Term Limits: A Real Political Revolution

I love politics.  Not the politics as seen on TV, which is just the propaganda and the hype.  I love the idea that we can elect people to represent us and work to make our society better for all.  I have seen government protect people from pollution, monopolies and disease.  I have seen it fund infrastructure and public safety projects.  I understand why a majority of people today are upset with government corruption, unbalanced budgets and laws that are not fair to everyone.  In a weird way, it even makes sense that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders got the most press during the primary season.  They both attacked the way Washington does business and Americans want real change.  I know I do.

Trump mostly talked about himself and who he hates.  Bernie talked about leading a revolution.  I prefer revolution to hate.  But this isn’t about who I prefer for president (none of the above).  It’s about taking government out of the pocket of big money interests and holding politicians accountable for their promises.  By enacting term limits on all political offices, we can end the era of career politicians.

The founding fathers never foresaw that people would serve in Congress and then spend the rest of their lives seeking reelection.  America was founded by people who were suspicious and mistrustful of a wealthy ruling class.  It was our revolution: “…of the people, by the people, for the people.”  Ratifying the Constitution took twelve years because the representatives fought for controls that would protect their individual states from an over-reaching federal government.  They also fought to ensure the separation of church and state and the even distribution of powers among the President, the Supreme Court and Congress.  Then they went home and got back to their own business.  They were respected in their communities because they had sacrificed their own interests and put the welfare of the country first.

A President can only serve two terms of four years.  When George Washington retired after two terms, he set that standard.  Yes FDR was elected to a fourth term in 1944 but that was largely because the Allies had begun to turn the tide in the war against Nazi Germany.  FDR was wildly popular among average citizens recovering from the Great Depression and eager to win a war against dictators in Germany, Italy and Japan.  Big business hated FDR’s New Deal programs and decried the creation of a “welfare state.”  No President since then has sought a third term.

Presidents nominate candidates for the Supreme Court and Congress holds hearings to approve them.  Justices hold office for life so their honesty, impartiality and intelligence must be beyond reproach.  Many argue that nominating Supreme Court justices may be a President’s greatest power but no nominee goes to the bench without approval by Congress.  Informed and engaged citizens would voice their opinions to their congressmen and senators and help ensure confirmation of justices who would protect their rights.  But Congress seems to represent their political parties more so than they represent their constituents.  And too many of our citizens are woefully uninformed and not engaged.

Big business and their lobbyists are to blame.  The money they pour into reelection campaigns and sponsorship of bills has created a wealthy ruling class: Congress.  The time for a new revolution has arrived.  Big money isn’t going to go away.  But if we make the career politicians go away, perhaps Congress can once again be the voice of citizens beyond investors and shareholders.

Trump and Sanders both got it right.  People are ready for change.  Matt Taibi of Rolling Stone summed it brilliantly in his article “Appetite for Destruction” (RS1267, 8/11/16).

“Trump was always just smart enough to see that the same money backs the Jeb Bushes and Hillary Clintons of the world.  But he never had the vision or the empathy to understand, beyond the level of a punchline, the frustrations linking disenfranchised voters on both the left and right.

Presented with a rare opportunity to explain how the two parties stoke divisions on social issues to keep working people from realizing their shared economic dilemmas, Trump backed down.  Even if he didn’t believe it, he could have turned such truths into effective campaign rhetoric.  But such great themes are beyond hid pampered, D-minus mind.  Instead, he tried to poach Sanders voters simply by chanting Bernie’s name like a magic word.”

Money and those who sling it that have the ears of Congress and the President.  They don’t care if we’re angry as long as we keep lining up at the same feeding troughs.

Trump will go back to reality TV soon and Bernie will return to the Senate; that’s exactly what America needs right now.  Senator Sanders can lead the revolution by introducing term-limits legislation.  Citizens can lobby their representatives to vote for it or promise to vote them out of office.  In eight to twelve years, America could have representatives who go to Washington to fight for the issues that concern them, not to cuddle up to big money and spend their days opposing the other political party and seeking reelection.

Members of Congress are supposed to represent their constituents and the issues that concern them.  Security, health care, education, immigration, infrastructure and the economy: these are the concerns of the people.  In our capitalist nation, they are also big businesses.  Do we need better bombs or better schools?  Should medicines only be available to those who can afford them?  Will the internet mean we don’t needs roads or cities anymore?  Is the tax code fair?  Can these issues be debated fairly by a Congress who listens to business more than the voters at home?  Everyone says no.

Our representatives should be the experts in these fields who are willing to suspend their careers for six to eight years and go to Washington.  Their goals shouldn’t be becoming politicians.  Their goals should be issue specific to their states and good for America as a whole.  A safe, healthy, prosperous America is good for the world.

