Happy Friday Gratitude!

Lots of parts about graduate school pretty much suck (and by graduate school, I mean specifically a doctoral degree in the humanities). The bureaucracy, the seemingly arbitrary hoops to jump through, the reading, the writing, dealing with difficult professors, etc., this stuff just isn’t very fun. Add to that all of the woe, wailing, and teeth-gnashing regarding the job market, work loads and such, and one must wonder why anyone would subject themselves to such experiences. Well, for me, it’s the other parts that make it worthwhile, such as learning gross amounts about something that I find fascinating and compelling, the reading, the writing, dealing with brilliant professors (often the same individuals who are difficult, of course), and commiserating with folks who are equally compelled by similar interests.

As much as I would like to end up with an academic job, I have no idea if I will ever get one; but I do know that I have (mostly) enjoyed the past seven years. The actual experience of earning this degree (assuming this actually happens in August) has been worthwhile. If nothing else, I will have spent seven years of my life Thinking about, Reading about, and Writing about Music in (mostly) new and different ways, which I think is better than just about anything else I could have been doing for that time.1 

I spent a chunk of time this morning with a producer/recording engineer. We listened to an assortment of Bloodshot and non-Bloodshot tracks and talked about what they sounded like, recording and mixing techniques, and other such details. And it was great – interesting and super helpful for me.2  As I walked away from that meeting, I was reminded again of how much I like music, and how grateful I am that I get to write a ton of pages about music that I really, really love (even if the actual thinking and writing part is Really Hard). And of course, I was overwhelmed (yet again) by how nice and helpful so many folks have been to me through this whole process… and all of this on the eve of SXSW – where I will attend again as an “artist” (make that ROCK STAR, at least in terms of wristbands)! I’ll get to see more live shows than you can shake a proverbial stick at, and get my fill (and then some) of great music.3 

I’m not finished with my dissertation just yet, and I’m in a relatively challenging place in the journey right now. However, I have moments where I’m beginning to believe that I might actually one day finish the dissertation, and after that, graduate. In the dissertation, I will get to write a page of acknowledgements to thank folks and publicly proclaim my gratefulness to specific people, but for now, in the middle of a not-always-fun part, I’m pretty glad for some reminders of the fun parts.


1. Enjoy the journey, value the process, and all that… Besides, in the “real world,” when it comes down to it, wouldn’t seven years be considered a pretty good run at a job? Not sure how my committee members might view this perspective, though…


2. Here’s one of the tracks we listened to – Robbie Fulks’ “The Buck Starts Here,” from his Bloodshot Records debut, Country Love Songs (1996).


3. I absolutely cannot wait to get back to the Broken Spoke!

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A whole lotta stuff…

It’s been a while since my last post, but here are a few updates.1 I met with the California Closets consultant yesterday and decided how to use my winnings. I have three small closets in my room (one is a small linen closet), and I currently have a roommate (rendering my walk-in closet spare bedroom off limits for storage, not to mention I still have all of these boxes of books from my office). Consequently, I have a bunch of stuff in my bedroom that normally wouldn’t be there, so I opted to get a wardrobe type thing in lieu of changing out my current clothes closets. This gives me six large drawers, a few shelves, and a several feet of additional hanging space, and hopefully will help my room look less like a storage warehouse. I also decided to go ahead (and splurge) and get the linen closet re-done while I’m at it. Of course, this pushes me over the dollar amount that Off Broadway will cover, but I figure this is the only time I’ll ever have this opportunity and motivation anyway.

Dave Rawlings Machine at the Georgia Theatre in Athens, GA, November 26, 2013; Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, John Paul Jones, Willie Watson, Paul Kowert

I saw one of the best live shows of my life the week of Thanksgiving – The Dave Rawlings Machine at the Georgia Theatre. There are lots of reasons this show was amazing (that it was basically a supergroup, the venue is pretty spectacular, the setlist was incredibly diverse, etc.), but my favorite part was the joy that seemed to emanate from the folks on stage. In light of my recent research revelation regarding performance theory, I couldn’t help but view the evening’s events through the lens of identity construction.2 Many issues were thought-provoking (and probably merit another blog post, or wait, a dissertation chapter), including the aesthetic values of various “americana” genres, including country and rock broadly, but also subgenres like bluegrass and folk, not to mention the importance of “authenticity” in relation to these genres.3 But really, I was impressed, entertained, and inspired – the music sounded good and felt good.

Also, Thanksgiving happened. My family spent a few days in the mountains, doing something different from our regular routine. I had been dreading Thanksgiving a bit, imagining it would all just be overwhelmingly sad. But I was wrong. Yes, there were moments of sadness, but it was great to spend time with my family, and being in a different place actually seemed to help (me, at least). We survived it, and that’s something.

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Finally, in the category of college football, months ago, I had decided that I would attend the SEC championship game today (mistakenly assuming that Georgia would be playing Alabama again) as my very last college football game as a student, since I didn’t go last year. As it turns out, the Georgia – Kentucky game a couple of weeks ago gets that honor. It seems fitting, I suppose. And no, I have no intention of traveling somewhere not that exciting to go to a not that exciting bowl game.


