The West End At The Uncorked Wine Festival

Friends and colleagues may know I am in a band called The West End.

Over the summer, we were fortunate enough to play an awesome gig at the City of Rockville’s annual “Uncorked Wine Festival.” When we play City gigs, they always provide pro sound (usually through the very awesome RCI Sound). Since we knew there’s be a good sound engineer, we brought along a recorder to grab the performance.

We recorded through two mics set up at the back of the audience. The results were pretty good, I think, and they give a good document of our performance. (The only thing is the keys are not as loud as they usually sound in the mix, and the guitar is a bit louder than usual.)

These are all originals (Brad Rourke or Mike Shawn) except where indicated. Just click on the links to listen:

Summertime Summertime (Gershwin)

Sorry Somehow Sorry Somehow (Grant Hart)

Free To Choose Free To Choose (Rourke)

Persephone Persephone (Shawn)

Halah Halah (Mazzy Star)

Give You My Loving Give You My Lovin’ (Mazzy Star)

One Last Time One Last Time (Rourke)

Hard To Sleep Hard To Sleep (Rourke)

By The Mark By The Mark (Gillian Welch)

Mary, Don’t You Weep Mary, Don’t You Weep (Trad.)

Angel From Montgomery Angel From Montgomery (John Prine)

Snitch Snitch (Rourke)

Long Black Veil Long Black Veil (Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin)

Wishing Well Wishing Well (Rourke)

Anatomy Of A Rock Show

Many of my colleagues and readers know that I am in a local rock band called The West End. We’re not going to be rich anytime soon, but people say we’re not too shabby. We’ve got a fair sized local fan base and we play out regularly. We’ve recorded and released two CD’s (the latest is here or use this iTunes link).

We had a show last Friday and I thought that some of my readers might be interested in how it went. I give a full recap at my blog about being in a band called amusingly enough In The Band.

Here’s a brief excerpt (full piece here):

Photo by Cindy Cotte Griffiths
Photo by Cindy Cotte Griffiths

WOW, I was tired on the morning after our last show! It seemed like we really poured out more energy than usual, and as usual we played three sets starting late so by the end there we were all pretty wiped. . . . All in all, it was very cool. We had a large crowd, and they mostly stuck around for the whole evening. In those later songs, it is always way more fun when there is a crowd than when there are just a few barflys hanging around. So I really enjoyed that.

We changed the set list on the fly this time around, which we rarely do, and I thought it might be interesting to know how that went and what our thinking was.

There’s lots more at the original article, including our thinking about our three set lists and how they changed. A number of my friends and colleagues have expressed interest in the band, so I thought I would provide this pointer to it for those who are curious.

A Lesson In Collaboration

"Molly," my Carvin CT3M in all mahogany
"Molly," my Carvin CT3M in all mahogany

I recently spent an evening with two friends, working on a soundtrack for a DVD. My friend Ed Corr’s company, OPX, is creating a video presentation about what the office of the future might look like, if you ask the twenty-somethings who are going to have to work in them and design them. To its great credit, OPX did not want to just slap some royalty-free ambient noises on the presentation, nor were they comfortable pirating commercial music. So Ed asked me and Mike Shawn to help out. (Mike and I are band mates in The West End; Ed is a member of the band City Farm.)

I did not realize it at the time, but I would gain a number of insights into collaboration from that evening. A couple of days after our session, Ed dropped off a thank you card. On it was a Xeroxed passage from a book (which turned out to be Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo):

When your collaborator has a strong vision of where to go and you do not, follow the vision.

When you have a strong vision of where to go and your collaborators do not, invite them along and help them see it.

If no one in the project has a strong vision of where to go, develop a common vision before you start working, or at a minimum find one before you finish. A project with no vision yields mediocre results at best, and usually wastes everyone’s time.

Terrific advice to keep in mind the next time your organization collaborates with another. There’s got to be a vision that controls things. It does not have to be a consensus (one party may dominate). But all must submit to it.

Here is a sample of what we (performing as “West Farm”) recorded:

[wpaudio url=”″ text=”West Farm – ‘Cubicle'”]


(Personnel: Ed Corr, acoustic guitar; Brad Rourke, electric guitar; Mike Shawn, keyboards; engineered by Brad Rourke)

So Dreadfull A Judgment

Last weekend my band, The West End, played a show and in the midst of it I had just the best feeling. I looked out at the audience and saw that everyone was paying attention, listening to the music. They weren’t distracted by the ball game behind the bar, weren’t playing Liar’s Poker, weren’t embroiled in some animated conversation. They were just listening.

As a performer of original music, I can tell you there is no better feeling.

What’s more, the song we were playing is one of our more . . . unconventional . . . songs. It’s got this beat that’s sort of a cross between a shuffle and a carnival calliope.

The topic is even more unconventional. It’s based on the account of Mary Rowlandson, who was taken captive by Indians during the bloodiest war in North America — King Phillip’s War in the late 17th century. Her tract, titled  “The Narrative of the Captivity and the Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson” and collected in the scholarly work So Dreadfull A Judgment, became the archetype of a new form of American writing called the captivity narrative.