The President is our chief diplomat and public symbol of our values and resolve.  They come and go with election cycles.  The Supreme Court justices write and uphold our laws.  But as long as there are lawyers, those justices will have to justify every decision and prepare to be challenged.  It’s Congress that needs accountability.  No more career politicians: it’s been my rallying cry for quite a while.

If you’re still reading, have a few laughs as a reward.  George Carlin knew us best. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYIC0eZYEtI

Au Revior LRB

I haven’t blogged much lately because I’ve been blue.  I’m sharing today that I am no longer contracted to Lancaster Roots and Blues, A Festival of Music, as the director of operations.  Mr. Rich Ruoff fired me on June 20.  I questioned his judgement one time too many I guess.  If you want another version of the story, you will have to ask him about it.  If you would like to comment, please do so here!  If you have comments or questions about LRB, please direct them to Mr. Ruoff.

I’m very proud of the work and investment I made in the festival over its first three years.  I hope you all enjoyed yourselves and I hope it thrives for many years to come.  Thank you Lancaster for being a great city for the event.  Thank you to the venues and the artists for your outstanding connection to the attendees.  Thank you to the restaurants who helped me feed the artists and volunteers.  Thank you volunteers and staff!

Gigspots will continue to book bands, produce events and tours, and bring you the latest in music news, videos, show and music reviews.  Watch for a revised version of the website to debut in August and catch us at shows and festivals around the mid-Atlantic!

Reboot Camp

I ended 2015 wanting a fresh start.  On a simple level that meant tasks like cleaning out the closets, reorganizing my office and sorting a few piles of “pitch, keep, or pay it forward.”  On a higher level, it meant choosing healthy over haggard.  Somewhere in between, I needed to repurpose my business to reflect five years of experience.  So I’ve thrown away a bunch of stuff, quit smoking cigarettes and begun the redesign of Gigspots.  January 2016 has been the hardest month of my life since boot camp in 1981.

You learn a lot about yourself in challenging times.  I was sure I would die those first few weeks of basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas, the most misnamed post in any man’s Army.  Fifteen weeks later I knew I could “fuck, fight and hold the light” on any continent.  Thirty five years later I laugh at the memories and love to tell the stories.  Our drill instructors loved to remind us that “You assholes volunteered for this!”  They all had been drafted and served combat duty in Vietnam.

A former student recently reminded me that I’d recommended a book to her, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.  She said it changed her life; I knew it had mine.  The four agreements you make with yourself are:  1) Be impeccable with your word, 2) Don’t take anything personally, 3) Don’t make assumptions and 4) Always do your best.  After this reminder (thanks S.F.), I recalled that the book had popped up in some close friends’ lives recently.  I decided I had to re-read it.  I don’t believe in random.

The week before, I had uncovered Ruiz’s book cleaning out my office and I also found my copy of the book Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath.  This personality assessment book meant much to me when I had decided to leave teaching and try to rediscover what mattered to me.  The idea behind the book is that our society wastes much time and energy trying to “fix” our weaknesses rather than recognizing and employing our strengths.   My top five themes are Empathy, Input, Intellection, Activator and Connectedness.

So the boxes of photos and books from my past remind me of tough times endured and joyous times realized.  They give me something to do instead of smoking which it now seems I spent most of my waking hours doing.  I’ve been taking time to rediscover elements of my character and reassessing how Gigspots.com should reflect them.  After all, I am the brand.  My life themes are the business themes.

So I empathize with your need to find entertainment among people you enjoy.  I do the homework to give you input on what’s out there.  I ask the big questions like, “Will this enrich some lives?” and I support the causes, not just the events.  Think global, act local.  Connectedness means “…fortifying the bonds between yourself, the people you know, or even those you will never meet.”  That’s what Gigspots is about.  I’m building campfires we can all gather around and celebrate what makes us human.

Gigspotting Off the Grid

I just spent a week in Denver, CO.  The elevation greeted me pleasantly and low humidity kept me cool.  The trip centered on friends so I caught no shows.  Amos Lee and David Gray played Red Rocks while I was there and Blues Traveler was headlining on the Fourth of July.  My wife and I (still the best date) passed many hours downtown in fabulous craft breweries and cantinas but never saw any live music. There were a few buskers and a Zac Brown concert at Coors Field.  LoDo, or lower downtown, kept its rhythm with piped-in hits of the moment or those you’ve known for decades.  People sing along and sway.  The city was beautiful and clean, fresh yet historic.  I don’t know how those people stay so fit with all the great food and beer at their fingertips.  I will say downtown Denver is quite foot and bike friendly as are the people.

