We have been trying to maintain two blog sites for awhile and decided to just focus on one site examining all things music. You can find us here.
Mark and Michelle
We have been trying to maintain two blog sites for awhile and decided to just focus on one site examining all things music. You can find us here.
Mark and Michelle
There is reasonable concern right now about the future of live music and related industries. Clubs and other venues are closing, many people have been laid off, support businesses are shuttering and many musicians and other artists are struggling. More than that, I am doubting that things will return to the normal we knew any time soon--if ever. Also, whatever the new “normal” is will likely look VERY different, and honestly some pieces of this industry may not return or recover at all. We at Big Road are lucky in that, at this time, we have other sources of income, but we are feeling the pinch and have also struggled to make sense of everything and chart a course towards something positive. Because our whole family is in this industry (our youngest son Justin is a live sound and recording engineer, our oldest Shane is a pro player with a record contract in Minneapolis, MN), this is certainly a huge concern and it’s something we talk about a lot. Shane is working on a number of things because, despite his current contract and all of the plans associated with that, he is interested in finding a home in the industry beyond touring. That move was not necessarily COVID-19 driven, but all things connected to this pandemic have certainly influenced that particular focus.
Through many discussions we have decided to focus on a few things. First is building on-line show capabilities including streaming space and gear and other things like YouTube and Twitch channels. The second thing is better recording capabilities and working on finishing a number of projects. Those projects will culminate in some kind of event TBD. We have also reached out to other musicians and friends and are considering some on-line events that can be promoted and generate some excitement and possibly be the seed for some other things. We are conscious that “the scene” will be morphing. Both of my sons have also set up Fiverr accounts and are working at setting up recording services.
Here are a few other thoughts and ideas that have come out of all of this:
● We will survive. Musicians and artists are creative. We will find a way.
● We also need to build TOWARDS something. I don’t think it does anyone any good to lament the losses and pine for the “good old days.” In reality, the “good old days” were not that great for many. Being at the mercy of so many factors out of our control means that being an artist with integrity has been hard under the best of circumstances. We can do better. WE can build better
● Collaboration will be essential. A group of artists with their different bases of support can create something unique and creative. We just need to dream it and take the steps to make it happen. See point #1.
● Online platforms are unpredictable and quirky. Facebook is really not an option for artist streaming anymore, so let’s figure out what COULD work and what the next horizon is.
● The tech to pull off in-place or mobile video or streaming shows is a new world, BUT it is not that difficult and workable equipment and software is not outrageously expensive. Here is maybe where collaboration and barter can come into the picture.
● Competition between artists was always a counterproductive thing anyway. Bands and artists who undercut others, put down other players, etc. ultimately had to deal with the inevitable Karma of their actions (or soon will). PLUS...scenes suffer when this is the norm. It gets boring when a handful of people are the only options out there. We can do better.
● We need to see this all as an opportunity. Artists, venues and connected businesses who understand that MAY be the ones still standing when the “smoke” clears. We have this thing called the internet. It’s crazy cool. And it was not an option in years past. But we have it now. There also may be other ways. Could clubs who are shut down in the winter or at much lower capacity become live stream sites? Could they provide creative packages that include food and drink to customers in or supporting on-line shows? The possibilities are endless.
● Collaboration, barter and partnerships could work in a lot of directions. Struggling venues, clubs and businesses may find a home and new brand connected with this new world. Yup, it isn’t ideal, but it is our current reality. What can we do?
● Time brings opportunity. We are artists. Artists create. We also are masters at creating magic out of challenge. Most great songs have a story. Let’s seize the moment. I mentioned Fiverr, but the available recording technology today, along with the ability to find “studio players,” producers, mixing and mastering help, etc online and even share files and other information can allow us to write, record and distribute our music in a way that couldn’t happen in the recent past. Plus we have time.
● The other thing I am very conscious of is the opportunity this pandemic has provided to have the time to refine my own craft. There are amazing resources available for improving voice and instruments, or really to learn many things connected to music and music gear. This is also another way many artists are keeping themselves afloat. YouTube, Patreon and any number of other resources have many pro level people providing tutorials and assistance to other artists. We live in unique times with unique opportunities.
Lastly, I want to extend to other musicians my willingness to meet and talk about ideas, your unique situation, etc. Contact us through the Big Road website and we would be happy to connect.
