I Love My Job!

Friend and social media guru Ken Mueller hit the Twittersphere with, “Do you have any interesting plans for the weekend?” this morning.  Man, all I have is interesting plans!  My job is going to concerts, interviewing musicians and artists, checking out great music venues and sampling food and beverages in the area.

The hardest part of my job (besides getting paid) is choosing the “who/where/when” of my itinerary.  There are so many bands and solo acts of every description.  Lancaster, York, Harrisburg, and Reading fall within 30 minute drives and Philly, Baltimore and Allentown are within 90 minutes.

Lancaster of course is home to Chameleon Club, Village Nightclub, Lancaster Dispensing Company, Pressroom, Annie Bailey’s, and Marion Court Room all within three blocks.  They are not the only places to see a band: more on that later.

York is stacked with small clubs but it’s typically Bistro 19 or The Strand-Capitol Theater that draw me downtown.  The Depot is near York College of PA.  Just south of there is a newer place I’m crazy about: The Cove.  My Rural Radio.com sponsors a showcase artist every Thursday but there is live music five nights a week.  The place is clean and cozy and man, wait until you taste the brisket!

A newcomer to the scene may trap me between York and Lancaster: The Burning Bridge Tavern in Wrightsville.  I got a preview of the place two weeks ago when they brought in Shane Speal, “King of Cigar Box Guitar,” to give the new sound system a workout.  He rules and it rocks!

I bought a season pass to Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Co in Harrisburg (great investment!) so I can always go there for a show.  They offer 4-5 shows per week and I have never been disappointed.  They draw some major acts and nurture some fine local talent. Cabinet recorded a cd there last winter!

That’s my 30 minute list; add Philly, Baltimore or Allentown to the list and the choices grow exponentially.  And I haven’t even factored in WHO to see.

Here’s how it broke down for this weekend.  I will start with Happy hour/dinner at ABG (American Bar and Grill, Lancaster) Friday.  Then, slip downtown to DipCo for Hexbelt.  I don’t plan to stay too late.  Trout season opens Saturday, so fishing must be fit in somehow.

By 3pm Saturday, I want to be at Burning Bridge Tavern for the grand opening.  South County Brewing will be featured and Vinegar Creek Constituency will be playing.  I can’t stay too long because I head for Philly from there.

Have you seen The Kalob Griffin Band yet?  Have you visited MilkBoy Philly yet?  I’m crazy for this band and very excited to see one of the hottest new venues around.  Plus, I get to check in on daughter Kate, buy her dinner and haul home her winter clothes.

Sunday will be more fishing, uploading photos/videos, writing show reviews and planning my blogs for the week.  If it’s nice, maybe we’ll have a cookout with the neighbors.  Tune in next week!!

Media and Me

Until I was 14, my home had one TV, black and white, and it received four channels.  That year we got a color TV and by my senior year we had cable.  I remember seeing Oz in color for the first time during the annual “event” that was the broadcast of The Wizard of Oz.  Before cable brought us over a dozen channels, we got what we got.  Here in central PA, that typically meant WGAL.  Period.

Our media sources today are innumerable.  They pervade every aspect of our life and are with us at all times.  Has it changed the world or brought more of the world into focus?  The uprisings in the Middle East may not have happened without Twitter, Facebook and other social media giving people a platform from which to voice dissent.  Network and cable news channels reported on fighting, casualties, insurgents and atrocities.  But 15 months later, where is the news coverage from Egypt?  For that matter, when’s the last time you thought about the national impact of 2005’s big story, Hurricane Katrina?

I think media is just one tool in humanity’s toolbox.  How we use those tools will be our legacy, not the fact that we invented them or profited from them.  I might never have had that thought without social media access to the TED talks, especially the most recent by Bryan Stevenson or my all-time favorite by Ken Robinson about how schools are killing creativity.

I was enjoying some social media time last week and saw two postings that gave me pause.  One was by Steven Courtney, a local musician I greatly admire for his talent and commitment to making the world (especially a child’s world) a better, more positive place.  He quoted Hunter S. Thompson, father of “gonzo journalism” and also a favorite of mine.  Here’s the quote:  “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.  There’s also a negative side.”  Maybe Steven was trying to be funny; he has a great sense of humor.  Or maybe he was having a bad day and reflecting on all the obstacles he has faced/is facing while just trying to use his talents to support his family.

The other posting was by visitPA.com on their Facebook page.  They mentioned that 3/20 was Fred Rogers’ birthday and that Mr. Rogers would have been 84.  He began his career in television when it was a new medium, the early 1960’s: the same time frame that today’s TV show Mad Men glamorizes.  Yes, this new technology was ripe for advertising and millions could be made by convincing people to consume certain products.  Fred Rogers instead decided to explore using television as a way to reach, entertain, educate and provide positive reinforcement to children.

