Win some, lose some…

I have many things to grade, and one final to revise, so this is the perfect time to blog! A few days ago, I stopped by Trader Joe’s, and just as I could not resist the $.89 tiny gourds in October, the tiny, glitter poinsettias called my name. I bought two. Here’s where we are today:

Trust me when I say that I have treated these little plants with equal (moderate-to-low levels of) commitment. But clearly, the results are varied: one is thriving and has even grown new leaves; the other is dying a rather quick death. I’m only a little bummed because these cost a bit more than $.89, but I can’t be too sad, since at least one of them is doing so well.

See also: teaching college students…1 

I gave a final this morning, and as a student turned in her exam, she said, “I have thoroughly enjoyed being in your class this semester. Thanks for caring about music and caring about us.” It was one of those moments that make me so thankful to get the opportunity to teach college kids about music/culture/history.

Likely around the same time that this was happening, I received an email from another student in another class, stating, “hey, what’s this Mozart composer guy. there’s like at least two or something. ???” It was one of those moments that make me question my life choices, while simultaneously inspiring rage and maniacal laughter.

This sort of feedback is just beginning, so let’s all hope that stories like the former are more prominent than the latter. Happy finals week, folks!


1. Please note that I exert at least a moderate-to-high level of commitment to my students. Er, most of the time.

Another year, another South by


Since I have all but abandoned the blog, I’m not sure why I feel so compelled to post an update of my most recent and fourth SXSW experience.1  But I do. And it appears to be happening.

Perhaps it’s because I feel like I’ve got the South-by thing down now, and I want to brag about it. Or maybe it has to do with my crazy experience with Airbnb that resulted in me realizing a company can totally buy my love (through great customer service and well, buying me stuff). Or possibly because this was the year I felt most like an insider & realized how many people I know only through this annual trek to Austin. Likely, it’s all those things, along with the fact that I should be writing a conference paper.2 

This was the first year I went without a wristband of any sort, and the second time I did not rent a car. I did not miss the wristband at all, and thanks to a $50 Lyft credit that was available to new users during SXSW, I spent around $90 in transportation (including getting to/from the airport). Last year, I got a great deal on my car rental, but with the rental fees plus parking fees, I spent over $300. Even without the Lyft credit, $140 is way more manageable than $300!

I booked my Airbnb & flight pretty early this year, and was SO pleased with myself – great deals & a great location! And then… at the sort of last minute, my Airbnb host cancelled on me. Like any good disgruntled customer, I tweeted about it & tagged @Airbnb. Nearly immediately, Airbnb customer service contacted me via Twitter, email, and a phone call. They offered to find me a replacement place, but as soon as I could, I started searching for another place & eventually found something pretty close to my price range, and in an OK neighborhood. Airbnb customer service followed up again, covered the price difference between the two bookings, and then gave me a $100 credit towards my next Airbnb. They also had a gift bag waiting for me at my place when I arrived in Austin, gave me $200 towards a pair of boots at Allens Boots, and a free two-stepping lesson at the White Horse. Consider my satisfaction and love bought, Airbnb.

Enough of all that – how’s about the music?!? For the past couple of years, my South-by plan has been go to all the Bloodshot things I can, and then hit anything else, if possible. This year, I did the following (pics to follow):

  • Tuesday
    • El Mercado3  for James McMurtry, Robbie Fulks, and the Grahams
    • A bit of the Swollen Circus at the Continental Club
  • Wednesday
    • Gingerman for the Blurt showcase, including Freedy Johnston, Brett Harris, Robbie Fulks, and the Supersuckers
    • Continental Club for the Bloodshot Records showcase, including Al Scorch, Banditos, Yawpers, Lydia Loveless, and the Waco Brothers
  • Thursday
    • Broken Spoke for (the last song by the Wacos), Luke Winslow-King, Robbie Fulks, and Corb Lund
    • Gingerman for the Wacos, Banditos, it’s not true to say I really paid attention to Churchwood, but I certainly heard some of their stuff, and a song or two by Bad Luck Jonathan
    • Thursday night, I may have gone to watch the UK-Stoneybrook basketball game & made friends with some folks from Kentucky who now live in Austin.

And of course, Friday was the Bloodshot Yard Dog party, with Possessed by Paul James, Rosie Flores, Robbie Fulks, Luke Winslow-King, Lydia Loveless, Al Scorch, Banditos, the Yawpers, and, of course, the Waco Brothers.

