UK Tour Blog 3

A great gig, a late night pub hang, an early ferry trip, another great gig later and we’re back in England, in Yorkshire. Last night we played to a packed house at the Centenary Center on the Isle of Man and again the crowd was incredibly enthusiastic. We didn’t have time to see much of the island but our host, a band manager turned B+B proprietor named Shazz, took us to the local pub, The White House. The place must have been hundreds of years old and was quiet and cozy as could be. We had a pint or two or three of the local favorite and great chats with some new friends. It was a bit of a late night but we managed to make to the 8:00 AM ferry back to England and caught a few extra winks after hiding ourselves away in some of the quieter areas of the ship.

Once we got off the boat we zipped across the country(!) to a sold-out show at the Selby Town Hall and once again the crowd was fantastic! Selby is a lovely little town and the town hall is converted church built in the 1860s. The sound and vibe in the room were wonderful, once again we felt right at home from “go”. We played two sets and finished up on the floor with an acoustic encore of Family Band and the crowd nearly drowned us out with their singing. Thanks for being amazing, Selby!

After the gig we went back to the hotel, where I’m writing this, and Gerry, our tour manager, put on BBC 4; now we’re blissfully watching vintage highlights from Top of the Pops. It’s been a great day, we’re on to Saltburn by the Sea tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

JD

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UK Tour Blog 2

We’re at sea in the the middle of travel to the Isle of Man after a fantastic show at The Atkinson in Southport last night. The venue is housed in a beautiful old clock tower-topped building that also holds an art gallery, library, cafe as well as a larger theatre. We had been warned that the crowds here would be good, but wouldn’t be demonstrative during the show. Happily that turned out not to be the case! The Southport crowd erupted during our songs and made sure that we didn’t feel like we were playing there for the first time. It was a spectacular way to start the tour.

Leif and I were left to our own devices for after-gig eats. Most restaurants and pubs stop serving food early but kebab shops open late and stay open until early in the morning. So, kebabs it was. We found our way to a shop run by a Turkish man who immediately asked what we were doing in Southport. He hadn’t heard of the venue where we had just played, even though it was practically across the street from his shop, but as soon as we told him we were musicians he pulled out his phone and started playing a video of himself singing in Turkish. I have no idea how Turkish songs are supposed to sound, but I told him I thought it sounded good. The words hadn’t gotten out of my mouth before he said “Hang on, I’ll play you a better one!”. Several videos of heart-rending Turkish love songs later we had our kebabs.

We had been settling in back at our hotel room for a few minutes when our driver, Gerry, arrived. We’d been watching Mitchell and Webb videos on YouTube, so Gerry, being Scottish, naturally suggested we take in a bit of Scot’s humor (…humour? Whatever.) We watched a few clips before Gerry told us to listen to a particular Billy Collins bit. I’m a fan of Billy Collins, so I thought it would be great. As it turned out, this was from an early album and Billy’s accent was…let’s call it challenging. Gerry began to chuckle immediately while Leif and I sat quietly and awkwardly. It took Gerry a couple of minutes to notice we weren’t laughing. He asked if we were having trouble with the accent and we admitted that we had barely understood a word, Gerry said something about listening to it several times in a row to get it in our ears. That was never going to happen, so we called it a night. The Scotland gigs should be interesting.

Centenary Centre on the Isle of Man tonight, I can’t wait!

Thanks for reading.

JD

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UK Tour, Day 1.

It took a day and a half to get here, but here we are in Southport, UK, to play at The Atkinson tonight. All of our luggage and gear arrived with us relatively unscathed, a minor feat. An old crack in my travel bass reopened, I hope it will be stable enough to make it through the tour. Once I’m back in Nashville it will be easy to get it fixed. Otherwise, we’re in fine shape.

Southport is a pretty charming place by the sea, it’s a resort town with a few small amusement parks and a pier. Leif and I went for a nice run this morning in an effort to blow out some of the cobwebs of travel and to help get through the jet lag faster. That’s the result we’re hoping for anyway. So far, so good.

We have a driver/tour manager working with us named Gerry. He’s an old-school road guy and has worked with some pretty great bands, he dropped the name Fishbone on us yesterday and that got my attention. He had worked with them on an earlt Lollapalooza tour where he was responsible for wrangling the giant fish they had on stage every night. I think ol’ Gerry is full of stories and I’m looking forward to hearing them.