So here I am: using social media to promote the music industry.  I pledge to use media and social networking tools to help people.  The irony, of course, is that I’m using social media to ask people to step away from their computers and go socialize at music and art events.  After all, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, won’t you be mine?”

Gigspots: Year One

One year ago today, March 28, 2011, I had made my decision to leave the classroom and become self-employed.  I had been developing the idea for Gigspots.com for almost a year and the website was nearing completion.  LAUNCH Music Conference III was opening in three weeks and I had fliers ready for the attendees’ swag bags.  It was a gorgeous spring day and all seemed right with the world.  My website was about to be born!  My missions: make it easy for bands, fans and venues to connect and to save the economy one gig at a time.

As I reflect on year one, I have a ton of vivid memories: mostly good ones.  Some of my high expectations were met.  The music scene is teeming with fresh and familiar talented performers throughout PA, MD, DE, and NJ!  It seemed like I had found my niche in the market and people loved the idea of one site where they could get the latest info for many shows in their area.

Some of my doubts were assuaged.  My students used to bust on me for not being very tech-savvy.  I didn’t even have a Facebook and was just learning how to text!  Could I really run a website, two Facebook pages, a YouTube channel, a Twitter account and a blog?  Well, here I am; take a look!

Many things happened that I did not foresee in the least.  Who knew how kind and helpful some people would be with no reward in it for them?  Who knew that some people would resist joining my venture even while I offered them everything for free?  Who knew that in many ways (good and bad), the real world was just like high school?

Wow, it’s been a big year!  I could fill five blogs with thank –you’s but actions speak louder than words.  If you’re with me, count on even bigger support from me in the next year.  If you’re not with me, let’s just say “not yet” for now.

I attended over 50 shows and met a lot of very talented musicians!  With their permission, I filmed many of the shows and created a YouTube channel.  Bands used those videos to self-promote and I posted them on venue Facebook pages.  People who were there could relive the memory.  People who missed it could see what they missed.  When bands were headed somewhere I knew, I could post a video as a preview of their upcoming show.  It seems to be a big hit and a step in the right direction.

Count on my continued reposting on Facebook of all the events you invite me to. When I would do Facebook Check-ins at shows, it seemed to draw a lot of response.  I just joined the Twittersphere to be even timelier with that.  Follow me: and I don’t just mean on Twitter.  Come out to some shows!

Most recently, I launched this blog.  It’s a place for us to share: not for me to lecture.  I’ll tell you the same things I always told my students.  If I’m lecturing, stop me.  If you have something for the good of the group, bring it up.  If I need to know something, please tell me.  I became a better teacher as I listened to my students and I’m confident I will become a better Gigspotter if I listen to you.

You Can Get There From Here

Thursday kicked off a great weekend for me.  The venues I showcase on Gigspots.com are more than business partners; they are favorite places of mine.  I took the opportunity to visit two of them while I was in the mountains prepping the family place for the spring and summer.

The Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, PA features a delicious food and drink menu daily and live music an average of twenty nights a month.  Owner Steve Koch was way ahead of the microbrew trend when he opened in 1996 and his beers have won many awards.  The food is all prepared fresh daily and much of it comes from local farms.  The location helps Bullfrog attract some prominent national touring acts as they cruise I-80 between “big city” gigs.  A unique weekly event at Bullfrog is the Sunday Brunch and Jazz workshop, noon to four.  I don’t know what it is about Williamsport but they have a greater concentration of musicians per capita than anyplace I have been outside Memphis.  Visit the Bullfrog and you will see a great town, eat some great food, enjoy delicious, provocative beers (if you like) and hear some very talented musicians.

On this trip I enjoyed a pulled-pork Cuban sandwich called the Rico and a Billtown Blonde.  I filled my growler with Ruby Doomsday, a fine red ale.  Can’t wait to go back!

Thursday evening found me over the mountains in Wilkes-Barre (actually Plains, PA) at The River Street Jazz Café.  Executive chef and talent-booker Tom Moran is one of the most interesting and lively guys I know.  The extensive menu varies from simple to sumptuous and the staff makes you feel like you own the place.  As much as I love the food, it’s the music that keeps me going back.  Mike Mizwinski (Miz) calls The Jazz his home base and I think he is one of the most talented people in music today.

It was Miz that drew me to the mountains last Thursday.  His solo acoustic show that night began with Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album, in its entirety.  No notes, no lyrics, no help: and that was his first set!  He followed that with an hour of his own material.  Miz played 260 shows in 2011 and was named Tri State Indie Solo Artist of the Year.  You don’t have to visit Wilkes-Barre to hear him play but wow, get out and see this guy!

