Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beyond Radio: Podcasts

Last week I explored what I saw as the best options for new musical discovery on local terrestrial radio. But let’s get real… even at its best, terrestrial radio is only as good as the DJ’s talent and creativity (and mood that day), within the context of their usually quite restrictive format (...even “free-form” is often just a slightly expanded format). Then you have to be listening during their particular broadcast time, and be in the right place and right mood for taking it all in. Yes, there are devices that enable you to record live radio to time-shift at your convenience... I own one such device, called Radio Shark, which does this very efficiently, but that involves a level of commitment that’s hard to muster these days. Case in point: I haven’t actually used my Radio Shark in over a year.

That’s because there are now many better options. Satellite and HD radio greatly expand the offerings, but both are specialty-equipment dependent, and satellite requires an additional monthly subscription fee. Both are essentially a live medium, which means you’re often again dealing with supplemental technology if you want to time-shift.

Clearly, the internet has become the primary source for discovering new music. The problem is, it is a vast and largely unchartered universe. At last count there were over 8 million artists on MySpace alone. A great radio DJ serves as both a gatekeeper and tastemaker; a tour guide to that expansive universe of music. On the internet, it’s the bloggers and the podcasters which serve those functions.

There would be no Cedar music blog if we did not believe that blogging can be an effective tool for sharing musical discoveries. And in a future entry I’ll explore other music blogs that I find useful for this purpose. But the obvious advantage of podcasts (which refers to episodic audio “programs” that can be downloaded and played at your convenience on your computer or portable music device), is that it’s an audio format. The better music blogs include music and video streams, but that chains you to your computer to listen/watch. Podcasts can be taken with you, and listened to on the move, in a time and place of your choosing, which is a pretty essential feature in the modern age.

Before I share a short list of my favorite podcasts, I do have to mention The Cedar’s own. It’s largely an audio version of our monthly newsletter, but contains 30-60 second music clips of every band headlining at The Cedar that month. If you’re local to the Twin Cities, not only can that be a nice way to discover some new music, it’s all music that you have the opportunity to then see live. And one technical note: most of these podcasts are available as streams from the links provided, and also as downloadable mp3 files. Now on to my choices:

1. I consider the grandfather of new music podcasts to be National Public Radio’s All Songs Considered. Created as a streaming webcast years ago by former All Things Considered producer (and musician) Bob Boilen, this is essential listening for anyone curious about new, alternative music. I consider Bob Boilen to be about the most trustworthy music tastemaker in the country, and he regularly has other critics and bloggers on the program giving reviews and previews.
2. NPR Music also started another posting called Second Stage, which each day presents one song by a band that would be under almost everyone’s radar, but consistently has something very worthwhile to offer.
3. Similarly, a number of “alternative” stations offer a “song of the day” podcast (albeit with a more narrow rock slant), including The Current and KEXP in Seattle. KEXP also has a bi-weekly podcast worth hearing called Music That Matters.
4. The nationally syndicated radio program Sound Opinions is also available as a podcast. The show is hosted by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, two Chicago-based music critics who provide entertaining banter and views. Again, it’s overly rock-centric for my tastes, but I find the music news segment at the beginning to the program alone worth the download.
5. I wish there were a podcast of Nic Harcourt’s Sounds Eclectic, but there is one of live in-studio performances on the daily Morning Becomes Eclectic (from which Sounds Eclectic is compiled). Harcourt is another trustworthy tastemaker, but he just left his post as host of the daily program and music director of KCRW, so we’ll have to watch and see what he’s up to next, and how his host replacement, Jason Bentley, fares.
6. I do listen each week to The Current’s Musicheads podcast, but not quite as enthusiastically since the format changed about a year ago. It used to be Bill DeVille and his two guests each picked an album for discussion for each program, which brought a good variety with the rotating guests. Now the three albums are pre-selected, invariably all in the same narrow range of alternative rock to which the station itself is increasingly limiting.
7. I feel the need to mention two non-music related podcasts here, because I think they happen to be the best-produced radio programs and podcasts in existence: the perennial public radio favorite This American Life from Chicago Public Radio, and WNYC’s Radiolab. Both of these hour-long programs manage to consistently inform and entertain thoroughly and effectively, with humor and thoughtfulness.

The biggest challenge, really, is finding the time to listen to all of these offerings. Like so many other things, there's just so much information and content out there these days, that even filtering out the best barely leaves enough time to do anything else.

So, what podcasts or internet sources do you turn to for discovering new music? Please post your's in the comments section!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bad choices with good results

This past Wednesday I did something unusual and probably ill advised: I sent my home address in an email to a complete stranger. The email specified when I would be home, and invited the recipient to send my address out to other people.

Don’t worry; the recipient of the email was a coordinator for a nation caroling tour. Julian Koster of The Music Tapes and Neutral Milk Hotel and a friend were touring the country, spending a day in each selected city, caroling at people’s homes. The opportunity came to me entirely by accident. Someone sent out the information to a listserv I’m on, and it happened to grab m attention. So I sent the email and waited. And waited and waited.

By Tuesday I figured they weren’t coming. But Wednesday on my way into work Mr. William Call encouraged me to check my email. He had also sent a carol request and had gotten a response that very morning.

Fast forward to Wednesday evening when I heard a knock on my door.

“Are you expecting carolers?”

What followed was more than I could have expected. He proceeded to play two songs on the saw, two on the banjo and one on a little plug-in organ for three of my friends and me.