1. And no, I haven’t finished my dissertation yet.
2. Philip Auslander, “Musical Personae,” TDR: The Journal of Performance Studies, Vol. 50, No. 1, Spring 2006.
3. The presence of John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin certainly amplified these thoughts, cf. Susan Fast’s work and view of Jones as “the band’s solid, learned musical technician.”

I have the power…

This latest trip to Chicago was productive, enjoyable, eventful, and tiring (I think exhausting probably sounds better, but that might be a bit of hyperbole). I stayed at four different locations over seven nights, and really made the most of my time in the city. The kindness of Chicago acquaintances and friends (both new and not-so-newish) remains overwhelming to me (not hyperbole), and I really do have a pretty fun dissertation topic. Nevertheless, on this trip in particular, I found myself regularly preoccupied with… battery life.

When I visit Chicago, I rely primarily on public transportation, and thanks to my trusty research tool extraordinare, aka the iPhone, plus the google maps app, I can get around pretty well. However, using the map frequently and consistently doesn’t bode well for my (relatively not new) phone’s battery life. I regularly found myself scouring a venue for a power outlet for fear that my phone would die before I managed to memorize the train stops, bus numbers, and directions to get me back “home.” Of course, as I wrote about here, not even having a charged phone and the app can keep me going in the right direction.

Just one of many places I charged my phone

Just one of many places I charged my phone

In (another) one of my less-than-smart moments, I ended up in Chicago for an entire week without my laptop charger. Considering the primary reasons for this trip were to document items at the Chicago History Museum, and to organize and clarify data/photos/documents from Bloodshot Records, the laptop was kind of necessary. After discovering the cost of a new charger was out of my budget ($80!!!), I opted to “borrow” one from Best Buy. The only catch was that I had to be in the store for about 35 minutes, just hanging out next to the macbook display. No one seemed to mind, and only one employee asked me if I needed help… as I was walking out the door! Also, thankfully, I stayed with someone for a couple of nights who also had a mac, so I got another charge there. These two charges gave me enough battery to do what I needed to do and get my work done.

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Doesn’t everyone take their Jamba Juice smoothie to Best Buy’s Apple display?

I didn’t realize until I walked into my house latelatelate on Wednesday night (or earlyearlyearly Thursday morning) how much brain space had been devoted to thinking about charging my electronic devices. Having many chargers and even more opportunities to charge my devices, along with knowing how to get where I’m going most of the time are all luxuries that I am not taking for granted this weekend!

Notes from the “field”

I have mentioned my ambivalence when it comes to categorizing my research as musicology or ethnomusicology (and also what “-ist” I call myself). Regardless, I am in Chicago conducting research of various sorts (hence the quotes around field in the title), and here’s a story based on my 22 or so hours in Chicago so far.

Do you know what’s really helpful when traveling? Going in the right direction. It seems obvious, yes? Well, when I’m dealing with the CTA, it doesn’t always work so obviously. Case in point: yesterday I was trying to get from the airport to my hotel. Thanks to my iPhone (research instrument extraordinaire) and the google maps app, I had a route set involving one train and one bus.

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Part of the journey from inside the airport to the train

The train part was a piece of cake, as there is only one train departing in one direction from Midway. I got off at my stop and proceeded to the street to find the bus stop; conveniently the stop was right out the front door of the train station. Not so conveniently (for me), both the northbound AND the southbound version of this bus arrived at that stop. I did not notice this…. because as I was walking out of the train station, what I thought was my bus pulled up.

I hopped on, pleased with the fortuitous timing. My phone was dying, so once I got on the bus, I put it away; but after a few stops, I decided to check my progress. It was at this point that i realized my blue dot was NOT on the blue line heading north. I tried to remain calm and immediately got off at the next stop. I and my luggage trudged across the street and back north a block or so to find the nearest bus stop for the NORTHbound bus. I waited a solid twenty-five minutes; finally, I was on the bus headed toward my hotel.

The happy ending is, of course, that I made it to the hotel (eventually). But here’s the more interesting coda: There was a man that got off the train when I did. I remembered him because he let me exit the train before he did, and when I was trying to find the elevator, he pointed me in the right direction. When my northbound bus got back to the train station, he was still waiting and got on the northbound bus! Assuming he had been there since we disembarked from the train, my stupidity did not cost me any extra time, only a bit of embarrassment and a slew of frustration!

Early bird

I’m currently applying for dissertation fellowships. That is, I’m jumping through hoops to ask random organizations to give me money so I can finish my research and write my dissertation. Generally, these fellowships grant around $20,000 for an academic year, and also cover university tuition and fees, and maybe some conference travel. I appreciate that the idea is totally awesome, but applying for these things is relatively onerous, and the likelihood that I will be awarded one is realistically quite slim.

