Category - music

Psssst… wanna hear some music?

Another highlight from the Nashville Guitar Mash

April 7, 2018

This fellow’s name is Chuck Thompson; Chuck is an accomplished photographer in his own right who’s mission is “making musicians and business look good.” See his work at www.pickchuck.com

Like so many of us here in Music City, Chuck is also a musician. If you’re not familiar with that odd-looking instrument he’s playing, it’s called a “harp guitar” – an instrument from the turn of the 20th century that has found renewed popularity here in the 21st century. It combiners a conventional fretted guitar neck with several unfretted bass strings strung across an extension of the guitar body that play like the strings of a harp. .

But what is remarkable about this photo is that Chuck is not on the stage: he’s in the audience! He was right there in the front row, playing along with luminaries like Jerry Douglas, Keb Mo and John Oates at the Guitar Mash, an event that invites the audience to actively participate in the performance instead of just sitting there and flapping their hands together at the end of each song. For more on the event, read my commentary here.

“Guitar Mash” = “Music 3.0”

Remember when I was writing about “Music 3.0“?

Of course you don’t, that was almost 10 years ago, before I folded “celestialjukebox.org” into one of the archived elements of this CohesionArts website.

My idea of “Music 3.0” (there are others, but they’re not nearly as prescient or comprehensive… 😜) was the culmination of what I still occasional refer to as my “Grand Nebulous Theory of The Future of Music” – a concept both “grand” and “nebulous” because, while I think the historical trajectory offers some useful clues, I don’t really have a solid grasp of the ultimate destination.

Whatever the ultimate destination, I think I walked into a fresh landmark along the route this past Saturday when I spent the afternoon at the City Winery in Nashville for something called the “Guitar Mash.”

The concept is hard to describe, but is summed up in the project’s stated mission to “change the way you experience music.”  Follow this link to get a better idea of the concept (simplified version here).

As I wrote in a Facebook post the following day:

I got to be present for – and photograph – a rather extraordinary event yesterday at City Winery.

It’s called the “Guitar Mash.”

It starts with a “house band” of A-List musicians – like Jerry Douglas on dobro, Mark Stewart (musical director for Paul Simon, among other things), Victor Krauss on bass, Larry Atamanuik on drums and John Deaderick on keys.

As the afternoon unfolded, the band was joined on stage by featured players including the likes of Brent Mason, Keb Mo, and John Oates.

But the really unique feature is: the audience is encouraged to bring their own instruments and… ohmigod… play along with the stars! Chord-and-lyric charts are displayed on the video screens and “Chord Coaches” (from the W.O. Smith School) wander the audience helping the guests suss out what they’re trying to play.

There will be more to come after I’ve sorted through all the files, but this morning I want to share this one shot of MV Gauthier, as she performs Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and looks out at a venue full of people playing and singing along with her. Her reaction here captures the entire essence of the event. Long story short, it was a blast for every one.

While technology continues to disrupt the “virtual” music business, I felt like this was an indication of what’s possible in the “real” world of music: empowering more people to make music themselves. I kinda think Mary is catching that spirit in this moment and realizing what a wonderful thing that could be.

It oddly frustrates me sometimes when I go to a concert or a club, and there is so little for the audience to do.  The performers put their best effort into a song, and the rest of us sit there and repetitiously flap our hands together in appreciation.  Rinse and repeat.  I don’t know that there is any viable alternative to that, but here’s a venue full of people doing something other than waiting for their chance to applaud:

Digital Caveats re: the above slideshow: I’m having some issues with ZenFolio – my web gallery/service provider – over their continued reliance on Adobe Flash for these slide shows.  10 years after Steve Jobs wrote the epitaph on Flash, ZenFolio only lets me create an “embeddable” slideshow if I use Adobe Flash.  HTML5 has been the de-facto standard for nearly a decade,  but when I try to embed the HTML5 version of this slideshow in my WordPress post, only half of the images appear in an otherwise half-black screen.  I love ZenFolio, but this one rates a big WTFF?  I don’t have Flash on my new MacBook Pro, so I have no idea if the embed above works or not.  If not, follow this link to see the entire gallery; there is a button to display the HTML5 slideshow in the upper right corner of the gallery page.