“Caroling traditionally ends with a story.”

And this was no exception.

What was exceptional was how singular this performance felt. More than once a friend commented, “this will probably never happen again.” More than that, there was an undeniable feeling of community, though none of us had ever met this person before. We couldn’t take photos or even really applaud. It just didn’t feel right to separate ourselves from the “performer.”

While I probably wont make it a habit to send my address out to strangers, I can’t say I regret what it brought about this week.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

At the end of my rainbow...lies Besh o droM!

Here I am in beautiful South Milwaukee in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning. A touch of "I'm in charge of the bird" jitters? Beer-related insomnia? Perhaps some "I spent all afternoon in the car with a four year old"-related dementia? Either way, I was lying awake, realizing I did not write my blog post, and while thinking about the blog, I was mentally reviewing the recent post about radio. And while I was thinking about radio, suddenly "Life is a Rock" popped into my head. You know, "Life is rock, but the radio rolled me?" Haven't you always wished you knew all the lyrics to that song? The Wiki article above lists the bands and people who are name checked in that song, with links to most of them. Gotta love the Wiki.

Oh what the heck, it's 2:18's the whole thing.

B.B. Bumble and the Stingers, Mott the Hoople, Ray Charles Singers
Lonnie Mack and twangin' Eddy, here's my ring we're goin' steady
Take it easy, take me higher, liar liar, house on fire

Locomotion, Poco, Passion, Deeper Purple, Satisfaction
Baby baby gotta gotta gimme gimme gettin' hotter
Sammy's cookin', Lesley Gore and Ritchie Valens, end of story
Mahavishnu, fujiyama, kama-sutra, rama-lama

Richard Perry, Spector, Barry, Archies, Righteous, Nilsson, Harry
Shimmy shimmy ko-ko bop and Fats is back and Finger Poppin'

Life is a rock but the radio rolled me

Gotta turn it up louder, so my DJ told me (whoa whoa whoa whoa)
Life is a rock but the radio rolled me
At the end of my rainbow lies a golden oldie

FM, AM, hits are clickin' while the clock is tock-a-tickin'
Friends and Romans, salutations, Brenda and the Tabulations

Carly Simon, I behold her, Rolling Stones and centerfoldin'
Johnny Cash and Johnny Rivers, can't stop now, I got the shivers
Mungo Jerry, Peter Peter Paul and Paul and Mary Mary
Dr. John the nightly tripper, Doris Day and Jack the Ripper

Gotta go Sir, gotta swelter, Leon Russell, Gimme Shelter
Miracles in smokey places, slide guitars and Fender basses
Mushroom omelet, Bonnie Bramlett, Wilson Pickett, stop and kick it

Life is a rock but the radio rolled me
Gotta turn it up louder, so my DJ told me (whoa who
a whoa whoa)
Life is a rock but the radio rolled me
At the end of my rainbow lies a golden oldie

Arthur Janov's primal screamin', Hawkins, Jay and
Dale and Ronnie, Kukla, Fran and Norma Okla
Denver, John and Osmond, Donny

JJ Cale and ZZ Top and LL Bean and De De Dinah
David Bowie, Steely Dan and sing me prouder, CC Rider

Edgar Winter, Joanie Sommers, Osmond Brothers, Johnny Thunders
Eric Clapton, pedal wah-wah, Stephen Foster, do-dah do-dah

Good Vibrations, Help Me Rhonda, Surfer Girl and Little Honda
Tighter, tighter, honey, honey, sugar, sugar, yummy, yummy

CBS and Warner Brothers, RCA and all the others

Life is a rock but the radio rolled me
Gotta turn it up louder, so my DJ told me (whoa whoa whoa whoa)
Life is a rock but the radio rolled me
At the end of my rainbow lies a golden oldie

Listen--remember, they're playing our song!

Rock it, sock it, Alan Freed me, Murray Kaufman, try to leave me
Fish, and Swim, and Boston Monkey,
Make it bad and play it funky.
(Wanna take you higher!)

What lies at the end of your musical rainbow?

...and where is my old Fender Bass now? It was a 1975 Fender Precision, refinished bright red, although the guys at Willie's said they didn't make red that year and it had originally been ivory white.

Hope somebody out there is still lovin' them some P-bass!

Someplace near the top of my musical pot of gold of course is the the band I like to introduce as "The Hungarian Hoven Droven" to people who are not yet part of the wonderful world of Besh o droM. Here ya go.

...and they have a quirky sense of humor, too. Maybe that's just a Hungarian thing? When Little Cow was breaking out the giant bunny ears onstage at the Cedar a couple of months ago I thought, these guys are squirrelly. Was Bela Bartok so squirrelly?

There is a decent article on Wiki about them; their Hungarian Website is a bit pokey to download. The mighty Asphalt Tango records in Berlin distributes some of their stuff now, here's their bio.

What is it about these guys that makes people who don't even like Balkan music tap their foot under the table while playing cards in my dining room and say "What is this music?" Yeah, they have fun horns, but lots of bands have fun horns. Yeah, their arrangements are wild and irreverent, but lots of band's arrangements are wild and irreverent. Was it the fact I had to special order all their discs from Germany? That they have cd titles like "Macho Embroidery," "Gee!" and "Can't Make Me?"

cdRoots says
"Budapest based Besh o droM is a 10-piece electro-acoustic collective, combining turntable wizardry, deep ethnic folk roots and wild jazz improvisation to spectacular effect. Their sound exemplifies the vital creative energy that is flourishing throughout the region and fusing east and west in myriad new ways.

