Tag Archives: live music

Why the “Black Grateful Dead” Thrives Outside of Top 40 Radio

Frankie Beverly from Maze performs in Chicago in 1986. (Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

For the Undefeated, music writer and essayist Bruce Britt offers a compelling history of soul band Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly, whose ebullient hits like “Before I Let Go,” “Joy and Pain,” and “Happy Feelin’s” have been mainstays of black American social gatherings for nearly half a century. Deeply entrenched racial divisions in the music industry have allowed Maze to become one of American music’s best kept secrets.

Betty Shaw experienced Maze’s engrossing stagecraft firsthand. She was 25 when she first saw the band in 1978. At the time, Shaw was a recently separated mother of three with dim employment prospects and a deeply troubled mind. One day, she took her sister up on an invitation to attend the Kool Jazz Festival in Milwaukee. There, during Maze’s performance of “Happy Feelin’s,” Shaw had an epiphany. “It was such an experience,” she recalled. “I had never even heard ‘Happy Feelin’s’ … but the way Frankie presented the song, it was giving you the feeling like everything is going to be all right. The song says, ‘I’ve got myself to remind me of love,’ and since I have this love in me, I’m not going to give up on life. It was like a turning point in my mind.”

With Maze winning converts on the road and Arnold converting the nation’s programming directors, the stage was set for Maze to become a crossover breakthrough. Yet, despite all the hard work, debut album sales stalled at around 600,000 copies. It was an impressive showing by ’70s industry standards but far from the million-plus units that Arnold had envisioned. He believes Capitol didn’t try hard enough to help the album realize its tremendous sales potential.

“I had a lot of fights with my pop promotion department because they would never expose the album to white FM,” Arnold said. “That first time I saw Maze at the Fillmore West, the whole audience was white. I know if white people were exposed to Maze, they’d like it, but the belief at the time was, ‘Well, white people really don’t want to listen to black music.’ And I’m saying, ‘Look — it’s not just ‘black’ music!’ ”

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Iggy Pop’s Brand of Experience

Iconic punk progenitor Iggy Pop is touring through the US this spring, and I caught his show in Portland, Oregon last month. As a huge Iggy fan, this tour was no small deal to me. Iggy delivered. Despite new physical limitations, he gave everything his body could give, and the set list of new and old tunes like “Some Weird Sin” and “Repo Man” was a fan’s dream. Ticket prices were not.

Three months earlier, Iggy revealed that he’d recorded a new album in secret with musician Josh Homme. Stephen Colbert featured a debut live performance. The New York Times ran a story. It was savvy marketing. Named Post Pop Depression, the album has generated lots of excitement because it’s Iggy’s first since 2013, and because Iggy, as Homme said, “is the last one of the one-of-a-kinds.” The album even peaked at number one on the Billboard charts ─ Iggy’s first number-one album. But with concert tickets ranging from $50 to $125 (and as high as $400 on the secondary market), people were grumbling.

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What’s Behind the Surging Popularity of Music Festivals?

Photo by Anax44, Flickr

In its growth, Governors Ball is benefitting from and contributing to the festival explosion of the past decade, a trend that a new Eventbrite study (on the “Top 2014 Music Festival Trends and Insights”) claims has resulted in one in every five millennials attending at least one festival per year.

Though big, multi-day productions have thrived longer in Europe and South America — think Glastonbury, Primavera, and Rock in Rio —  than in the United States, festivals’ worldwide presence continues to expand, with locally based boutique shows like the Bon Iver-booked Eaux Claires and the biannual, two-stage Boston Calling sprouting up yearly. As the names and figures involved suggest, live music itself has become a vitally lucrative industry in the past decade: Corporate sponsorship of music (including festivals) ballooned to over $1.3 billion last year alone, and with live show attendance numbers now in the hundreds of thousands annually — Austin City Limits draws the biggest crowd with just under 200,000 patrons in 2013 — the festival boom hasn’t even come close to peaking.

Liz Nistico of the brat-pop duo HOLYCHILD, who’ll make their Governors Ball debut this June, believes festivals have exponentially sprouted in popularity over the past five years because they force people with (at least tangentially) shared interests to interact…Like Nistico suggests, when all the world’s music — sans a few big name holdouts — is available via Spotify just a few clicks away, its easy to forego interacting with other people when it comes to soundtracking our day-to-day lives.  Governors Ball is one in a trend of large-scale events with diverse lineups — which reflect the varied, blurred tastes and genres that’ve emerged in the wake of the web-driven democratization of music — pulling people in, making them more likely to dive into a mud pit in the middle of the day. 

Brennan Carley writing for Spin about the trio behind the Governors Ball Music Festival, and their plans to bring a country festival to New York City.

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