Local Rhythms – Ticketmaster Alternatives

I was all set to rant about live music monopolist Ticketmaster this week. Have you heard the one about this summer’s Bon Jovi concert tour? There’s a special American Express pre-sale, which purportedly offers a free copy of the band’s upcoming CD with every ticket. But each seat comes with a 10-dollar surcharge – in addition to their already usurious handling, convenience and venue fees – to cover the cost of the album.

In other words, Ticketmaster isn’t giving it away at all. On the contrary, they’re FORCING YOU TO BUY IT if you want to see Bon Jovi.

Dishing out the hate to that is easier than hitting a beach ball with a cricket bat.

Why bother?

Instead, let’s talk about some alternatives to the evil empire, right here in your own backyard. 12 years ago, Pearl Jam tried and failed to manage their ticket sales. But that was before the Internet, with its low operating costs and tight fan connections.

Of course, Ticketmaster has a web site, but they do things on it like charging extra to print tickets at home. That saves them money; why should fans pay?

Virtuous.com sells online tickets for Boccelli’s in Bellows Falls, Brattleboro’s Latchis Theatre, and several other smallish New England venues. They have a service fee – everyone does. But it’s simple, fair and they donate ten percent of their profits to local charities.

Higher Ground, the long-running South Burlington music club, also keeps service charges low and explains where they go – agents, venues and so forth.

How does this ethical company compare to Ticketmaster? Well, seats for Bob Dylan’s upcoming Burlington show come with a $4.50 “convenience” charge – compared to nearly 15 dollars in assorted fees for Dylan’s Boston gig.

Iron Horse Entertainment Group sells tickets through the Northampton Box Office, with fees that typically represent about 15 percent of a transaction. That’s a little high, but you can hand pick from available reserved seats for Calvin Theatre shows, for example, and pay face value day of show.

Closer to home, Lebanon Opera House has a small online fee of $2.00 per transaction, and Claremont Opera House doesn’t charge anything but the ticket price.

So while you hate Ticketmaster, remember to spread a little local love – and don’t forget these shows:

Thursday: Granite State Stompers, Bistro Nouveau at Eastman – The phrase “New Orleans Music” brings many things to mind – the bon temps Zydeco of Beausoleil, the bouncy free form jazz of the Marsalis family, or the smooth vocal style of Harry Connick, Jr. But Dixieland put the Crescent City on the musical map. This homegrown ensemble swings the way they did at the turn of the 20th century.

Friday: Sleazy Listening, Marzelli’s Cafe – This young, fresh and talented jazz combo doesn’t get around nearly enough for my tastes. But they sure sound good. This Sunapee Coffee House set is a “pass the hat” affair. Sleazy Listening has an upbeat, tightly syncopated sound, and lead vocalist Andal Sundaramurthy sounds like honey on strawberries tastes. They also play a 5 PM Saturday set on the New London Town Green.

Saturday: Matt Haimovitz, Boccelli’s – A renegade cellist – now there’s a concept I could grow to love. Haimovitz started out as a modern classical musician, but these days he’s as likely to perform Hendrix as Handel, the Beatles as Bach. In concert, he positively rips “Kashmir” apart – Led Zeppelin never sounded like this. His instrument is 300 years old, but everything else about Haimovitz is 3rd Millennium.

Sunday: Quechee Balloon Festival – This is the third and final day of this annual event. As in past Father’s Days, dads get in for half-price today, provided they bring their kids. Nice little racket, that. Speaking of which, there’s music all weekend long from the likes of blues boys Johnny B and the Goodes, the Bela Fleck-inspired Don Sheldon & Friends, and what I’m promised will be a festival high point, the Burlington Taiko Group, featuring Japanese drumming and eastern rituals.

Monday: Heartless Bastards, Iron Horse – The first time I heard this three-piece band, they sounded like a punkier Over the Rhine. It turns out they share the ethereal pop band’s hometown – but not much else. This is edgy, full-bodied and aggressive music, led by take-no-prisoners front woman Erika Wennerstrom. Enter at your own risk – you may be hooked.

