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.

YouTube Treasure – James Taylor 1970

James Taylor made a couple of little-noticed records before signing with the David Geffen-era Warner Brothers label, where he released his breakthrough album, “Sweet Baby James.”

Prior to that, however, Taylor was in England, one of the first artists signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records. He wrote “Fire and Rain,” “Carolina in My Mind” and “Rainy Day Man” during that time, which by all accounts was a pretty pain-filled interval of his life.

Which leads to today’s YouTube treasure, a recording of “With A Little Help From My Friends” performed on TV around that time. It’s a perfectly Taylor-esque transformation, full of lilt and easy cadences – a wonderful cover.

James looks somewhat uncomfortable on the stage, in a rumpled sweater, staring at his feet. Maybe it’s nervousness, but given the time and place, his itchinesses is quite likely chemically induced. Listen at the end of the song, at the familiar chorus – “I get by with a little help from my friends/gonna try with a little help from my friends,” where he adds an ominous little coda – “I just might die with a little help from my friends.”

Eerie.

Local Rhythms – Apple TV/YouTube Disappoints

shotinfoot1.jpgWith eager anticipation, I peeled the shrink-wrap from my new Apple TV and plugged it into the flat screen set.

Like everything Apple, it required almost no time to set up.

Sadly, it took just a little more than that for me to realize I’d been suckered.

Not seeing the value in paying for what I can Tivo free, I wasn’t all that hot and bothered when Apple announced their set-top device, since it only played iTunes clips. But news leaked recently that YouTube’s library of videos could also be streamed in wonderful high definition via the aluminum box.

So I ordered one.

And after a few days, I’m thinking about sending it back. Steve Jobs promised the Land of Oz, but instead sent me a castle in a snow globe.

YouTube is the new MTV, with pretty much any clip from every artist available via a few keystrokes. But it took forever to enter YouTube search criteria on Apple TV, and unlike the iPhone, it doesn’t remember a thing.

Worst of all, for every 10 requests I typed in, I got one hit.

Oh, YouTube will tell you they’ve got tons of stuff that’s Apple TV-ready. In fact, I contacted a company representative to find out where the good videos were, and that’s about all they would tell me. “We want to deliver the complete YouTube experience to every audience on every screen,” read the bland reply, which ignored every single question I’d asked.

It ended with a vague promise: “Our intent is to make all YouTube videos available.”

I felt like Tom Hanks talking to that carnival attraction in “Big.”

Problem is, right now there’s hardly a handful of clips ready, and way too many are vanity projects by nauseating poseurs hell-bent on being the next LonelyGirl15.

I want Apple TV to show me the new Brad Paisley and Velvet Revolver videos.

But here’s the thing – Apple charges 2 bucks apiece for those on iTunes. Would YouTube possibly hold back converting them to goose sales?

I tried to ask, but instead got the Amazing Carnac, in the form of a slick New York PR firm.

Remember – I do this so you don’t have to.

I’m telling you to save your money.

This technology may mature some day, but for now it’s a pig in a poke -albeit a very shiny pig.

 

What’s cool this weekend?

Thursday: Saylyn, Newbury Gazebo – There’s plenty of outdoor shows now that we’re in high season, and some of the best are at the water’s edge in Newbury. Saylyn is the area’s hometown reggae band, with a good vibe and an authentic sound. I gotta say, the best way to see them is out under the stars on a hot night. Fronted by two brothers born and raised in Jamaica, these guys are the genuine article.

Friday: Pete Merrigan, Sophie & Zeke’s – It’ an all-Pete weekend, with a set at the Newport Moose tomorrow, and his Sunday afternoon party on Murphy’s deck. Never mind the weather, whenever Pete tunes up and plays, the sun is shining. Look for dates from his All-Star Band in Sunapee Harbor in August and September. It’s Margaritaville North.