There’s a lot more ahead, we ‘ll take a ferry to the Isle of Man for a show at the Centenary Centre  for an 8PM show. You can see the rest of our tour itinerary over at the Front Country Tour Page.  

Thanks for reading,

JD

JD

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Back on the Road, and U.K. Tour!

It’s been an extremely busy few months! Fall tour, the IBMA business conference, and the accompanying Wide Open Bluegrass Festival were a lot of fun for me personally and for the band. We played great shows and showcases, including the absolutely incredible Volcano Room at Bluegrass Underground! We made tons of new friends and capped it all off with an indoor set to a packed ballroom at the Raleigh Convention Center, while Hurricane Joaquin raged outside, and an outdoor set opening for the Traveling McCourys at the Three Sisters Festival in Chattanooga the next day.  It gave me an incredible feeling in Raleigh to see hundreds of packed seats in front with a huge crowd of dancers silhouetted in the back of the hall! Thank you to everyone who braved the storm in North Carolina and Tennessee to join us, you guys are the reason that we do it! Also, the city of Raleigh and Pine Cone deserve massive credit for successfully moving the entire event indoors without a hitch. Bravo!

Front Country is wrapping up our U.S. dates for the year, but we’re not close to done. In one week we’ll fly into Heathrow to begin our first tour of the United Kingdom, to say that we’re excited would be a big understatement. I’m going to do my best to post regularly during the tour, in the meantime you can learn more about our U.K. dates and more: here. In addition to tour prep, we’re all listening to the first round of mastered tracks for an E.P. of cover songs that we recorded this summer. We’ve covered (so to speak) a lot of musical ground in just five tracks, some of it is sure to be familiar, some of it might be new to you. Either way it’s sounding terrific! It will be ready soon and we can’t wait to share it with you!

 

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IBMA Preview

I’m writing this morning from my dad’s house in Carrboro, NC. Front Country’s fall tour is charging on. Since I last wrote here, we spent two days recording in Oakland, played a bunch of shows in Washington, Oregon and California, then flew east for gigs in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, including a really special one at Bluegrass Underground. I hope we’ll be back to do that again sooner rather than later. This has been a great tour, the band is playing at a very high level and I feel excited about every show. I’m particularly excited about what’s to come musically and professionally.

Today, the annual business conference for the International Bluegrass Music Association begins in nearby Raleigh. The band has been selected as an official showcase artist, which means that we’ll be playing a lot this week publicly and privately. Showcasing can be a little strange, it’s kind of like an audition. You’re not necessarily playing for fans, so much as you’re playing for talent buyers, DJ’s, promoters, etc. in the hopes of getting good festival bookings, airplay and generating some awareness of what you’re doing. Sometimes there are also fans in the audience, but not always. The result is that the energy you feel from the crowd is very different from what you might find at a club or festival date. If you’ve never showcased or taken an audition; the feeling is not unfriendly, but kind of clinical. You’re trying to do something that feels natural and spontaneous in an environment that is anything but. Nonetheless, you have to deliver as if you’re playing a regular gig. It’s weird and surreal, but fun. Conferences like this also provide a chance to catch up with friends who might only see in passing on the road, or not see at all. That alone can make it worth the trip.

 

If you’re attending IBMA and would like catch one of our sets, you can find our schedule and some great videos from our concert at Bluegrass Underground, here.

 

Thanks for reading, hope to see you in Raleigh!

JD

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Changes

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here, but there’s been a lot going on! I took some time off from Detour over the spring and summer for two tours with bay-area progressive acoustic band Front Country. Over the course of ten weeks on the road we played dozens of shows all across the country, including Merlefest and Grey Fox, both major festivals. It was one of the most musically rewarding and personally gratifying experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have and I’m happy to share that as I write this I’m flying to the west coast to start fall tour as the newest member of Front Country. More on that in a moment.

It’s not an easy decision to leave one job you really like, no matter how appealing a prospective new job might be. Feelings of loyalty and uncertainty can raise serious questions in your mind, even when the change is clearly the right choice. It’s made more difficult when that job is in a band. By necessity, you become closer with fellow band mates than with office mates. Bands spend countless hours together rehearsing, performing and traveling. During the course of all this, you regularly leave yourself exposed to one another in ways that office mates almost never do. For better or worse, band mates almost always develop strong feelings about one another. That makes the choice to move an especially hard one.

