Saturday, December 08, 2018

Can Scottsdale Arts CEO Wuestemann make the Center for the Arts hip again?

By Douglas McDaniel

After his first six months as the CEO for Scottsdale Arts,  Gerd Wuestemann is revealing plans to initiate improvements for performance arts venues at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts and areas on the Civic Center mall.

Will he be an instrument of renewal?

"I certainly love building things, I'm not much of a status quo person," says Wuestemann, who took the Scottsdale Arts CEO position in March, replacing Neale Perl.

One other thing is clear: The guy wants to rock.

"I just saw Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field," he says, suggesting there may be more mainstream shows to come for Scottsdale Stadium. "I've seen what you can do with a concert on a baseball field."

A consensus builder who knows how to put projects together, with a keen awareness of the changing demographics of Scottsdale, as well as how far people will come to attend events in town, Wuestemann comes to the local cultural scene with significant plans in tow. He says the task before him is finding a way to renew the Scottsdale Arts campus and restore the one-of-a-kind jewel it once was before a mass of competitors followed their example in a Valley.

Considering how the organization has wide responsibilities for a single arts entity, maintaining a robust schedule of touring performing arts groups, arts fairs during the tourist season and technically challenging contemporary arts shows, just keeping things in working order is a big enough task. He took over an organization with 71 full-time and more than a hundred part-time members, overseeing the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary, myriad activities on the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall,and community outreach projects such as the arts for education program.

In addition to managing an organization that has had a lot of turnover in recent years, he's also launched into a five-year plan to improve the overall performance facilities for the non-profit entity. That includes changing the facade for the Center that hasn't changed much visually since 1987, and making better use of space available for performances.

"We haven't built anything new in 20 years," Wuestemann says. "Over the last decade there have been some struggles with leadership and financial issues. But it's a very large organization that's now poised for a very bright future."

Before he became an arts administrator, he had a successful career as a a performer. Born in Germany, he was a phenomenal classical guitarist and sort of child prodigy, to the point he was performing in Europe at the age of 12. He got a master's of music from Hochschule für Musik in Frankfurt, Germany. and came to New York to continue his studies and performances. Wuestemann continued enhancing his educational background in music from then on, getting a master's of musical arts from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and another similar degree from the University of Arizona.

"This is my second stint in the desert, which I love," he says, adding there's similarity between the swamplands of Louisiana, with its mix of Canjun and Creole culture, and the Southwest, with its latino and Native American influences.

If it wasn't for a couple of actual accidents, he might have never entered the business side of the arts world. He says "bad accidents, a bad slip and fall and a bike accident" limited his ability to play at the guitar at level he was accustomed to. So he did the next best thing available to him, joining a business venture to build carbon fiber guitars in Mississippi, then joining the University of Louisiana as a professor of music, where he built a guitar program for students.

From there he became the director of a fledgling arts council in Lafayette, La., eventually becoming executive director of the Acadiana Center for the Arts -- the center itself being built during his watch at the position. The experience of building a flexible "modular" performance arts facility in Lafayette now has Wuestemann looking at how innovative thinking in venues might work in Scottsdale.

"Scottsdale deserves to move forward to improve its assets," he says. "I think change is needed but managing change is key. You can't throw everything but the kitchen sink in at once. Otherwise, you create chaos."

Since opening more than 30 years ago, the Center for the Arts has been facing a increasingly competitive market from other cities in the Valley. There are newer venues in Mesa, Tempe, Chandler and "Peoria just opened a wonderful facility that should really give us pause for thought," he says.

He has a five-year plan. It starts with improving what already exists. Followed by getting funding for bigger ticket items.

The main theater itself, which seats more than 825, is fine, he says. You can make improvements to the acoustics, but not much more. He's really targeting the second theater in the center, which seats 130, for the kind of modular versatility that made the theater in Lafayette so utilitarian. In fact he's invited acoustic and theater systems experts from the project at the Acadiana facility to help come up with plans with the Scottsdale's secondary indoor venue. Another change for the long-term is redesigning the front of the building on side of the main building facing Second Street, creating more of a gateway entry feel for the center, he says,

They will also be looking at what can be done to improve the site on the east of the Cevic Center Mall used for musical performances, with hopes of creating an amphitheater setting, he says. A
bond election is planned for next year to raise capital for such improvements, Wuestemann says. But considering the recent history of Scottsdale for bond votes, that will take a lot of convincing, but the new CEO for Scottsdale Arts is hopeful.

"If you can convince people you have a vision for the place, the more you can convince them to support you."

How Trampled By Turtles got to trampling again

By Douglas McDaniel

Keeping it in the simple vernacular of the Midwesterner, there's one good word to describe the return of Trampled By Turtles to recording and touring form: "sweet," according to a member of the band who is now serving as the main interviewee and spokesman for their renewal. Prior to departing for an extended hiatus, such albums as "Wild Animals" brought an essentially updated bluegrass gone public with a breakneck rock energy thing. One result of that, most certainly a double-edged sword, was more than a small degree of fame.

Caught by phone during a new leg of the band's currrent tour after recording their latest effort, "Life Is Good on the Open Road," Trampled By Turtles mandolinist Erik Berry confirmed that life is, indeed, good on the road, especially when you get to play the Grand Ol Opry, in this case a radio show, "which is a treat."

The down side to fame is if a successful band plays together long enough, after eight full-length albums, three of which went number one on the U.S. Billboard charts, somebody in the group might get it in their minds that they might like to try to perform out of that circle for a while. And so it was with Trampled By Turtles, whose lead singer and songwriter Dave Simonett broke the circle for a bit, telling the rest of the band he needed to perform with a side project, Dead Man Winter, a band he had been with before Trampled By Turtles.

"I wasn't happy about it," Berry says, given the band had been docked for nearly two years, but in hindsight, he says, it kinda fits. "One of the long-running jokes in the band is Trampled by Turtles is a side project until our original bands come through."

That "side project" formed in Duluth, Minnesota in 2004, when five friends who had played in every small corner of the region they could find allowed when to play with a quirky combination of bluegrass with and folk-rock feel. Simonett's songwriting and a world weary singing voice was accessible to the fans of indie rock, but they were also a natural at say, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. But after touring all 50 states and the world, loads of success on the Billboard charts, he became band weary.

According to reports, he found himself to be burned out and struck creatively, and when he did write, it didn't sound like Trampled by Turtles songs. He had gone through the breakup of a 10-year marriage and attempted to get all of the angst out with Dead Man Winter's album, "Furnace," and much of that experience also informs the new album. But after he had sown those oats, all of the members had arranged to get back together after 20 months to see if they still had any of the magic anymore.