Bullfrog3On July 9-11 I’ll be hosting a Gigspots Premiere Showcase at Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport.  I love this place with all my heart and I’m thrilled to have three nights in a row to share some music they have not heard.  Stolen Rhodes is touring nationally and Thursday 7/9 fit perfectly for their first visit to Billtown.  Lavacave makes their first appearance Friday 7/10 at Bullfrog although Robin Chambers has appeared there before with Bjorn Jacobsen and Nick DiSanto’s brother Leo has played there plenty: as a duo with Jeff Bryson and also as part of The Vinegar Creek Constituency.  On Saturday night, those wild boys Medusa’s Disco will play a rarely-seen acoustic show.  What a first impression!  My name for it is “acousticophonic:” an unplugged cacophony.

P6250084Bullfrog Brewery is the only place you’ll catch me the rest of this week.  Besides staging these shows, I’ll be hosting Loyalstock and living in a tent.  The only electronic signals I’ll be receiving will come from stars and fireflies.  I’ll be back in time to fly my Gigspots banner at Ladybug Music Festival in Wilmington, DE on Thursday July 16.  Friday July 17 is Sweet Leda at Reading Band Shell.  Sunday July 18 I’ll be at Long’s Park for Lake Street Dive.  All three of these events are FREE!  Till then, it’s me, the bugs, the creek, the music and a pile of some of the greatest people I know.  Pie for breakfast.  Late night campfires.  Tubing in between and Bullfrog Billtown Blonde on tap.  Seizure later!


Sulk or Burn?

I’ve been filling my rainy day with various Gigspotter tasks: uploading videos, contacting agents, reading the blogs and the latest Fly Magazine.  Were you at Tellus 360 for the tribute to the Radiohead album The Bends three weeks ago? bends tribute All twelve of the artists performed one of the album cuts and then a few originals.  Angela Sheik nailed it for me this morning.  Her performance of “Sulk” was singular and remarkable and I hope Radiohead hears it.  Hearing it today gave me the juice to care not a whit for the weather’s plans.  Seeing the joy and verve she threw into that performance reminded me why I started Gigspots and why it fascinates me every day.  Thank you bands and especially Dani Mari for orchestrating the night!  I’m not worthy!

Browsing 298 Recommended Pages and Notifications on Facebook lead me to a blog on The Key called “Philly Music 101: How to Book a Show at a Philly Venue.”  It was filled with sound advice and some notable quotes.  One of my favorites was by Christianna LaBuz of World Café Live.  Christianna La Buz: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice. It’s a pretty small industry and everyone knows each other, so don’t talk smack. Stick around for the bands playing after you. Be kind to your openers; you never know, you could be opening for them someday. Treat your sound engineers with respect – it’s a thankless job and they can easily make you sound like garbage. Tip your bartenders well – they talk to more people at the venue than anyone and it’s just the right thing to do.”

The Key blogger, Sarah Hughes, made some keen points around the quotes she got from LaBuz, Chris Ward from Johnny Brenda’s, Jesse Lundy for Point Entertainment, Yusuf Muhammad for Vintage Freshman and Sean Agnew from R5 (quoted below).  If your band wants to play Philly (or anywhere), I suggest you follow the link and read the whole blog.

So – you got your gig. What now? Performers might think that the only thing next is showing up at the right address on the right day without missing a band member, but there are some things that you can do in the meantime to show that you are adamant and grateful for the slot you got. Making a solid impression with show bookers can create an important relationship in the industry. A good place to start is with promoting the show on your end, and not just leaving it up to the venue. Promoters like it when a band is excited about their performance and getting people out to see them. Agnew talked about how this will start you off on a good note for venues:

You will quickly become every club’s favorite band if you hustle and get folks out for the show. You’ll definitely get invited back and then quickly rise to the top of the list for when we can add local bands to bigger shows.

Everybody wants to draw a crowd.  If this was middle school, all you’d have to do is yell, “Fight!”  We’re over that now.  But you need to fight to succeed in life and pursuing your art is a noble fight.  Radiohead does it.  Angela Sheik and Dani Mari do it.  The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were bar bands once.  Of course there’s a competitive element to landing a gig at the place and time that works for you.  But we’re all in this together.  One of the best things I heard that night at Tellus 360 (besides the bands pouring their hearts out in tribute) was all the musicians saying how great it was to be there together.


By Radiohead

You bite through the big wall, the big wall bites back
You just sit there and sulk, sit there and bawl
You are so pretty when you’re on your knees
Disinfected, eager to please

Sometimes you sulk, sometimes you burn
God rest your soul
When the loving comes and we’ve already gone
Just like your dad, you’ll never change

Each time it comes it eats me alive
I try to behave but it eats me alive

Big Plan, Small Man

gigspots smApril is a big month in my life but last week made me feel very small.  I celebrate four years of Gigspots this month with both pride and trepidation.  Am I making a difference and can I sustain it?  Am I brightening lives, fostering culture and saving the economy one gig at a time?  Am I creating opportunities for young people, acting locally and thinking globally?

