(Quasi-)Weekly Mailbag vol. 3: Activate the Activist

WARNING! This is a post-in-progress -- I figured it would be better to put up what I had and add over time.


This week, I'd like to use a cool e-mail I got from Ron Zabrocki in February as a jumping off point for a larger conversation. Check out Ron's response to my old column on Torrington's growing music scene:

Date: Feb 6, 2006 6:47 AM
Subject: Torrington's Musical Renaissance is greater than you think!!

I am responding to Dan Barry's article about the misic scene in Torrington.

I am producer living here for the last 3 years. I am originally from NY and moved hear because of the dying music scene after 9-11. My wife and I had a feeling about Torrington. Never even heard of it before....but the morning we pulled into town..had a feeling this wqas the place...The music scene is passing through my home studio on a nightly basis. there's Shattersphere, a Metal group who I am producing who just caught the attention of a label owned by Sevendust. There's AJ jansen. She's a Country singer who won the a best Modern Country Recording along with myself for the CT chapter of the CMA. There's Jeremy Hopkins. He's an incredible singer sonwriter I am producing. He's opened for Tyler Hilton and is plannimng a tour of his own now as we finish the project. This is just a handful. All play locally and otherwise. The downtown of Torrington is hopefully going to be renovated with the new YOUNG Mayor we have. Chiane's feels like a NY hotspot. Otter's was always cool. The Warner Thater. I could go on about artist's like White Mike, a rapper who is amazing and who's Dad is a Berkely Music Professor. Tylet Thompson, Tony Colucci..the list goes on. I would be happy to talk to you and even get together in my home studio with some of these artist's and myself. there are soo many. It is growing. there is a revolution going on. My wife is a photographer. She has been helping all of these guys with photo shoots for free.

Come on down and let's keep Torrington in print!! There's a big noise about to happen in the music scene and this could be the next Seattle. Thanks for giving it some light...I just want the light to get brighter!!!!!

Ron Zabrocki

And my response:

Date: Feb 14, 2006 1:47 PM

Hey Ron!

Thanks so much for writing. Diane down at Chiane's has said some really good things about you, so I'm glad to be in touch!

I've lived in the Torrington area since I went to kindergarten. I've seen the town start off so-so, really fall off economically, and then in the past year or so really start to become something culturally. We've still got a ways to go -- like you, I'm crossing my fingers that our new mayor can keep the momentum going -- but when you consider places nearby like Waterbury that have just been stagnating for years, I think any positive momentum is a huge development.

My big hope is that Torrington has a chance to evolve into something along the lines of New Haven -- i.e. a place with a vibrant arts scene that isn't enslaved by cover bands, club music, and shady promoters. There's nothing wrong with party bands in moderation, but right now in Torrington, original artists have the spotlight -- and I want it to stay that way. That's why I'm pushing the downtown venues so hard in my column.

For it to keep happening, the artists have to continue to support one another, creatively and economically. That's why I think it's so important to buy your coffee from Chiane's, your beer from Otter's or Memories, your records from Metropolis... All of these venues support good, original rock, and we need to support them.

Drop me a line -- maybe we can meet up at Chiane's sometime and shoot the shit :)

Thanks again for writing!


Ok. So what's the point of all this?

I probably do not have to describe to you why arts-based professionals struggle on a day-to-day basis to stay financially afloat. We joke about "starving artists" for a reason. The business of live, local, original music is NOT LUCRATIVE, neither for artists nor for venues. Practicing and songwriting are incredibly time-consuming; musical equipment costs assloads of money; and the downtime and $$$ touring acts spend on travel/gas is enormous. Most local musicians I know have a day job as well -- they're basically living double lives. Venue owners, for their part, work their asses off slinging beverages. They mostly rely on beverage sales and cover charges to offset the high cost of hiring a band for the night. It's a rare original band around these parts that can draw head counts large enough and consistent enough for a venue to want to form a long-term relationship with them. Put differently: what venue is going to spend the time and money to "develop" an artist when they can book a well-known party/cover band that is guaranteed to draw hundreds?