"I did a lot of solo mandolin gigs and kind of just threw myself back into my own music, and after a while I felt like what I call my own musical monologue changing," Berry says. "One of the things that helped when he got back together was we were all playing different kinds of music."
While Simonett, bassist Tim Saxhaug and fiddle player Ryan Young played with Dead Man Winter, cellist Eamonn McLain fronted a group called The Fiddle Heirs and collaborated with another, Pert Near Sandstone. Meanwhile, "I just played anywhere I could," Berry says.

For his part, Berry returned to his love of Celtic music, which he says is a direction he always tends to push Trampled by Turtles toward, and also formed a Grateful Dead cover band.

He grew up listening to "hair bands, which immediately became uncool after Nirvana came out," he says, adding that he played piano at an early age but didn't like it, so he moved onto the guitar, eventually finding that mandolin was his favorite instrument. But music wasn't his first career choice. After studying English at Luther College in northeastern Iowa, he became the editor of a small town newspaper, covering school boards and city councils. That became a grind and he eventually met the members of what would beome Trampled by Turtles in Duluth.

One of the things that was an advantage to the band as a touring act, Berry says, was being centrally located in the U.S.  They could go east or west without being too far from home.
"From a very practical sense, with us being based very close to the middle of the country, it kept us from going crazy early on where long tours might have impacted other bands," he says. "There is a real lack of effort in terms of being able to make really sweet music with these guys. Nobody pisses each other off. It works on a number of levels."

They put out their own record, "Songs from a Ghost Town," in 2004 and a year later upped the ante on BanjoDad Records with "Blue Sky and the Devil." Things really began to take off with the release of "Duluth," with Trampled by Turtles becoming regulars on the Billboard charts from then on, a kind of crossover act as comfortable in a rock bar as a bluegrass festival. They made their national television debut in 2012, playing the Late Show with David Letterman.

From that point on they were, well, famous. But by the end of a wild 12-year ride, the future of the group was in question, sort of. The needs of the music business and doing what they were best known for pulled them right back in.

"One of the funny things of us getting back together was the (band manager) scheduled us to get together," he says. "One of the two steps to that was us just getting in the same room together and seeing how it went."

Berry says in October 2017 they all met at banjo player Dave Carroll's vacation home near Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But they didn't start out playing music. Or at least, that wasn't the focus.
"We just did what the place was made for, hanging out," he says. "We just got together and went, 'If anybody had anything to say, now is the time.' "

The occassion was relaxing, as they found themselves refreshed, refocused and, more than anything else, glad to be in each other's company again. By the end of that gettaway, they were working on new material. Another thing that happened during that time was the Las Vegas shooting at a country music festival and immediately after, the accidental death due to a drug overdose of Tom Petty. This put everything in a new light, the fragility of life apparent to everyone in the group, as well as the need to get back to what was most important to them.

"During that time, the news of Tom Petty's death, which I heard about on the radio while I was driving (to the retreat)," he says. "It did seem like a couple of crappy days for the music world, but it was something was something we all experienced together."

The next step, another retreat, this one creative: getting into a studio, in this case Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, where they recorded "Life Is Good on the Road" in five days. The experience was idyllic and hassle free. They would record during the day, and then walk 200 or so feet to the studio's living spaces to have what Berry called "listening parties."

"We were focused and relaxed," Berry says. "We fouind the feeling never went away. That's what I remember about it now, the sense of it being just pleasant, focused. It just felt normal. It just felt right."

The Mimicking Birds are poised for more success with more new music and a lot of talk about science

By Douglas McDaniel

The Mimicking Birds are well named, since the Portland, Oregon based band's music has a lush natural sound whose vocalist Nate Lacy has a free flowing melodic sensibility floating above a thicket of understated tinkling guitars, thorny, textured layers of it, and pattering drums. He sings like a bird, or maybe a wayward choirboy, his vocals taking surprising turns in the air, finding the light in the dense murk of sounds.

Brought along in the music world by Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, the indie rock of the Mimicking Birds got the big lift when they recorded tracks at his house in Portland, where both bands are based, and then signed onto Glacial Pace Recordings.

"I’d gotten connected with Isaac Brock through Glacial Pace Recordings after a friend of mine sent them an email with a link to my songs -- unbeknownst to me,." Lacy says.  "Then one day I’d received a message from Glacial Pace -- a couple months later Isaac called me late one morning and discussed the possibility of recording some tracks at his house in Portland. I was going to community college in Eugene at the time.  A few months later I was at Isaac’s house recording songs in his attic with him and (Modest Mouse engineer) Clay Jones.

"Isaac is a huge influence lyrically and  instrumentally, " Lacy wrote by e-mail while on the road for the current tour, "particularly his project Ugly Casanova really excited me to start creating songs and recording them." Asked for a list of his favorite bands, he lists "Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Elliot Smith, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, Radiohead, Beck, Moody Blues, Bruce Cockburn, Crash Test Dummies, The Jingle Cats, and the majority of '90s alternative mega hits." There is something of a writer in Lacy as well, as he also listed such literary and scientific influences as Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Charles Darwin, Einstein, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. 
"I love me some Dr. Seuss," he states, placing the first year of the band as "2008ish."

Soemthing of a rarity for many bands, Mimicking Birds make a special feature of their lyrics on the band page. As Lacy says, "I have always been into the words." And he's not kidding, with many songs going on into lengthy meditations on climate change, tsunamis and inner space. Is this connection to nature intentional or accidental?  You could probably pass a physics test by simply memorizing the vocabulary of Lacy's lyrical palette.

"Seems like the big question ...," he writes. "Is nature itself accidental or intentional?  I’d say both.  Have been obsessed with it since I can remember.  I still get just as excited by finding an insect, or by a powerful weather event as I did when I was a child.  This seems to be instinctively inherent in children and I definitely don’t feel like an adult yet (maybe old sometimes but not a grown up).  Which I’m certainly not alone on that front, but it does seem to fade as people grow older.  I think it’s important for our evolution’s potential to maintain that connection."

Where the album "Eons" launched the band with rave reviews due to the eerily atmospheric quality of the song with Lacy's airy vocals, the percolating drums and the ringy wash of guitar sounds, the new album is a departure in the sense it uses more synth-drumming and more keyboard sounds.

"I’ve always liked the sound of subtle synth blending into the acoustic recordings," he states. "I think it grew more with `Eons,` and recording with producer/engineer Jeremy Sherrer who brought a lot of that to the table. Especially percussion-wise.  Adam Trachsel (bassist in the band) is a synth freak as well.  I like the dark analog stuff like you’d here in '80s or early '90s action movies like 'The Terminator' films (Brad Fiedel)."
The new album, "Layers of Us," includes on track perhaps intended as a show-stopper, especially with the extended breakout instrumentals at the end, "Great Waves."