Meanwhile, Islamic terrorists were slaughtering Christian school children in Africa.  Diplomats were negotiating over who can or cannot have nuclear weapons.  My daughter was packing for a trip to Germany when that Germanwings pilot crashed his plane full of people on purpose.  My mother fell ill and wouldn’t be able to celebrate Easter with the whole family.

Meanwhile, America obsessed over The Voice contestants and their March Madness brackets.  As an American, a Christian, a son, a father and a businessman, it seemed the world was spinning faster than usual.  Could I stay grounded while not letting the gravity of it all crush me?  I wondered for the billionth time if one man’s thoughts, beliefs or actions really made any difference.

Then I remembered being a teacher.  I didn’t have all the answers then any more than I do now.  But I felt like if I asked the right questions, or provoked a few new thoughts, maybe the next generation could come up with an answer or two.  Those young people never let me down!

So I revisited my lessons this week.  What follows are two essays I used for years as examples of crisp, poignant writing and thought-provoking analysis framed within classic religious literature: the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita.  You don’t have to be religious, political or an English teacher to enjoy them.

If you’re about to click off, let me preface the essays this way.  The first, “Fear and Faith,” was published September 12, 2001, while I was teaching freshman English and the World Trade Towers were still smoldering.  The second, “You’re In Here Too,” was published in The Sun magazine the day my father had open-heart surgery after surviving cancer and a stroke.   I felt pretty small on those days too.

Fear and Faith

By John Wimberly

Western Presbyterian Church

September 12, 2001

To some, the World Trade Towers were a symbol of an economic system that works.  To others, they were symbols of an economic system whose success is built on exploitation. Regardless of where one stands in the debate about the causes of wealth and poverty, Tuesday’s terrorism leaves us no choice but to admit that fear, hatred and violence increasingly define the relations between the rich and poor.

Those who don’t have wealth fear that their children’s lives will be worse than their own.  Anger grows as they watch their loved ones die of diseases that disappeared years ago in developed nations.  Leaders who foster hatred of the developed nations suddenly sound reasonable.

Those who have wealth grow increasingly fearful of the masses of poor people.  They become resentful that their wealth does not give them the freedom and safety they once assumed it would create.  Leaders who tell them that the poor are a threat to their well-being suddenly sound reasonable.

It is a recipe for madness. A blue print for mutual self-destruction.  Where does it end?  The world’s major religions all agree that it is the responsibility of those who have to help those who do not.  Jesus, for example, talked about financial stewardship more than any other single issue.  What we do or don’t do with our money is an issue of profound spiritual significance.  The strong are supposed to help the weak.

And isn’t the well-being of others an important aspect of good economic policy as well?  Impoverished people don’t buy products.  Uneducated people don’t constitute a good workforce.  Strong economies produce jobs that can enable the poor to build a better future for themselves and their families.  Long term economic self-interest requires attention to the needs of others.

If both economists and the world’s religions agree that self-interest and the interest of all are inseparably intertwined, what is the problem?  The problem is fear, fear that morphs into hostility…that morphs into a willingness to fly a plane into a skyscraper; or fear that turns into a vengeance-filled cruise missile flying through the night with hopes that it will hit an enemy.

The opposite of fear is faith.  Our daily lives are built on hundreds of large and small acts of faith.  We have faith that when we get on a plane, it will take us to the scheduled destination; that when we sit in an office, we are safe; that the sun will set tonight and rise tomorrow.

What is at stake today is whether we will live lives of fear of lives of faith.  We live in a national and personal moment of truth.

In Washington, this is John Wimberly for Marketplace on NPR.

Did you notice that Pastor John Wimberly was writing for Marketplace on NPR, a show about economics?  Did I mention that on September 11, 2001, it was Yearbook Picture Day in my school?  Smile for the camera and never mind that there are still 1,600 planes in flight in America right now or that you have family and friends in DC and Manhattan…

You’re In Here Too

Jim Ralston

The Sun July 2006

It’s morning but still dark out.  It’s also raining and cold.  I’m walking out of a twenty-four-hour fitness center, on my way to the all-night Waffle House, when a woman hails me from her car.  She has just run away from her husband, she says, and needs gas money to get to her mother’s.

Gas money now, is it?  Who doesn’t need gas money to get to their mother’s these days?  Probably drug money she’s really after.  I hate being panhandled.  But a softer voice inside me says, Hey, wake up.  Here’s a human being in distress.  This is an opportunity to be of help.  It’s not your concern what she does with the money.