Besh o droM was founded in 1999. Their music is inspired by Balkan, Hungarian and Romanian Gypsy tunes and Middle Eastern traditional music. They interpret this music in their unique style, mixing various musical genres and backgrounds. Most of the tunes they play are traditional but they take the liberty to use any tunes they really like and enjoy. They have developed a very loyal following in Hungary and have started their carrier in the international world music circuit.

Besh o droM in Gypsy language means "sit on the road" literally, but its real meaning is "follow your path, get on with it". It is also wordplay in Hungarian meaning "I am rolling…" (a cigarette). Besh o droM's first CD entitled "Macsó hímzés" (again a wordplay with a local folk connotation, 'Macho embroidery' in literal translation) was published by FONO Records in October 2000. The band has teamed up with Hungarian scratch magician and top hih-hop DJ. Tradition meets the best of club sound, gypsy violin virtuoso with jazz improvisation, a fantastic brass section mixes with funk grooves. A 1000mph musical mayhem, a real audience pleaser with very strong musicianship. World music at its best – an absolute must. Dance shoes recommended.

Yay! Now you can get at least a couple of their discs here in the U.S. via cdRoots! Thanks Cliff!

Here's a blog post by some guy who fell under their spell. Sorry that he can't always spell.

Besh O Drom came out and the minute they started playing I could see I wasn’t going to be able to get away with just standing still (my favorite kind of dancing). The beat was hard and fast. It felt more like a balkan answer to techno than to funk. The energy was so high, I kept expecting a slower song, but one never came.
A link from Virtual WOMEX says it pretty well, too.
Besh o droM draws its musical basis form Transylvanian, Jewish, Afghan, Egyptian, Libanese, Armenian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Greek tunes presenting folk and electronic instruments simultaneously. The different types of music from nations which nowadays do not necessarily communicate well with each other appear together in peace and harmony. Their music is playful and serious, funny and touching, acoustic and electronic, authentic and urban, Western and Eastern, folk and above nations at the same time.

Wish they had a shirt available of this album cover for Nekem-tenemmutogatol ("Can't Make Me!") Or as my partner says "No pointers!"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Strings Cometh to the Cedar (Infamously).

Certain pairings complement each other so well, you can't ever imagine them apart. Chocolate and Peanut Butter. Pizza and Beer, Coffee and Cigarettes. When it comes to new acoustic music its ‘tone and chops’. What now? Tone and...chops? Chances are if we talk at a show, one or both of these words will come out of my mouth. Let’s take a closer look…


Tony Rice performing 'Manzanita' from his 'Unit of Measure' record.

An acoustic guitar never sounded so good.


Bela Fleck’s rendition of Bach's Partita #3 for Solo Violin.

The ‘New Acoustic’ music genre has exploded in the last ten years with impressive young artists who have learned from the masters like Tony and Bela, and a rich tradition of acoustic music. We have been fortunate enough to host many of these artists this year at the Cedar with the likes of Chris Thile’s ‘Punch Brothers’ (featuring guitarist Chris Eldrige – founding member of the Infamous Stringdusters), banjoist Jayme Stone, Crooked Still, and Joy Kills Sorrow. One of the commonalities within all these groups is the fusing of Jazz, Bluegrass, Classical and traditional folk music from around the globe. All the aforementioned groups also feature players that can pull incredible tone from their instruments and have the technical chops to create some adventurous music. It is crucial to understanding this type of music that ‘tone and chops’ are not the end of the line for acoustic musicians, but the starting point – and essential when composing challenging music made for intense listening.

The evening of December 5th, the Cedar is hosting the Infamous Stringdusters, a group that brings the great tradition of bluegrass music into modern times – the combination of guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro and upright bass, along with high-lonesome harmonies.

Take a look at the ‘dusters’ in rare form from KSUT radio…

Keep your eyes on banjoist Chris Pandolfi, the first banjo principal to come out of the Berkley School of Music. The rest of the Stringdusters crew is equally as impressive, particularly the dobro abilities of Andy Hall, who is like the second coming of dobro master Jerry Douglas.
These guys are the complete package, tone, chops, smooth vocal harmonies and engaging compositions in the vein early David Grisman ‘Dawg’ music. If you’ve ever picked up a guitar, banjo, mandolin fiddle etc. – you will be inspired to go home after this show and play, I promise. See you there.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Carolina Chocolate Drops keep me warm

One of my favorite Cedar artists will be returning in the spring. Their sounds keep me warm all winter long. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are a group of young African-American stringband musicians that have come to together to play the rich tradition of fiddle and banjo music in Carolinas’ piedmont. Their performances at The Cedar have excited teens raised on hip-hop and r&b to folk traditionalists to dancers in their 80s.

string band:
The string band originated as a subgenre of old-time music. It spotlights a group of acoustic string instruments, sometimes even to the exclusion of vocals. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, other stringed instruments began to be added to the fiddle-banjo duo that was essential to dance music of the early 19th century United States. These other instruments included the guitar, mandolin, and double bass (or washtub bass), which provided chordal and bass line accompaniment (or occasionally melody also). Such an assemblage, of whatever instrumentation, became known simply as a "string band." East of the Mississippi, the genre gave way to country music in the 1930s and bluegrass music in the 1940s. During the same period, west of the Mississippi, Western musicians retained the acoustic style of the bands while the big Western dance bands amplified their strings.

