Local Rhythms – Maybe Music Really Does Want to be Free

magic_648.jpgTime was, I found new music via the car radio, but those days are fading fast. The Point and WEQX are two local exceptions, but their signals can be hard to tune in. Now there’s news of the latest shake-up at Rock 93.9/101.7.

For the moment, the station is 100 percent outsourced. Program director Steve Smith and midmorning DJ Liz Fox are gone, and the smart money is betting that the former Clear Channel outlet will move to an all-talk format.

“I spent 10 years with Clear Channel,” Smith said in response to my localrhythms.com blog post about his firing, “and 3 months with [new owner] Great Eastern Radio. I liked the first 10 years the best.”

When a perennial corporate radio villain becomes emblematic of the good old days, we’ve officially entered Bizarro World. Weirder still, it’s pretty much left for WFRD, a very grown up college station, to be the last best hope for new music around these parts

I can’t really blame a station for switching to talk radio. It’s all about margins, and as a business model, the format is reality television for the ears. It’s cheap, with plenty of volunteer talent waiting on hold for a chance to be the next caller.

But that means music will have to find another way to reach an audience.

Which leads to the question that’s most troubling me: who will play the new Bruce Springsteen song?

The answer is, apparently … you.

“Radio Nowhere,” an advance track from the Boss’s forthcoming “Magic” CD, hit the streets the other day – in the form of a free iTunes download. One of the biggest rock stars of all time can no longer rely on the airwaves. “This is radio nowhere,” moans Springsteen – “is there anybody alive out there?”

Prince recently gave away a million copies of his latest CD in a one-off deal with a British newspaper. And of course there’s SpiralFrog, Universal Music Group’s just-launched web site dedicated to the dissemination of free music.

What’s the world coming to?

In 7 years, we’ve gone from record companies suing Napster out of existence to the major labels being the biggest backers of free music around (with the possible exception of a few million of MySpace bands).

While they figure it all out, there’s plenty of good listening here in your own backyard:

Thursday: Sylvia Miskoe, Lebanon Farmer’s Market – As we move towards September, the nights cool down and the selection improves at farmer’s markets in Lebanon, Claremont and Bellows Falls. That’s the upside of autumn, I suppose. Miskoe plays accordion with a Scottish sensibility – she’s also a member of the Strathspey & Reel Society of New Hampshire, a Celtic music collective. Here’s a good excuse to dance a jig and sip a little cider.

Friday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – Of all the jazz combos to play in downtown Claremont, this is my favorite. One of the genre’s best elements is its spontaneity, which can make a song you’re heard a hundred time sound completely new. It takes seasoned talent and musical telepathy; this band has both. They can be both smooth and spirited, and always scintillating

Saturday: Chad Gibbs, Salt hill 2 – An area mainstay with a loping style reminiscent of Dave Matthews. He can make an acoustic guitar sound more plugged in than a Stratocaster. Tucked in the corner of downtown Newport’s upstairs room, he’ll mix blues, rock and funky folk, and make all of it sound bigger. I really like his original stuff, too. You can listen to it on Chad’s MySpace page.

Sunday: Bow Thayer with Dave Clark & Jukejoynt, Lyman Point Park – Check out mountain man Thayer on Middle Earth’s YouTube space to get a sense of his burly sound. It’s a treat. Jukejoynt is the most original of Dave Clark’s many musical manifestations. With help from Rich Meijer, Terry Diers, Jed Dickinson and Bobbie Gagnier, the joynt will be rockin’.

Monday: Bread & Roses Festival – Labor Day is about working people, and every year this festival commemorates one of the most significant labor actions in American history with music and history where it happened – Lawrence, Massachusetts. There’s Zydeco from the Pine Top Boys, folk from Amy Gallatin and Stillwaters, along with traditional music, poetry and living history. Go – you might learn something.

Wednesday: Meat Puppets, Pearl Street – Punk was growing more intelligent in the early 1980s, but this Phoenix band was having none of it. Making records for the SST label, they never succumbed to self-importance, even after backing Nirvana during their MTV Unplugged performance. They did, however, give punk a much-needed twang, and made some pretty good psychedelic music besides. This is the first re-grouping of the original lineup in 11 years.


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