Below: snapshot of Grizzly Bear founder Ed Droste “getting crunk” — yes, that's a quote — in the parking lot prior to their appearance at the 2008 edition of the Music Now festival:
Two weeks ago a lovely conjunction of work and pleasure took me to Cincinnati, OH to attend the third annual installment of the Music Now Festival, booked by my friend and business partner, Bryce Dessner, from the indie rock band The National. The groups billed to play the festival included Bang on a Can All-Stars, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, Andrew Bird, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, and Bill Frisell. More interesting, perhaps, was the fact that indie rock royalty like Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry were wandering about — to participate in brief guest spots on stage, yes — but moreover to hang out off-stage and take in the scene. Like Stevens and Parry, both, this was my second time attending the fest — it's been running for three years — and again, I enjoyed my time there very much.
Why? Well, I spend a lot of time in California and New York. And, first things first, a trip to the midwest gives this city dweller a much-needed, annual mental realignment to the realities of our country. Like, well, as in this:
Blam! Yeah, even if you live in Orange County or Long Island, you don't get to see a 62 foot high concrete statue of Jesus emerging from a giant pond in front of a mega-church very often in New York or California. At Music Now, however, I found myself ferrying between Cincinnati and the airport in Dayton, OH on four separate occasions. Apparently this 62 foot tall concrete statue of Jesus is a daily reality for the residents of the tiny roadside town known as Monroe, OH. Each time I passed it, I felt a little bit closer to fine — if by “fine” you mean a little bit closer to gay bashing; denying teenagers their right to birth control; and borderline racist discomfort with Barack Obama's presidential run. (Residents of Monroe, feel free to quibble with me here!)
The second thing these trips to the festival brings to mind each year is an emerging sensibility that roughly splits the difference between the kind of stuff Alan Rich has long written about in his soon to be dearly-departed column, A Lot of Night Music, and the kind of stuff you might read about in Pitchfork or on the pop end of the LA Weekly's music coverage.
This subtle convergence between Alan's world (let's call it “classical music”) and Pitchfork's world (let's call it “the hipster dominion”) is something I've been noticing for awhile now and, to an extent, something I've beaten the drum for. But it's not just me. There's something zeitgeist-defining about the simultaneous emergence of quirky, classical-informed artists like Joanna Newsom and Sufjan Stevens. As another example, I suspect this zeitgeist I'm describing is one reason The New Yorker's quote-unquote classical critic Alex Ross had a surprise best seller last year with The Rest is Noise, his history of the 20th century classical music canon. (I say quote-unquote because — with his articles about Bjork, Radiohead, Pavement, and Bob Dylan — Ross proved he could out write and out think most pop critics in their stated area of expertise.)
My point? Well, I know, it takes me awhile to get there sometimes…
Ahem, that point: Classical music is not the institutional graveyard it once was. And pop music is not the thoughtless bacchanal it once was, not when artists like Radiohead and Bjork make their appreciation for classical figures like Paul Lansky and Stockhausen, well known. (Google it friends, I've rambled on too long already and also used up my daily requisition of A HREF tags.)
So, enough of my yadda yadda. More pitchers! Here's a photograph of the inside of Memorial Hall, the lovely Beaux Arts style room where Music Now took place this year and last.
In the upper right hand corner, the speaker looking thing with the bear on it is actually an installation by the sculptor/architect Karl Jensen. (I would have let you Google him yourself, but you may accidentally stumble upon the *other* Karl Jensen whose work appears a direct competitor with painter of light, Thomas Kinkade.)
Next week I'll post more photographs from the event, and more thoughts about the classical-slash-indie rock nexus.
After the jump a photograph of some Civil War era portraits, a lonely looking piano forte, and addressing the conflict of interest issue.
First that photograph I promised from Memorial Hall's backstage area:
Pretty rock'n'roll, huh?
Now a word RE: conflict of interest. Yes, I do work with some of the artists that played the Music Now festival. To my mind, conflict of interest is something of a 20th century issue — the domain of the sort of young, earnest journalists I refer to with the mock honorific Scoops McGee — folks with J-School dreams of bringing down politicians, folks that forget that Lester Bangs played in rock bands who gigged alongside the musicians he wrote about. Mostly, though, when people say “conflict of interest” my only reply is “not my problem.” Rather, it's the culture's problem. It started with Rolling Stone giving Mick Jagger solo albums four-star reviews because he's buds with the magazine's publisher Jann Wenner well after Jagger's irrelevance had been generally accepted. And then there's today's most influential critical voice, Pitchfork, which has expanded into booking music festivals and starting online TV networks, often utilizing the talents of the same artists whom they grant their official pop-critical stamp of approval.
And if that doesn't convince you, well, save your complaints about journalistic sketchiness for the fucking Pulitzer prize winners over at the LA Times. Okay buddy? When they clean up their acts so will I.