Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Mother-in-Law LoungeThere's a terrible statistic that the population of New Orleans passed away at a far greater rate in the years immediately following Katrina than they had previously. It makes sense: your neighbors are missing, your home's in shambles, your doctor's still out of town, you have nothing but the clothes on your back - so many of the things that made your neighborhood into a community are missing. All that and then your government humiliates you and your city by making you beg to be treated humanely. Even nearly five years later, note all the empty space around Brad Pitt's eco-friendly homes in the lower 9th ward. It didn't use to be that way.

And yet.

The hope and devastation bus tour on my fifth trip to New Orleans had more hope than devastation but it's because of people like Doc and Annabelle Watson who are in their seventies. They've just finished rebuilding their home for the fourth time in 40 years and were practically more interested in telling us about their grandchildren. And it's because of Big Chief Ironhorse of the Black Seminoles who spends four hours a day beading his outfit for next year's Mardi Gras parade because he knows that his city and his tribe are still going to be there to appreciate that outfit.

I had a fantastic time as I always do in New Orleans - lots of great food, a rockin' show, a chance to catch up with friends new and old, my very first crawfish boil, photographic evidence here and here - but I also feel like I owe it to the people who I've met there to use my corner of cyberspace to talk about the New Orleans that's been forgotten because the world has moved on.

So watch the Spike Lee documentary, get pissed off all over again, tell your friends and then go visit (and leave Bourbon Street).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Well, the most recent stop on the world tour was 40 hours in San Francisco.

I was there to attend SanFran MusicTech, schmooze and watch panels and panelists.

Along the way, I got to be on my very first panel about activism through music/by musicians. It went well despite a good-sized case of stage fright before we started. During the first few seconds I was convinced my heart was going to burst out of my chest and run screaming down the street...but then I calmed down. It wasn't exactly a focused conversation, but I'm glad I did it. Certainly a confidence booster for me.

One niggling observation: I was surprised by the hard-core attitude from audience and my fellow panelists about musicians "not risking anything these days" when they speak about social justice issues, i.e. musicians choosing to advocate on issues like voter registration rather than the death penalty.

I guess I look at activism and efforts to engage music fans around causes as umbrellas that are better the bigger they are. OK Go advocating for net neutrality doesn't preclude Springsteen from railing against Ticketmaster which doesn't preclude orchestras around the country from collecting food bank donations.

I admire the passion and fearlessness of musicians who use their pulpit to talk about controversial topics, but activism isn't a zero-sum proposition and there are certainly plenty of causes to go around.

Aside from my panel, I like going to these conferences because I can steal ideas on ways to make FMC's events better. Having broad power to try new ideas is one of the big perks of working in such a tiny office. As a result of SanFran MusicTech and last week's Free Press Summit, I'm interesting in finding ways to make networking a goal for our events, rather than a happy byproduct of getting lots of interesting people in the same room.

Anyway, off to go talk activism in New Orleans tomorrow. Expect my flickr feed to be abuzz!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Nights of Americana

Public Service AnnouncementI missed the Stax Museum when I was in Memphis a few years ago because we went to Graceland instead. Graceland was fun and kitschy, but I suspect I would've enjoyed the Stax Museum more. Respect Me: The Stax Records Story, a documentary about Stax Records, was filled with archival concert footage and interviews with Isaac Hayes, Booker T. Jones and all the surviving MG's, Carla Thomas, both founders of Stax, Jesse Jackson, and the Staples Singers. There's even a shout out to the evil record company that stole Stax' early catalog through some fancy fine print. Go watch this.

As it happened, the same week I heard some of Booker T. Jones' new solo album with the Drive-By Truckers and Neil Young backing. Hearing his new and classic material in the same week was a study in contrasts. The new material was a bit blah and turned the assets of his trademark organ into liabilities. Maybe I'm reacting to his cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya" where he played the vocals on his organ? Ugh.

More of a lost opportunity was the American History Museum's Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn exhibit, which might have been more compelling if I were a sheet-music-geek. Do such people exist? For the rest of us merely interested music fans, it's too bad the museum didn't marry the music and the scores better. I can see the right kid (and me, too!) having a "hey cool!" moment if they were able to see a few bars of music while hearing the whole group play them and then listen again while soloing each track. Interactivity! Technology! Alas it was one of those tiny exhibits tucked away in a quiet corner on an afternoon that the rest of the place was mobbed.

Most definitely not disappointing was Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings at the 930 Club. Not that show, but NPR has some other live performances here. My highly-enthused tweets. A little stranger because of the overwhelming country & western vibe but just as delightful was John Doe with the Sadies at Iota.

On the whole, it was one good musical week.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I find lately I'm considering my dwindling attention span.

It started as a general malaise, but then Salon and The Atlantic made me think about it a little more carefully.

At the moment, I'm blaming Google Reader for my difficulty focusing. Before I started working at FMC, I had no clue what an RSS feed was. Since then, my RSS feed has slowly opened up a new world of information for me.

In the category of too much of a good thing, the quantity of information is staggering and impossible to keep up with, especially since a lot of what's available just needs to be filtered out. I like knowing that if I want to read about the "sexiest" iPhone app that Apple initially rejected, Boing Boing's new time-wasting find: the hospital food photo blog, TV on the Radio's summer tour dates, or Matthew Yglesias highlighting bus stop shelters from around the world, I can. But I digress.

My point is that I wouldn't have bothered reading any of those things, except maybe the bit on Apple, since I'd rather be reading Jess's thoughts on what it's like to graduate from college to possible impending joblessness or WaPo's extensive feature on the President's First 100 Days.

Then again, I could also place blame on my job. I've had stressful, multi-tasking-filled jobs before, but none at a time when distractions seemed so prevalent. A good bunch of the active work of filtering goes on while at work which maybe is only enhancing my fluttering nature. That, combined with actually trying to do work, leaves me feeling scattered rather than enriched by the end of the day.

I'm aware that some of this flitting is my own doing. I consolidated my blogs into an RSS feed for ease of use. I like reading blogs so that I can share them with you, dear reader. I enjoy the random stuff. Who doesn't? And some of it's just my nature to cover broad swathes of territory rather than fully investigate one small section.

But one thing's has become certain: I don't want to give in to the beast with the short attention span.

I'm grateful that I'm at least aware of my brain's habit of flitting from thing to thing. After that, I now need to make the choice to be present to the thing I've decided to do and create an environment for myself that enables focus.

On the musical side, I'm thinking about having a summer of (pick a genre). The idea is that for two or three months I'd listen to nothing but that genre. I'll start in order from history to the present and follow the important players and the evolution of sub-genres. Not sure what genre yet.

On the upside: I made it through both Salon and Atlantic articles on the way the internet is changing our brains and our attention spans. Small victories.