As Lacy writes, "There’s been a bunch of sensationalization the last few years on the West Coast about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a big quake and impending tsunami being long overdue. I surf often on the northern Oregon coast and would inevitably think about that while in the water or even just being at the beach. This probably heightened after the Japan quake/wave. I was trying to paint that ominous picture. Hard to comprehend the scale of such a thing."
He got his interest in the physical universe from his father.

 "I think it’s a good tool for conjuring up imagery and I’m infinitely fascinated with the patterns and precise geometry of such chaos," he says. "I think it can lend insight into perception of time and scale as well, and establish a mood/backdrop for the other details."

Originally published by Flagstaff Live

Friday, April 13, 2018

Flagstaff's historic downtown district hosts a happening music scene

If anybody was watching me, they must have wondered what I was doing. There I was, tearing posters for local band shows off of one of the many areas in Flagstaff where the posting of band flyers is permitted. In the post-internet age this is a lost art. Hodgepodge notices with found art images, all kind of retro looking, with amazing amounts of creativity involved, wild in typefaces of all kinds, including kidnapper style, cut from magazines and newspapers, as if the articles were art forms in themselves. They are all over the place. Sometimes in sedentary layers at a kiosk. Tons of ten by 15 inch notices, usually for shows with not one but three bands listed with names you have never heard of, and probably never will again.

But I started collecting them. I'd go around, ripping them off. Not because I'd been recruited by the leader of the No-Fun Patrol, but because they were beautiful signs of life. What kind of life? Of an emergent music phenomena otherwise described as a "scene." One features some kind of Wright Brothers era flying machine for a show at the Hotel Monte Vista for Rose's Pawn Shop and Gravity Well, while another has a cartoon image of the Route 66 frontage of the Fire Creek Coffee Company as a promo for four bands, Sol Drop, Tiny Bird, Good Ol Joel, and a sister act from Phoenix, Fairy Bones. Still another has a picture of a nice lady in black and white from the Ozzie and Harriet era with pearls on, inviting you to see Four Cornered Room, ABC Sports and Nice Trip! The point here is that out of just three sheets of paper worthy of an exhibition at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts, nine bands have been named. Nine! Eight of them Flagstaffian.

And on any given day of the week at these old-tech portals for your attention, on the bulletin boards off coffee houses and in shop and restaurant windows all over town, dozens of these primitivesquely decorated sheets are signs of the emergence of three or four times as many bands. Which means, by the laws of power trio or drum, bass, guitar and lead singer multiplication, there could be 100 musicians in town, probably a lot more, who have somehow managed to pick up a musical instrument and became suitably proficient on stage and play for at least a little money.

Who are these people? How does this happen? And what, exactly does it mean?

Cultural anthropology such as this reminds one of another time and place. In era now regarded as "legendary." In this case, Tempe, Arizona during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Before Mill Avenue was Hooterized into a collection of slick establishments, turning the area into what Bruce Cockburn once sang of as "Fascist Architecture," such haunts as Long Wong's, Chuy's, the Sail Inn, and, off the beaten path, the grungy Sun Club ... these places were all supportive of a vibrant music scene. What was necessary for the growth of a period that served as incubators for such bands as Dead Hot Workshop, the Meat Puppets, the Refreshments and the Gin Blossoms was two things. One, mom and pop clubs that prioritized and believed in creating a local music scene, and, two, vast numbers of college students spilling out of the dorms from the east onto the main drag of Mill.

Also, places were far more permissive of band flyers. But Tempe now has been Urban Outfitted to death over the decades. And what was once a haven for guitar-toting bands is now a glittering hub of pulsating lights for the electronic dance music crowd. 

Many of the musicians from that alternative era heyday now appear as their grizzled selves in dowtown Scottsdale, at such places as the Old Town Tavern, and the Rock Bar. But they are not really places for college kids. The Old Town Scottsdale haunts are really for people who are too old for rock'n'roll (but they don't know it yet), too young to die.

There is still a lot of music to be heard in Phoenix, but it's scattered round town. There is no centralized "scene."

But in dowtown Flagstaff, the music soup is ready. There are at least a half-dozen places where local bands can play and be loud. The growth of the student population at Northern Arizona University has reached a critical mass to the point there is an audience ready and willing to drift into the Victorian mining era architecture zone of historic downtown Flagstaff to hear live music. It says a lot when one of the biggest retailers downtown is a music store, as well as the fact there are custom guitar shops nearby.

Music is a priorty in a place where pedestrianization puts the pedal to the post-punk metal. You know you have a great music scene when each First Friday you can stroll down the street and peer into the windows of the building fronts and pick and choose from a variety of music styles. So the soup is ready. Get it while it's hot.

What will kill this kind of cultural percolation? The inevitable invasion of corporate chain stores, bars and restaurants, something the real politic of Flagstaff has been able to, for the most part, avoid in the downtown sector. And watch out for the No Fun Patrol. Those folks who fail to see the beauty of graffiti, or, don't provide ample spaces for those crazy quilt spots for the placement of those flyers for the band shows. That will be apparent when there isn't some friendly business owner available on site to say, sure, you can put that sign in my window, with the Scotch tape ready to roll.

This column originally appeared in Flagstaff Live.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Casper and the Mighty 602 Band: A pioneer for raising reggae on the reservation

Considering the odds, how Hopi reservation born Casper Lomayesva became a professional musician is a pretty unlikely story. Here is how it starts, or, let's just say here are the big three: first, as a young boy in Kykotsmovi he can remember his grandfather singing all of the time in the cornfields and encouraging him to sing along; second, the invasion of the Bob Marley generation of Jamaican musicians, from an island to the high desert; and third, he moved to the city.

This leads to a fourth thing. After moving to Mesa he connected to a enormous number of musicians, who then formed Casper and the Mighty 602 Band, a group that established itself as one of the first reggae acts of the 1990s to build an audience of fans on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. He won't put it in so many words, but the fact is now, at the age of 51, on the brink of a new venture and stage of life when he gets his engineering degree from Arizona State University this year, he can look back and say, yeah, he was one of the leading lights to bring reggae to the reservation, and then Flagstaff, in all of Northern Arizona.

"I had left because there is more opportunity in the city," Lomayesva says. "I came to Phoenix and all of the recording facilities were here, with lots of access to studios in the Valley. But I knew the inspiration was within me. I knew I had a calling ... Radical Mix ... the Rastafarmers, they were the guys that helped us to get our scene together."

