Friday night at 2 a.m
animals prowl drunken
Couples flirt with
reckless love while
fights boil and break in blows.
Police lights flash and
horns are honking
cacophonous symphonies through
street lit sky.
Passing joints and
cigarettes on concrete seats
where thoughts and speech erupt, flow and
fall on open ears.
are sacred here.
~ Ethan Collister
air hanging low
grey and blue outside
Flutter of your eyes
your body stirs
next to me.
Warm satin skin
your shape fits
like a puzzle piece.
Push the wheel
from gentle glide
to rising burn and pounding pulse
You and I
release and rise
loving one another.
Coffee boils on
Grease spits and pops like
Kisses deep and
~ Ethan Collister
an express train
You’ve been on the train
since the day you were born
trying to make sense
of the journey.
Like many others
you don’t often think
that you’re on a train
or acknowledge the fact
you’re speeding along
People try to explain
but the trouble is
no one can tell you why you are riding the train
or what is in Siberia.
They do their best, but more often than not
more than the question.
You may wonder if
the train can be tamed
or understood at all.
Stories, parables, anecdotes
people use them
try to explain
the train to Siberia.
make up stories.
Some borrow old and
ancient tales, wisdom of
past trains running.
contrast and conflict
though none can decide
how best to explain the journey.
Some people say
if you’re good and kind
Siberia is a palace
of divine splendor.
The same people say
if you’re crooked and cruel
Siberia is a pit
of fire and despair.
it’s peaceful and calm
transcending and forever lasting.
Others describe it
as heaven or
Some say Siberia
is deep in the stars.
To some it is darkness
to some it is light.
Insane, atrocious and
Millions of people
injure and rape
kill and destroy
murder each other
trying to decide
which story is true and best
Sacred texts are spun to
weave a loom
Machines are built to
grind the good
of honest men.
The harrowing truth is
no one knows what is in Siberia and
no one knows why they’re on an express train
to get there.
It’s hard being people.
On the way to Siberia
the express train will stop.
Sometimes the train stops for
a long time
sometimes the train stops for
a short time.
Sometimes it stops at a place once or twice,
People climb on
and people get off.
Some people get off and back on again
some get off
The ones who get off forever
disappear and go
your power to create
meaningful train ride.
yourself and others.
Consider all are one
and the same.
in the mirror.
What speaks to you
What speaks to you
Appease your thirsty spirit and drink
into the light
into the light
howl and wail
~ Ethan Collister
Saturday night was white with snow in downtown Calgary. An icy chill rang sharp on the breeze. With a shiver and shake to dust the snow from my coat I entered the Republik and was immediately taken by the tribal thump of hard bass beats thundering through the club.
Commanding the audience was the Halifax based electronic artist Rich Aucoin. Over dark pounding rhythms Aucoin led the crowd through hypnotic chants of life affirming messages that brought a subversive optimism to his set.
Aucoin’s stage show was completely engaging. Swarms of hands adorned with glow sticks waved through the air in solidarity and the crowd swayed with enthusiasm. A film installation flickered and flashed behind Aucoin that echoed the messages of his chants. Confetti and a giant parachute stretched over the crowd were the cherry on top of an infectious and captivating live performance.
An intermission ensued as anticipation for the night’s headliner, Toronto based hip hop artist K-Os, began to build. Touring in support of his new double album BLack on BLonde, K-Os took to the stage with a frenzy. Equal parts hip-hop and rock, his set transgressed genres and challenged traditional pop formats. Though his five piece band lacked synergy they delivered a versatile set with precision and finesse.
From the Republik I ventured back into the blizzarding streets and made my way to the National Music Center where the MTT Festival was underway. MTT’s homegrown community atmosphere was warm and refreshing. An eclectic crowd of alternative minds grooved to the hypnotic pulse and drone of psychedelia shimmering through the air.
MTT featured a wide selection of world class psychedelic bands. Highlights included sets by local Calgary favorites All Hands on Jane as well as a charged performance by the San Francisco based band LSD and the Search for God (picture right) who wove a tapestry of throbbing rock and ambient noise.