Some general thoughts? Any time the Wacos play it’s a blast, and I’m continually amazed that Jon Langford always remembers me. I saw Robbie play a solo show, but the rest of the time, he was playing with a full band, including pedal steel, and it was all awesome. The Yawpers are crazy. Like, seriously crazy, and you need to see them live. Al Scorch, another new Bloodshot signee, is just as charming as heck. The Banditos have gotten even better since I last saw them. At Ginger Man, when they played their cover of “I Put a Spell on You,” Mary Beth ended up singing on a table in the middle of the crowd, and we were basically all dead. It was possibly one of the best live songs I’ve ever seen.

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Here’s a version, if you’re curious, but that day at Ginger Man was way better. I promise.

Finally, when I saw the Supersuckers play at Ginger Man, I noticed their bass player looked a lot like Danny, the bass player for Banditos (or Danny looked a lot like him). When I heard that the Supersuckers had been added to the guest list at the Continental for the Bloodshot Showcase that night, I knew what I had to do. I put a few folks on the lookout, and managed to snag a photo. It was as awkward as you’re thinking it might have been, but the guys were pretty good sports about it.

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And finally, finally, one of the best parts of the week was seeing all my Bloodshot pals and South-by friends.


1. My previous SXSW blog posts had been sad and sorry excuses for updates, but there are some photos. You can check them out here, here, and for my first year, here and here.

2. Yeah, you know it’s really because of that… professional procrastinator and all that.

3. You should not be surprised to know that El Mercado is a Mexican restaurant with a venue in the back.
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Favorites bands and favorite chord progressions

My favorite band is the Old 97’s. However, Freakwater would also be an honest answer (as would Gillian Welch). I can thank a super cool friend from high school for introducing me to the Old 97’s, a Bloodshot compilation for introducing me to Freakwater, while one of my college roommates properly introduced me to Gillian Welch.1  

A (not very good) photo of Catherine Irwin & Janet Bean from a Freakwater show in Atlanta (November 2005, I don't remember the venue)

A (not very good) photo of Catherine Irwin & Janet Bean from a Freakwater show in Atlanta (November 2005, I don’t remember the venue)

Freakwater appeared on Bloodshot’s first compilation album (way back in 1994), and subsequently was on Thrill Jockey for years. BUT coming in February 2016, according to the Freakwater Facebook page, “We will be releasing our eighth studio album this fall with our dear friends Bloodshot Records!!” So… since I wrote a dissertation on Bloodshot Records and all, and what with loving Freakwater, I’m really, really, REALLY excited about this.2   As Bloodshot noted today, you may have thought that Freakwater was already on Bloodshot, but this upcoming studio album is, in fact, the band’s first with the record label. You can hear the first single from the album here, and you can pre-order the album and/or get the 7″ single here.

The announcement of this single inspired me to listen to pretty much the entire Freakwater catalogue throughout the day today. As I listened to the song “Cricket Versus Ant” (Thinking of You, 2005), I was reminded of my most favorite chord progression, which is in this song: V/vi – vi, or III – vi, or a major three chord to the minor six. This song is in D Major, so the chord progression is F-sharp major to b minor. The first time it happens, the lyrics are “If it all goes terribly wrong” at 1:27 in the video below.

I have done absolutely no research on this progression; I just know that I always love it when it happens. I think I first noticed it when I had to play chord progression for a piano proficiency exam or something equally dorky, but I remember first LOVING when I heard it in a Dixie Chicks song, “Tonight the Heartache’s on Me” (Wide Open Spaces, 1998).3   This song is in F Major, and in this case, the magical chords are A major to d minor in the chorus. The first time it happens, the lyrics are “Bartender, pour the wine” at 0:47 in the video below.

Isn’t it great? Sure, there are other secondary dominants that are nice, but this one is by far my favorite (and the best). Hooray for a new Freakwater album & hooray for V/vi – vi! Feel free to share examples with me!


1. The same high school friend likely introduced me to Bloodshot, or at least I was with her at CD Central (a fantastic record store in Lexington, KY) when I bought that compilation album.

2. At this point, I’m probably more excited about the album, rather than the research possibilities, but that’s a topic for another post.

3. This is the first song I look for if/when I ever karaoke. Seriously. Feel free to judge me.

Oh, hey there!

I think it’s safe to say things have been slow here at the blog. A long time ago, I started a post-SXSW post, but… didn’t finish it. Good story, right? It seems dumb to recap all of that in detail now since it was so long ago, but some pics/highlights are below.