Saturday: Phil and the Fuzz, Oona’s Barn – I’m pleased to report that a cateriing business, Harvest Moon, had risen from the ashes of Oona’s. Better still, they’re throwing monthly bashes at Oona’s Barn on the Meetinghouse Road in Rockingham. Phil and the Fuzz have a bit of a Phish vibe at first listen – tasty stuff, especially combined with an evening that includes a full bar and a chance to re-visit Oona’s amazing cuisine, via former assistant chef Sarah James (Harvest Moon’s proprietor).

Sunday: Harvey Reid & Joyce Anderson, Ludlow Bandstand – The husband and wife team have played Carnegie Hall and the Conan O’Brien show, along with many spirited Flying Goose gigs. He’s a gifted picker, she’s a talented guitarist fiddler in her own right with a lovely voice. Together, they’ve lit up many a room over the years. Always a treat.

Tuesday: Marty Stuart, Iron Horse – One of country music’s great iconoclasts, he’s worked with everyone from Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan. Tonight, he’s solo, which will give Stuart a chance to show off his amazing guitar chops. If you’re not familiar with him, you really should be. He’s living proof that you can’t pigeonhole a musical genre

Wednesday: Upper Valley Community Band, Sunapee Harbor – This local ensemble, ever-changing and bursting with talent, dates back to the turn of the twentieth century. Also playing Monday at Colburn Park in Lebanon, this is a concert band with members from all over the area, including a few Stevens High School kids. They play for the love of music, and a chance to share that love with other players.

 

 

 

Apple TV Gets A YouTube Boost

apple.jpgApple Inc. has had its share of miscues of late. The deafening hype surrounding the as-yet unreleased iPhone hasn’t quieted misgivings about the company’s first foray into mobile communications: inflated price, closed architecture, single source carrier (AT&T) and questions about whether it will even ship this month as promised.

The recent announcement of iTunes Plus, which promised music playable on any and all devices, is now mired in controversy. The industry blog ARS Technica reported that supposedly unprotected songs sold on the iTunes Music Store had customer information embedded in them, a move that in theory made it much easier for anti-piracy organizations like the RIAA to track them on file-trading sites.

That, coupled with the fact that customers who upgraded their software to purchase premium ($1.29 each) music were no longer able to buy cheaper versions of the same songs, turned what should have been a defining Apple moment into a nasty public relations headache.

Then there’s the little box that CEO Steve Jobs hoped would finally get Apple into consumer living rooms. Apple TV looked good on paper – a network device that can grab a video from any computer in the house, and stream it to a television in state-of-the-art widescreen format.

There was just one problem – it didn’t work with web sites, only iTunes, where episodes of most popular shows sell for $1.99 each. With no chance to watch Grey’s Anatomy on ABC.com or check out NBC’s Heroes with the occasional commercial break, Apple TV didn’t look like such a great deal. Jobs’ much-vaunted “Reality Distortion Field” was dissolving in a wave of bad press and bothered bloggers.

Perhaps Apple TV’s biggest omission was failing to tap into the zeitgeist of the web’s most popular video site, YouTube. Stranger still, it seemed a perfect match. Google CEO Eric Schmidt sits on Apple’s board of directors, and Google owns YouTube.

Last week, Apple TV’s prospects began to improve when the company unveiled a planned software upgrade, due later this month, which would provide the ability to play YouTube clips on the set top box. Along with that announcement, Apple’s web site began selling a 160 GB Apple TV – a model with four times the storage capacity of the original – presumably to hold all the newly available (and free) content

The Apple/YouTube deal is important for a couple of reasons. First, YouTube is fast becoming the preferred hub for the legal distribution of music videos. Last week, the company struck a deal with EMI, home to David Bowie, Coldplay and Norah Jones. This means that all four of the major labels are on board. Though MTV/VH1 owner Viacom’s intellectual property suit is still unresolved, Schmidt termed the action “a negotiating tactic” at the recent All Things Digital conference, hinting that an agreement wasn’t far off.

Secondly, a deal with Apple means the QuickTime H.264 codec, which maintains picture resolution regardless of screen size, will become YouTube’s streaming video standard. That’s the reason Apple executive David Moody only promised “thousands of videos designed for Apple TV” at launch, not the entire YouTube library. That conversion effort will take a lot more time, though all new videos will be offered in the new format. QuickTime videos are, of course, fully compatible with both the iPhone and iPod. However, no announcements were made about making YouTube content available on those devices.

