but also through other unique experiences like interactive/online VIP events, soundchecks, and artist workshops. Specifically, Mandolin started with a name that is itself an acoustic instrument and a work force. full of people who had worked extensively with roots music, including but not limited to: myself, representing artists such as John Prine, I'm With Her, and Keb' Mo' as attorney; Jason Wilber, longtime John Prine guitarist; and Larry Murray, formerly of Luck Reunion. The name and connections naturally led us to develop roots music connections in our first year, though Mandolin's technology and services are certainly applicable to all genres of music. I have been somewhat surprised by the almost uniformly positive feedback on the integration of streaming into the live festival. experience. It helps that cameras have been in and around stages for many years, largely for IMAG projections on the sides of stages, so musicians are used to this. COVID introduced live streaming technology and practices to the world of music at a much faster rate than it otherwise would have been, and we've all learned how technology can connect us around the world and accommodate those who they may be challenged to attend an event in person. The upshot is that coming out of the pandemic, I think bluegrass and other festivals will be more interested in hybrid live streaming for all sorts of reasons. This may be a bold claim, but I would expect almost every festival, roots or not, to have a virtual experience component. Think about it: phone in hand, every fan is a digital fan, whether they're streaming at home or on the festival grounds.
Jackie Venson, R&B/Soul artist and guitarist from Austin, Texas:I was pretty well versed in live streaming before the pandemic. I had a series called Jackie Venson Live on Thursdays, which was an effort to help sell tickets for my album launch at Paramount in Austin, Texas in 2019. I saw the potential in it when it first came out in 2014. I tried to Livestreaming a concert from Berlin, Germany, but the technology wasn't there yet, so it was a really bumpy experience. I remember feeling so grateful that technology existed when the pandemic was ramping up so that I could continue to perform once there was no option for in-person shows. There was literally nothing else to do, and when there is nothing to do, I lose my mind and go with the first thing that comes to mind, which in this case was filling the acting gap with live performances. I used my Austin City Limits TV performance. as a platform for Black Lives Matter because that episode will be rerun and it's important to me that this message doesn't die. The response in general was positive; Of course, there were some naysayers, but that's why we need to keep repeating the message. During the pandemic I have received overwhelming support and positive feedback from the Austin music community. Everyone was on the same page and it seems like things are changing for the better. I will absolutely continue to broadcast from home when possible, and I plan to livestream some of my shows from the road for those who want or need to stay home. I think live streaming is going to be a staple in the world of live music. It makes live shows accessible to those who are unable to attend due to financial, accessibility or other issues.
Aengus Finnan, executive director of Folk Alliance International:Everything was topsy-turvy last year, but the biggest challenge was imagining and delivering an event we've never done before, with half the staff, all new software, no roadmap, and little idea if anyone would want to meet online 11 months in a Zoomed. - Out pandemic. Being able to offer a sliding scale registration fee, including free, was absolutely necessary given how hard hit our community was, and despite that approach, we exceeded our modest revenue goals to cover the costs of new systems in line we use. The most rewarding element was definitely having new artists and industry join us for the first time, and seeing a sharp increase in BIPOC and underserved community representation across all panels. That happened because we were able to extend invitations to participate in more accessible ways. We were also excited to finally provide honoraria to all panelists this year, which we are committed to continuing. the central goal of our Artist-in-Residence program: This year, it was jokingly renamed Artists in (their) residences due to the pandemic. Certainly, there were some artists we reached out to who just don't co-write, some for whom the online process felt strange, and others who, while flattered, were simply too busy with other projects or recordings. But for the most part, there was instant interest, especially when they knew that one of their peers had selected or recommended them. Collaborating across borders as part of a larger collective project, reflecting on a traumatic year, with the added element of raising awareness for The Village Fund to support the community, rang many "count on me" bells. We are already at full steam. Go ahead with a hybrid event this year, and we're not looking back. Naturally, our focus will be ensuring that the in-person event is top-notch and provides the experience we all know and love, but there are thousands of people who are unable to attend each year, for myriad reasons, and they provide online content as well as the Livestreamed and interactive content enables greater community engagement, participation and inclusion, and builds bridges and connections that people will use as an entry point leading to the growth of our genre and industry. While it is daunting, we are excited by the opportunity to innovate what we do and offer, and who we can reach.
The Bluegrass Situation, LLC is committed to safeguarding your privacy. Contact us at email@example.com if you have any questions or problems regarding the use of your Personal Data and we will gladly assist you.What is special about bluegrass music? ›
Bluegrass combines elements of old-time mountain music, square dance fiddling, blues, gospel, jazz, and popular music. Like jazz, bluegrass allows performers to improvise and take turns playing lead. Its distinctive timing surges slightly ahead of or anticipates the main beat, creating an energized effect.Is bluegrass a country or folk? ›
At its core, bluegrass is a folksy, rootsy genre of American music that developed throughout the early history of country music. But it's so much more than just a subgenre of country or folk. Bluegrass is part of the rich tapestry of Americana, and it deserves thorough exploration.Why is it called bluegrass music? ›
Bluegrass music came out of the rural south after World War II, but its roots date back to the 1930s. The genre was named after Bill Monroe's band The Blue Grass Boys who began performing in the 1940s.