QuantcastWhen the Carolina Chocolate Drops were in town this past January 2008 they performed twice at The Cedar for a sold-out concert and a free concert and workshop for high school students, plus a free workshop at the MacPhail Center For Music just down the road from The Cedar. Twin Cities documentary filmmaker John Whitehead has been working on a film about string band music, Black String Revival, which prominantly features the CCDs. Each time the CCDs have played in town he has filmed their performances at The Cedar and I can't wait to see the story when it's completed.

Until then, here are some clips I shot of the CCDs at their free workshop at MacPhail, featuring their cover of Blu Cantrell's Hit 'Em Up Style!

The Carolina Chocolate Drops play The Cedar March 28 & 29, 2009. Tickets are on sale now.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Radio, Radio

Music was always an important part of my childhood, and it's fair to say that my personal relationship with it can be directly traced to my relationship with radio. Even before The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February, 1964, I was hearing their first singles on Boston AM radio, and I was hooked.

I was six years old, and I became a loyal radio listener. I remember many New Year's eve, avidly listening to the year's Top 100 countdowns for the rest of the decade.

In 1970 my family moved to Ohio, and over the next few years my musical horizons were dramatically broadened through late-night public radio. One key program was "WCLV Saturday Night," which was broadcast for 27 years until morphing into the nationally syndicated Weekend Radio with Robert Conrad, and, particularly, another late-night program on the public radio station at Kent State University (WKSU FM) called "Fresh Aire," which introduced me to obscure progressive rock (anyone for Hatfield and the North?)

...and even more eclectic, experimental music. This is when I grew to love radio for its opportunity for discovery.

Nowadays my relationship with music radio is pretty complicated. I'm enjoying the world of podcasts, Pandora and some internet radio... and I'll write more about podcasts in another entry some time. But I still long for the simple act of turning on my radio at any given time, and feeling like I have a chance to listen to something new and interesting. Here's how I currently see my options for doing that with Twin Cities non-commercial radio:

1. Radio K: Probably the most reliable source for discovering new music, at least in the rock idiom. It is college radio, and it sure can feel like it, but its main limitations are that they only broadcast during daylight hours, and the gloriously awful fidelity of am radio.

2. KBEM FM: Saturdays are an acoustic music oasis on the station devoted to "Real Jazz and Real Traffic" during the week, with Bluegrass Saturday Morning, String Theory and the nationally syndicated Mountain Stage.

3. KFAI FM: Coincidentally "Fresh Air" radio. Our neighbors and friends, and the model of what public radio is meant to be, with a diversity of programming not found anywhere, community access, and shows in different languages catering to many different ethnic groups, primarily immigrant communities from the neighborhood. They also have many shows catering to world and folk music, great shows like Century Song with Dan Rein, Women Folk with Ellen Stanley, Global Beat with Doug Cain, and Fubar Omniverse with Blanche, to name just a few. And just last week they boosted their signal so that it can now be heard by more people, and reception is better for those of us that have already been listening.

4. Last but not least, that enigmatic local powerhouse, Minnesota Public Radio's The Current, which is, with a few notable exceptions, the most disappointing broken promise for innovative radio this region has had in a good ten years.

Nearly four years ago, MPR launched this new music service with what felt like a breakthrough re-inventing of 70's-style free-form eclectic music programming, largely reflecting the tastes of individual DJs with little to no restrictions or forced playlists. The slant was always decidedly towards modern alternative rock, but there was constant deviation... enough that listening to almost any DJ shift for 30 minutes was likely to bring discovery and surprise.

You can still get lucky with a handful of the DJs (Mark Wheat, Bill DeVille, Dave Campbell come to mind), and they have retained a commendable commitment to local music (kudos to Chris Robert's The Local Show, but Sunday at 5 is not my optimal radio listening time, so I'm grateful for the archived stream). But in general, the playlist has become so narrow that I find myself turning to it less and less.

The Current also became MPR's host station for the perennial Minnesota radio program The Morning Show with Dale Connely and Jim Ed Poole. Jim Ed is now retiring, and rather than re-tool the program with Dale, the folks at The Current have decided to retire the program as well (the final broadcast will take place live from the Fitzgerald Theater on December 11).

It was never a comfortable fit on The Current. And while I personally found Dale and Jim Ed's musical tastes too often punctuated by the sappy and the just plain awful, and their comedy sketches varying from just mildly amusing to embarrasingly bad, I think it's a tragically missed opportunity that The Current has completely turned their back on what is one of the last places for truly eclectic and free-form music programming on their own station.

Their stated intent to replace The Morning Show with content "similar to programming heard throughout the day on The Current" is just further evidence that their original promise to bring adventurous, truly free-form programming back to FM radio is largely empty. Their range is becoming as narrow as most of the commercial rock stations in town.

So, honestly, I mostly turn on my radio these days to listen to the news on KNOW FM, MPR's News and Information station. I'll still be renewing my MPR membership, but I'll shrink my gift this year in proportion to the shrinking range of The Current's offerings, and increase my donation to KFAI in support of their wattage increase.

