Local Rhythms – Check Out Middle Earth’s YouTube Site!

chrisjonessml.jpgRegular readers of this column are familiar with the travails of Middle Earth Music Hall, the fine little basement club in Bradford, Vermont. Although owner Chris Jones successfully beat back legal attempts to shut him down, his vigorous defense, aided by musicians and fans far and wide, came at a cost. “When something like this happens, it is pretty easy to let your resolve dissolve,” Jones said recently.

Fortunately for those of us who care about music, Middle Earth is both surviving and thriving.

The club just announced expanded hours and, with the hiring of chef Bobbi Alibozek, a new food menu. “As things settle in, we’ll further expand our hours with the eventual goal of being open, once again, 7 days a week.

Best of all is the club’s foray into cyberspace. Along with a MySpace site, Jones has set up a page on YouTube – youtube.com/user/Folkhero01 – and started posting videos from the Middle Earth’s best musical moments.

I spent the better part of a day marveling at their quality of talent. There’s almost 200 videos posted, with performers who make up the heart of the local scene. Local folksinger Josh Brooks duets with Colin McCaffrey on the stunning “Rosetta,” McCaffrey fronts the Stone Cold Roosters with Ted Mortimer and Linda Boudreault. There’s Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem and regional legends Aztec Two-Step.

And so much more.

I’ve heard a lot about Session Americana but never seen them live; now that I’ve witnessed their spontaneous beauty courtesy of Mr. Jones, I can assure you that I won’t miss their next Vermont visit. Six, sometimes seven players crowd around a table (which appears to be covered with glasses of beer) and play the hell of great tunes by Townes Van Zandt and the Band, among others. It’s inspirational – and the camera work is pretty good, too.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in the Bradford Shire, their YouTube home should pique your interest enough to make the drive up there. At a minimum, it will provide insight into the quality of our area musicians, many of whom can be heard in watering holes all over the region.

Speaking of which, what’s worth wetting your whistle for in the upcoming days?

Thursday: Lydia Gray, Norwich Gardens Amphitheater – A superb bossa nova singer who dabbles in pop (Beatles, Elton John, Norah) celebrates the release of her new CD. She’s quite the vocal stylist, as anyone who caught her at Bistro Nouveau can verify. The venue is nestled in the woods off Route 5, and the show is part of the Open Air Summer Family Concerts, featuring music, magic, salsa and puppet shows.

Friday: Bill Wightman with Richard Gardzina, Sophie and Zeke’s – The Spiral Farm Band was scheduled to perform this evening, as they have done every third Friday since last summer, but the Vermont bluegrass combo called it quits recently. Too bad, I really enjoyed them. But I enjoy pianist Bill Wightman too, and tonight he’s bringing along his saxophone player from the JOSA band. Should be a real treat.

Saturday: Green River Festival, Greenfield (MA) – One of my favorite days of summer features an exceptional array of talent and a lit balloon launch at sundown, weather permitting. This year bluesman extraordinaire Buddy Guy headlines, but it’s Neko Case who has me most excited. I’ve been waiting years to see this indescribable singer-songwriter. Also on hand are Southern Culture on the Skids, Rani Arbo, James Hunter and the elfin Erin McKeown.

Sunday: Jennings Concert, Saint-Gaudens – I don’t normally tout “serious music” here, but any excuse to wander the grounds of this Cornish treasure is a good one. Award-winning musicians Andrew and Gail Jennings play violin and piano. Sunday’s program is entitled “Circle of Friends,” and includes works by Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms. The music starts at 2, and is included with admission to the historical site.

Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt Hill Pub – The Celtic version of Session Americana is in its third year, a rousing pick up band featuring some of the area’s best fiddlers, pickers and pennywhistlers. Dave Loney, Chris Stevens and Roger Burridge anchor the circle of chairs at the center of the room. If you’re craving Irish music sooner than Tuesday, you should check out Longford Row at the Pub tomorrow night.

Wednesday: Tammy Jackson Band, Ben Mare Bandstand – Sunapee is the place to be come summer, and this band, led by the husband/wife team of Cliff and Tammy Jackson, are regular harborside guests. They pack a one/two punch of Telecaster and twang, with a familiar song list (Reba, Patsy, Hank and Emmylou) punctuated with some fine originals and a few surprises. Betcha didn’t know Creedence’s “Green River” and the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” were country songs.

Internet Radio Stays Alive – For Now

netradio.jpgSunday, July 15 was destined to be the “day the music dies,” but as the sun rose Monday morning, Live365.com, Pandora, MVY Radio and other webcasters were still streaming.  On Thursday, the nascent Internet broadcasting industry emerged alive from a closed-door meeting convened by Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey, yet still facing an uncertain future.

At the meeting, Sound Exchange the industry group responsible for collecting royalty payments, verbally promised to refrain from enforcing revised rates ordered by the U.S. Government’s Copyright Royalty Board last April.

Additionally, Sound Exchange offered to cap fees for smaller webcasters at $50,000 per year – the original judgment mandated a $500 per channel fee.  Many web stations allow their listeners to create hundreds, often thousands, of personalized music streams.  They faced multi-billion dollar royalty payments. Large providers like AOL, Yahoo! and Rhapsody were expected to start paying immediately; the fees are retroactive to January 1, 2006.
A motion to delay implementation of the new rates was denied by an appeals court Thursday. This left webcasters looking to mounting Congressional pressure to address the inequities of the fee structure, which most webcasters claimed would force them out of business.  The July 15 deadline had been extended from May 15, and on Thursday a bill to move it out another 60 days was offered in the House.

Legislative responses to the rate increases had been filed soon after the CRB decision. The Internet Radio Equality Act, introduced April 26, has attracted 134 co-sponsors, including Carol Shea-Porter.  The New Hampshire representative was an early supporter of the legislation, saying in a statement that the hike “would have a devastating effect on millions of listeners.”
A similar law was also under consideration in the Senate, but on Tuesday, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy expressed hope that cooler heads would prevail.
“He’s been encouraging all the parties to calmly work towards private settlements on the rates, and there has been progress,” said Leahy spokesman David Carle.  “The parties are still talking, and we’ve heard from webcasters that there’s optimism about the final deal on royalties being reached.”
Jay Inslee, the Washington representative who submitted the House bill, agreed. An Inslee spokesperson told Congressional Quarterly Wednesday that “for Jay, the number one thing is reaching an agreeable solution to both sides, where artists feel like they’re being compensated fairly and webcasters can have a sustainable economic model.”

Even though the world of Internet radio breathed a sigh of relief Friday, all was not sanguine.   Sound Exchange’s promise was too vague, said AccuRadio’s Kurt Hanson, and wasn’t even offered in writing.  Referring to Internet advocacy group SaveNetRadio.org’s “countdown clock” to the rate hike, Hanson cautioned, “during this period of negotiations, I would probably set it at ‘2 days and holding.’”

A press release issued by Sound Exchange announcing their decision also raised concerns.  The fee cap, said the statement, was conditional upon stations working “to stop users from engaging in “streamripping” – turning Internet radio performances into a digital music library.”

The recording industry has long fought illegal file trading. But streamripping, the practice of recording songs from an Internet station, is similar in practice to a VCR.  “All you’re doing is time-shifting,” wrote Salon blogger Farhad Manjo – something that’s perfectly legal.  But he worried that web stations fighting for their lives would agree to industry demands for technical steps, such as lowering bit rates and interrupting songs mid-track, to make duplication more difficult.

“You have to wonder if the recording industry — now that it’s got webcasters locked in negotiations for their future — will have any trouble imposing such reduced-quality streams,” wrote Manjo.