Oh mercy me, what’s going on with our country right now?
The world is tearing itself apart, and I can’t make any more sense out of it than you can.
Browsing recent headlines, the level of distress in our country is obvious. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the state of our union. Between impending terrorist attacks, mega droughts, police brutality, wealth inequality, an inept federal government and super diseases, it’s an uneasy if not scary time to be alive.
Personally, I can’t remember a time during my adult life when the country was not at war. Entirely new generations are being raised having never witnessed peace, both at home and abroad. That’s a horrible realization.
In the past, when the world has faced similar adversity, younger generations used to rise up and make their voices heard through the only media available to them: art and music.
Edwin Starr’s iconic Motown classic “War,” released during the height of the Vietnam War, is a perfect example of how music could be both popular and powerful, how music used to be the voice of the disenfranchised and unsatisfied youth of America.
“War” was an anti-Vietnam War protest, packaged and delivered to a restless nation as a No. 1 hit single. It was a protest song that topped the charts and spoke for a generation sick and tired of endless fighting. It is a powerful song that, after 46 years, remains as relevant as ever.
Needless to say, that type of music is no longer being made. The protest song that can top the charts is a thing of the past. The question though is, why?
From the 1940s through the 1990s you can find popular songs with strong political and social commentary.
Why does that medium no longer exist in the 2000s? Why are we still singing about big butts and partying when there are plenty of awful, injustices being done to Americans right now?
Taking stock of America’s top pop music would give you the impression everything is fine and dandy.
Flo Rida’s ode to the twerk “GDFR” and Pit Bull’s “Time Of Our Lives,” a party anthem about being broke as hell yet still spending the month’s rent on alcohol, are not only forgettable, generic pop songs, they’re the antithesis of what’s really happening in the world.
I understand that this type of music has its place and maybe provides a distraction from the troubles of this world, but I’m bothered that each new release is as hollow and meaningless as the next.
We need someone to break through this flowery dance pop garbage currently dominating the music scene and be a strong voice for a divided nation.
Where are the Bob Dylans or Rage Against the Machines for this generation? Where are the great punk bands like The Clash? Where are the strong black voices like Bob Marley, 2Pac or Marvin Gaye?
What has happened to social awareness? What happened to the protest song?
Ignorance is not bliss when neighborhoods are burning and dissatisfaction runs high. Considering recent events in Baltimore, you have to wonder, if not now then when will the music community wake up and be the driving force for change the nation needs?
The Downtown Grand Junction Farmers Market is making another major change to the way it does things.
In a positive first step, the Farmers Market is changing its approach to booking this year’s summer music lineup. For the first time, Farmers Market organizers have partnered with Triple Play Records to host a Battle of the Bands to help fill several stages planned for this year’s market.
This new event is not a “battle of the bands” in the traditional sense, rather, it’s an audition to play at the summer’s most popular local event. Top performing bands from the battle will get paid, prime gigs during the weekly event, and perhaps more importantly, get valuable face time in front of local promoters responsible for booking events such as the Art + Music Festival and local clubs such as Sabrosa and the Local.
“We are really focused on making Downtown Grand Junction a music destination on Thursday evenings,” said Robin Brown, special events coordinator for Downtown Grand Junction, in a release sent to musicians. “As a result, we have reached out to the community to find new bands and artists that might not have played Farmers Market in the past, including all the great music coming out of Colorado Mesa University.”
The Battle of the Bands will take place in front of the Mesa Theater & Club on Saturday, April 18, during Triple Play Records’ annual Record Store Day event.
Along with scoring vinyl exclusive during Record Store Day, music fans will get a peak into western Colorado’s diverse music scene.
Local bands will play from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in 15 minute slots with the goal of impressing a small panel of judges.
“We decided to host this event to highlight local talent,” said Triple Plays Records’ Matt Cesario. “We (Triple Play) have access to talent that is otherwise not seen by the public eye.”
Cesario added that this event allows younger bands a chance to be heard by a wider audience.
With limited opportunity for local musicians in the area, the Battle of the Bands has a real chance to become an anticipated annual music showcase. It also may prove to be the event that appeals to the college crowd and finally attracts that elusive demographic to downtown Grand Junction.
“We are always trying to figure out ways to get college kids downtown and we hope by showcasing CMU bands, we’ll attract more students to Farmers Market,” Brown said.