After his 20 year-old band 602 played one of the many music festivals in the metropolitan Phoenix area this spring, including a Caribbean festival in the West Valley, and a Native American event for the Scottsdale craft arts show crowd, he says at the same time while he's been keeping his heels relatively cool on the music side of things, he's still accepting as many invitations to perform as he is turning them down, and it would be quite easy to feel like the "calling" has been answered. 

"I don't perform as much music because I am a senior at ASU," he says on the phone  from the middle of the desert surveying as part of his day gig. "But the music has always been there, and you have to go on. I am not going to spend a lot of time lingering. I am land surveying in the middle of the desert near the South Mountains a lot of the time near the Gila River Reservation, part of a $2.1 billion freeway project .... It's still 100 percent pristine. The way I look at it is I am doing something to help set the boundary beside the Gila River, which helps them out on the Gila River Reservation. Since 2012, this is part of a bigger calling. Doing something else, with a good job, a good trade. I didn't know I was going to live this long. So I needed to use it, if you know what I mean."

Now, looking back, he says, "602 was at least partially responsible for inspiring bands that did pretty well," adding his own band had been previously inspired by the wave of reggae bands who came to the Four Corners area to play in the 1990s. "It was above and beyond just being Hopi, when Bob Marley and Ziggy Marley and Dennis Brown, the crown prince of reggae, come, it's like Haile Selassie had come from Jamaica. They were coming to sing to us. It was more of an invitation."

One particularly important organization had a lot to do with bringing these artists to the community.

"Cultural Connection in the early 1990s not only inspired me, it was part of something brand new," he says. "Cultural Connection was a group of our friends from the Hopi res, and there was one guy who we called the bwana from LA, Jerry Gordon. He was the outside but it was also the glue who brought it all together. But reggae music, for all Indian native people, is Jamaican gospel. It keeps evolving but the message never changes."

Just the remoteness of where the spirit of the movement took hold, it's daunting to think about, at least in terms of distances covered. During a period when conflicts in all manner of life with the Peabody Coal Mine issues, when social activism and reggae fused to the very heartbeat of the Hopi and Navajo view of their own place in history, Casper and 602 played 53 shows a year, eventually doing national tours and then international engagements. Tons of fundraisers, special events, part of the social activism, in the far-flung Native American communities scattered across the Southwest. A lot of toting expensive musical equipment around. Ten years ago, he was invited by folk artist Pete Seeger to play Seeger's 90th birthday party at Madison Square Garden, sharing the stage with Dave MatthewsJohn Mellencamp, and Bruce Springsteen. He also headlined the Native Music Rocks tour at Hard Rock Cafes all around the country, and rocked such venues as the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

"It was a calling and a burden all at once," he says. "One of the most painful times I had to go through was doing 53 shows from the communities, all kinds of shows for the homeless, for protesting the Peabody Coal Mine, doing all of the booking and the promotion. That was before I had management." 

With the new security from an engineering profession, Lomayesva has also moved into new terrain musically, expecting to start booking shows for an entirely different style of music.

"Highest Conspiracy is a different band with a horn section for that newer audience," he says. "The concept has changed, but its still real life music for real life issues."

Friday, February 02, 2018

A Dangerous Business: from Terpander to Tom Petty, the hazards of falling off the rock'n'roll stage

They say it comes in threes. The death chime. That's what they say. When three celebrities die in a row, in terms of the news cycle, they say, that's an omen. So they say. But if you were in the insurance business, well then, let's just look at the law of averages. Getting the facts, using, for example, math, one realizes the omen was missing a digit. If you simply ask "starting when?" in discussing the law of threes, one actually actuaries it out to an endless string of celebrity deaths. In fact, death et large is always booming. Yet as the calculation narrows into evermore focus, you have to admit, in fact it's almost, just almost, beyond logic. When it comes to musicians, why do the good die so young?

The first "starting when" takes us back to ancient Greece, to a story of a famed lyre player by the name of Terpander, who was essentially the Mozart of his age. What made him unusual was his popularity. He had become a true super star in the emergent stadiums-made-of-stone industry, kept things hummable, simple, yet breaking out all kinds of new chord patterns and arrangements, making him also one of the great musical innovators of his time. Greek society had developed to the point where folks had time for songs, as opposed to fighting off natural disasters, the hordes, or, famine, and the performance venues were drawing crowds.

During his concerts for large numbers of drunk people in what can only be imagined as a new kind of bacchanlian fest among the masses, Terpander was, in addition to being the so-called "father of greek music," especially lyric poetry on the lyre, which he had basically Jack White-ed his four-string lyre into a seven-string ... Terpander was a public spectacle, introducing songs influenced by other lands, known far and wide for his drinking tunes. Summoned to play by the Delphic Oracle, he gained the big Grammy at a festival in Carneia, held in Sparta in honor of Apollo Carneus. However, as that old saying goes, then comes the drugs and alcohol and the trappings of fame. According to "Terpander is said to have died, around Skiades ("shady place"of the Carneia), by choking on a fig when the fruit was thrown in appreciation of one of his performances."

So now let's flash forward 2,700 years, and you are now back safely from a Marilyn Manson concert. Chances are you likely know the original date in September was delayed. After an accident last fall, when, during a show in London, a stage sculpture featuring two crossing giant pistols, collapsed on him after he had tried to climb it, sending him to the hospital, lights out, on a stretcher. Then, of course, there's the news of old Tom Petty. Just what is it that made that one so sad? It's more than him simply the kid that got to hang out with the grizzled Wilburys. There was a teenager in healthy rebellion with Petty that will always live on with his music, if not even his own fate, overdosing on pain killer fentanol after taking his space ship out one last time like a Ulysses who knew perfectly well what the price might be for heading out to the sea again at age 65 for one more victorious Heartbreakers tour, knowing fully well he could return home in just what kind of shape, exactly, who knew?

Looking at these two starting whens, we must ask: What is this tendancy for rock stars to have so many deaths, mishaps and other generally woeful endings?

A performer who goes by the name of Ray, a Sedona resident who leads a crack Jethro Tull cover band, Living With the Past, to the point of being good enough to gaining the attention of Ian Anderson, and after having many years of those kinds of contacts in the music industry, sums it up right down to pure physics: "Electricity."

"Over the last few years alone, how many musicians have died," he says. "And why are they always dying so young?" It's the stress of the "lifestyle," he says, "and always being around this electrical field while you are on stage. It screws their system up, which is one of the things of why weird things happen and how dangerous it is."

Certainly fits the early 1970s, when a rash of deaths to Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and the godfather of electrification, Jimi Hendrix, found a new generation of performers unable to contain the energies they unleashed, the spirit of lifting off the stage for some higher purpose, driving wild engines with ancient drums into the space age with supercharged guitars and the never-ending need to feed off heavy fuels to answer the bell, to get the Mojo runnin'.