Recently we had the opportunity be a festival opening act on a bill that included a band I have been following for probably 30 years. Los Lobos remains one of the great musical treasures of our time with a career spanning more than 40 years and 17 albums, a host of awards and guest appearances, collaborations and side projects. The music crosses genres in a way that few bands are able to do and does so effortlessly. They will play acoustic shows on a range of traditional Mexican instruments as easily as they will rock out to a great blues shuffle or blasting rock extravaganza. Our recent show with them was at a small festival in Valparaiso, Indiana; and despite the size of the show and venue relative to other places I have seen them perform, they just absolutely lit up the night. Few of those attending were sitting by the end as there is no way to rock with Los Lobos and not move your feet.
We were also able to spend a big part of the afternoon with two of the members sharing stories about family and life, talking guitars and other musicians we were following and being influenced by, etc. I’m happy to report that these guys are wonderful, down-to-earth humans as well as off the chart talents on a level I feel is hard to match today. If you have not blessed your ears and soul yet with the music of Los Lobos you need to get hip.
One thing I have been aware of for a long time is an assumption that many make. They hear the name of the band and think, “Oh yeah. That’s the band that played La Bamba in that one movie, right?” That’s true, but it’s sad that this is where knowledge of the band starts and ends. Some of the most impressive work in their catalogue comes from directions that surprise many. You want virtuoso level guitar work -- David Hidalgo was part of several Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festivals because he remains one of Eric’s favorite players. Check out The Neighborhood (especially live versions), Don’t Worry Baby, I Walk Alone, Más Y Más, Whisky Trail and the stunning and soulful playing on Just a Man. David is also one of the best vocalists out there today. You want funky, driving bass? Check out the amazing Conrad Lozano on Revolution, The Neighborhood, Peace and so many others. You want fuzzed out grunge rock, check out Viking.
These guys are also innovators and inventors in the studio as can be heard with the groundbreaking Kiko album and (my favorite) Colossal Head. They have collaborated with John Hiatt, Bobby Womack, Richard Thompson, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Disney, Sesame Street, Warren Haynes and many more. There are stories of love, loss, hope, faith, revival, social justice and calls to action in their music with beautiful and powerful lyrics and world class musicianship and songwriting on all levels. As a guitarist their recordings are full of to-die-for guitar tones, and the rhythms will sear your soul (in a good way).
The title song from one of their first albums, Will the Wolf Survive, says it best.
Sounds across the nation
Coming from your hearts and minds
Battered drums and old guitars
Singing songs of passion
It's the truth that they all look for
The one thing they must keep alive
Will the wolf survive?
I can say with certainty that The Wolf is definitely alive!
Full disclosure, I am old enough to remember when the stuff played on “classic rock stations,” was edgie, non-mainstream, alternative rock. “What is that noise?” was a common response and reaction from the parental generation of the time. It was hard to find, too. In my home town of Madison, WI there was one oddball, “hippie station,” that played this stuff. The station was my savior in so many ways. This is why I find the reactions of so many people my age to anything new so perplexing. There are even many that believe there was some kind of popular music heyday that they were born into, and anything that came afterwards was garbage and can never compare.
Yes, the mid to late 60s and early 70s showcased breathtaking innovation. It was part rediscovery (as the best of it all was blues based--or some would say “blues rip-offs”) and part rebellion born in a time of cultural and political upheaval as well. This unique era fostered leaps forward in many ways and set some incredible standards. The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Humble Pie, Cream and many others, have set a standard that will be emulated and copied for many, many years. Some of this music (though not all) still stands the test of time, and I know of a lot of young people today that have rediscovered it and find it just as powerful as I did in my teens. That said though, I think it is dangerous and hypocritical to simply pine for the old days and dismiss or ignore anything else that comes along. It’s especially dangerous for musicians.To me, those who dismiss anything new and talk only about this mythical golden age of music, are missing so much. I’ll get to that, but I also think much of the conversation falls into the age-old “kids these days” mentality. It is the same thing many in my parent’s generation said about the very music you hold up as golden. Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same. Either way there is a ton of myth, hypocrisy and missed opportunities here. Here are just a few observations and responses based on things I hear all the time:
I’m not sure there has ever been a golden age of popular music. Popular and mainstream has always been commercial, formulaic and more about marketing than substance. The innovations have always run counter to, and with a bit of a middle finger towards what is mainstream at any given time. Ironically these things sometimes become mainstream later, but they rarely start out that way. In the 60s (and even the 70s) there were two Rockin Robins for every Whole Lotta Love. I don’t really see that this has ever been different.