 

Returning once again to the archives…

In 2009, Pru Clearwater created a musical show unlike anything #Nashville has seen before or since. Inspired by an encounter with a sea turtle while diving in the Virgin Islands, the “Pru Clearwater and The Infinite Field” combined music, chanting, dance and recitation in an experience I called “Rock & Roll #Kirtan.” .

The “Infinite Field” derives from a concept in physics: within every atom, in the space between the nucleus and the electron orbits, as well as the vacuum between the stars, there is a field of energy, “the quantum sea.” But in all of the Universe, there is just ONE such field, not only infinite but effectively uniting every thing – animate or inanimate – in its continuity. .

With “The Infinite Field,” Pru expressed her belief in “the one-ness of everything,” and in the moment captured here, demonstrates the ecstasy I’m lookin for when I go out to shoot “The Joy of Making Music™.”

©2010 paul@cohesionarts.com

Speaking of Maui…. . .

From a return visit in 2010, while driving “UpCountry” – the verdant slopes of the great (dormant, at least for now…) volcano called Haleakala. As the Brothers Cazimero said, “Where I live, there are rainbows….”

Rainbows all around
Can you find the silver and gold?
It’ll make you old
The river can be hot or cold
And you should dive right into it
Else you’ll find
It’s passed you by
.
––from Page 43, by David Crosby

The Brothers Cazimero

©2010 paul@cohesionarts.com

Barry Flanagan: Maui, 2005

I recently started sorting through some of the photos I’ve shot over the years in concert and club settings, and over the next few weeks I’m going to share some or those archives here on Instagram. So I thought I’d start at the very beginning… .

After years of dormancy my life-long interest in photography was re-awakened when I got my first DSLR (a Nikon D100) 2003. But it wasn’t until 2005 that I shot somebody in performance.

II lived in #Hawaii from 1980 to 1994, on the #Lahaina side of #Maui. About a year after I moved there, another New Jersey native named Barry Flanagan showed up and started playing at the bar in the Pioneer Inn – an historic old hotel adjacent to the harbor where I owned a yacht charter service (“Where do we go? Sailing is the destination…”) Once arrived, Barry immersed himself in the music of the Islands, eventually becoming the lynch pin of an award winning duo called ‘Hapa’ (that’s Hawaiian for “half,” as in “half haole, half Hawaiian”– Google it if you have to).

I left Hawaii for good when I moved to Nashville in 1994, but went back to visit for the first time in the winter of 2005. While I was there, Barry and his group played a show at one of the hotels, and I got my new-ish DSLR out and started shooting. It’s funny to think now how little I knew then: at one point somebody asked me to turn off the flash. The flash? I’m not using flash… That’s when I discovered the little light on the front of the camera that sends a beam out to improve the auto-focus in dark situations; that’s also when I discovered you can turn that little light off….

So here’s a shot of Barry Flanagan from 2005. Look him up on Spotify:

@HAPAbarry

photo ©2005 paul@cohesionarts.com

Elle Mears – Live at The Tin Roof

My friend #musicproducer@saulisdope (secret identity: Michael Lovett) is working with the wondrous @ellemears; they invited to shoot a showcase she performed recently for the Country Radio Seminar at The Tin Roof near Music Row in Nashville. My gawd the conditions were awful… there were only a few dim LED lights on the stage and the sound was so loud/awful that it physically hurt to remove my earplugs! But sometimes you make do with what you’ve got, and in this case pulling all the distorted color out of the images produced some quite effective B&W stills. ©2018paul@cohesionarts.com

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“Straight Up” – the #songofthesummer is already here! !

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week

This past Thursday night I attended the sold-out opening screening of “Eight Days A Week” – director Ron Howard’s ode to The Beatles that focuses primarily on their touring years, from 1962-1966.

It is hard now not to think of The Beatles as anything other than a phenomenon – Beatlemania! – and an iconic force of musical nature.  They were all of those things, but what this movie so effectively reminds us – as John Lennon famously said somewhere in the “Beatles Anthology” – is that they were “just a band.”