The move affirms that Apple, for all its recent stumbles, still intends to be a revolutionary force in the entertainment world. As the iPod smashed the music paradigm, YouTube has re-shaped the television landscape. What started as a hybrid of low-rent “MTV Jackass” and alienated teen vanity vehicle has fast become the first on-demand video network of the Internet.

Google is, of course, the most popular web site in history. These elements, combined with Apple’s well-known hardware and design capabilities, could produce a recipe that does for television what the iPod did for music.

Another YouTube Treasure – Springsteen/Browne “Promised Land”

To quote Lefsetz, YouTube is the new Napster, full to bursting with rare and wonderful music. I could care less about LonelyGirl vanity projects and Mentos experiments (well, those are kinda cool actually), but gimme all the grainy Midnight Special videos you can dish out.

YouTube’s essence is stuff like this gem, a (what looks to be) audience-taped performance of Bruce Springsteen performining “Promised Land” in 1981 at the Hollywood Bowl, with a t-shirted Jackson Browne singing harmony and strumming backup guitar. Look for the boom mike crowding the shot about two-thirds of the way through.

The audio is surprisingly good. I swear to God, I never knew the chorus begins “the dogs on Main Street howl ’cause they understand, if I could take one moment into my hands.” Like most unplugged versions, particularly ones that haven’t been bludgeoned to death by classic rock radio (the song was about three years old at the time of this performance), it reveals key elements often buried by studio technology. That’s why “Thunder Road,” from the “Live 1975-1985” box set (the acoustic version that opens the first disk) is my all-time favorite Springsteen track. The raw, naked conviction when he moans “Well, I bought this guitar and I learned how to make it talk” put me closer to the moment when those words entered his brain then I’ll ever be.

The soul that makes such timeless tracks – that’s rock and roll.

Local Rhythms – Google Buys YouTube

googleyoutube.jpgWith Google’s purchase of YouTube, a company that started as a garage full of servers with no clear business plan is now an office building full of servers, 60 cramped employees, $1.65 billion in Google stock – and still, no clear business plan.

But the deal fortifies the young upstarts against a copyright poison pill of the sort that cut off Napster at the knees in 2000; Google’s experience promises a way out of the lawsuits threatened by big record companies. As for future profits, one also expects the Internet’s biggest success story can lend their magic to produce enough ad revenue to justify what many considered an impossible price tag as recently as last week.

What does it mean for consumers? That’s harder to pin down. For the time being, not much will change for YouTube. There will be more ads, but that was happening already. Viral videos like “Lazy Sunday” and webcam soliloquies with dubious production values and microscopic audiences should continue to fuel YouTube’s enormous popularity.

The real value down the road – and the likely impetus for Google’s purchase – comes from deals done prior to the sale which cleared the use of content from major record labels, beginning with Warner Music Group. Someday, YouTube will reach its goal – to host every music video ever made, and then some.

Social networking sites like YouTube and MySpace have replaced old outlets like MTV and radio as a source for new music. One by one, old media is getting on board. The price tag Google paid indicates that they intend to make $150 million a year. The revolution starts now.

This doesn’t mean that television is dead. Technology should improve the thing it’s making obsolete, and Internet video is a long way off from displacing the ever-growing living room screen. Getting a high-def movie on demand from Adelphia or DirecTV is much easier than downloading it. The quality’s better, too.

YouTube provides a way for bored teens to show off for their friends, and an even better vehicle for three-minute music clips, talk show highlights and extreme news. But more than that? I don’t think so, at least not in the immediate future.

Here’s what is happening in the next few days around the region:

Thursday: Last Kid Picked, Anchorage – The last big bash of the season in Sunapee Harbor features a local band approaching its 10-year anniversary. They had an exciting evening recently when Robert Randolph caught their set at the Rusty Nail and joined them for an impromptu jam session. Quite a big deal when you consider that Randolph jams with Eric Clapton and Dave Matthews on his latest album.