As I said above, most of what we see today as “classic rock” is often assumed to have been mainstream at the time. It was not, especially in the beginning. It wasn’t on most radio stations and was controversial when attempts were made to highlight it in media. Over time that began to change, as it became obvious the new music was something that couldn’t be ignored. Magazines and other media sites that covered this new music seriously were very much backroom, alternative operations as well. For a time more mainstream publications only covered the “classic rock bands” we know today as cultural interest items that were only noteworthy because of their strangeness, loudness and growing popularity with, what was seen by many, as destructive elements in society until certain people realized there was money to be made and jumped on the bandwagon. It was not that way in the beginning. This was music you had to search for.
I agree to some extent. I believe that some things described now as “classic” will remain so for a long, long time. I mentioned above that I have met many people in their teens and twenties who have rediscovered this. Current bands like Greta Van Fleet and Rival Sons certainly give more than passing nods to the greats of the 60s and 70s. That really says something in and of itself. However, I can assure you that rock is not dead and that there is a lot of really, really innovative and powerful music being made today and ignoring that is not healthy. If you want guitar driven, “guitar hero” rock that moves body and soul the way the best should, we may be in a sort of “heyday” or “renaissance” right now. More on this later.
That may be true in part. A series of articles from a couple of years ago pointed to declining sales of guitars and a corresponding declining interest on the part of young people to learn to play guitar. Video games were blamed as well as a lack of “guitar heroes” in mainstream music. I always maintained that this was a cyclical thing and new evidence shows it to be the case. A 2018 Rolling Stone article indicated that guitar sales are as strong as ever. Another Rolling Stone article from that same year pointed to a fascinating trend. A Fender study concluded that half of all new guitar players are female. I believe that this is in part due to several high profile, guitar-wielding female artists. Orianthi, St. Vincent, Ana Popovic and Joanne Shaw Taylor in the blues world and Lzzy Hale in the rock world are all skilled players with increasing name recognition and visibility.
Regarding “electronica” and computers in music, there will always be innovation in instrumentation. I doubt that will go away. It may not be bad at all. Either way, like earlier electronica waves, it ebbs and flows and there will always be room for flat out, balls to the wall, guitar driven rock. The power and energy is one thing that does stand the test of time. Say what you will about the growing popularity of bands like Greta Van Fleet, I believe it’s a trend and that they are examples of much more to come.
Someone actually said this to me recently. My reaction is always visceral and immediate. You won’t see it or hear it if you don’t look. The guys mentioned above were just copying their heroes anyway and were shocked that the mainstream didn’t know who any of their blues great heroes were. The people mentioned above knew (and still say) that they stood on the shoulders of giants, just as anyone picking up a guitar today stands on their shoulders to some extent. That reality did not diminish them or their skills and mastery. Nor does it diminish the skills and mastery of (just a few examples) Mark Tremonti, Miles Kennedy, Gary Clarke Jr., Marcus King, Orianthi, St. Vincent, Joe Hottinger, Lzzy Hale, Chris Robertson, Ben Wells or the slightly older Pete Thorn, Joe Bonamassa, Joe Satriani, Tom Morello, Slash, Greg Martin, Paul Gilbert or (my personal favorite) Richie Kotzen. All of these people certainly owe a debt to Page, Clapton, Beck, etc., but they have their own voice too, as well as unarguable virtuosity.
More than that, attitudes like this ignore a whole new resurrection of high virtuoso level progressive--mostly instrumental and sometimes referred to as “Math Rock”--rock. Bands like Polyphia, Chon, Animals as Leaders and others are making and incredibly complex and sophisticated music that incorporates elements of jazz, hip-hop and heavy metal. There is a whole movement of young people following these bands and hanging on every note of Jason Richardson, Tosen Abasi, Rabia Massad and others. YouTube has also made many of these players household names for (mostly) young fans, and given rise to careers of other incredible players and personalities like Rob Chapman, Jared Dines, Steve Terreberry, Rob Scallon, and of course the incredible Phil X. Miss or underestimate any of this at your peril. They are setting some incredibly high bars as players, personalities and entertainers that won’t be matched soon.