Along with appealing to wider audiences, the hope is that the Battle of the Bands will be fruitful enough to supply downtown bars and restaurants with bands on Thursday nights, further transforming Farmers Market into a music destination.
Last year, the Farmers Market made a major adjustment to the street layout, moving vendors off the curbs and organizing them in pods down the center of Main Street. With this year’s new focus on entertainment, the market will be virtually unrecognizable to the lazy street fair it was just a few years ago.
Even with all the changes, the Farmers Market still has a ways to go to become a dream gig for musicians.
The Farmers Market means different things for different people. For some it is a chance to pick through seasonal produce. For others, it is something free to do on a Thursday night.
Either way, it has never featured or elevated musicians beyond background music.
Maybe this year will be different.
If this shake up means more attention is paid to musicians, then I see it benefitting everyone involved. New bands get a chance to crack the lineup, selected bands hopefully will play to more attentive audiences, Main Street gets to reinforce its brand as the cultural destination of western Colorado, and the Farmers Market will become a more dynamic event.
With the March 18 closure of the Mesa Theater & Club, a giant void has been created in Grand Junction’s live music scene.
Gone for who knows how long are the packed theater crowds rallying around their favorite nu metal alternative bands. Once a lively spot to catch a concert, the theater now sits empty and lifeless, a shell of what was and what could have been.
No doubt, Main Street has lost a little of its virility over the theater’s closing, but out of one man’s misery comes another man’s opportunity.
Attempting to resurrect the streets of downtown Grand Junction with live music is Skylark Music Production.
The independent music promotion company headed up by Cash Kiser is working tirelessly to bring quality live music to Grand Junction, and so far it has done an admirable job. A departure from the typical Mesa Theater show, Skylark has made a living connecting with the fast growing Denver music scene, and bringing a variety of indie rock and folk acts to downtown stages.
Just Thursday, April 2, Skylark hosted emerging Denver trio Edison and Grammy-nominated songwriter and former Lumineers member Maxwell Hughes at the Local. It was another fantastic show in an already impressive lineup Skylark has produced.
Skylark’s past performers’ list reads like a who’s who of the nation’s best and brightest young bands. Rubedo, Rossonian and The Blind Pets are just a few of the bands who have played local shows thanks to Skylark and Kiser, and his team shows no signs of slowing down.
Recently announced shows include the innovative Grand Rapids trio The Crane Wives, the return of Denver’s brazen and frenetic rock band The Yawpers, Montrose’s own Johnson County Coroners, and In the Whale, the undeniable rock duo from Denver.
The self-proclaimed “Kenny Powers of music,” In the Whale is the band name on everyone’s lips. Guitarist and vocalist Nate Valdez and drummer Eric Riley have been together since 2011, making balls-to-the-wall music that has the eastern slope of Colorado and every major music festival between Treefort Music Fest (Boise, Idaho) and Austin’s South By Southwest Music Festival all riled up.
Thanks in large part to their sweaty, shout-along live sets, In the Whale has featured prominently at both the Underground Music Showcase and the Westword Music Showcase in Denver.
Listening to the band’s music it is easy to see why it has grown in popularity. Taking cues from bands such as The White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age, In the Whale plays in-your-face, nosebleed-inducing rock ‘n’ roll.
In the past, Grand Junction concert promoters have all shared a fatal flaw: They have failed to fully embrace Grand Junction’s local talent.
Skylark, on the other hand, smartly uses a local opener for each show. Bands such as We Speak Imaginese, Wavebaby, The Conifer, Dirtylektric, No Cash Value and songwriter Billy Pogany have all been or are scheduled to open Skylark shows.
Vastly underrepresented on past shows with touring bands, these performers give Skylark something very valuable in return for precious stage time. These performers are fully dedicated to growing a successful local music scene. By involving them early on, Skylark has created a vested interest among those in the local music community and, in return, is helping to ensure its own success.
So far, Skylark has shown a propensity for finding and showcasing the region’s best talent. If it keeps it up, the loss of the Mesa Theater will not be such a blow for Grand Junction.
The mere mention of the band the Lumineers is enough to get half-caf-frap sipping , fedora wearing hippies everywhere to sit down the latest issue of McSweeney’s and stand at attention. Ever since the Denver band owned the summer of 2013 with the radio friendly, platinum selling single “Ho Hey,” the Lumineers have converted everyone from college kids and suburban moms into cultish fans.