What I had hoped that The Current represented four years ago was a sign that "the radio powers that be" were finally waking up to the reality that established models of music radio programming had become hopelessly irrelevant to what many of us saw as an explosion of creativity and adventure in cross-genre music in recent years. Instead, it appears that The Current has turned more and more to the same tired script of chasing "alt rock" trends, playing the same narrow range of tunes more frequently, and eschewing creative, free-form DJs not afraid to string together a "dance" mini-set such as Madeleine Peyroux's "Dance Me to the End of Love," The Mountain Goats "Dance Music" and Ryan Adams and the Cardinals' "Dance All Night." (From Dale and Jim Ed's playlist, 5:23 to 5:33 am on 10/3/08).

So, while those of us in the Twin Cities have reason to be thankful for greater diversity in non-commercial music radio than the vast majority of most metro areas, my personal choice for where to go for music discovery is becoming more and more oriented to internet options, particularly podcasts of actual terrestrial radio programs. I'll visit that in the future...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cedar Story Part 3

“Hey, Jack. What’s coming up at The Cedar?”

“Why don’t you check their website?”

“Do they even have a website?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll go find an old newsletter.

Here. I’ll read you the address. Are you ready?”



“Woah! Slow down. You’re going to have to read that again.”

“H. T-T-P. Colon. Slash, slash. W-W-W dot geocities dot C-O-M – “

“Ok great thanks!”

“We’re not done yet. Slash, Bourbon Street, slash –

“I thought you were giving me The Cedar’s website!”

“Well, they don’t have one yet. This is just where the shows are listed. How much do you have so far?”

“We got to Bourbon Street.”

“OK. Slash Delta, slash 1915.”

“1915? It’s 1997! Ok sorry. Is that it?”

“Yep. That’s it.”

“Great, thanks. Ooh. There’s a “Grateful for The Cedar” benefit concert in June. Want to check it out?”


Scenes like this one were played out at computers everywhere until Labor Day in 1999 when The Cedar finally launched a website of their very own. The site can still be found at the same old address,, but we recently gave it a new look. Check it out!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Crossing the Border Part 2

[This is the second part of a piece I started a few weeks ago in this space on the cost and hassles of artists visa and international touring for musicians.]

There I was, channel surfing while driving to work Monday morning, chortling at all the morning show guys whining about the Vikings, when the following news tidbit caught my ear on NPR.

Under the Department of Homeland Security's "Easier Travel for Legitimate Tourists and Travelers" program, residents of South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are now free to move about our country without a visa.
Huh, I thought to myself, not if they're musicians!

So I'm just collecting some stories from around the web on the artist visa issue, posted on blogs and discussion boards and wherever. I make no claims for their authenticity, but don't there seem to be some reoccurring themes?

Let's start with some explanations of why visas and border crossings are a hassle for musicians. Partly it's because they are earning money in our country and the government wants to keep much closer tabs on them than say, folks who are just spending money. Or maybe they're just "Strengthening Security Measures To Protect Against Those Who Want To Do Us Harm" That is a real headline on the Department of Homeland Security website. Who says "do us harm" anymore?

The South by Southwest festival website has thorough guidelines for musicians. Here are a few highlights.
Musicians performing for pay, or in a public venue whether paid or not must obtain a P1 Visa. If the artist is performing for a person or entity that supplies hotel, airfare or other consideration, it is considered earning and a P1 visa must be obtained.

The processing time for petitions filed without using the fast-track program can be anywhere between 30 and 150 days, depending on various factors.

Do not underestimate the costs, the challenges and the time involved in securing US work visas so act immediately you receive your invitation.

If you apply for a visa with less than 90 days turnaround you may have to pay a $1,000 premium charge to the USCIS authorities.

US Department of Homeland Security regulations require that, as of October 26, 2004, all overseas posts collect finger scans from people applying for visas. As finger scans can only be collected in person, this will mean that all visa applicants will be required to apply for a visa in person through a prearranged appointment at their relevant Embassy or Consulate.

And so on and so forth. Are you ready to jump through some hoops? Roll over? Sit? Beg??

Actually I would encourage you to follow this link to SXSW's complete guidelines and scroll down to the two articles they quote at the end of the page; "Locked Out: How visa procedures have blocked European musicians from the U.S. since 9-11" by Douglas Heingartner in The Village Voice and "How the post-9/11 border is keeping us safe from indie rock" by Scott Indrisek. This may be old news to Cedar fans, as we have been hearing this stuff for years, courtesy of Rob's annual closing night monologue at Nordic Roots Fest. (See his blog post on this issue, further down on this page.)

Here's the fact sheet prepared by the Future of Music Coalition, which contains such juicy tidbits as "In order to work in Canada, you must obtain a Temporary Employment Authorization (IMM-1102) by applying through the American Federation of Musicians’ Canadian office. The Canadian government administrative fee is $150CAD for a single musician or $450 for a band of 2 to 14 players." and "The process of securing a visa to travel to the US for the purpose of touring and performing has become more daunting, arduous and expensive than ever. In addition, immigration policy and procedures continue to change frequently." Yah. Ouch.

Lots of advice out there. The Association of Arts Presenters (APAP) has a nice page with lots of links. It's called Artists from Abroad.

Wow, I could find stories like these all night. Check this piece from the Calgary Herald entitled "Border Blues: Canadian musicians exasperated with troubles crossing border for gigs in U.S."