Life on the road can be loaded with mishaps due to mere chaos theory. Bad food. Strange stages, steps, lighting situations, lack of sleep, complete lack of orientation in a city you can only make a bad guess at the name.

As Brandon Decker says, "I did have a rollover accident on tour once. Band member ejected from vehicle, broke a bone in her neck, airlifted etc. In terms of on stage never anything too crazy other than the occassional electric shock."

Mama told you not to go to the bars with guns in tow for a reason. The underworld of the rock'n'roller also makes it a dangerous business. Says another Flagstaff musician, Donivan Berube, "I've never been injured or experienced a stage collapse, but have been robbed twice on the road. Once was in Washington, D.C., when someone broke into our tour van while we were inside the venue playing the show. You can always count on losing your voice and getting sick on the road as well, traveling all day, every day, meeting new people, sleeping in strange places and exhausting your body. Once I stayed with a friend-of-a-friend who ended up being a drug dealer, and asked me to sell ecstasy at my own show. In the morning I snuck my gear down the fire escape so as to avoid talking to him."

However, these are acts of wisdom. Good suvival skills.

"Besides the regular old rickety stages and sketchy electrical systems," says Andrew Baker of Summit Dub Squad and Tha 'Yoties, "We love playing outdoor shows, festivals, etc., and more times than I can remember, as soon as we bust out the Native American flute, the clouds gather ... We've played many a set amongst monsoon rains ... technically terribly hazardous, but spiritually uplifting and rejuvenating, especially when the crowd keeps dancing in the rain!

"Also, playing anything but country music at country bars could prove dangerous, but we have been able to blast 'em with the SDS funky dub hop and Tha 'Yoties Irie-Zona Reggae Rock without incident so far!"

The sheer violence of rock, explains a lot. Not just rock, though, but revolutionary music. Since Beethoven caused riots with his early symphonies, amped up, as they were, in those orchestral days.

"Tull sold out a show at Red Rocks and people were trying to to get in and got into a riot at the gates," Ray says. "It got to the point police had to tear gas a crowd. He was singing during a show in New York when some idiot threw a rose at Ian right in the eye and ripped it open. He had to immediately go to the hospital and they had to do minor surgery." 

Here's another Ian Anderson story related by Ray, who met him in Denver at a hotel while Jethro Tull was on tour: "We are in a room and he says,'Ray, do you see how I'm standing here? With my back to the wall. I've been told by security people to do that. So you always know what's around you, and no one can come back from behind you.' "

Musicians who lead insanely clean lives, under the circumstances, are most assuredly among those who endure, including Tull's Anderson. Ray says the classic rock icon, as well as someone like Frank Zappa (who nonetheless died of cancer), "were two of the craziest musicians in the world but they were straight as an arrow."

There you have it, a 50-50 split. Guess the good insurance agent would put it all down to how Roger Daltrey started singing in the Who's "Quadrophenia": "Do you see the real me, Doctor?"

This article appeared previously in Flagstaff Live.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Blighty of the Grand Canyon: Has Disneylandification Peaked in Northern Arizona?

When Walt Disney first walked the rocks of Sedona, although says the origins of Mickey Mouse are "unclear," the inspiration for that iconic figure for the biggest media empire in the 21st century is, in fact, quite clear. It's a cactus, plain and simple. Explains the big ears. And in the time since he launched his animated film juggernaut, an entire chain of events has been unleashed, perhaps described as the dance of a sidewinder snake in and out of the dreamscape of the American imagination.

It is no small thing to look at a cactus and envision a mouse. It's positively anthropomorphic. Heat stroke will do that. Altitude, too, if you are not careful. The Diz was an ambulance driver in Europe by Armistice Day during World War I, and there are legends of morphine use. He was a drinker and a heavy smoker. But that could hardly explain what he did in the making of Disneyland, thinking of it as a kind of futuristic embodiment of what is now a global meme for the implied perfect experience of getting away from it all. By absorbing the entire American experience and bringing it right back home to you. On a zillion or so acres of electro-kinetic fun with moving parts, plus plenty of room for parking. You get the trains moving through Victorian age architecture, old gold and silver mining cars gone wild, the log flumes, the daring exploits of gravitational overload, ducks and dogs that talk, bears that jamboree, dinosaurs that blink, the biz!

Can we just set aside the overculture of Disney now as a symbol of American imperialism? Let's just let the French think that for the time being.

Few things, however, can be more dizzying than simply standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Which is more to the point: Disneynification was at first, to the very naval core of the idea, northern Arizona-ified. The theme park that truly exists is natural. The Disney crossover from dream into reality essentially morphed the experiential history of the Western United States onto the vast acres of Anaheim, California. But in recent years the mind set of the Diz is bouncing out
 into the boonies again.

One can only guess what hallucinogens were in play to even consider putting an escalator from some isolated high desert plateau down thousands of feet to an even now cold and ravaging river. It was a remarkable idea, to say the least. But the public debate got it right, for once. It was a very Disney thing to imagine. No small thing, most assuredly. Considering they had the funds and backers to build it: Wow, do people have money to burn. And it was a very practical thing to dismiss 
by resounding no vote.

But before Walt Disney wrought all of that which the tide is now turning on, there were already things like the Verde Canyon Railroad. By the time Disney was a teen that world was well beyond mere imagining and almost passe as the 20th century became the century of the automobile. Snaking back into the Verde Canyon, there is only one railroad there for a reason. Lowell Observatory, on the other hand, was most certainly the seed of Disney's futurism, at least in the broad swathe of his times. The tram up the slopes of Snow Bowl are yet again an example. The rush of rafting through the canyons, another.

There comes a point the number of amenities available on these delicate landscapes, fragile ecosystems, such as they are, to human intrusion, are now sufficient. No more are needed. Hard enough, in fact, to keep the ones available up and running (see ski industry). 

Nothing less than great fabled Flinstoneland of "Bedrock City," which has been out there where the streets have no name to the left of the San Francisco Peaks since 1972, stands as a monument and testament to the American idea of building it and they will come. Just 30 miles from the Grand Canyon's South Rim, the 6-acre tourist attraction, including concrete houses suitable for Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series from the 1960s, a giant brontosaurus slide and statues of the shows characters. The owner Linda Speckles put the place up for sale at $2 million, but so far no takers. With the owners intent on preserving the roadside attraction, still doing brisk business as of last weekend, remain a hold out for the right buyer.

The fact is, northern Arizona is pretty Disneylanded out.

President Theodore Roosevelt, on the importance of the national park for preservation, stated in using executive power to preserve it, "I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, or hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. you cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."