***Regarding the Talkable Vegetables, you can watch a video here.

Upon returning from South By, things got hectic fast. I know I have been way busier other times in my adult life, but for some reason, the second half of this semester seemed more challenging. Maybe it’s because I’m an old lady, or maybe it’s because I’m still recovering from the dissertation.1  In any event, everything pretty much wrapped up this past weekend, and I’m glad. Also, there’s still a hole in my ceiling, which will hopefully be repaired in the next year month.

In addition to the ceiling, I have one more project to complete that I’ve been putting off for months. Of course, my plan was to knock that out tonight, which is why I’m blogging (er, professional procrastinator, anyone?). ICMC is at the end of the month, and I’ll also head up to Kentucky to see the Very Tall Nephew graduate from high school (!!!). After that, it will be the first summer in many years that I won’t have degree-required academic work to do.

I can’t wait.


1. It is just as likely that Kentucky’s loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four was to blame. Sigh. Go Cats.

Stepping up

I haven’t updated the blog in a long time – not since way back on January 8. It is now the middle of March, and I think I can officially say I’m in my travel season. Last week, I was in Lexington, KY, Hopkinsville, KY, and Nashville, TN; and this week, I’m making what has become my annual trek to Austin for South by Southwest (or “South by” for those in the know).1 I have what seems like an endless amount of Stuff to Accomplish before heading to the airport tomorrow night, which fully explains why I’m choosing RIGHT NOW to blog.2 

In the I-really-did-finish-my-degree news, I received the actual degree in the mail. I’ve signed many an email as “Dr.” or the preferred “, PhD” after my name, not to mention I’ve judged a few pre-college piano events, and have had many opportunities to practice the official signature.

But for the past month of Sundays, I have really, really, really wanted to post a post-Sunday post. Why, you ask? Well, because the week when a bird was flying around inside the building during services seemed like a pretty good story. Or the week the lights went out in the middle of a service. And then there was the week that I had a stereotypically crazy morning, and stumbled up the stairs, kicked the wall, and made loud noises during the sermon. But really, it was the week that our drummer nearly fainted on stage, walked off the stage at the exact moment the timer read 0:00 in the second service, and the band did a whole set without drums… that was the one that I thought belonged on the blog.3 

But then there was the third service hour that day. Drummer was still unable to play by the beginning of this service. We have only one room for this service, so OBVIOUSLY Sanctuary Worship Leader asked Worship Pastor (um, right before the service began) if he could play the drums. And of course, Worship Pastor posed the question to the third-service attendees from the stage as the service was starting, and the attendees were enthusiastically all for it. Thus, Sanctuary Worship Leader sat down and played the drums for the set in that service. Though I’ll admit I was a lot a bit nervous for him (and the rest of the band, for that matter), he stepped up and did a fantastic job.

It all worked out and certainly made for a very memorable Sunday, but I’d prefer to keep everyone healthy on stage going forward.

 


1. I have written about my first trip here and here. Unfortunately, last year, I was a complete slacker too busy writing the dissertation to do a full-blown post-South by post. Maybe this year…


2. Not that I need any excuse to procrastinate, but I have written most of this post whilst waiting for items to upload, update, etc. My computer likes to be nice and slow in its relative old age (aka 2009). One day, when I have a bunch of free time, I plan to do something about that. One day.


3. Eh… after I stopped panicking, and yelling at no one in particular over the headset about what was going on. I *did* go check on Drummer. He wasn’t dying, but he definitely wasn’t great.

Back to Chicago (plus, a random guy discounts my research!)

I went to Chicago last week. It had been over a year since I visited the city, so I was very glad to be back. The purpose of this trip was to attend the American Music Festival at FitzGerald’s Nightclub in Berwyn. I’ve been before, and it’s a really great festival – and this year, several Bloodshot bands played to celebrate the record label’s 20th anniversary. It wasn’t the only 20th anniversary event, and it won’t be the last, but it was certainly a great excuse to get back to the city.

I got to see friends (thanks as always to the wonderful folks who let me stay with them–and their ridiculously cute one-year-old), and I managed to spend some time wandering around downtown. I ate at a couple of my favorite vegetarian restaurants – Pick Me Up Cafe and Handlebar. Even though I had a definite plan to eat lunch at the Chicago Diner, I planned rather poorly and ended up not making it (which only means I can’t wait a full year before I visit Chicago again!). Oh, and I also did some research/follow up work at the Chicago Public Library.