The requirements for these applications is what you would expect: writing samples, descriptions of the project, a c.v., personal statements, something that yells about how much the research perfectly aligns with the mission of the granting organization, etc. However, thus far, the most difficult task has been an 800 character dissertation abstract. I was completely fine with a thirty page writing sample, but explaining my entire-yet-to-written dissertation in 800 characters (including spaces)?!? I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it was one of the most difficult paragraphs I’ve ever had to write.

I have heard that applying for academic jobs is a full-time job in and of itself, and I’m guessing this fellowship thing is quite similar. I’m applying for five different awards right now, and in the Spring, I will apply for one from the Graduate School. This post is simply to acknowledge that even though I’m a professional procrastinator, sometimes I can get it together and not wait until the very last minute.

I just submitted application #2 even though the deadline is 5:00 p.m., central time, November 15, 2012. THAT’S THURSDAY and it’s ONLY TUESDAY. Be appropriately impressed, please.

There are two reasons I finished this today.

1. This application has been incredibly frustrating, and I was more than ready to stop thinking about it. Plus, the deadline for #3 is quickly approaching.

2. The Kentucky-Duke basketball game tonight. I wanted to watch this game without distraction, and be free to freak out and over-invest without other things to worry about. And yes, this game is in Atlanta, and yes, I considered MANY times buying tickets. But my budget and schedule just couldn’t handle it this time (also, not counting any proverbial chickens, but the Final Four is also in Atlanta…).

It’s all about priorities, folks. Go CATS!

Post-Sunday post: NOLA version

I just returned from the AMS/SEM/SMT conference that was held in New Orleans. It was my very first visit to New Orleans and Louisiana, and while I had a great time and was mostly fascinated by the city, I didn’t fall in love with it (Lexington, Nashville, and Chicago still have my heart, and of course, Athens has my heart and physical being).

I did not present at the conference, but I got to see a lot of friends and colleagues. I had a chance to talk to and catch up with a few of them, but unfortunately, I only waved at some from a distance due to the overwhelming number of events, activities, and panels. I wasn’t exactly a diligent attender of panels, but I did attend my fair share. Unfortunately, there weren’t any panels that directly related to my research, and only a few that obliquely related to what I’m doing. Except for a panel on old-time fiddling, there were no panels on country music (!). Casting the net a bit broader, I attended most of the (interesting-to-me) popular music panels, and a couple of panels on evangelical Christian worship music. And for the all the others, the hashtag #musicon12 made for some entertainment during the not-so-awesome papers.

I always hate missing a Sunday at church (especially since this was the second Sunday I’ve missed this semester), but I left the booth in completely capable hands! I found it quite odd to be sitting in a conference room in a hotel on Canal Street in New Orleans on a Sunday morning hearing a scholar discuss mediated worship music, watching a youtube video of “Blessed Be Your Name,” and hearing a description of ProPresenter. I kept thinking how funny it would be if PowerPoint crashed during the discussion of Pro (hashtag churchtechteamhumor).

Our flight out of NOLA was late-ish, so we had the afternoon to sightsee. Unfortunately, my hopes of a sight-seeing Steamboat Cruise on the Mississippi were thwarted by rain. Lots of rain. In any event, we had a lovely, delicious, and leisurely lunch at the Green Goddess, which helped to alleviate some of the disappointment.

Considering that New Orleans is on Central Time, we “fell back” for Daylight Saving Central Time, and returned to Eastern Daylight Saving Time, I’m still a little confused. Combined with the trip from last week to Nashville, I’m quite glad to not travel this week!

And finally, here are some random pics from the New Orleans trip…

Two years

One year ago yesterday in this post, I speculated that the annual Georgia-Florida football game would likely serve to remind me of comps and a subsequent roadtrip to Jacksonville. And if the past two years are any indication, then I am fulfilling this prophecy. I find it somehow appropriate that during this year’s game (formerly known as The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party), I was in Nashville interviewing some (formerly of Chicago) folks for my research.

I interviewed two different individuals at two different East Nashville coffee shops on Saturday afternoon. For various reasons, I was a little nervous about both of these, but my anxiety was completely unfounded. Both individuals were incredibly nice, and remarkably, both had new and different perspectives about Bloodshot and Chicago music than most of the folks I’ve already spoken with. As I pulled out the lovely city of Nashville, I had the brief and passing thought that I may actually write a dissertation, and that it may actually be interesting (it was brief, and I’m not letting it go to my head, because then I remembered that this nearly three hours of audio adds on to the billions of hours of interviews I still haven’t transcribed).

Last year, I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t made a ton of academic/dissertation progress. Well, this year, I completed and defended the prospectus, presented at a bunch of conferences and traveled quite a bit, and am pretty close to wrapping up the interviews and ethnography for the dissertation. And it seems that I have a realistic timeline to write a dissertation and graduate (and no, it’s not exactly soon, cf. billions of hours of interviews). So while transcribing isn’t necessarily happening (it will, it will, it HAS to, sigh), progress is being made.

But what might be even more exciting than all of this? Georgia now has a two-game winning streak against Florida, and Kentucky basketball is showing up on my DVR. Go Dawgs and Go Cats!