Now. You may not envision yourself as an activist -- or maybe you do. Either way, you are a factor -- in fact, you are THE MAJOR factor -- in the dynamic I just described above. And if enough of us start to take that power into our own hands, the CT music scene will transform in an incredible way. What follows is a rough guide on how to make financial choices that will promote and enliven Connecticut's live, original, local music scene.

A HUGE part of being an effective activist (or organizer, or community-builder, or responsible music fan -- whatever you want to call it) is making sure that your money, energy, and resources go to people and groups who support like-minded causes. Every day we make choices about which businesses to support. If we select businesses who support local music, we give the local music community the money it takes to put food on its tables. We also give them the strength and motivation to keep doing what they're doing (i.e. writing songs, booking local acts, or inviting unknowns through the door for open mics). Yes, I know that second part sounds warm and fuzzy. But if someone believes that no one out there gives a fuck about what they're doing, it becomes really difficult to keep sinking time/energy/money into the arts (instead of grinding out a day job that pays). And I think most of us agree that the arts enrich our lives.

The great thing about having a local music community is that Average Joe fans can help out just as much as self-described activists or musicians. All it takes is thoughtful decision-making and a little commitment. Plus, whether you're a musician or not, you can feel good knowing you're a modern-day patron of the arts. You don't have to be a Rockefeller or Medici to make a difference.

But let's not be naive, either. It DOES cost more money to patronize music-friendly businesses. It DOES take more of your time and energy. And it WILL add up. But remember: that's the point. You may have to shell out a couple extra bucks for a record at Metropolis that you can get on sale down at FYE or Best Buy. You may have to drive an extra ten minutes into Simsbury to go to The Maple Tree Cafe for a brew instead of hitting Double Down in Avon. That's a choice you have to make each time -- and sometimes it's tough.

Still, there ain't nothin' stopping you from being a smart shopper at the same time. :) Some cases are a clear win-win proposition. For $3.45 at Chiane's, I get a bigass coffee and a fresh bagel with so much cream cheese it squeezes out the sides. AND my money goes into the cash register of a venue that books kickass musicians week in and week out. The same meal at Dunkin' Donuts costs about the same, and tastes like... every other Dunkin' Donuts bagel 'n coffee combo ever. The money goes to a chain, and if I'm lucky, the server didn't piss in my coffee. Hey, I still go to Dunkin' from time to time, but you better believe I take my money to Chiane's whenever I can.

Enough of my blathering. What follows is a (partial! incomplete! in-progress!) list of establishments that primarily support live, local, original music. If you enjoy that kind of music, then patronize these places as often as you can to show your support for their mission and their musicians!

The Maple Tree Cafe (bar/restaurant)
Peaberry's (coffeeshop)

Crown & Hammer (bar/restaurant)

Otter's (bar/restaurant)
Metropolis (record store)
Chiane's (coffeeshop/restaurant)

Mad Dawg's (bar)
Peter's (bar/restaurant)
Piggy's (bar/restaurant)
Black-Eyed Sally's (bar/restaurant)
La Paloma Sabanera (coffeeshop/restaurant)

Cousin Larry's (bar)

The Hungry Tiger (bar/restaurant)
The Main Pub (bar/restaurant)

Jitter's (coffeeshop)


Download the Smooth Hands album!

How the fuck did I not blog this already?

Download the Smooth Hands' hysterically sexy lo-fi mindfuck "I Love You So Much" here:


Updated Links

I've been expanding my links section on the blog sidebar. This is a big pain in the ass, but it's also a major portion of what I want to do with this blog. It's a list of resources for bands, fans, and just regular people who are looking for something to do. (Because we know what life in CT is like... BORING!)

PLEASE contribute any good links you think people should know about... And spread the word about my blog! Stop by for the links as well as the articles.

Born Under Saturn

I just got a big fat package in the mail from the wonderful Robotic Empire records. In it, among other things (GOD I LOVE DEADWATER DROWNING... ahem), was Born Under Saturn's "Reflecting The Beautiful Design."

It is awesome.

This CD only furthers my previous argument that CT-area bands were defining the current metalcore sound back in 2000. It's loaded with the distorted noise that bands like Wrench in the Works and Engineer are still exploring; it's got the blastbeats and punky drums that everyone and your mom is obsessed with. And lyrically, it reminds me of the late great Light is the Language: it looks at society through a series of metaphors about technology, biology, and the intersection between the two.