Tuesday: Acoustic Coalition, Firestones – Two Quechee picks in one week – that’s some kind of record. Led by area music maven Dave Clark, Acoustic Coalition is an open mike of sorts staffed by musician friends and whoever happens to drop by. Clark says the idea was born after seeing a David Bromberg acoustic jam session at the old Higher Ground a few years back. It’s one of those places where just about anything can happen.

Re-Meet The Beatles

It was 40 years ago today, the Beatles taught the world to play.  With the June 3 anniversary of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” there are Fab Four projects in abundance, though none will have the seismic effect on the music world of their 1967 masterpiece.

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m 64?” asked Paul McCartney on that record.  Now he’s reached that ripe old age, and Sir Paul isn’t waiting around for an answer.  Instead, he’s pulling out all the stops to assert his relevance.  Ringo Starr, the only other living Beatle, has an art show, greatest hits package, and two live DVDs in the pipeline – in addition to a rumored new studio album.

John Lennon’s memory is being invoked anew by Amnesty International, and George Harrison’s work with the Traveling Wilburys has been re-mastered and given the box set treatment.

McCartney’s “Memory Almost Full” is an album’s worth of new material that moves from his Beatles tenure (“Ever Present Past,” “Vintage Clothes”) to his looming mortality (“The End of the End”) with breeziness reminiscent of “Band on the Run”-era Wings.

But more attention is being paid to the record’s marketing effort than its musical content.  Starbucks enjoyed success selling exclusive CDs from Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Sheryl Crow in their national chain of coffee shops.  Last year, they wooed Paul away from longtime label EMI to their Hear Music imprint.

Beginning last Tuesday, every Starbucks latte came with a venti helping of McCartney.  “Memory Almost Full” played 24/7, and the baristas were restless.  Word began to leak out about sabotaged store CD players and disgruntled customers unhappy at being force-fed Macca with their milk foam.

More embarrassing was a “report from the trenches” published on the Lefsetz.com blog.  An anonymous Starbucks manager noted that McCartney, a vegetarian and avid PETA supporter, would likely object to a sign posted in many east coast stores, urging customers to grab the album “while enjoying a new Classic Sausage Egg and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich.”

Of course, when a video of McCartney begging fans to buy the record showed up on Amazon.com, it seemed he’d countenance most anything in the name of commerce.

All the brouhaha is a shame, really, because “Memory Almost Full” is actually quite good, when stacked against his recent solo work.

It’s no “Venus and Mars,” though.

With “Instant Karma: The Campaign To Save Darfur,” at least John Lennon’s dignity is still intact.  Amnesty International gathered a blue chip collection of classic and hip new artists to cover Lennon solo material made available with the help of widow Yoko Ono.  Proceeds from the CD go to support the human rights organization’s continuing work, and specifically draw attention to the dire situation in the Sudan.

Highlights include Aerosmith’s “Give Peace a Chance,” re-worked with help from the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars, country stars Big & Rich doing a surprising cover of “Nobody Told Me” and Regina Spektor’s eerie take on “Real Love.”

Green Day’s rocked-up version of “Working Class Hero,” and the Black Eyed Peas’ transformation of “Power to the People” into a hip-hop anthem are also nice touches

Overall, however, the project loses its way.  Two songs, “Imagine” and “Gimme Some Truth” are performed twice on the two-disc set.  Surely the Lennon catalog is deeper than that.  “How Do You Sleep?” and “Well Well Well” are two that might have made the cut.

The record’s producers may have also forgotten that it’s already been done before – in 1995, when the Humane Society raised money with a CD’s worth of Lennon covers.  Amusingly enough, the Flaming Lips contributed a song to both compilations.