Obviously, that advice wasn't followed. But it's time to print it again. In case the current Administration reads it. As the late Edward Abbey wrote, "Growth for it's own sake is the psychology of the cancer cell." Maybe mother nature is theme park enough, with those bells and whistles just whispers in the much bigger winds of change.

This article originally appeared in Flagstaff Live, the arts and entertainment weekly for the Arizona Daily Sun.

Friday, December 29, 2017

I am Flobot: By the time you get this message, the zombie apocalypse will be a little less real

Danger! Danger Will and Wilma Robinsons! Danger! This warning is being sent to you in order to maintain truth in advertising since the system is so unforgiving. Should you receive this message just know, fair readers, spinning on the planet known as Earth, currently moving through space at 75,000 miles per hour, Johny5 of the Flobots was there, is there, will be there, moving for all eternity. In fact, current conditions indicate the situation at hand is, in some small, perhaps even large part, his fault.

The year is 2008. Barrack Obama is not yet president of the nation at the time known as the United States of America ... blink. We have transported you to Denver, Colorado, where the band is based, in order to show you some reasons to be thankful during the holidays. Do not adjust your set. We have assumed control.

Denver. A half-year, perhaps, before the Democratic National Convention. Up and down Colfax Street, the longest and straightest street on American soil, all of the good people are a-hub-bub about the new Flobots album, "Fight with Tools," which offers the track, "Handlebars," currently on the classic rock playlist all of the way to Star Date 2223. The circular play device called a CD could be purchased in indoor spaces Earthlings called record stores. Words sung from that title track for the album were as follows:

"Echo, echo, one-nine
Hear the call through fault lines
Smoke signals, old rhymes
Shorted lights in store signs
Spelled in a broken code
Find that it is time to
Breathe, build, bend, and refine you
We sky tenants
Give it all but won't give up
Radio soul antennas
Radio to lift spirits
Call sign commando
M.O. is independence
Scream 'til the walls fall
Dissolve all the limits"

And then, the chorus:

"We need heroes
Build them
Don't put your fist up
Fill them
Fight with our hopes and our hearts and our hands
We're the architects of our last stand"

And dissolve they did, indeed. In the cafes and bars and restaurants along that main long row heading east or west on Denver's compromised plain at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, there were all kinds of forms, or lack thereof, of authority. In fact, "Question authority" was the biggest bumper sticker of the age. It was time to Re-Recreate '68, as one of that town's main grass roots advocacy groups called themselves. 

The album cover features artwork of the members of the band wearing red, white and blue bandanas covering their faces, very much like the revolutionaries of southern Mexico. Now, as Oscar Wilde once said, "If a man puts on a mask he will tell you the truth." And so, this Flobots album is visceral and intense in its truthiness. Definitely not the kind of music you wanna play on a date.

"There is a war going on for your mind," Johny5 sings, and that's not the kind of thing you want to say if you want a kiss. That's the kind of thing you say when you are trying to ignite a revolution. The music starts with the crackles of an old analog record player, the plaintive violin brandishing swords of anger, insurgency, and most of all, a tragic sensibility. Then the hip hop of it all is throwing words at the listener, as the form is now taking on a kind of symphonic complexity, much in the same way that Camper Van Beethoven turned the three-minute college radio ditty into a sprouting organic lotus flower 20 years before.

In the time since then, well, truth has become an adjective instead of a noun. And the tools for fighting seem to be running the show.

Just one example is the song "By the Time You Get This Message," where he sings:

"The stars I see aren't even there.
It's only light in the air."

The track has a muscular bass line as the band rips through a rumination about the passage of time when using those tools providing communication across great distances in real time. Johny5 says the song is about how the message he had just sent might be received by a woman he was seeing at the time, but was about to leave the country, and he was trying to convince her not to do so.

"That's from a moment when I was in college and there was this wonderful woman I had a brief connection with," he says. "I was at the airport during a six-hour layover and I was considering how far it was to where she was going. The first verse is imaginary, and has her actual voice on the song explaining why this isn't going to work. And then there's this delayed response, with me saying, 'I don't know when you will get this.'"

Another example of this trouble with tools, "technical difficulties" at the Flobot station made the first shot at a telephone interview.

"Technology and the internet ... we are being driven mad by them," says Johny5 from Laramie, Wyoming at 9 a.m. while on tour. "We are actually training ourselves to not be able to focus or think in depth."

To correct that imbalance, the new Flobots album, "Noenemies" is a prescription for bringing the people of dissent into clearer focus. Released earlier this year, it encourages "community singing, collective singing." Indeed, many of the new songs have an anthemic quality. Stuff to be sung together, in least in the choruses, by those within listening distance.

"'Noenemies' has the feeling of a lot of group singing, but it takes a different form whenever it appears," he says.

This style of performance brings Johny5 back to his roots as the son of a Presbyterian minister in Denver.

"The First Presbyterian Church, that was part of my upbringing," he says. "A whole lot of songs we did came from hip hop worship services. We wrote songs for church services that embraced our own art to express lamentation, a sense of vision."

It's a question of balance. He says there is a difference between the outrage of the band's musical style, and how he is the rest of the day. The Flobot is merely the mask.

"It's something you can see on stage, the urgency, but then there's daily life," he says. "We have tried to look at ourselves as a part of a social movement and there's a kind of spectrum of emotions you go through. You are expecting to change everything one day, and then it seems like at that point it's going to change, but then it doesn't change that day. We try to deal with all of those things on the new album. It's about the full spectrum of these kinds of emotions."

Because dammit Jim, he may be a Flobot, but the man is not a robot.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Money for something, kittens for free: Austin-based Free Kittens and Bread serve up DIY ethics and a bracing sound

You have to admire the utilitarian nature of Chase Sprueill of Free Kittens and Bread. This is an Austin-based post-punk band patched together for a purpose, hard as it might be to grasp. As their latest straightforward single and video "Brainless" so faithfully expresses, it's pretty hard to see meaning in a universe amidst the fog of war called "life." Are women and alcohol to blame? Well of course they are!

Sprueill is a found art guy. He collects random things. And the interesting fact about their randomness is that, if that found thing catches on, you really have to wonder just how random everything is. For example, he says he found the name of the band from a sign alongside the road: It stated "Free Kittens and Bread." He appropriated it, kept it for a few years, and then he and his mates (Mark Hawley, guitar; Gabe Garca, drums and backing vocals; Kaci Taylor, bass and backing vocals) thought that would be a good name for the band. So as the years roll on, you might go, 'Wow, that sounds so like Free Kittens and Bread,' when the fact is the moniker had absolutely nothing to do with anything.