The trip was fun, productive, and tiring, but I have to share one particular story, if only because of its absurdity. The short version is that I had a complete stranger (older, male) discount my dissertation and research after hearing approximately five sentences about it. His general take on my work was, “That’s not gonna cut it. That’s just not gonna work for you.”

As I was in Chicago at a music festival devoted to American music when this conversation took place, I initially thought for a moment that I was being schooled by a senior scholar in musicology or ethnomusicology from a Chicago institution. As this person continued to speak, I realized he was not in my field, but was likely in a related academic field, such as history or anthropology. But then he kept talking. And then I asked him point blank, and he told me, no, he was not a PhD, nor was he in academia. After I told him Advisor was in disagreement with him about my work “cutting it,” as it were, not to mention my committee, he said, “That’s just one person’s opinion – or just a few people… it’s really not gonna cut it. You’ve really got to do more.” At this point, I replied, “It seems you don’t know how folks go about getting PhD’s. I really would like to pay attention to this band now.”

So, basically, I had my dissertation mansplained to me by a person who was not an academic AT ALL. He was not a musician, nor was he really familiar with Bloodshot, alt.country, or country music, or even academia. After I walked away, I had at least 80,000 other wonderful and witty and clever things that came to mind that I wish I had said to him. And of course, I wondered why in heavens I even spoke with him for as along as I did.

In any event, I’m glad that guy’s not on my committee.

 

A second blog post in the month of May!

It’s a procrastinating miracle – this is the second post for the month of May! I returned home from the best conference ever (that happens in one of the best towns ever) on Saturday night. I had entertained the thought of not attending the International Country Music Conference in Nashville because, well, because I’m lazy, and I didn’t want to write the paper (which just so happened to be a section from a dissertation chapter that *really* needed to be written). The thought of seeing some of my favorite people was a strong motivator, and I made the good (and good-for-me decision) to suck it up, write the section/put together a presentation, and I headed up to Nashville last Wednesday.

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The conference was (as usual) a great experience: I got to see and catch up with some of my academic idols, favorite scholars, and smart friends; I was inspired by some really great research and presentations; I met new, interesting, smart folks; and I got some feedback on my presentation that was helpful and encouraging. I’m very, very, very glad I went.

I have a (terrible? lazy?) habit of not really paying attention to the lyrics of songs when I’m listening for pleasure, which is only made worse, of course, if I’m doing something else AND listening to music. I had a list of bands/albums to check out from recommendations and/or presentations at ICMC, so as I was washing dishes tonight, I had pulled up a few albums on Spotify. I was thoroughly enjoying the new Sturgill Simpson album, and in my (slightly) mindless listening, I caught the phrase “I’m sorry but I’m just thinking of the right words to say,” and of course, it sounded really familiar.

The song is called “The Promise,” and was originally recorded in 1988 by the British band and one-hit-wonder, When in Rome. Considering that my presentation at ICMC addressed covers, the concept is still swirling about in my head, and I could say lots about this cross-genre cover version by Sturgill Simpson… but I should probably be thinking about my dissertation instead. In any event, I will say that Simpson’s approach to the song is languid and subdued (obviously lacking the insistent dance beat of the original), but it falls into its own little groove once it gets going.

What really sold me on the song, though, are the final two choruses of the song after the guitar solo/instrumental (3:16): Simpson sings the second of these choruses up an octave (3:40). I am a total sucker for this technique pretty much whenever it happens.1  I think it’s especially satisfying on this recording due to the fact that the vocal delivery for the bulk of the song is so understated. The added intensity of the delivery in this chorus, the upper range of Simpson’s voice, and the slight melodic alterations provide a great payoff, in my opinion, and also recall the original version of the song’s chorus. I have had this song on repeat most of the evening.2 

Sturgill Simpson – The Promise

And here’s the original…


1. I’m sure this happens in songs from all genres, but I am most familiar with it in contemporary Christian praise and worship music. It’s very common in these songs, and it happens at least once pretty much every Sunday at my church. And I still think it’s awesome every single time. Not as awesome as guitar slides, but pretty darn close.


2. Also, randomly, there’s a little motive in the strings (do-ti-re-do) in the second half of the second verse (1:59) that is the primary instrumental hook for the Cranberries song, “I Will Always,” off their debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? from 1993. I seriously doubt there’s an intentional quotation here, mainly because the motive is relatively simple and likely common; nevertheless, the two songs have the same feel, and are not too far apart in terms of narrative.