                “He’s a bastard,” she tells me.

Peering into my wallet, I see that my smallest bill is a twenty.  Ouch.  I was thinking of a couple of dollars, five at the most.

“Here,” I say, handing her a twenty.  “This won’t get you very far these days.”

She thanks me profusely.  I can see that she is crying.  She waves and honks another thank-you as she drives off.

An hour later, my own gas tank topped off, I sit down to prepare my classes over a double espresso at the Daily Grind.  I’ve only just begun working when my laptop crashes and won’t restart.  Now I’m the one who feels like crying.

OK, I tell myself.  That’s the way today is going.  Close your eyes.  Take a couple of deep breaths.  Disappointments are there to remind us of the big picture: Everything that’s created also falls apart.  This machine is like my body, which will crash too one day.  Both machines are far from new.

Or big picture number two: For most of the world, a sudden fifteen-hundred-dollar setback would be heart-stopping.  I can pay for this.  I have a credit card.  By world standards I’m economically privileged.

Finally the coffee and sugar start to kick in.  Dawn is breaking.  The rain has stopped.  I try my computer one more time, to see if a miracle has happened.  It hasn’t.

In my world-literature class this morning, I am teaching the Bhagavad-Gita, a Hindu scripture written in the fourth century B.C., in which the god Krishna takes human form as the charioteer of the warrior Arjuna.  Krishna presses upon Arjuna that the attention we pay to particular outcomes in life, be they good or bad, should be minimal.  Fortune will change like the weather:  Now you have fallen ill.  Now your illness has been cured.  Now you have gone broke.  Now you have inherited a stash of money.  Now somebody has put a ding in your new chariot.  Now you have fallen in love.  Relinquish attachment to outcomes, Krishna advises; be equally indifferent to success and failure.  The real value of what happens “out there” in the ever-changing world (and, from Krishna’s perspective, “out there” includes your own body) lies in the opportunity to see anew from “in here” – from the perspective of the eternal soul.

In the afternoon I’m coming down pretty hard from my morning caffeine trip when I learn by phone that my book has been rejected by a university press that held the manuscript for longer than two years.  In a recent conversation, the press director told me he was optimistic.  I close my eyes and suffer this rejection for a few minutes.  Why me?

Then a little voice inside me says, Why don’t you ever ask, “Why me?” when something good happens?  Did you utter, “Why me?” when your daughter was born healthy?

After my three-hour night class, I circle the residential streets looking for an inconspicuous place to park my van and sleep in it.  It’s been a long day.  I don’t feel like driving an hour and twenty minutes home just to drive back again in the morning.  A spot beside a church is always promising.  Even better if the church is a little run-down and offbeat, like the Free Methodist, or God’s Love, or the Unitarian Universalist.  Karate clubs and yoga centers are also good – if they’re in a part of town where an aging Dodge conversion van doesn’t appear out of place.

Tonight, though, like last night, I end up in the Wal-Mart parking lot.  It’s open 24/7, and there’s a restroom.  Plus I can buy a bedtime snack.  I steel myself before I go inside.  Watching people mull over their purchases in a Wal-Mart late at night can put me in a mild depression.  You’re shopping here, too, the little voice whispers as I stand in line to purchase a sack of peanuts so I won’t wake up hungry at 1 A.M.

Back in my van, satisfied that I’m unobserved, I pull down my bed in the back and slide into my sleeping bag.  The traffic along Interstate 81 is a dull roar, but a steady one, so it won’t disturb my sleep.  The traffic never stops.  It goes all night.  I try to think of it as a distant wind.

I’ve aligned my bedside window to a parking-lot light to illuminate the pages of my book.  Outside, some kids are skateboarding.  A couple walks by pushing carts full of groceries.    I hear them talking two feet away, on the other side of my tinted window, as if they were alone: about how long the day has been; about how tired they’ve been feeling lately.  The window at the foot of my bed perfectly frames the big red letters of the Wal-Mart sign: AL-MART.  The W has burned out.  I notice the R and T are starting to flicker.

After half a page, I’m falling asleep.  Wisdom doesn’t come easily, Krishna teaches Arjuna.  It takes practice to develop a mind quiet enough to hear life’s deeper truths.  It takes discipline.  It takes lifetimes.

So…I’m practicing.  I can’t control what thoughts pop into my head.  I can think and organize beliefs.  I can choose to act based on fear, or faith, or greed, or kindness or hundreds of other motivations.  I can do my best and hope I leave the world a bit richer than when I found it.  Let us proclaim the mystery of our faith.  Cue the music!  Pack a bag!  We’re not small; it’s just a big world out there…and in here.