I know.  We have a ton of great restaurants and very talented musicians right here in Lancaster, PA.  Why drive 2.5 hours into the mountains to eat and see a show?  I say, why not?  Not every getaway needs to be the beach.  Hundreds of small towns just as unique, delicious and memorable are scattered across our Commonwealth.  So share the wealth and hit the road.  Maybe start by visiting visitPA.com for some ideas.  And please share your ideas and locations for getaways with me here.

The Democracy of Music

I spoke in an earlier blog about my love of radio and how I felt that at its best, radio is a very democratic format for music.  Well, I understand that many people see radio as antiquated and impractical.  Why count on frequency modulation (fm) when cables, satellites and wi-fi can bring us music without any noise or interruptions or distance impediments?  Fair enough.

Getting music has never been easier thanks to computers, cables, satellites and wi-fi.  We can access music from anywhere, from any time in a few clicks.  Our hand-held devices can store and play more music than most radio stations have in their libraries.  We are never out of range.  I get it.

My music collection began with 45’s: a small vinyl disc that had a song on each side.  When I could earn money mowing lawns, shoveling snow and doing household chores, I began buying albums.  I loved that they typically had 10-12 songs, many of which I loved but hadn’t heard on the radio.  The artwork was compelling and they often included the lyrics.  They just weren’t very portable.  A large record collection was heavy and records were fragile.  You needed electricity and a record player, many in those days actually doubling as a piece of furniture.  Our solutions were to have record parties and dances. Yes, we actually got together and shared our music (and our “dance moves”).  It was fun.

When you hear “music sharing” today, the law is often in the next thought or phrase.  Lots of criminals have made a ton of money by pirating music and selling it without the rights.  Musicians are understandably upset; those songs are their creations, their intellectual property, and their deepest expressions of feelings.  The music is also their livelihood; it’s how they pay their bills and buy soccer uniforms for their kids.

So computers have made it easier to become a music consumer AND easier to be a music thief.  Are you a music thief if you download from those “free music” sites?  Many would say yes.  Are you guilty if you “burn” a copy of your favorite cd for a friend?  Many would say yes to that as well.  Can we blame computers?  That’s ridiculous.  That’s like blaming Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison for the electric chair.

You can’t blame a tool or technology for its improper use.  Some people will always find a way to commit crimes, and everybody likes easy.  But with only a handful of huge corporations holding all the rights to distribution, transmission and sales to most music these days, you had better be looking over your shoulder. Big money and big business have ways of influencing how law is interpreted. Ever wonder what that Gracenote pop-up on your i-tunes screen is all about?

Records were replaced by 8-track tapes and then cassette tapes for many music consumers.  We made “mix-tapes” from our albums: the best songs, the grooves we wanted, the moods we were trying to capture.  Making them wasn’t easy.  But you didn’t have to stop dancing to flip over the record and you could take your battery-powered player to the beach, the mountains, in the car, anywhere.  If making mix-tapes for my friends had been ruled a crime, I would be serving life without parole.

Why Music?

I have turned my hand at many trades and worked some crusty jobs.  I went to college and got an English degree and taught high school English for 17 years.  When I quit the classroom last June, many people wanted to know what I planned to do.  “I want to promote music and culture,” I would say.  I got a lot of funny looks and plenty of, “You’ll never make any money” comments.  Saying, “Money isn’t everything” didn’t seem to help.

I chose to teach because I wanted to serve my country and help young people the way my best teachers helped me.  I miss my students but I don’t miss the emphasis on standardization.  We are not all the same and no amount of testing will ever convince me otherwise.  I still want to serve young people and the young at heart. I came to realize that music is the common denominator; it reaches everyone on some level.  Maybe music will help us find a way to national unity.  People my age will remember a song by The Youngbloods that asked us to, “C’mon people now, smile on your brother, everybody get it together, try and love one another right now.”

I worry about the standardization in music brought about by a handful of corporations owning the majority of radio stations in the country.  Radio used to be so democratic.  Listen to any radio station during their “all-request” hour and you will get the idea.  It was a community bonded and strengthened by music.  College radio still gets it right.  And there are no commercials, only public service announcements.

I love college radio and WXPN (88.5/88.7fm) from U.Penn in Philly is a brilliant example of how vibrant a music community can look and sound.  I also listen to WIXQ (91.7fm) from my alma mater, Millersville U., and to WFNM (89.1fm) from Franklin and Marshall College.  When I travel north along the river from Harrisburg, it’s WQSU (88.9fm) from Susquehanna U. in Selinsgrove.  In Pittsburgh, it’s WYEP (91.3fm).  You will hear music you know and songs/bands you have never heard.  It’s ok.  Four years ago, nobody around here or anywhere had heard of Adele.  I heard her first on WXPN.  Yes, you can stream any of these stations.