But oh my, what a band…

With vintage photos and film clips from the late 1950s and early 60s, “Eight Days A Week” shows us  four guys who grew up together (OK, maybe not so much Ringo, who joined The Beatles just as they started their recording career, but he shared their scrappy Liverpool origins).  It was essentially John’s band from the beginning, but part of his gift was his ability to recognize in Paul and George talent and ambition equal to his own.

The mission of the documentary is to trace the full arc of their years as a touring band:  from the clubs of Hamburg were their sound was forged, to the Cavern Club in Liverpool where they found their audience, and eventually around the world, where their concerts were drowned out by screaming fans.  Throughout the arc we are watch as the role “pop music” in the cultural firmament is transformed in front of our eyes and ears.

But the full power and sheer artistry of The Beatles is more fully conveyed in the 30 minutes of concert footage that follows the documentary.

Here are The Beatles in a truly epic setting: Shea Stadium in New York – the first performance of their final tour in 1966.  They dash out on the field and climb atop a stage that looks like a boxing ring erected over second base, in the middle of the vast expanse of a baseball field, 50 yards away from the nearest fan, some 56,000 of whom are screaming their heads off through the entire show.

Still,  you can’t help but be impressed with the quality of the performance.  The set includes both covers and originals, opening with “Twist and Shout” and ending with “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help.” Showing the complete concert after the documentary is its own tour-de-force; it reminds us what the phenomenon was really about: the sheer power of skilled musicianship, the intensity of accomplished artistry.

The documentary is a 90 minute setup; the concert footage is a 30 minutes payoff – the undeniable proof of everything postulated in the film.

Ron Howard’s film also reminds us just how much “Beatlemania” was a reflection of the times.  In America especially, The Beatles arrival in February 1964 was the medicine a grieving nation needed after the shock of the Kennedy assassination.  Their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show carved the opening cracks in what would eventually become the “Generation Gap.”  We are reminded of the tumultuous history that The Beatles were part of, from the conflagration in Vietnam to the Civil Rights movement.

One detail in the documentary that surprised me addressed the matter of race as it is uniquely experienced in America: The Beatles had a clause in their contracts that declared that they would not play for segregated audiences.  A voice over from Paul McCartney explains how foreign the whole idea of segregation and Jim Crow was to their experience in England.

Howard deftly gives all four Beatles nearly equal screen time for retrospective commentaries.   The surviving Beatles, Paul and Ringo, appear on screen several times in their current incarnations; There are equal amounts of archival footage of John and George looking back on their years as Beatles.  Their commentaries lend a “Rashomon” like perspective to the whole experience.

The Beatles 1966 tour ushered in the era of the stadium concert – despite technology woefully suited for the purpose; George explains how Vox built amplifiers especially for this tour: “I think they were a hundred watts…” – and much of the audio was piped through the crackly stadium PA system: “Now playing at second base… The Beatles!”

I think it was Ringo who described the aftermath of what would history would record as The Beatles final live performance, the last concert of the 1966 tour at Candlestick Park in San Francisco:  After the show the band was raced out of the stadium grounds in what Ringo describes as “a meat wagon” – a bare metal armored police wagon, the kind that ferries convicts to prisons.  It was pretty much within those lurching steel confines that all four Beatles decided “we’re not going to do this any more…”

Freed from the demands of a touring schedule, The Beatles dedicate themselves to the studio.  There is footage from the EMI studio at Abbey Road of audio tape loops strung between tape machines… and then there is “Sergeant Pepper.”

From there the documentary quickly traces the remainder of The Beatles recording career: 5 albums in three years, from “Magical Mystery Tour” to the “White Album,” “Abbey Road” and the “posthumously” released “Let It Be” (which was released after the band announced its demise early in 1970).

The movie ends with  the most footage I have ever seen from The Beatles last-ever ‘concert’ – that day in January 1969 when they set up on the roof of the Apple Corps headquarters in London and played to the people on the street below.  It’s more than three years since the last time they performed “live” together, and the footage proves, once and for all that The Beatles were still, and always were, a great fucking band.

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“Eight Days A Week Is” playing at The Belcourt.  Info and tickets here.  It will also be released to streaming video via Hulu next week. A subscription will be required. So go see it in a theater with good surround sound.