"You know how it goes: One person's trash is another person's treasure," Sprueill says. "I've done my fair share of dumpster diving ... About eight or nine years ago I was in a really shitty punk band. Mark and I were driving around in my hometown (Denton, Texas), and I saw this sign, 'Free Kittens and Bread.' They had kittens all around and loads of free bread on a table. I stole one of the signs and I still have it."

The song "Brainless" doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel. It's loud and penetrating once the guitars and voices kick in. It's about a drinking binge, very college radio. But it's undeniably catchy, true to form, especially if you want to blow out your eardrums and lose all sense of what's going on around you.

What's going on around Sprueill these days is Austin, a music capitol of the world. A place so ubiquitous with musicians and all the rest, one might think Stevie Ray Vaughan was merely describing overpopulation with the song, "Texas Flood."

As Sprueill puts it: "There's a saying here that goes something like: 'If you toss a nickel, you're bound to hit a great musician.' Something like that. Another good example: I've been on roughly nine or ten tours so far, and every single time I'm on the road, I always meet someone who asks me about a band that they know from Austin. I've been around here for a bit, and I know a lot of bands here, but every single time, I have never heard of the band that they know. The kicker is that the band is always a popular band that seems to be doing well (when I look them up later). That happens on the road a lot. Also, with food in Austin  ... The music thing has gone on here pretty much the way I imagined it would. I would go to all of the open mics, go to the shows and there would be maybe 34 people in the audience. I would go, 'Okay, that's the level of talent I'm up against. I will work toward that.'"

If you see a tall person, don't ever ask them if they played basketball. But, if you must, ask Sprueill, of German and Irish descent, so he's got that razor wit and engineer's capacity for getting the broken spaceship back into working order. He's six-foot-seven and was a large point-guard in high school in Denton, eventually getting a scholarship at Southern Arkansas University, where he studied film and "didn't really take music all that seriously."

His music endeavors began in a "half-built" shack in his father's back yard. Sprueill became interested in the DIY music movement, studied the subject all that he could, and bought a guitar, amp and microphone, hooking it all up into his laptop. He started recording using

The new Free Kittens and Bread album, "American Miserablist (," was shaped by a breakup, as well as a kind of sadness about the world situation at large. "It was a little bit of two things: Working my way out of a relationship; I was drinking a ton and was trying to figure out how to deal with it."
If it's all so miserable, why even pursue it? Where and when does it all make perfect sense?
"Pursuing a career as a band doesn't really make sense at all, if you want to live comfortably, anyway," he says."But I would say touring. Touring tests you as a person and as a band. It makes sense to honestly challenge yourself in whatever you choose to pursue in life. It's the only way to find out if you truly want to pursue it."

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Impact Church musical all-stars: If they aren't the best unheard of band in Arizona, you are unforgiven

Maybe 100 yards from the Impact Church complex, you can hear the music. It's in the wind. But then another jet goes by, zoom! When that din dies again the audio broadcasted through speakers placed outside get more and more audible as you get closer. It sounds like more than one track is being played at once. Then you go by greeters, people handing out the flyer for the day, and then, after maybe coffee of many kinds from a machine, more donuts available than recommended safe by the FDA, you enter the main auditorium and are led to a seat, like you have just arrived just a tad late for the opera.

Sure, the vanilla cappucino is gone. Tapped. Kaput. So are the men who were all quite here the weekend before. But the Arizona Cardinals are playing on the road right now. That means the crowd this weekend, mainly female, is hardcore present. Which is good for that messianic, not-part-of-this-world vibe. There's fruit too to pick from this tree. Apples, bananas ... as well as Scottsdale Police officers in full body gear, hanging out ... but the main thing at the beginning of this last set of four shows is the 10-piece band, drums. two keyboards, bass, three guitars and three background singers. Then pastor Travis Hearn moves in for the kill with some vry basic, tree-stump humorist-slash-preacher rael sang for the common man.

But the band is tearing it up right now. It barely matters what the lyrics are since all rock'n'soul comes from gospel and the blues, anyway, all going back to Africa. But the visuals, oh, it's all so overwhelming. Two large video screens on either side of the stage, blasting the message of this medium: That God rocks. Jesus loves the Beatles. You rock for being here. Please broadcast that to the rest of the world, via social media. The images and messages keep coming as the lyrics sung go by on the screen, then more prompts "Instagram your #Impact Church" or "Culture Shock," or watch this at "" And then, there's the red star, as opposed to a cross with Jesus on it, to focus the mind's eye on. Yeah, Impact Church is well named. This is some kind of new set of sensory overload commandments. Enter, and try to resist its power and glory.

"It's all very missional," says band leader Jordan Coleman. "We are aimed at people who are unchurched, or people who were burned by the church. We are trying to help people who haven't been there for a while."

Kept very simple, it is. People only have some much time, so much bandwidth left, by Sunday each week in America. It's just good communications theory. Story old as ... let's face it, the Christians took over the Mediterranean region due to one important fact, superior marketing and the kind of motivational ethos causing one to go out and conquer the world, burn down libraries, fight lions, vanquish evil doers, with swords or words, even go out and live on some desert island, making a prisoner of thou-out-of-this-world self, eating only locusts, hummock bread, and pouring water on oneself to keep cool and refreshed so you can scribe historically inspired texts now treated as prophecy since it's all so poetic and timeless ... Jeesh, maybe just the explanation of what inspired the star logo on the stage and in the media material will suffice, from Phillipians 2:15: " that you may become blameless and pure, 'children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.'Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky."

This is heady stuff for any generation, but for one raised on everything from Hal Lindsey's doomsday prophecies to the millenials hatched by "American Idol," you put the good news in front of someone with music played by puritan angels -- for example, Coleman has never had a sip of alcohol in his life ("I have never tasted alcohol. At communion we only did grape juice") -- and what you've go is an army of all kinds of people in the Valley with bumper stickers that say "Impact Church" in white lettering and black backgrounds.

"We are not trying to have church," Coleman says. "We are trying to be the Church."

At the age of 31, Coleman was born in Page, up in the stark expanse of broad waters, sand-carved stone and incredible cultural isolation, the son of an Assemblies of God pastor. "We were raised Pentecostal, but I was only there as a baby," he says. "We kept moving every two years, spent seven years in Ohio, a couple of years in Tennessee, then we moved to Austin, Texas." And so, his path followed the soul train of the heartland sound, and therefore, in terms of being a musician, he says, "I never really had any choice."

So when the lights go down at noon in the stagey cathedral, the musicians come out first. Coleman wears a blue shirt, baggy plack pants, white sheakers with black straps. These are clothes for aerobics. And rock stars. After a straightforward Christian rock song, most likely an original from some member of the band built on collaboration, they play a truncated version of the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life," and it works. He sings in a high tenor and his comment on what can best be described as a Van Morrison-like channeling leaves one to be amazed at how self-critical artists can be: "I joke that I have the voice of a woman," Coleman says.