132 Wishes and Thanks

132 Wishes and Thanks

What a lucky guy I am!  Even in the coldest week on record, I’m surrounded by warmth.  I have a wife and daughter who love me.  I spent all week receiving thanks and best wishes on my birthday.  I just finished directing operations for the best music festival Lancaster has ever seen and I’m headed for a humdinger tonight: Frozen Harbor Music Festival in Baltimore.  Thank you, family and friends and strangers, who made my life so beautiful this week.  I’ll do my best to live up to it!

I spent my week cleaning out closets, organizing my office, painting the kitchen and creating a giant collage.  They could all serve as analogies for my state of being.  It’s a great time for me to sort what’s important, rake away the debris and sow a fresh plan for spring.  I can reflect on an object and say Trash, Totem or Time Capsule.20150219_123001_resized  The heart of our home deserved rejuvenation and a fresh coat.  A new light at the center is next.  The collage is where I transform tokens from events into totems.  They give me power.  I do lead a charmed life after all.

Being an event producer makes it difficult to quantify time besides the start, run and end of an event.  I’m constantly planning, projecting, revising, and anticipating so that when the moment comes, I can fully be in it.  It’s like falling in love.  Thinking about it makes you miserable.  When you’re in it, little else seems to matter.  Time shrinks to with them or without them.  Space becomes where you share and where you’re apart.  Prior to Lancaster Roots and Blues, everyone was asking Rich and I who to see or who were our favorites.  He said it best when he said, “It’s like being asked which of your children is your favorite.  You love them all in unique ways and as a whole.”  My life makes me measure time the way lovers and parents do; there is no start or stop.

So I like tasks.  When my head is swimming with a jillion details leading up to 9pm on a certain Friday, I like tasks with defined parameters.  Paint this room.  Shovel this driveway.  You will see immediate results and feel a sense of satisfaction.  When I was a teacher and a school year was beginning or ending, I was grateful to have a lawn to mow.  The jillion details surrounding, “Have I prepared?  Am I reaching them?  Have I done my job?” could be neatly trimmed and drowned out by an hour’s roar of the mower.

20150219_192547_resizedSo some boxes went to the curb this week.  I can see my desk again.  The collage is 4’x10’ and hanging in the music room.  That’s 40 square feet of totems plus your well-wishes to cocoon me from the world.  My kitchen is cozy.  I love you too.

Save the World Songs

I saw Sir Bob Geldof on the news this morning.  For the thirtieth anniversary of the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas (Feed the World),” an all-star group of musicians has re-recorded and updated the song.  For those who missed 1984, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure were big rock stars who gathered artists from the biggest acts in England and Ireland to sing a song and sell the recordings to fight famine in Ethiopia.  They called this super-group Band Aid.NPG x87846,Band Aid,by Brian Aris  They sold over a million copies in the first week and watched the song become the #1 UK Single of all time (until 1997).  Millions of dollars were raised and by 1985 they had organized Live Aid, an internationally-broadcast dual-venue concert (London and Philadelphia) that earned over $280 million.  The finale at Wembley was the Band Aid song and at JFK in Philly it was “We Are the World” by the USA for Africa all-star chorus.  These songs and organizations are still raising money to fight poverty and famine.  Proceeds from sales of the 2014 song are slated to fight the causes and spread of Ebola.  I’ll buy that!

I love when musicians use their talents and influence to effect positive changes in the world like fighting famine and disease.  Sure, there are plenty of critics who say Band Aid, Live Aid, Farm Aid and other events like them are scams at worst and big skimmers at best.  I just like it.  Music is the international language and I feel it’s a useful, logical forum to bring people out of misery.  Wikipedia lists 79 events under “benefit concerts” so I guess I’m not the only one.

I was only eight years old when George Harrison and Ravi Shankar staged the Concert for Bangladesh on August 1, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.  It certainly was the first event of its kind where rock stars united for an international cause.  I had no idea where Bangladesh was but I sure as hell knew who the Beatles were and I was thrilled that one of them was back in action.  I thought, “If George says it’s a good cause, it must be so.”  Of course I didn’t go to the show and it wasn’t on TV.  There was no such thing as the internet and only NASA had computers.  But even then I understood disasters both natural and man-made.  I knew that cyclones and war were bad for kids.  Four years later I bought the concert album and by 1978 the concert film was in heavy rotation at the midnight movies downtown.

That summer of 1971 I also learned the song “Get Together” by The Youngbloods.  I had heard it on the radio a few times before but it was at Vacation Bible School that I really learned it.  A couple of the “teen counselors” who helped with arts and crafts also played guitars and taught us some cool folksy gospel songs.  On the last day of VBS, we sang some songs with them for the gathered parents.  Then they did a few songs on their own.  When they played “Get Together” to wrap up the afternoon, suddenly all us kids started singing along.  The parents thought it was adorable and these guys were obviously moved but they were also quick to say that they hadn’t taught us the song or made us sing it.  That puzzled me for a few years; why apologize for such a beautiful accident?  At eight, I didn’t know that people protesting the war in Vietnam had adopted it as an anthem or that some parents might not approve.