Or how about "New US Visa Rules Force Foreign Artists to Stay Away : They are meant to stop terrorism, but America's tighter border controls stand accused of simply being racist" .This is an older piece from 2002, but some of the issues remain pertinent. It also provides some background as to how things got as screwed up as they are today.

There is some speculation that a new administration may ease up on some of the more hysterical artist visa and general border crossing regulations. Only time will tell... or as this discussion board post spells out so well, it may just remain a crap shoot.
I live in Detroit and have been crossing the border with Canada 20-30 times a year since I was a kid. We regularly head for Canada for hockey tournaments, camping or to visit relatives.

These days a border crossing is a crap shoot. If we've got to be somewhere on the "other" side of the border at a specific time (in the US if we're coming home - or in Canada if we're going over..) - we automatically add 2 hours for the border crossing. Many times (if not maybe most) crossings are 60 second interview by the U.S. or Canadian Customs officials. There are other times however, that I've had my vehicle thoroughly searched and detailed checks run on all the occupants. I've had plenty of times that I've waited nearly two hours for my 60 second interview - simply because of the traffic.

If they decide to search you - all bets are off. You better have all your documentation in order. Merchandise? Better have proof of ownership. Carrying guns, alcohol or completely crazy and try to slip an "illegal smile" across ... and you're playing in the BIG leagues in terms of potential troubles.

You may waltz into Canada without so much as an eyebrow being raised - only to be subjected to the automotive equivalent of a full cavity search when you attempt to cross back into the US on the way home. Worst, you can be as prepared as you want to be - and all it takes is the new memo that they received from their manager this morning to add a new form or new step to the process and/or item to the list of stuff you can't bring over and/or trigger for a more comprehensive search. Put simply you're at the mercy of the Customs folks.

It would take a heck of a high paying gig to deal with customs with a van load of band gear.

And that guy wasn't even a musician!

The Ambassador Bridge at the Windsor-Detroit crossing is the busiest commercial border crossing in North America, carrying one-third of all road trade — or more than $122 billion in goods a year — between the two countries.

Here's a longer comment on reentering the U.S. via the Detroit-Windsor border crossing.

There is a petition out there to ease up the restrictions on musicians touring between the U.S. and Canada. Here's some info from the Saskatchewan Recording Industry Association.

Well, it seems pretty clear that there is some serious time and money involved for musicians to cross even the U.S.-Canada border, plus other hassles such a having to provide the serial numbers of every piece of gear, etc. Pretty amazing anybody bothers to cross that line.

Guess we'd better start realizing what all of our international musicians go through and thanking them for making the effort.

Probably about time to write your Congressperson, too, eh?

Support Your Local Internationalists!

It’s been less than two weeks since the election and I’m already seeing an indication that the election of Barack Obama will have an impact on the prospects of more world music artists for touring the States. The agent calls are starting to come in...

Some higher profile artists like Youssou N’Dour have expressly avoided U.S. tours over the last few years as a form of protest to the Bush administration. Not only does the election represent a regime change, it has been widely perceived internationally as a major and welcome ideological shift in the government of the United States.

This is great news for The Cedar and the potential for furthering our core mission. But it also raises some issues that I’d like to bring to light which come with such opportunities. Primarily, as touring international artists have become more expensive, The Cedar has lagged behind in finding increased support for booking these artists.

If you’re a loyal reader to this blog, you’ve already seen Mama E. Dub’s previous post about the challenges of international visas for performing artists. Having procured work visas for the hundreds of artists that have come to our Nordic Roots Festival over its 10 years, I can tell you that the biggest challenge has been the increased costs. When you add higher travel expenses and the decline of the U.S. dollar, the upward pressures on international performer fees have been enormous for the past few years.

We face even larger challenges by being located in a market that’s isolated from other major markets for national tours. International performers will often just tour in the northeastern U.S., or along the west coast, where many markets can be reached in successive days via ground transportation. We often don’t even have the opportunity to book an artist unless they stop in Chicago, still not exactly an easy day’s drive from here.

So when the opportunity arises, the fees are understandably often quite steep. For The Cedar to take advantage of more opportunities, we have to find a way to get more folks to come to the shows, and find other sources of support for this programming, such as corporate sponsorship, or program-specific grants. (Outside of our annual Roots Festival, The Cedar receives virtually no program-specific funding).

Let's start with what's already on the books. Next month, The Cedar is but one of six cities outside of New York to have the opportunity to present, along with our partners at Walker Art Center, one of the hippest acts on the world music circuit, Kassin +2 from Brazil. From their MySpace page:

Kassin + 2 is the new portrait of Rio’s rich musical, cultural and ethnic diversity. The final part in the + 2 trilogy — fellow band members Moreno Veloso and Domenico Lancellotti were the featured names for the first two releases — Futurismo is as Carioca as Havianas, Caiprinhas and the ability to spend all day on the beach without getting any sand on your sarong. “When I make an album, I want it to be able to sit happily inside my record collection,” says Kassin, a Rio native who has been digging for vinyl gold all of his life. "Futurismo is like a collection inside a collection. It represents my tastes and my world.”

This is going to be a good one... so please help us get folks out to come see it. It's the surest way to enable us to book a lot more excellent world music artists in 2009.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

To Be Continued

Mama E Dub was detained by weather in Iowa until Wednesday afternoon after traveling south last week for a family event.

While they do have high speed internet in Missouri,

I was not around such technology for any length of time this past week and therefore did not do the research I wanted to for my post about musicians touring across national borders.

