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The World's Worst Roots Music Fest

1. The World's Worst Roots Music Fest.

The head-shakingest roots music news of the week: A planned three-day Americana benefit music fest that was supposed to draw 100,000 people the weekend before last near Austin, Tex., collapsed in chaos, shutting down after the second day and leaving vendors, contractors and your sister's boyfriend screaming to get paid.

As far as I can tell, the reason it fell apart is that the guy who was putting it on was charging $70 for a fest whose headliner was . . . Asleep at the Wheel.

Nothing against those guys, but for $70, they're going to be the warm-up act on the third stage at my festival. And this promoter, who said the World United Music Fest in beautiful San Marcos was supposed to benefit veterans - his company is called United States Entertainment Force. Hmm. Yeah.

The Austin American-Statesman said no one's quite sure if the promoter, who supposedly had a little experience doing USO shows, was out to pull a scam or was just in over his head and didn't know what he was doing. The guy, Jerry Payne, had trouble getting anyone well-known to do an ill-defined benefit gig for "veterans" and instead filled the three-day dance card with pretty much unpaid local Austin talent. The kind you could see for a $5 cover charge at the local watering hole on a Thursday night.

But the newspaper's descriptions of the chaos are classic. Hot dog vendors demanding the return of their $1,500 booth fees. The Dallas company that did the lighting and the staging threatening to sue for the $60,000 owed them. The promoter using the phrase "act of God," implying bad weather and not incompetence and/or malfeasance was the problem. The band Flounders Without Eyes playing at 6 p.m. Friday to "a crowd of exactly zero."

Not exactly the Austin City Limits Music Festival, where they can get away with charging $80 because they get folks like Wilco and Lucinda Williams.

The World United Music Fest: Worst Music Fest Ever.

2. Indie Rockers Make Fake Cowboys.

Are most indie rockers who don snap-button cowboy shirts and pay homage to roots rock legends really only playing Americana Dress-Up? The Dallas Observer thinks so.

Observer writer Justin Farrar lets loose during a rant about some new bands he thinks are authentic (D. Charles Speer and The Coydogs) against those he thinks are just appropriating the hard-won credibility of Real McCoys merely to further their feckless detours into roots music.

These include such offenders as Rounder Records' Delta Spirit (not "Americana/soul" but Rattle and Hum filtered through emo and The Strokes); Biirdie (not "Laurel Canyon folk" but "an act nicking tricks from Bowie"); Dr. Dog (not The Band but Elton John); and Sleepercar (not Gram Parsons but The Cure).

His point is indie rockers are so dang self-obsessed and self-referential they're incapable of making the intellectual and lifestyle commitments to real country music that artists like Gram Parsons did. They're so in love with irony and "genre surfing" they can't begin to understand the real cry-in-your-beer suffering and commitment that even modern avatars like Jeff Tweedy had to put in to master the real country blues.

"Today's indie bands are doing nothing more than playing Americana dress-up," Farrar says. "Over the last 10 to 15 years, a genre that once considered Neil Young a deity has devolved into a closed system regurgitating different permutations of U2, The Smiths, The Cure and Sonic Youth. When an indie artist does experiment with country-rock, he or she sounds middle of the road (Conor Oberst, Jenny Lewis) or retro and novel (Blitzen Trapper).

"Indie rockers are college-educated kids too in love with postmodern detachment ever to commit to a discipline - to sit down, surrender their precious subjectivity and actually immerse themselves in bluegrass and/or country-style guitar (let alone to invest in the complex group dynamics required of any serious rural rock band)."

If he's right, it's too bad because it was late '80s/early '90s indie rockers like The Lemonheads that really got me to listen to country music, and I'd say Evan Dando is pretty high up there on the feckless scale.

3. Indie Record Label Still Exists After 25 Years. News at 11.

It's nice to know that Red House Records - one of the indie-est indie record labels of all time - is still at it after 25 years, even after the death of its legendary founder and "everything man" Bob Feldman.

The Minneapolis-based label that has unstintingly furthered the causes of acoustic folkies, reformed rockers and bluegrass types like Jorma Kaukonen and Ramblin' Jack Elliott has released a 64-song, boxed set that is probably the finest and most concise summing up of what Feldman's obsession was about: Red House 25: A Silver Anniversary Retrospective.

An article by the Associated Press says the death of Feldman two years ago has actually "energized" the label rather than spelt its doom, with the remaining Red House employees, including 19-year veteran Chris Frymire, saying they're determined to build on the founder's folk, roots music and Americana legacy.

The kind of music that Red House puts out is what I'd call "thoughtful singer-songwriter," whose typical listener I'd blatantly stereotype as an overeducated public radio listener driving a Volvo with a Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker. Of course, in Minneapolis, that means big biz, and Red House provides an object lesson for indie record labels in surviving by knowing your market and serving it faithfully.

The AP says the biggest sellers at Red House are Lucy Kaplansky's 1999 album "Ten Year Night" and "A Nod to Bob," a 2001 tribute to Bob Dylan featuring Red House artists - each has sold more than 70,000 copies. Hey, not bad. Feldman for many years ran the label out of his basement and sold records from the trunk of his car, and now it's providing decent livings to several committed employee/believers.

Indie can work! I think Red House proves that people, even in hard times, will hand the money over for records if they're coming from a place they respect and feel a personal connection to.


From the Beachwood Country All-Stars to Dylan's Grammy Museum, the finest bones of rock 'n' roll are rattlin' 'round Don's Root Cellar.


Posted on November 25, 2008

MUSIC - Millions Of New Guitar Players.
TV - "One America News" is AT&T.
POLITICS - When Wall Street Came To My Mobile Home Park.
SPORTS - Skytober.

BOOKS - China Holding Swedish Publisher.


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