For a number reasons it was clear that joining Front Country was the right choice for me; but it was not an easy choice or one I made hastily. I am extremely grateful for my time with Detour. We made a great and successful record together, were nominated for an IBMA award, played good music all over the country and we became great friends. It has been an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m particularly thankful to Detour’s bandleader, Jeff Rose, for the characteristic grace he showed when I called to tell him that the time had come for me to move on and during my final performances with the band. We parted on the best of terms and I know that they’ll continue to enjoy great success.

Having made the decision, I’m thrilled to be playing with Front Country. Playing with this new band doesn’t just mean a change of musical style, though it certainly means that. It also means an exciting change of trajectory. There are many great things on the horizon, as we start fall tour and finish recording our upcoming EP I’ll have lots more to share. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading.

JD

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New Rules!

The International Bluegrass Music Association announced the nominees for its’ annual awards yesterday. As usual, there is stark, but no longer surprising, similarity to the nominee lists of years past. Perhaps most troubling was the nomination of two ‘Super Groups’ composed of recognized veteran performers for the Emerging Artist of the Year award. My good friend Joe Lurgio has made a strong case for revision of the IBMA awards process hereThis case has been made over and over again without resulting in any change in recent years, so I won’t bother making it again here. What I will do is offer a few additional guidelines for eligibility which could help level the playing field and give new bands and artists a fighting chance for nomination, and incentive to get involved.

 

Here we go:

For all performance categories (Entertainer/Instrumental Group, etc. and all individual instrumental and vocal categories) Excluding Emerging Artist of the Year

In addition to all existing rules, nominees must have:

Appeared on a full-length recording, released during the eligibility period, as solo artist, leader, co-leader or full-time band member.

-or-

Performed at no less than 75 public, ticketed events during the eligibility period.

For Emerging Artist of the Year only:

No regularly performing member of the group may have been nominated more than once for any IBMA performance award or combination of awards. For example, a member nominated for female vocalist of the Year and Banjo Player of the Year in any year(s) would exclude the group from nomination for Emerging Artist.

These changes are just suggestions, but I feel very strongly that they would help open the IBMA awards to the new artists and members that the organization so desperately needs.

I welcome your thoughts.

JD

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Musicians and Tech Developers Are in the Same Boat!

Some musicians are at-odds with streaming services. They feel that the lost revenue is irreplaceable, that Spotify and the rest are an existential threat. Others have chosen to embrace streaming as a tool to reach new fans, to use it as the best distribution service ever. They view the lost revenue as a cost of doing business and, rather than lamenting it’s loss, find ways to maximize the benefits to themselves.

Since the cat of music-streaming is already out of the bag, this is certainly the way to go for  the foreseeable future.

But let’s look one step further down the road. Many musicians have given up making money from streaming. They are willing to give their music away in order to make money in other ways. Tech developers and their business partners, on the other hand, are still planning to make money on this somehow. But they’re not. Oft-villainized Spotify has yet to turn a profit, and while it’s heading in the right direction it still needs more users to sign-up for its paid service, versus the free service that 75% of its users seem to be happy with. If you ask me, $10 a month is a great deal for their service, but what do I know? I still like to buy physical copies of records in record stores.

So, fans of music want it for free. Musicians, whether they like it or not, are going along with it. The tech/business people have also complied, but they’ve offered a sweet deal for just a little money, hoping users will get on board and support their business model. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has equated the monthly fee to “…less than two beers.”, it is a bargain, but casual music consumers are pretty clearly saying “No thanks, we just want it for free.”.

Likewise, musicians are hoping that fans will choose to support their business models in other ways, like attending shows, buying merchandise or through subscription services and streamed concerts. Many bands are able to make this work. Meanwhile, the streaming services don’t have much else to sell. Who wants to buy a Spotify T-shirt or pay to hear Daniel Ek speak? Tidal might be able to sell T-shirts and hats because Jay-Z , but is the streaming service going to be a loss-leader for a new line of clothing? Probably not. (But maybe it will, Jay-Z is really smart.) Google has the upper hand here, since YouTube is a vastly more popular streaming service and the big G has monetized the heck out of every user by scanning our emails for marketing data (something Spotify will probably never be able to do). 