And I didn’t know until today that the song had been used in TV and radio ads in 1970 by a group called The National Council of Christians and Jews.  Or that  just after the 9/11 terrorist attack, Clear Channel Communications put “Get Together” on a list of songs it called “lyrically questionable” and suggested to their 1,200 radio stations that they “…might not want to play…” them.  I may never understand that.

Life, Death and Hyperbole

Life, Death and Hyperbole

I have faced plenty of deaths and tragedies in my life.  When death came to school, I always used to tell my students, “Death is a big part of life.  Save it for last.  Do everything else first.”  I taught the tragedies of Shakespeare and they always boiled down to a great person’s life ending because of a fatal flaw in character.  Pride, greed, avarice, jealousy: these emotions rob you of life and blind your vision of what makes life worth living.  I have lost four great people in my life in the last forty days.  They weren’t Macbeth or Othello or Lear but they were great to me: fine, humble, honest, loving people.  I will miss them and honor them by following their examples and owning my life.  “To be or not to be” is not the only question.  Better to start with the 5w’s: who, what, where, when and why.  Be in the present.

Triphazard living in the moment!

Triphazard living in the moment!

I’m feeling fully alive and activated right now, if a bit over-stimulated!  I built more great connections and memories in September and loved my opportunity to tour manage for Triphazard.  I’m booking tours on the Gigspots circuit and my showcases at DipCo.  I’m writing bios and album reviews for regional bands.  I’m sponsoring a rock festival in Wilmington and a simulcast charity concert from Charlotte.  I’m hired again to be Director of Operations for Lancaster Roots and Blues and it’s a thrill a minute.  I want to stand on Tellus’ roof and scream about all the great music and good times coming to Lancaster and the mid-Atlantic region.

But should you believe the hype? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Just because I say something’s great doesn’t make it so for everyone.  So let me try to quantify and qualify “great” with regard to music, performance and life.  When I say, “It’s a beauty,” what do I mean?

To me, the beauty value of a song or performance is in direct relation to how alive it makes me feel.  Physical manifestations may include toe-tapping and range through swaying to dancing.  I may hum.  I may sing along.  Regarding thought: does this performance make me curious and/or capture my attention?  Is it unique, familiar or a marriage of the two?  Can I identify with the story or idea being presented?  Life is measured in motion.  Can you put my body and my mind in motion?

Move my mind and body and you release my soul.  That’s where imagination and emotion live.  Your performance sparks my memories and/or desires.  My pains, my dreams, my secrets and my joys are animated by your melody or lyrics.  You become the soundtrack for the banquet in my head where your angels and demons meet mine.  Or you’re a nice distraction in the grocery store.  La-di-da, I need cereal.

Motion, thought, imagination: those are my criteria.  To what degree does a performance make me move, think and feel?  Genuine music moves you; it’s as biological as a heartbeat.  People are naturally curious too but humans mostly want to hear about themselves and familiar experiences.  Food, comfort, company: that’s what we like.  And not having those things makes us cry out from birth.  A great song reawakens those moments in life, beautiful or brutal, when you were totally in the present. Whether it was that perfect first kiss, watching that person walk away or just your imagination, great music takes you there.  And live music is better.  And America’s music takes me there: folk, jazz and the blues.  If you start there, I’ll likely follow a while.Queen2

So stand back while I crank up the hype machine!  The pride I take in facilitating these performances is based in humility, honesty and love for life.  Come celebrate humanity before the dust is all settled!

100 More Tickets or The Ten Percent Rule

I’m in a weird flux position as I blog today.  No, it’s not a yoga thing. Triphazard Group Pic (1) I just finished a ten-day tour with the Liverpool, UK band Triphazard as their tour manager, roadie, chef and driver.  I’m about to reprise my role as Director of Operations for Lancaster Roots and Blues in pedal-to-the-metal mode.  I’m between tides.  These intense labors of love both thrill and exhaust me.  I couldn’t feel luckier than to have had these experiences.  Like all passionate loves, they make you feel lucky, invincible and vulnerable at the same time.  You discover you’re defenseless against whom or what empowers you.

I wrote a blog in October 2013 titled “Tour Life: Woe or WHOA!” and I reread it before beginning today’s piece.  I’m happy to say it stood up to the road test with Triphazard last week.  I’m unsure if they had read it but I must state that this trio earned all my respect for work ethic, energy, professionalism and fun-factor.  They played five powerful shows and obviously poured their hearts into every beat.  They were pure joy to work with, live with and watch perform for ten straight days.  They became the benchmark for all future bands taking a lap on the Gigspots circuit.  BANDS: please see blog above.