In an earlier blog, I talked about the great irony of Gigspots: using social media to get people away from their computers.  It’s not that computers are bad.  But using social media is not socializing.  Studying linguistics for my degree, I learned that only 30% of a message is actually contained in the words you use.  The other 70% comes from body language, tone of voice, eye contact, facial expression and a host of other factors that do not come through a computer.  Have you ever sent someone a text/message/email and had your intended message completely misunderstood?  Of course you have.

America, we need to socialize more.  And nothing draws a crowd, or unifies a crowd, like music.  C’mon, people…

Meanwhile, Down in Dutch Country

If you think Lancaster is all buggies and dirt roads, you have been misled.  Maybe you have heard of The Chameleon Club but picture it as separate from town: a brick and mortar bastion of rock towering above the tumble-down shanties and barnyard critters.   I will admit that I might not have settled in Lancaster in 1988 if not for The Chameleon but wow, am I glad I stayed!  It’s a music-lover’s paradise!

Since I arrived in town, The Lancaster Dispensing Company has been my go-to place for great food, music and music news.  The menu is immense and there is live music most Friday and Saturday nights.  “The DipCo” is where the musicians, promoters, bartenders and baristas hang out; it’s where everyone convenes either before or after events in town.  It is what all those TGIFridays, Chili’s and Ruby Tuesdays wish they were.  It is where I take all my visiting friends from out of town and they love it!

DipCo is where I first heard about Music For Everyone, a Lancaster non-profit that promotes music education and provides instruments and instruction for under-funded school and community programs.  One of Lancaster’s biggest music events is the annual MFE CD Release Concert, where all the local artists who contributed songs perform downtown.  DipCo is also where Plugged In on the Farm was brainstormed into a reality.  The talent pool here is always looking to pay it forward.

Are you starting to get the picture about Lancaster?  Even the Mayor’s office is in the loop.  Music is woven into the fabric of life here.  The addition of Millersville University’s Ware Center downtown is further interconnecting the threads of culture and quality of life.

Need more proof before committing to a visit?  Check out Fly Magazine, Lancaster’s bar-search authority for 20 years.  Check out Tri State Indie, a phenomenal on-line indie music magazine based in Lancaster but with contributors nationwide.  Then check out LAUNCH Music Conference and start making your road trip plans.

How much of a trip is it?  Lancaster is 75 miles from Philly, 85 miles from Baltimore, 2.5 hours from D.C., 3.5 hours from NYC and 4.5 hours from Pittsburgh.  Harrisburg, York and Reading are within 35 miles.  The Pocono Mountains and the beaches of NJ, DE and MD begin within a two hour drive of Lancaster.  It has everything a city should have and is close to everything else.

Lancaster is absolutely a hub for the independent music scene and a crossroads where national touring acts settle in for a night.  Diverse, abundant cultural attractions await you.  Yes, you can have a buggy ride and shoo-fly pie if you wish.  Or you can start your day at Central Market, visit 300+ unique businesses within ten square blocks, catch some great bands in intimate venues and tuck in for the night at Lancaster Arts Hotel.  Just don’t count on making this your only visit.  I came for a visit in 1988 and haven’t left yet.

The Great Irony of Gigspots

The Great Irony of Gigspots
Greetings and Welcome to Gigspots! My name is Sam Campbell and I will be your host. Gigspots.com is a website designed to be a clearinghouse for bands and live music venues. Fans of live music can go there to see a concert calendar, pictures and profiles of bands/venues and videos of bands performing live. From Pittsburgh to Philly, from the Poconos to the Potomac, we want to be the site you check to find great live music in your town or on your travels. Gigspots.com was born April 18, 2011.
This blog will give me a chance to sound off about our region’s great music scene. As I visit cities and towns seeking great music, I will share the cultural treasures I discover. Art, architecture, dining, history and outdoor adventures are some of my interests besides music. I hope you find my writing lively and entertaining. I hope you give me some feedback and guidance. Share your experiences and expertise!
Here’s the great irony of Gigspots. I am using the internet and social networking sites to say, “Step away from your computer!” Social networking is not socializing. To “Like” a band or music venue is not the same as experiencing them. They are as different as having a picture of a dog and having a dog.
You know how your dog is always glad to greet you, whether you went to the mailbox or Miami? Become a regular at your local spot or at a band’s area appearances and you will get the same type of greeting, minus the shedding and slobbering (typically: your results may vary).
The next few blogs will highlight some of my best experiences from year one at the helm of Gigspots.com and preview the big events to come. Please join in with recollections and invitations!