Please forgive me and look for the post next Wednesday.

Aren't you glad 4 or 5 different people post here every week, so if one is a loser the others can step up?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pandora for an almost snowy day

Hello blogosphere,

Do all of you know about Pandora?

Today I had to edit a bunch or articles at work and found my work infinitely more tolerable with the help of this lovely site. 

Though most every "station" I've selected has been enjoyable, today I selected Mirah. Mirah is someone whose performance at The Cedar left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling that I have been able to conjure up every time I have listened to her music since.

While her music was enough of a treat, it was complimented by Elliott Smith, Scout Niblett, The Blow, Jolie Holland (who also had a lovely performance at The Cedar recently), Iron and Wine, Jose Gonzalez (coughCedarartistcough), and a few new favorites like Mugison, Meiko, and Gregory and The Hawk.

Have a lovely weekend everyone, and take some time to relax with some beautiful music.

A Post-WOMEX Find

I've been going through the pile of CDs and DVDs given to me by various WOMEXicans. This one's so good it deserves its own post...

I stayed in an apartment building organized by Michael Orlove, head of the City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs, and the guy behind the Chicago World Music Festival (and many other cultural festivals and programs held throughout the year there. BTW can we get a legitimate Department of Cultural Affairs here in Minneapolis, please?). I chose to share a room and was matched up with Bojan Djordjevic of Serbia. Bojan runs a festival in Belgrade called Ring Ring, and also manages The Boban Marković Orchestra (a great Balkan brass band). He's a really nice guy and proved to be a wonderful roommate (phew! You never know...).

Bojan gave me a CD with mp3's by a Serbian band called Vrelo. Oh, man!

Check them out:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Last weekend I attended the WOMEX conference in Seville, Spain. For those unfamiliar, WOMEX is a "world music expo," a conference and series of music showcases designed for "industry professionals" from around the world who work with music that seems to be somewhat arbitrarily defined as "world music." I could spend an entire entry here on the problems that defining this term inherently bring about, but in order to get to more immediate concerns, I'll save that for another time.

The Overview: this was the 14th edition of WOMEX, and the third year in a row (4 out of the last 5) that was held in Seville, Spain. It continues to be largely Euro-centric, and the vast majority of delegates and attendees are from the U.K. and "the continent." But there is a core group of North Americans, mostly presenters, but also media, agents, label folks, and even a few musicians who attend. It's fair to say that having a representative of The Cedar there is a bit of an anomaly... we're a pretty small presenter compared to the others that attend from the U.S. For me, more than anything, it was a good (albeit a bit expensive) chance to rub shoulders with the “World Music mafia.”

Some News: The Cedar's former ED and AD Bill Kubeczko was there as usual, this time announcing his brand new position as the booker of the great San Francisco restaurant/music venue Yoshi's. A primo job, and good fit for both Bill and Yoshi’s. So, while we'll be sad to see Bill move away in January, I think we should be really happy for him and Mag.

The Music: WOMEX's showcases have had a pretty spotty past, and this year unfortunately continued that reputation with a very uneven line-up. They've finally managed to get a reasonable balance of venues for Seville (a nice auditorium for four "daycases" at the conference sight, and a beautiful theater for the more acoustic, intimate showcases at night downtown, with three outdoor stages under tents). The outdoor showcases tended to be (too) loud and more rocking, and some of them were just plain bad. The all-women African band Les Amazones de Guinée, for example, were painfully out of tune. I had high hopes for the Slovenian beats band Magnifico but they just never got it going. And I'd heard good things about the singer Alex Cuba (Canada/Cuba) but the band setting he chose made his music more like bland, predictable pop. And speaking of bland and predictable, Concerts Sweden's choice of Sofia Jannok, a Sami pop/jazz singer who's music is all recycled and predictable clichés, is baffling for anyone who is at all familiar with all of the exciting and innovative music being created in that country.

Other disappointments: Kalman Balogh Gypsy Cimbalom Band just didn't have enough of Kalman's cimbalom in the mix. I was told he was not using his own instrument, but rather a borrowed and quite different Spanish version, which may explain why there was less emphasis on his talents. The salsa band LA-33 gave a solid set but really shot themselves in the foot by getting into a tussle about finishing on time and leaving the stage, scaring away a few festival presenters with whom I spoke.


So how about the highlights? The little bit I caught of the Columbian band Cimarrón was excellent… a combination of individual talents and strong presentation. Gong Myoung from South Korea did some astonishing things with bamboo tubes (and were cute enough to evoke screams from teenage girls). The Algerian/Morrocan/French band Speed Caravan were great fun (electric oud! Yeah!), and Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba (Mali) confirmed my general observation that if it’s from Mali it’s reliably good.

(Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba)

I also really enjoyed the traditional Azerbaijan trio of Zabit Nabizade. He’s a rather amazing “Mugam” singer, mixing Persian, Iranian and Turkish traditions.

(Zabit Nabizade Trio)

And while they are very familiar to me and Cedar patrons, I would be remiss in neglecting to mention brilliant sets by Väsen with Mike Marshall, and by the winners of the WOMEX 08 Award for World Music, Muzsikás.


I didn’t get to see every showcase, of course, and of those that I missed I heard the best things about Astillero (Argentina), who deconstruct tango, and the DJ set by Mo DJ from Mali. I caught part of the set by Salamat Sadikova (Kyrgyszstan), who was described as the “internationally acclaimed diva of Kyrgyz folk song,” and while she has a lovely voice (capable of some of the longest notes I've every heard), I found the music itself to be a bit uninspiring.

