Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Memphis Has Musicians Like Picnics Have Ants

Or something like that. Go read Rachel's recount of her past week. She literally trips over amazing Memphis musicians without even trying!

How can we have such a dense and amazing pool of talent bubbling away here and so few local showcases and highlights for them that draw in regional and national interest? The Beale Street Music Fest does have some local music, but it's also heavily weighted to dinosaur bands and has-beens and "safe" choices. The city -- through the guise of the Convention & Visitor's Bureau, and the Music Commission -- keep plugging musicians and scenes that had their heyday decades ago while incredibly talented young men and women languish in unnecessary shadows.

The city has a vibrant club scene, the New Daisy, the Colisseum and then the Forum. Where's the mid-level venues? Why are the amphitheaters on Mud Island and in Overton Park being allowed to lie fallow? Where are the venues that seat say 800 to 3000 people? And why, oh why, were Hoops and the Grizzlies organisation ever, ever, given control of music venues, via their "right of refusal for non-compete" clause on the Forum?

We're just beginning to gear up for the outdoor festival season in Memphis. I happened on a student festival by the University of Memphis last Saturday and heard an astonishingly good young band called Roll Over Doctor. They couldn't have been more than 18, but already had a rudimentary grasp of the blues and did a smoking power-trio cover of "Frankenstein" by the Edgar Winter Group. If they hadn't set up and played outside the place I was in, I'd never have even heard of them!

Groups like these play the clubs and the festivals, get some attention and fans, and then... stumble. With the destruction of Easley it's harder for bands to get high quality cheap recording, but home computer equipment makes basic level access easier than ever. So how do these bands break out to the wider community? How do they get the local raves that draw in national labels?

True, the papers are really good about promoting local music, but reading about music (or bands) is, as Frank Zappa once noted, like dancing about architecture. You have to hear it, be exposed to it, be caught unawares in a receptive moment.

There's a necessary component we don't have, a connection not being made, that's hurting us.

I'd love to hear ideas about what's missing or not working right in the Memphis area that's holding down our modern music scene.

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