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Down On The Corner
We've turned the orbital corner into summer; the days get shorter until December, but it'll be awhile before you notice it. In the meantime, summer is Maximum Festival season, which has already been underway in Louisville since Derby.
What will be of interest to musicians, certainly, as well as the promoters of the various festivals, large and small, is the impact the current economic downturn (okay, collapse) will have on the gate and, hence, on the likelihood of the disappearance of some of those festivals next year. The promoter of Abbey Road on the River was already making ominous noises about the loss of corporate dollars at the end of the festival this year, even though attendance was up. Look for some competition to develop between Louisville and Memphis over that.
The next big event on the horizon is the Forecastle Fest, whose promoter, J.K. McKnight, has been very aggressive in his expansion plans. McKnight relies heavily on corporate dollars as well, though ticket sales also are significant to his bottom line. (They're significant to attendees' bottom lines, too.) How the festival does will be a key indicator for the rest of the season, given the strong lineup of acts, plus the diversification of interests FF presents (Music, Art, Activism).
The Kentucky State Fair, like most state fairs, will also be impacted by the economy, although music is not the centerpiece of the event. Nonetheless, a number of Louisville bands get work playing the Midway Stages at the Fair through Triangle Talent, whose primary business is state fair booking, with contracts to book music at sixteen or so fairs, including, recently, the New York State Fair.
The other big annual music event in Louisville is the National Quartet Convention, which draws some 40,000 people to the Fairgrounds for a week in September, While this event has little direct impact on the Louisville music scene – the NQC is extremely insular – the money the attendees bring to town is significant.
Smaller festivals will likely feel the economic crunch the most, as the discretionary dollars shrink. It's here that the disappearances will likely happen, although it's difficult to predict which ones will vanish. Each musical niche has a different set of fans and those sets don't necessarily overlap. They also are not all that large, which is why so many music fans complain about the lack of support for their particular music.
The continuing collapse of record sales has been directly responsible for an increase in the number of touring acts – solos to full bands – over the last six or seven years. Festivals have benefited from that surplus of national and regional acts currently touring or willing to travel, thus making many more available at a lesser cost.
It was impacted club shows in the Louisville area as well. Multi-act shows are now the standard, particularly in the youth market, where shows with six to ten performers are common. Metal promoter Terry Harper, who was on the cover of this publication earlier this year, routinely books five and six bands into the Bulldog Cafe or Headliners. Most of these bands are out-of-towners who are out on the road, trying to make enough money to continue performing. This results in serious competition for Louisville bands.
There are other leading indicators as well, notably the number of all-ages or eighteen-or-over shows regularly booked at the Bulldog Cafe, Skull Alley, Headliners and Uncle Pleasant's, The Bulldog Cafe and Skull Alley are dedicated all-ages venues, but Headliners and Uncle Pleasant's are bars that depend on alcohol sales. All-ages eliminate that income source for that show. By booking all-ages, the clubs hope to tap into that market earlier as well as build a clientele familiar with their club.
Another, more telling, indicator is the number of open stages and jam sessions currently offered in the Louisville area, as well as the spread of those over the week. Previously, Mondays and Tuesdays were the days when 'Artist Nights' and 'Open Stages' would be presented, as those nights were essentially dead as far as providing enough audience to pay a band to play. Currently, however, there are open stages six nights a week, barring only Saturday. Club owners opt for such events as an inexpensive way to provide live music while bringing in some audience members, notably the performers themselves and any family and friends they bring along. This works in Louisville in large part because Louisville is city saturated with musicians and songwriters of every genre and skill level.
Thus far, however, Louisville venues have not moved to pay-to-play, which developed on the West Coast some years ago. This has been due mostly to the fact that most clubs don't have substantial audiences seeking new, live music, as had been the case on the West Coast. With a population well under a million and an average age of 36, Louisville does not have the clubbing crowd common to larger cities.
For club owners and musicians alike, the need to promote events much more heavily is paramount. Unfortunately, club owners mostly think that it's the job of the musicians to bring in an audience while musicians think it's the club owner's job to advertise their show. This argument goes on endlessly, but the economic facts are that, for club owners, it's a buyer's market – there is always another band hungry to play. Musicians who think they can ignore the need to promote themselves would be advised to keep their day job, if they have one, or get out on the road with the rest of the country.
When times get tough, those who hustle, survive.
• MaryLou Stout Dempler, a.k.a. Kentucky's Ukulele Goddess (per Terry Meiners), has joined the LMN bloggers crew with the LouisvilleUke blog. Before you snort or otherwise display some negative attitude about ukuleles (shame on you for that!), consider that MaryLou has written and had published many, many ukulele instruction books with Mel Bay and others and is highly respected in her field. A quick Google search will give you some indication of her accomplishments in the ukulele world. (Full disclosure: I've known MaryLou for more than twenty years, dating back to when she was writing songs and bringing them to a songwriting group I was running.)
We're honored to have her on our blog roster and hope you find her posts useful, instructive and entertaining.
• The Louisville Orchestra announced on June 18 that it will end its 2009 fiscal year with a balanced budget. The Orchestra's annual operating budget is $7.25 million and it anticipates a small surplus of approximately 1% for the year ending May 31, 2009.
What a surprise and good news, too.
• My Morning Jacket's Patrick Hallahan revealed in an interview with the Canadian website Spinner.ca that MMJ was taking "a hiatus," after an eight-year stretch of touring. Currently, frontman Jim James is busy with The Monsters of Folk project with Conor Oberst, M. Ward and Mike Mogis and Hallahan's been drumming with Black Keys' Dan Auerbach in a solo project.
• We hear from Dale Thompson of Bride that they're working on a new CD, Tsar Bomba, and they're looking for some help from their fans. They're asking for an advance, in effect, of $20 from each fan, who will receive an autographed copy of the project when it's done. For more info, go to their website at www.bridepub.com/ for specifics.
The local Colgate Country Showdown was staged at the Stephen Foster Amphitheatre in Bardstown on Thursday, June 18. There were seventeen contestants, playing to approximately 1500 people. The winner was Andrew Scott Newton, who played two original tunes. He moves on to the regional showdown next.