Those fans have got to be frothing at the mouth for Maxwell Hughes tour stop to Grand Junction. As a former member of the Lumineers, Hughes is partially indebted to the band. Just by association, Hughes benefits from being party to one of the Mile High City’s greatest success stories.
Don’t make the mistake though of casually writing Hughes off as a background member with the band. His prowess on guitar is one of the main reasons the Lumineers sound as good as they do. Hughes’ influence on the album is everywhere, from the opening track “Flowers in You Hair” to the closing lines of “Morning Song.”
After leaving the Lumineers Hughes has accomplished plenty on his own. As a wonderfully competent solo guitarist and songwriter, Hughes appearance at The Local is no early spring joke. In fact its quite the opposite.
The Grammy nominated songwriter and finger style champion plays guitar in the most unusual ways. His guitar playing rarely includes strumming. Instead Hughes might play a song by double tapping the fret board with both hands or playing over the top of the neck rather than below it.
Hughes’ arsenal of techniques is on full display on both of his solo albums, 2008’s self titled “Maxwell Huges” and 2013’s “Only in Dreams.” At times it may sound like a dozen of guitarist are playing at once but in fact it is Hughes effortlessly floating across the fret board creating an array of sound through percussive slaps and mesmerizing finger picking.
He is virtuoso of the instrument and serious fans will find his work enthralling.
With so many young, unknown bands writing music and touring nonstop across the country, it’s hard to get excited about any of them.
There are too many choices and not nearly enough time to listen to them all.
For example, the annual South By Southwest Music Festival that wraps up on Sunday, March 22, in Austin, Texas, hosted over 2,200 bands during the six day event.
Let that sink in for a minute.
That’s an average of about 365 bands playing each day at an event that supposedly eliminates the riffraff and features only the hottest up-and-coming acts.
There’s no way anyone can sort out that madness.
Music journalists try to provide context, highlighting the cream of the crop. But when every headline out of the festival hypes “(insert band name here) as the next (generic superlative) band from random big city,” it’s not helpful when deciding how to allocate my time.
For me, the best way to discover new music remains my local, community network including friends, family or record stores.
Out of the madness of giant music festivals and the endless touring cycle for young musicians, the cream does eventually rise to the top. And I trust that someone in my network will discover it and turn me on to something new.
Take a band such as H. Grimace, a complete unknown. I wasn’t aware of the band until a friend excitedly turned me on to H. Grimace’s sound a couple weeks ago and let me know the band would be making a Grand Junction tour stop.
First off, it is not often that a young band of British rockers decides to stop in Grand Junction, even for fuel. But digging into H. Grimace’s music catalog, it starts to make more sense why the band booked a Tuesday, March 24, show at the Local.
This east London quartet touts uniquely American influences, mainly surf rock, only it has added its own layer of tonal dreariness.
How a group of young urban Londoners took influence from the reverb-heavy sounds of 1960s California and turned it into a melodic combination of beach blanket chill and Brit pop punk rock is beyond me, but this band has managed to create its own style in the process, setting it apart from a crowded field of guitar-driven rockers.
Touring with H. Grimace is the self-described lazy slacker rock trio from San Francisco: Couches.
Couches embraces that skate surf sound of early Weezer records and the lo-fidelity simplicity of bands such as Pavement. Complete with crunchy blasts of well-placed feedback, Couches’ music is a throwback to the summer soundtrack tunes from bands such as The Replacements, Hsker D, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth that dominated ’90s radio.
Grand Junction’s own duo Wavebaby brings a similar feel to the table and will round out Tuesday’s bill nicely.
The music of H. Grimace, Couches and Wavebaby is a sound that has always found a home in Grand Junction, as we’ve seen with bands such as Bad Weather California, Sauna, The Blank Tapes and countless other bands that have set up their Twin Reverb Fender Amps to vibe out with local crowds.
For decades, music has been a glue, binding people together, and this skate surf sound that all three of bands employ has obvious strength.
The music is danceable, yet chill. It has enough pop sensibility to bring people in while still maintaining enough edge to satisfy an edgier audience.
These bands create an atmosphere where a people can dance, laugh, hangout, talk and share new band discoveries. It’s the type of community in which the buzz of being the “next great whatever” rings loud enough for even sleepy Grand Junction to wake up.