What is probably the most potent supergroup in rock history began when George Harrison called on friends Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison to help him with a B-side, “Handle With Care.”  Bob Dylan joined because he had a studio they wanted to use, and Tom Petty came on board after Harrison and Lynne stopped by his house to retrieve George’s guitar.

“If we’d tried to plan it, it never would have happened,” Harrison says in “The True History of the Traveling Wilburys,” a film included in the 3-disc “Traveling Wilburys Collection” released Tuesday.  The set includes both Wilburys albums (the second recorded after Orbison’s death), along with four bonus tracks, and a DVD with the documentary and five music videos.

“It was magical,” said Harrison – an understatement when one views just how ego-free this band seemed to be.  They made up songs in the kitchen, and crowded around a single studio microphone to record “Dirty World” and other tracks.

“There was just a lot of music in the air, a lot of fun going around, a lot of parties,” says Tom Petty.  “We’d play ukuleles until dawn, with our children dropping like flies around us.”

“The Traveling Wilburys Collection” is the sound of close friends enjoying each other’s company, and one of pop music’s great moments.

That leaves Ringo, who’s made a career repackaging his past.  The most earth-shattering thing Starr’s done this year is claim in a recent interview, “Sgt. Pepper’s wasn’t our best album.”  Beyond that, it’s been more greatest hits collections and tours with the “All-Starr Orchestra,” a B-list band that’s been treading the summer sheds for over a decade.

Perhaps “Liverpool 8,” done with the help of ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart, will shake things up a bit.  The record is rumored to have a more modern sound.

But with the power of their past obviously still intact, why would any Beatle want to try for modern?

Salt hill Pub Turns Four

It began, says Josh Tuohy, with a refrigerator, a panini grill and a head full of dreams. “And a smile for everyone who walked in the door,” adds Josh, remembering the day, four years ago, when he and his brother Joe opened Salt hill Pub.

This Saturday, Salt hill (the lower case is intentional) celebrates its fourth anniversary on the Lebanon green with more of the food, music and good cheer that’s made their reputation. Pete Merrigan, who Josh watched as a toddler when his mom and dad ran the Shanty in Sunapee, plays an early set at 6 PM. Later it’s Sirsy, an Albany duo that typifies the unique blend of familiar and adventurous music pub patrons count on.

Josh says it’s hard to name a favorite memory. “Every St. Patrick’s Day is huge, typically a lot of our family members show up” to join the regulars – who he also thinks of as family. “They fit right in, it’s great how similar the two groups are.”

“There’s an old saying,” he continues. “The essence of any good pub is the people standing inside it.”

Having a good crew helps enormously, he says. “I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you, and I know Joe agrees with me – we have the most attentive, fun-loving staff in the Upper Valley.”

Many are Tuohy family members. “My sister Lynn, my brothers PJ and Joe, of course. My brother Matt pulls the occasional shift but he’s our bookkeeper, my brother Dan has worked the door a lot, especially on St. Patrick’s Day.” Two of Lynn’s daughters are servers at the recently opened Salt hill Two in Newport.

2007 has been an active year for the pub. They made their first foray into concert promotion with the recent Saw Doctors Opera House show. There’s also a new Salt hill home page on the World Wide Web, for customers to peruse menus, get directions and check out the all-important music calendar.

With a laugh, Josh calls the salthillpub.com web site “inching towards modernity.”

And the new location is doing such a good job recreating the Salt hill formula that they may some day take it beyond Lebanon and Newport. “We’re growth-minded,” says Josh, although there’s no immediate expansion plans.

“I’ve got a lot on my plate,” he says, adding that Joe and his wife recently welcomed the arrival of a new son, Thomas Tuohy.

“He’ll probably start training sometime in August,” Josh says with a smile.

What’s the secret to their success?

“Honest food, perfect pints, live music and good humor – just like the menu says,” answers Josh. “After some fifty thousand glasses of Guinness over four years, we’re starting to get the hang of it.”