I was inspired by the openness and unassuming nature of the MTT community and it was with disappointment that I discovered this event to be a farewell finale for the festival. I don’t know why the festival is discontinuing, but with Calgary trying to fill the shoes of a cultural metropolis it is sad to see MTT slip through the cracks.
Thanks to MTT for an inspiring vision and thanks to Calgary for a great night of music!
Hundreds of musicians, talent buyers and industry personnel swarmed the halls and lobbies. Delegates buzzed about like swarms of hungry bees trying to promote themselves and get a piece of the proverbial honey jar. It seemed like every available space was piled with posters, flyers and business cards in half desperate attempts to be noticed.
The competition at a music industry conference is steep and abundant. What does it take to stand out from the crowd?
On one hand the answer is simple: Play exceptional music. If you do what you do extraordinarily well someone is bound to take notice.
On the other hand, how will anyone recognize your skills if they don’t know about them? You need to reach out so others can find you and discover your talent.
You need to market yourself.
Some musicians are intimidated by marketing or fear that it will somehow lessen their credibility. In fact, marketing is a creative art in itself and many principles that apply to an art form like songwriting can apply to marketing as well.
Think of a song that blew your socks off. What can you say about that song?
It was catchy. It was different. It was creative and it stood out.
Clever marketing utilizes the same concepts.
Traditional print media can be striking and effective but the Folk Alliance was awash with business cards, flyers and posters. The promo material that was most memorable to me went above and beyond the creative standards. It broke out of traditional mediums and engaged me on new and exciting levels.
Here are some examples: Guitar picks from the Texas Music Office and JustStrings.com, miniature bottles of hand sanitizer from the SouthWest Regional Folk Alliance, a bracelet from the band Hands of Finn, a percussive shaker from House of Songs and a ‘Bear Hug’ cookie from LilFest (see pictures). All of these cleverly branded materials engaged me differently and I remember them better as a result.
Perhaps the most inventive and memorable piece of advertising was a life size cartoon mural of the band Red Moon Road from Winnipeg. The faces of the band were cut out so fans were able to insert their own faces and pretend to be Red Moon Road. This mural was displayed in the Trade Show. It was fun, eye catching and quite the conversation piece. Awesome marketing!
We recognize good music because it is creative and exceptional. Marketing is no different.
So don’t let your creative juices stop when you put down your instrument. Treat your marketing as an art in itself.
Dare to be creative.
Do it well and do it differently!
The bustle and din of a local cafe. Conversations hum, espresso machines moan and change chimes brightly as it clinks through the mouth of a tip jar. On the stereo is “The Bad In Each Other” by Feist.
I bob my head, tap my foot and enjoy the music as I wait for my coffee. The girl serving me notices I am absorbed in the airwaves and comments on the song. She likes it too.
Having discovered our mutual interest in music a conversation unfolds. It doesn’t take long for me to ask what kind of music she enjoys listening to most.
Her reply: “Mostly indie.”
The word indie is far from unfamiliar, but still I wonder: “What does that even mean?” In today’s musical landscape it’s not always clear.
Once upon a time being an ‘indie band’ meant being independent. Independent artists are characterized by their pursuit of a career outside the structure of major labels and other mainstream industry. In this sense the term indie signifies a do it yourself business model, an anti-corporate ethic and a high value placed on creative liberty.
Historical champions of independent music include Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, The Replacements, REM, Mudhoney, Minor Threat and Fugazi among many others.
In the traditional sense of the term, independent artists are present in the music industry today more than ever before. With the growing accessibility of technology and the grassroots marketing leverage provided by social media, being an independent artist is more feasible now than it ever was. There also exists a rapidly growing number of boutique record labels that operate with an independent business ethic and promote bands that don’t fit mainstream radio formats.
But these days when a fan refers to an ‘indie band’ they are likely referring to a particular sound rather than a business ethic or value set. In fact, many indie bands have corporate music industry support. They are not necessarily independent but rather they fit a certain sound and image and can be marketed as such.