I also urge people to dismiss rap and hip hop at their peril. There’s an ugly prejudice that I hear a lot that is not really a whole lot different from the prejudice against newer rock music. There certainly is a pop version of rap and hip hop just as there is in the country world, and all of the shallowness and formulas that one might expect. However, outside of that is creativity, unique voices, and some powerful music. Like anything though, you have to search for it and be open. More on this in future posts.
And that’s the big question: Are you open? If you look, I’m telling you, you will find.
For those of you who live in northern Wisconsin, you understand that Spring is a relative term. I grew up in Chicago. Spring there involved the snow disappearing, with maybe an occasional sprinkle in early March.
Here we still have over a foot on the ground and the melting is gradual because the nights are still below freezing. Signs of spring here consist of the following: Maple syrup season, snowmobile trails close, and a lot of businesses close up for at least a week in April, if not the entire month, and prepare for the fishing opener the first week of May -- when hopefully the ice is out on all the lakes.
For us musicians, spring becomes a time when our summer calendar starts to fill up! So, without further adieu (aren’t I fancy?), here is our upcoming schedule, thus far:
Saturday, April 27th: Big Road at the Great Dane in Wausau, WI from 9 pm – 1 am.
Friday, May 10th: Red Hot N Blue at CTs Deli in Rhinelander from 5 – 9 pm. BTW, if you have never been to CTs Deli, you MUST go. Besides the fabulous food, you’re really made to feel like family. CT (chef Tom) doesn’t just have a deli, he has a community that’s an integral part of the larger Rhinelander community.
Saturday, May 18th: Big Road at Mud Creek Saloon in Eagle River, WI from 9 pm – 1 am. (Fun fact – my first gig ever was here with Mark in October of 1990. We called ourselves “The M & M Blues Band.” If anybody is interested in hearing the story of how it happened, I’ll include it in a future newsletter. It involves horror movies, a good friend who told a tall tale, and a chili cook-off!
Friday, May 24th: Big Road at The Pines Restaurant and Beer Garden in Mercer, WI from 7 to 11 pm. The bonfires (and the music) will keep you warm, but dress for the weather.
Saturday, June 1st: Big Road at the Great Dane in Wausau. If the weather permits, we’ll play OUTSIDE from 6 to 10 pm. Otherwise, inside from 9 pm to 1 am.
Saturday, July 6th: KNW Band at The Vine in Minocqua. Start time is 8 pm. Ending? With Kim, you never know. This is another outdoor event. They have a lovely little garden out back with a stage. If it rains, we set up tarps. The show must go on.
Saturday, July 27th: Big Road at The Rock in Merrill, WI from 7 to 11 pm. Another outdoor gig. This place is right on the Wisconsin River. We always have a lot of fun here. Great party, great scenery, and great people!
Saturday, August 3rd: KNW Band at The Minocqua Brewing Co. 8 to 11 pm.
Sunday, August 4th: KNW Band at Party in the Park (Torpy Park, Minocqua) from 3 to 6 pm.
Saturday, August 17th: Big Road will be in Valparaiso, IN for the Prairie Magic Music Festival. The headlining band is Los Lobos – this is a band that Mark & I love! If all you know of them is their cover of La Bamba, then you are really missing out on one of the great American bands. Yes, Mexican and Latin Music is part of their repertoire, but they also play blues and rock. True Americana in the absolute best sense of the word. Their musicianship is first-class and they are the most down-to-earth bunch of guys on a stage that I have ever seen (although I would put Megadeth on the same plane. Different music, I know, but both bands let the music speak for itself. To me that’s a mark of true musicianship.
Saturday, September 14th: Big Road at Pik’s Pub in Tomahawk, WI from 2 to 6 pm. Yes, the infamous Fall Ride!
Saturday, October 5th: Big Road at the Black Bear Bar in Minocqua, WI 9 pm to 12:30 am.
Saturday, October 12th: Big Road is back at the Great Dane in Wausau from 9 pm to 1 am. They really like us there. We really like them.
Friday, November 29th: Top off your Black Friday shopping trip to Wausau with Big Road at – wait for it – The Great Dane in Wausau! Or skip the shopping and just come see the show. 9 pm to 1 am.
That’s it, for now. I know our summer schedule will continue to fill up. I’ll post updates as they come along.
If you have a question for us, let us know! We can always be reached at email@example.com. Don’t be shy. We love to hear from music lovers, musicians, family, friends, and strangers.
Keep rockin' on down the big road! Michelle