At the Rockville Wine and Music Festival
At the Rockville Wine and Music Festival

Ever since I discovered them, I have been fascinated by captivity narratives. Puritans saw events in the world as signs of God’s pleasure or displeasure with their amount of piety, and the captivity narratives always have a heavy philosophical underpinning of judgment and retribution. (The scholarly book’s title is taken from a sermon at the time that referred to the War itself as a “dreadfull” judgment.)

So one day I thought I would write a song about this one, taking events, words and phrases from Rowlandson’s own work. And this is the song where I noticed that people seemed to be paying attention. Were they really? I don’t know for sure, but it felt like they were!

I thought, therefore, you might be interested in seeing the lyrics to my captivity narrative song (if you want to hear it, you can listen on my band’s Facebook page).

So Dreadfull A Judgment, by Brad Rourke
Was the tenth of February 1675
King Philip's men they came and they left few of us alive
At length they fell descending on us like a devil's claw
It was the dolefullest day my eyes ever saw

Captured, I was taken left for dead
So dreadful a judgment on our heads
Go or stay they finally made me choose
Now I've returned to spread the news

Eight days come and gone and my baby passed away
That little lamb left me but she didn’t go away
I laid all night beside my darling precious little one
The next day saw my Mary who’d been traded for a gun

Captured, I was taken left for dead
So dreadful a judgment on our heads
They herded me from camp to camp for days
Sold and sold again and sold away

Providence reversed and at last they sent me home
After full a year among the savages alone
But to this day, I recall a woman with some meat
A piece of bear, a boiling pot, good enough to eat

Captured, I was taken left for dead
So dreadful a judgment on our heads
Our punishment is waiting in the hills
He’ll hurl them at our arrogance and will

Note: The photo is from an outdoor festival we played some time ago. I don’t have any photos from this weekend yet. If you are reading this and happened to be there, and happened to snap a photo or two, let me know!

Internet Radio, The Next Plastics

According to MinOnline, a little noticed phenomenon began to coalesce last year. While everyone was watching social networking and video sites soaring in popularity — Internet Audio was quietly taking off too.

It may be one of the Big Things of 2009 — indeed, it may already be. Says Arbitron: 33 million Americans listen to Internet radio each week. Among at-work listeners, Internet use went from 12% to 20%. And among college graduates, 30% of all radio listening is over the pipes.
It makes sense. Sites like Pandora and allow listeners to tailor their experience and — more important — share favorites and playlists with ease. As people in general demand more and more customization from their organizational and institutional relationships, it boggles my mind that anyone still puts up with broadcast at all.
From the article:

Why is the rise and success of Internet radio important to publishers? On several grounds. First, this is what your prize in-office users are doing with much of their day. Finding ways to weave into one of the things they most enjoy about broadband should be a no-brainer for any veteran Web content provider. If you think they like social networks and video, then wait until you see how much users love their Pandora. The average session time is three hours. Also, Web radio is an enormously robust channel for audio programming, including podcasts. Services like, for instance, let users find and save popular podcasts into their libraries for later playback as a channel.

More to the point, however, streaming audio represents a massively popular mode of online behavior that invites a range of publisher partnerships: branded audio channels or “editor’s choice” channels, for instance. Why shouldn’t an online site offer an audio feed of its editor’s Web radio channel or channels created by that issue’s featured celebrities? What would an Utne radio channel sound like, or a BHG or High Times channel, for that matter? Lifestyle, art, regional and certainly music publications all aggregate taste groups that likely share musical or even talk radio preferences. Web radio listeners already swap their music channels in much the same way the rest of us trade and share article links in social media. Audio is the next content type users will want to coalesce around and share. This is a Web trend in the making that Web publishers should not take lightly.

As I tweeted a few days ago, the rise of Internet radio seems to me to spell game over for satellite. SiriusXM recently got a reprieve from having their stock delisted from NASDAQ, but how do they stay afloat over the long term?

The Power Of Music

My friend Caryn Martinez has this interesting story about subliminal advertising. Seems that when hearing French music, more shoppers purchased French wine. During German oompah music, it’s all Piesporters and Rieslings.

The kicker: in post-purchase surveys, only a handful ever mentioned the music when saying why they bought what they did.

Such is the secret power of music.

An Interview With Prince

I ran across a very interesting piece the other day. It’s LA Times pop critic Ann Powers’ blog post about her five-hour personal interview with none other than Prince.

This piece was interesting for two reasons.

First, it was interesting on a journalistic level. The piece is a great example of how a reporter can humanize him or herself by consciously being present in the narrative. Instead of “this reporter” doublespeak, we get a great opening salvo:

Tuesday morning, I received the Golden Ticket of journalistic invitations: a summons to Prince’s mansion, high atop Mulholland Drive, to hear the new music he’ll be releasing sometime after the holidays. At 8 p.m. that evening, I drove my dirty Mazda past the fountain in his courtyard, parked by the limo in the back, and entered his manse. The man himself greeted me in a candelit study, where he was laboring over a laptop with his Web designers . . . .

Man, I want to be there.

The other reason the piece is interesting is the window it gives on Prince, one of the most interesting performers out there. The big P has plans to release three records in 2009, without the help of a record label. Yes, there will be digital downloads and whatnot, but more interesting is that there is evidently a direct deal with a retailer to carry physical product.

Prince evidently said repeatedly in the interview “the gatekeepers have to change” when it comes to the music business.

Great news from a deep thinker in the music business. I look forward to reading Powers’ full piece on January 11.