If you want to listen to samples or order a coppy (hurry -- Robotic Empire has the last copies of the CD, since its original label, Ellington Records, folded!), check these links:


The Blacklist

The following songs have been BANNED by Local Motion:

Mustang Sally
Brown-Eyed Girl
Lovin' (Is What I Got)
Livin' On A Prayer
Jenny (867-5309)
Hotel California

This is just a partial list. Readers, submit your blacklisted songs!

The Courant's Film Critic's Secret Life as a Singer/Songwriter!

Now here's some news you don't hear everyday.

Deborah Hornblow, an arts writer probably best known around these parts for her column as the Hartford Courant's film critic, has been working for seven years on a collection of songs. She's finally released them as the CD "The Permanent Thing."

When I asked Deb about the CD and her current leave-of-absence from the Courant, she wrote:

"I'm not pursuing music full-time as much as I'm pursuing writing all the time. The record you have is the result of an attempt I made several years ago to write a novel. I was scribbling and scribbling (and writing page after page of garbage). I'd get frustrated and bang around on the guitar. The"novel" gradually morphed into a cycle of songs."

"The Permanent Thing" is often narrative, literary, and also happens to be really, really good.

Take a look at Deb's website and listen to some samples: http://www.deborahhornblow.com/

(Not So) Weekly Mailbag! Vol. 2: More Covers than Bed Bath and Beyond

You may have noticed by now that my Weekly Mailbag feature is, uh, not very weekly. Fact is, 50% of it is I'm lazy, and 50% of it is that negative reviews are the only things that generate significant amounts of feedback. (And POORLY WRITTEN feedback at that.)

Still, occasionally I get a tidbit worth sharing. Here's part of an interesting exchange I had with Dave, the bassist of a new band called Kadarka Blu.

Dave wrote:

Date: Feb 14, 2006 11:29 PM
Subject: Re: Local band info

Hi there-

I am in a local band called "Kadarka Blu"(http://www.kadarkablu.com/) and we are currently finishing up a demo CD. We will be ready to start playing out within a couple months. My question to you is, even though we're doing a good job of writing/recording some original music, because I am fairly new to this (as is most of our band with the exception of the drummer) I have made it clear that I think we'll NEED to play covers to begin booking gigs. My bandmates are really against this, and honestly I would LOVE to focus on just originals but for now I feel like we need to just get our foot in the door and I am also concerned that there are few clubs in CT that book bands playing mainly originals.

I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this topic, and maybe suggestions of certain clubs, best open mics(we are thinking of trying Sully's this Sunday), etc. Any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Dave(Bass player)

I responded:

Hi Dave,

Thanks for writing! I'm so psyched that you asked me to weigh in on this.

As you've sensed by now, the bars in the greater Hartford area tend to like their covers. A lot. Too much, actually.

If your aim as a band is to stay financially viable, pay for your equipment, and put some cash in your pockets on the side, then yes,you will need to play covers. The fact is that all the most desirable local rock venues (The Hungry Tiger, The Red Door, All-Stars, Bourbon St., etc.) have cover bands regularly-to-exclusively. Even Sully's, who is probably the most supportive venue of original music in the Hartford area, has a fair percentage of cover bands.

What a lot of bands overlook -- and it's really unfortunate -- is the vast number of venues towards the south of the state that push original rock really hard. As you get closer to New Haven, bars get friendlier and friendlier towards originals, until -- poof! -- you're at someplace like Cafe 9 or Rudy's that brings in asskicking original rock pretty much every night of the week. It *is* possible in CT -- or anywhere, for that matter -- it's just that Hartford chooses not to do it. (More on that in a minute.) If you guys are willing to drive, I cannot urge you strongly enough to get in touch with the New Haven area bars and build a fanbase down there. If you get your foot in the door in that area, you'll be able to make money AND keep your original-rock integrity intact -- which, to me, is like having your cake and eating it, too :)

If you want to get a feel for how Hartford-area bands confront the cover vs. originals problem, you should all come out to the Snow Slam in Hartford on the 23rd. I don't say that to plug my own event ... There are a few bands playing that you should keep your eyes on. Magnesium Jake and Kaya will probably play a mix of covers and originals -- Tenet and Pushboxx may do some originals, too. The Snow Slam is our cover band event; in the summertime, the Band Slam is much more focused on originals, and will give you a better feel for bands who are set up similarly to yours.