Friday: Zebra Junction, Bistro Nouveau – After a few quiet weeks, music returns to Bistro in the form of an adventurous duo with roots in the Claremont area. Stylistically, I’d describe them as Gonzo Americana, perhaps, with elements of jam band and blues. Shawn “Flitz Alan” Palmer plays everything from harmonica, a bucket with rivets, and a 1929 banjo-ukulele. His cohort, guitarist Micah Lundy, scratch mixes with a Playskool tape deck. Fun stuff.

Saturday: Fat Angus, Royal Flush – AC/DC fans will love this. Fat Angus is a dead ringer for the rockers from Down Under, right down to the horns on Dave McCarron’s head. Springfield’s home for live music is consistently presenting shows on Saturdays. Stonewall is due in a few weeks, along with house band High Wire.

Sunday: Great Big Sea, Capitol Center for the Arts – I certainly didn’t see anything like them in “The Shipping News,” but Great Big Sea brings a different kind of Newfoundland with its music. They stay true to their Celtic roots while injecting thoroughly modern elements of pop and country. They’re also appearing Friday at the Lebanon Opera House, with Irish phenoms Lunasa opening.

Tuesday: Suicide Girls Burlesque Show, Pearl Street – First of all, don’t bring the kids to this one. Taking their name from either “Fight Club” or an INXS song, they embody a kind of female empowerment designed to tick off people like the Rev. Donald Wildmon. They call themselves “the most fun you can have with 7 girls, 6 firearms, and 5 bottles of chocolate sauce” – and a few guitars. Punky, edgy and not for the squeamish.

Wednesday: The Churchills, Green Mountain College – The Gorge at Withey Hall hosts a band prominent for contributing songs to television shows. Sort of YouTube before it was cool. I like them for their well-crafted pop gems like “Unpopular” and “I’m A Sucker For A Girl In Uniform,” which bubble over with Beatlesque energy. The infectious “Sometimes Your Best Isn’t Good Enough” is now the theme song for “Juvies,” new reality show on MTV – you know, the network that used to show videos.

YouTube/Cingular Deal – That’s More Like It

you.jpgAs I’ve written elsewhere, the YouTube/Warner Music deal will likely the cause the reverse of its intended purpose. On the other hand, the buzz-rich, cash-poor web site looks poised to leverage their cool factor with YouTube Underground, the battle of the bands announced earlier today.

YouTube’s strength is viral; marginally talented, attention-starved kids, weaned on reality television and rap lyrics with more brand names than verbs, upload their personal “American Idol” auditions to YouTube and pray that someone, anyone, will care. Out of the millions, a few lucky ones creep to the top.

On the other hand, the YouTube revolution has breathed new life into a dying art form, the indie band video. The most ironic moment of the 21st Century thus far has to be the appearance of OK-Go! on the MTV Video Music Awards. The band NEVER HAD A VIDEO AIR ON MTV before that night. OK-Go! owes most of its success to YouTube.

YouTube Underground promises that kind of cult explosion to an unknown, unsigned band. Of course, keeping true to irony, the winner will play on ABC’s Good Morning America.

I’m noticing a trend here. Large media outlets, be they record companies, TV networks, publishers or studios, can’t seem to tap the underground on their own. They’ve lost the ability to locate and nurture new talent. So they wait for talent to nurture itself, and for hordes of cash, pick the low-hanging fruits of someone else’s labor.

Somehow, that doesn’t seem like a viable business model. At some point, these artists will raise their price too high, or decline to share their bounties altogether. But what do I know? I’m just a blogger.

YouTube, like MySpace and other online communities, is simply a great host who demands very little from its guests – and everyone wants to come to the party.

YouTube Underground is the perfect vehicle – original, undiscovered talent flowing like cream to the top.

Contrast that with Warner Brothers. By hoping to collect copyright royalty fees from vain teenagers, they’re preparing to shoot fish in an empty barrel.