(Salamat Sadikova)

The Other: The real truth is that the music is probably the least compelling component of WOMEX. Its larger value lies in the opportunity to network with other world music professionals. So really, for me, the highlights were unofficial events such as a small group trip to the mineral baths, and my dinner with Maria Camillo, Mike Marshall, and Väsen, where we were seated next to a 9-person “bachelorette” party that featured a special dessert…

(the photo would undoubtedly violate the blog decency standards, but it was white chocolate, and in the words of Mike Marshall, "the best c**k I've ever tasted").

Next year WOMEX moves to Copenhagen for the next three years, and many will miss the beauty (and relative warmth) of Seville. But who knows what kind of pre-wedding rituals they have in Denmark???

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Crossing the Border

So there I was at my day job this morning, helping unload a semi of soil from Canada. Gino, the helpful Quebecois driver, was complaining about his 7 hour wait to cross the border yesterday. He told me sometimes he has to wait, but this time he sat there and sat there and they never came to inspect his truck! Somebody finally came and told him he could enter the U.S. He said it's like a coin toss; sometimes they wave you right through and sometimes you have to wait for hours.

That put me in mind of Crooked Still joking about how they had smuggled their Wizard of Oz costumes down from Winnipeg for their Halloween show at the Cedar. "I was afraid the inspectors were going to see that big hat, and that silver suit and those ruby slippers and think we were up to no good," cracked vocalist Aoife O'Donovan. They were kidding around, but also talked about how crossing the border is no joke and that musicians are often singled out for extensive and time consuming searches.

Did any body happen to get a photo of the band in costume? Please contact us...that is something that really needs to be on this blog and I sure wasn't carrying a camera. Come on! There is no place for a digital camera on a pirate costume!

So that put me in mind of a conversation that I had with members of Fred Eaglesmith 's band a couple days earlier. They are Canadian citizens, and were heading home to Toronto by way of Winnipeg, but were already getting prepared to have trailer and and van gone over with a fine toothed comb. Fred's drummer, Kori Heppner, said that during past crossings they had been held in a cell at the border for hours while agents inspected their vehicles and gear.

When I brought all this up in our lunch table conversation, a co-worker who had been helping with the tour of Finnish vocal ensemble Rajaton mentioned that they had gotten harassed by border agents when crossing from Canada to the U.S. last month. Among other things, the officer at a station in Alberta said "Those are weird names!" and was generally rude to the band. FYI, their names are Essi, Virpi, Soila, Hannu, Ahti, and Jussi.

What gives? Is the U.S. border patrol really gunning for musicians? Are musicians just troublemakers? Or is really just random, like Gino's coin toss?

What about the cost of artist visas? I know they doubled and tripled in price after 9/11, and sometimes we still hear of tours being turned back at the border because of visa problems.

Well, there's the bill in the U.S. House, H.R. 1312 which passed there this spring, which contained a provision to streamline and simplify the process for "O" visas, those given to "expedite adjudication of employer petitions for aliens of extraordinary artistic ability." Among other things, the bill asks that requests for such visas are processed in 30 days or less." Understand, however, that"O" visas are few and far between. One has to be Academy Award winner status in one's own country, as in very established, very honored.

But what about your average unknown folkie or world music or punk band from Europe or Africa or even Canada? Their visas still can take months to arrange, and they cost hundred of dollars. It's interesting that athletes or an athletic team can be issued P1 visas, for "up to five years. The USCIS may grant further extensions in one-year increments with the total stay on P1 artist visa not exceeding ten years." For musicians and artists, however, it's the "P1 valid for the period necessary to perform the event not exceeding one year. An entertainment event could include an entire season of performances. The USCIS may grant further extensions of stay in one-year increments with a total stay on P1 artist visa not exceeding ten years." So, why does the soccer team get a 5 year visa right of the bat and the musician only gets to come for the duration of their event? Hmmmm.

In Great Britain, the cost of artist visas was called "crippling" as in
"A crippling increase in the cost of visas for visiting artists has been reversed by the Home Office.

But following campaigns by industry groups, the figure has been reduced to £99 for artists who do not require a work permit to enter the UK, with immediate effect.

National Campaign for the Arts director Louise de Winter said: “We are delighted the Home Office has partially reversed its decision. We understand that the intention was not to target artists, but they were caught up in large-scale changes when they should have been treated as a special case.

“The decision establishes an important precedent that a negative economic impact on the arts can have an effect on how visa prices for artists are set and recognises the international environment in which artists work.”

The change will particularly benefit performers at permit free festivals such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where many performers this year will require visas."

OK, but 99 pounds is still plenty of money.

So, I stayed up far too late nodding over my partner's laptop on the couch researching this stuff and I am going to report some those findings next week. Suffice to say, even touring across the U.S. - Canadian border is far more money, hassle and paperwork than I ever imagined. Tune in next week for details!


Didja see the comment on last week's post about Darol Anger? The man himself found our blog and thanked us for writing about him! How cool is that?

Take care of that arm, Darol, and we'll see you at the Cedar sometime soon, I'm sure.

Hey, and I wasn't kidding about that Crooked Still photo...somebody must've got a shot of their costumes, right? Contact us!