My only regret of the tour is not putting more money in their hands.  Two of our shows were “door shows;” the bands earn a percentage of ticket sales.  Two of our shows were “guarantees;” the bands get paid a pre-negotiated fee whether the audience is 200 or 20.  Ironically, our biggest guarantee show had the smallest audience and our “hot ticket” shows had lukewarm sales at best.  My goal for Triphazard and the other bands who joined us on the tour was to put at least $200 in their pockets after each show.  For the two ticketed shows, a three-way split of ticket sales equaled $80 per band.  That sucks.  These were great shows in great rooms; ask anyone who was there.  Each band sold some merch and got offers of future gigs, radio play and other potential support after their sets.  But they walked out those nights with gas money and a snack at Sheetz covered.

I first heard the phrase “100 more tickets” and learned about the 10% rule at a festival this summer.  The promoter told me his goal for ticket sales was 2,000 over two days.  Tickets were $60 for a two-day pass, of which he lost $10 to taxes and fees.  He had to sell 900 tickets just to cover grounds rental and sound/stage production.  Another 150 would have to sell to cover promotion/advertising costs and 150 more to pay for porta-potties and an EMT crew on stand-by (required by law).  That means 1,200 tickets at $50 would have just covered his $60,000 expenditure.  Did you notice I have yet to mention any compensation for the bands here?  Most played it to be there, to be seen, to network and to celebrate the season, the place and the amazing musical family they’ve become.  But all expect “…fair compensation from any profits earned.”  I promise that every band played their asses off and a great time was had by all.

Ticket sales this year were around 1,100.  Even with sponsorship money and a percentage of the food vendors’ take that meant our heroic promoter and over 70 bands earned nothing.  As we were starting the immense clean-up efforts Sunday morning and I asked about the turnout numbers, he said, “100 more tickets.  If we’d have sold 100 more tickets, everybody could have had a little something and I’d have covered costs.  If it was 200 more, or 10% of my target, everybody would have got a fair amount and I’d have seed money for next year.” All I could think was that if every band had sold two more tickets, 140 more, everyone would have gotten paid and next year would start on secure footing.  And it was all brought home to me that 90% of ticket sales at concerts and festivals go to cover costs.  If that promoter had guaranteed even $100 to those 70 bands, that plus only the costs I named above would have been $67,000 against his gross of $55,000.   I guarantee he had tons of other expenses and I have yet to mention any compensation for his time.  He spends over four months organizing this event.  It’s not a hobby.  This guy works like a machine about 350 days a year and it’s clear his bands love him.

What if my tour had sold 100 more tickets: say fifty each for the “door shows?”  That’s an extra $350 Friday and $500 Saturday to be split which meant the payouts those nights would have been $196 and $246 respectively per band.  Not $80.  These were venues that hold 200-300 people quite comfortably.

I apologize if all this talk of numbers and money bored you.  But I just watched a band I truly love work their asses off for ten days at great costs to themselves and barely cover living expenses.  And when people ask me about Gigspots, their second question is always, “So, how do you make money doing that?”  Here’s the short answer: from you.  You have to buy a ticket to a show or a t-shirt.  You have to buy advertising, management, agent or writing services from me or become a sponsor of my events.  I’m in the entertainment business.

Your short answer: “Everybody wants my money.  Why should you get it?”  Fair enough.  Not everyone finds music, art, cuisine and travel entertaining or worth more than the lowest common denominator.  There are a lot of comfy couches and big screen televisions and frozen pizzas out there and I enjoy them occasionally myself.  It’s the great irony of Gigspots; I use social media to tell you to turn it off and go see a show.  Those 900 videos on my YouTube channel aren’t a substitute for a show.  They’re meant to show you what you’re missing or to help you recapture that night at the show.

Queen4If William Shakespeare couldn’t sell tickets, you might never have heard of him.  He might have starved to death or gone off to work in the mills.  People still read the plays but not nearly the numbers of people who still buy tickets 400 years later to witness and feel the timelessness of live performance.  I’m no Shakespeare.  But you never know; the band I’m encouraging you to see might be the next Beatles.

For instance, my monthly showcases at DipCo don’t cover costs until I sell 80 tickets.  There are 100+ seats.  If you’ve been there on a night where the band and seating are tight, you know what a joyous, transcendent night it can become.  Ten percent of breaking even is eight tickets.  I have an amazing season planned and you’re invited. Appearing October 11: Lovers League with a guest set by Bjorn Jacobsen!