There are many inspiring artists releasing work under the current indie moniker and I’m definitely a fan of today’s indie music. Still, it’s important to remember where the term came from because these days indie means different things to different people.
Genres aside, there is tremendous value in supporting music that is produced with an ethic of independence, whether it sounds ‘indie’ or not.
The next time you hear the word indie used in conversation, remember the history, values and ethics of independent music. Use your discretion and support independent music!
Last night I had the pleasure of performing at the Ironwood Stage in Calgary alongside a few of my talented friends: Sarah Vann, Curtis Glas and Mariel Buckley. The performance was billed as Songwriters In The Round, a format involving several songwriters trading off songs together on one stage.
It was a tremendously successful evening and I was thrilled with the audience’s attentiveness and enthusiasm. What makes ‘In The Round’ performances special is the spontaneity, impromptu collaborations and interactions between different musical personalities on one stage. There was no shortage of this last night!
We also had the pleasure of some violin accompaniment provided by my good friends Aleksandra Danicic and Bill Zulak, two of Calgary’s finest fiddle wielding musicians.
After sharing original material for most of the evening we finished off the night with a collaborative cover of ‘Helpless’ by Neil Young. Having everyone singing and playing together was one of my favorite moments of a night.
Thanks to Sarah Vann, Curtis Glas and Mariel Buckley for sharing the stage with me, to Pat and everyone at the Ironwood for having us there, and thanks to all of the bright, enthusiastic and attentive members of the audience who helped make the evening a success!
With over 2800 members worldwide and an annual conference that is one of the five largest music conferences in North America, Folk Alliance plays host to an international community of record companies, publishers, presenters, agents, managers, music support services, manufacturers and artists that work in the folk world.
Attending this conference will be a huge opportunity to connect with other members of the folk community. Toronto is going to be buzzing with folk this February and I can’t wait!
A gusty highway stretches through the sparkling abyss. Long shadows stretch across the snow and a Southern wind moans against frosted windows. Smoke winds up from a chimney and a New Year’s sun hangs low over a spirit gate at Sunset House.
Last week I traveled with my girlfriend to visit Dieter, a 60 year old Austrian ex-expatriate who has been in Canada some 30 odd years. Dieter lives on a 7 acre spot of land about 10 minutes outside of Sunset House, a town comprised of little more than a school and a post office. Sunset House is a 20 minute drive from the somewhat larger town of Valley View which is 350 km North of Edmonton, Alberta.
I met Dieter about 8 years ago when I first worked as a Fire Lookout for Alberta Forestry. Fire Lookouts live alone in the woods and climb a tower each day to keep vigil over the land. Lookouts spot and report forest fires so they can be stopped before they cause substantial damage.
During my first season as a fire lookout Dieter was working at a neighboring tower some 60 kilometers away. He became my mentor and helped me learn the tricks of the lookout trade. We chatted on the radio and the phone and over time we got to know each other. Dieter plays the congas and music became a theme for us to bond over. About halfway through the season we agreed to meet in person and arranged to be in town at the same time for groceries and supplies. We struck up a friendship that has lasted nearly a decade.
Dieter has traveled extensively throughout the world and has lived the life of a seeker. His experiences are vast and varied and he has managed to cultivate a humble and wise perspective on life. Through music and stories he helped to awaken a spiritual awareness in me that has been growing steadily over the past decade. I am indebted to his influence.
Visiting Dieter last week was a welcome reminder of what is important. Dieter lives a simple, solitary existence and his footprint on the Earth is minimal. His acreage offers a welcome contrast to the manic grind of the city. Wood stove crackling, homemade bread rising, wood burning sauna puffing smoke in the yard, garden grown carrots, bottle conditioned ale and venison meat for dinner, coffee, tea and half-baked discussions both meaningless and profound, epic jam sessions and warm vibrations on the stereo from all over the world.
There’s more to life than rush hour traffic, that’s for sure.
Thanks for the spirit, Dieter!