If you've been following my column, then you probably know some of my main problems with the whole cover band scene around here. Most bands play 90% covers and then throw in an original to comfort their guilty conscience. With so many bands doing that, newcomers like you guys get screwed because you have to figure out to what degree you want tofollow the trend.

So, that's problem #1: bands are too eager to cave to the covers trend. (Problem #1.5 is that a lot of the songs they coverssssssssuck.) Problem #2 is that local bar/club owners are too restrictive; they mostly want cover-heavy bands. Problem #3, and this is the super-difficult one, is that you have dudes like Mark Tannenbaum, who basically books and promotes every single popular cover band and every single popular bar. At some point most successful bands around here have to make a decision as to whether to work with him or not. It's ultimately your choice. He can get you gigs at the best venues, which will get you a big fanbase and move tons of merch. But then, there's that whole, you know, selling your soul thing. Look at http://tannentunes.com/ to get a feel for what's going on behind the scenes here in CT.

SO that's the long answer. It *is* possible to make it as an all-originals band -- but not recommended in the Central/North part of the state. Down South = much easier and much more fun. (Hey, if I live up by Torrington, and *I* drive down there to review shows, they must have somethin' good.)

As for good venues -- check out the link to my blog at the end of the e-mail. There's a list on the side of the blog that has links to all my favorite venues. No crap allowed on that list! :) So that may be a good starting point.

I wish you guys luck, and definitely send me a demo when you're done with it -- I'm excited to hear it.

Take care, and thanks again for writing,

March 12th Concert

Club Hipnotic has opened in the space of the old El 'N Gee club -- and MUCH to their credit, they've continued the prior venue's tradition of being one of CT's outstanding punk/hardcore/metal clubs. Here's a bill for one of their upcoming shows.

Winsted's CAFE 64 has an open mic!

I'd tell you about it myself, but local music junkie Ed Hoyer wrote in with the following scoop:

Jeff, the owner of Cafe 64, gave the green light to advertising the heck out of the open mike. Here's the details.

Cafe 64, 64 Main Street, Winsted CT
Wednesdays 7:30pm - 10:30pm

Reuben James is the host. Sign up sheet at the open mike. All ages. No cover.

This is a small restaurant. One corner of the front room is used as theperformance space. It fits solo performers or duos. Tight fit for trios.Acoustic music preferred, electric okay if you watch your volume.

Small four channel PA, with two 10 inch speakers, instrument cables andtwo microphones with stands provided.

Crowd noise varies. Sometimes, it's quiet, sometimes, people are talking in competition with you. This is a small space, and you are very close to the audience.

Last Wednesday, both rooms were filled. People were sitting on the floor.

Regular performers:
Reuben James
Jesse Meade
Andrew Jamieson
Paper Street
The Space People
Jesse H. and Nioxin
Joe Hoover
GrimFacts Ed Hoyer

Other people who have stopped by in the past few months:
Krizta Moon
Joe Carniglia (hosts the open mike at LaSalle's in Collinsville onFridays, 6pm-9pm)
Cheap Antiques
C-Side Alley (They appear occasionally at The Peanut Cupboard open mike in Plymouth on Saturdays)
Brenden Donahue (Downtown Cafe Bristol on Thursdays)
Tom (Lead singer of Federal Hill, a bluegrass band)
The Sawtelles (They stopped by once in October)

March Music at Chiane's

Here is the latest update on the Friday night music series at Chiane's:

March 3 Tracy Walton (Member of the Black Lab Project)
March 10 Crystal
March 17 TBA (either Tom Hansom (Blue Grass) or Dave Richardson (Irish Folk & Ballads))
March 24 TBA (the other of Dave Richardson or Tom Hansom)
March 31 Seaside Alley

All music starts at 8. BYOB and a few bucks for the artists.

Crystal is damn good -- catch my review of her in Local Motion here.