Where does this leave us? Spotify, Tidal, etc. may become profitable some day, but maybe not. YouTube seems to have it in the bag. If Google chooses to charge for YTs new streaming service it might help the case for paying for music streaming, but maybe not. It’s all up in the air right now. Musicians, who are hard at work finding ways to get the most out of having their music available for free are actually in a good position. The tech/business world is scrambling to find the best way to deliver our music, which is OUR ADVERTISING, to fans for free. Or, at least almost free. Whether or not there is actual money to be made for them in delivering ‘free’ music for a small fee remains to be seen.

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To Kickstart or Not to Kickstart?

Some time ago, I backed the Kickstarter campaign of an acquaintance who was about to make his first record. It was the first crowd-funded project that I had supported. I pledged $10 and looked forward to getting  a few updates and, eventually, a digital copy of the project when it was finished. About a week later I received an short update about the records’ progress. After that, nothing. As far as I know, the project was never completed. Since then, my acquaintance moved away from Nashville, leaving a few angry friends behind. So… you be the judge.

Needless to say, I was not chomping at the bit to back another project.

Recently, though, many of my very talented friends have launched crowd-funding efforts for new records. These are projects that I really would like to see completed, and music that I would really like to hear. So, I’m back in the business of pledging support through Kickstarter, PledgeMusic, etc..

In general, I think that crowd-funding is great tool for artist and for fans. The money that labels usually provide isn’t available to independent artists, unlike other label services which can be provided by freelancing pros or other companies. Crowd-funding allows fans to get in on the capitol end of things and help bring music to market. Even established artists who are no longer working with labels are using crowd-finds to pay for projects.

It’s terrific, you should get involved and support your favorite artists!

On the artist end of things, though, there is more at play than just getting the money and then chipping away at the project. First, it’s imperative to think of crowd-funds not as a gift but as a contract advance against future work. Any time you ask for money, whether a home-loan or an advance, you must be certain that you will use the money only for what you have said it’s for (including money raised over your goal) that your plans for the money you’re raising are realistic (Think you’re going to make a record and promote it for $2,500? Think again.) and that you will deliver what you promise on time, whether a monthly payment or a completed project. Honesty, transparency and diligence are all keys. If you don’t deliver, or if you under-deliver, you can kiss future funding efforts goodbye.

You can probably also say goodbye to those fans, along with any of their friends.

Maybe most importantly, you can hurt other artists by making it harder for them to raise money. It was a long time before I was willing to get involved again after my first pledge experience. For many potential supporters, it could never happen. Don’t hurt the collective reputation of bands and artists by falling down on the job.

Finally, don’t abuse the system. Carefully consider whether or not you’re asking for help with appropriate things. Does your business model include going to your fans every time you need to record? Tour? Place a CD order? If so, you need to examine your model. You must expect to have some skin in the game and you can’t always rely on the confidence and generosity of your fans to close budget gaps. If you can’t make some things happen on your own your fans will stop helping you make them happen. They might even stop helping anyone at all.

 

JD

 

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Maintaining a Professional Demeanor. Or, Stop It You Knuckleheads!

Moments ago, I read a short rant on social media, written by one well-known Bluegrass professional, about another. This little gem was based on something yet another well known Bluegrass person had mentioned earlier, also on social media.

Whatever your feelings may be about the recent turbulence on the IBMA board, IBMA itself, WOB, the Dobro in Bluegrass, etc., you are delusional if you think professional Bluegrass will be painted by the rest of the world with anything other than a single brush.

More simply, the rest of the music/cultural/arts community does not care about the factions that have formed. They do not care about the ins and outs of recent infighting or old arguments. They will only see a group of people, hotly bickering with one-another over nothing that they understand.

Then they will be on their way.

Bluegrass musicians, writers, journalists, etc. need to be able to work as much as possible. We need to be seen as a professional, agreeable and reasonable group. We must be folks that other folks want to work with. Bickering on the internet makes it harder to accomplish this. If you have a disagreement that cannot remain civil, have it privately. Online flame wars are the territory of adolescents.

So knock it off!

All of you!

Some of us have kids to feed!

JD

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