Naturally, the woman singer follows next with what takes on a lioness power reminding one of Florence and the Machine. Especially when she raises her hand in the air, a real Bonoism, and that hopping on her feet as if she could get airborne right along with the Lear Jets unheard outside. That is his wife, Manuela Coleman, up there, and anyone can see how married they are, emotionally and musically. One happy couple, yes they are. And the band, with four shows like some Las Vegas act, is tight.

"We collaborate with the arrangement of the songs," and then he pauses when asked about his management style, "I have the final say. I try to encourage the musicians to do their own songs. They are all better at their instruments than I am. They are so gifted. And we have a rotation of (maybe 30 people). The crazy thing about Arizona is its the most musician-connected place I've ever witnessed."

~ A shorter version of this article can be found in the October 2017 edition of The Scottsdale Airpark News.

Friday, November 03, 2017

The loneliest number: New Donivan Berube single represents one man living to tell love's hellish tale, then moving on

 Blessed Feathers, a popular band in town, has fallen apart, but its passing should not be mourned. Here's why: The past is a trickster heavy with karma anyone can fix, given the right frame of mind, as well as perseverance and the will to endure. And the future? Loaded with both good and evil in ample supply. Fish in the sea, so to speak. Some are loaded with Mercury to the gills while others can really swim. And in the present moment, there is just this ... Donivan Berube.

Far as he's concerned, the worst has already happened. Several times over, in his case. As someone who has seen a lot of success locally and internationally with Blessed Feathers, and with so many musicians in Flagstaff, what would he share with folks to know if they want to do the same thing?
"Just write better songs," says Berube, the pain warrior, having already lost his family, and then, more recently, the love of his life and creative partner. "That's the best thing you can do for yourself. All else is distraction."

So, for the living in the moment thang, let us not dwell on what's her name (Jacquelyn Beaupre, who according to her Facebook account, is living in Wisconsin now).

After all, most of the compositions are sung and performed by Berube. Even those Beaupre once sang. Has he considered just having someone else perform the old partner's parts on the Blessed Feathers?

"We wrote songs independently, but collaborated in their recording and performance," he says. "So, yes. Many of the Blessed Feathers recordings feature me singing and playing all of the instruments, even on some of the songs that she wrote. I have a live band now, though (Flagstaff locals Eric Dovigi and Jasper Komassa). I play drums while singing and sampling, and they're playing the guitar parts."

Now Berube is the last man standing.

"It's just me now," he says. "In addition to writing and performing the songs, I also acted as our booking agent and touring manager, getting shows and record deals and handling all of the business aspects that come along with making records and touring on them. So in a way, nothing's changed there. I've lost a partner, but I'll still be performing several of those old songs and handling the business on my own accord."

The new single has a full album's worth of ideas behind it. Indeed, Berube took all of that torment of loss and threw it up there on the screen, all of the way to the drop-dead, I'm-still-alive video of "Love is a Dog From Hell/Who Do I Turn To?" First of all, his sound is updated candy chrome, with the guitar sounding like sonar bells and ambient arrangements scuffing it all up. He sings with a world-weary plea. It's catchy, with his voice launching into the song from different directions as the instrumentals are harshed-out, but of light, as opposed to gloom, like it's coming from some crystal cave beneath the sea.

"I really don't know who is looking out for me," he sings, in ache. And then the song ends with him coming to the conclusion, in that classic Bob Dylan sense of things, telling the lonely one, "Trust yourself." In the video the music ends and he sits on his musician's stool for a while, staring at the screen, and you know it's no act. You can see the car lights going by through the window in the background. Wide is the world, and cold. This is a forlorn look for one person, and one person only. 

This is as authentic as authentic gets, in any art form. The muse, be it for a man or for a woman, is the same. Old as Robert Johnson singing blues about "Love in Vain" or just about anything put out by Ryan Adams, with the words "love" and "pain" a cry out to the lost lover or the entire universe. It's all so interchangeable.

On his feed, the Blessed Feathers tracks are still there. They are Berube tracks now. Part of a pretty darn impressive catalog. Why not, he put so much into the "brand." But Berube sees a need to clear the deck, so to speak, from his former musical landscape.

"I spent five years building that up, yes, so it's discouraging for it to have ended," he says. "But most people thought Blessed Feathers was a Christian thing, so the name unfortunately turned people away who assumed some sort of religious context. We also literally pulled that name out of a hat, so it felt kind of meaningless. How can you stand behind something if it doesn't mean anything to you? Moving forward under my own name means that no one can take it from me. Except myself."

What has yet to be mentioned is his background, an adventure both romantic and, in hindsight, a melancholy paradise lost. It's so well written in the standard press release form offered on his web pages, there's no reason to change it: "A month after turning 17, Donivan Berube left home and disassociated himself from the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses, thus saying goodbye to his entire family and all of his friends, forever. Then he met his dream girl, Jacquelyn Beaupré, and together they took off to travel the continent and live out of a tent. In the time since, he’s worked as an English teacher in Peru, a librarian in Big Sur, California, and ridden his single-speed bicycle across the country, aside from touring the continent while releasing records on small labels."

Next thing, for Berube, is to figure out the rest of what-the-hell.

"I'm not necessarily too stoked about this city," he says. "Not only did my love partner split, but I'm twice removed from anyone I used to know."

He says half of the first full album is recorded, but he's letting the single fly to test the waters.
"I just started putting singles out on the Internet," he says, "Like the Beatles would do. Then I'll put the album together and it will all occur organically."

The bottom line, for this meditation of loss and rediscovery of his own artistic prowess, is Berube has found what it takes many of the masters of rock a lifetime to learn regarding what makes a song work for the listener.

"You either have it and it's good, or you have it but you lost it and it's bad," he says."I left my life behind to be with her. Now that she's gone, there's nothing I can go back to."

But before we go any further telling sad stories about poor lost blind Donivan, the reader should know he has a new girlfriend, all the right equipment and skills, a solid audience, and connections to such things as National Public Radio, as well as everything that was gained with Blessed Feathers.

"There's healing in the process," he says. "There really isn't any other way I can go about it. It still hurts, though. If I do a song about my family that doesn't exist that doesn't change the fact I still don't have one. That's all to be determined, I suppose."

This article originally appeared in Flagstaff Live

Can Scottsdale Arts CEO Wuestemann make the Center for the Arts hip again?

By Douglas McDaniel After his first six months as the CEO for Scottsdale Arts,  Gerd Wuestemann is revealing plans to initiate improvement...