It’s the first day of Spring on the Calendar, and time to celebrate with some shades of happiness.  First up, the brilliant opening credits to Portlandia, the wacky ode to The City of Roses from the off-center minds of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, set to “Feel it all around” by the singer-songwriter Washed Out.  Beautiful mix of music and imagery that gets me every time.  Hey Mr. Mayor! Can we make this the new official City Song?   (And if you haven’t seen Portlandia…what are you waiting for?)

How about some long-delayed happiness captured on camera, as Stanford University scientist Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde— one of the main authors of the “inflationary cosmology” – e.g., what happened after the Big Bang – gets his entire life’s work validated?  “Happy” seems too mild a word for the powerful, deep sensation….but it makes me want to watch it again.

And finally, the Detroit Academy of the Arts and Sciences kids getting all “Happy.” with Pharrell’s hit.  Sure, it’s gone viral…and why not?  How can you not see this and smile?

Emmylou Harris: For No One

So after writing up the Paul McCartney – Loma Mar Quartet connection the other day, there he was on the tube last night, as part of the WGBH “Beatle Month” of programming.  Last night was a re-airing of the 2010 Gershwin Prize Concert for McCartney, held at the East Room of the White House in 2010 – with an additional concert at the famed (and tiny) Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, which administers the prize on behalf of the Gershwin estate.  (That’s where the footage of “Yesterday” was shot.)

A dizzying (and somewhat baffling) array of special guests sang and played Macca tunes before the honoree and the First Family, including Stevie Wonder, the Jonas Brothers, Faith Hill, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl (an uncanny ability to channel McCartney’s high tenor in “Band on the Run”), and even pianist Lang Lang.

But my hands-down favorite interpretation of the night came from Emmylou Harris, who managed to turn “For No One” into a convincing Appalachian ballad:

For Pete’s Sake


I’ve been thinking for several days now about what I could say about Pete Seeger that hasn’t already been said, seen, or heard. Certainly it is impossible to overstate his influence on my generation. “How to Play the Five String Banjo” – both the tattered red music book and ten-inch LP  from 1954- were as ubiquitous in the households of my youth as the Glenn Gould Goldbergs, the Ormandy “Messiah” recording with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Kind of Blue, if not more so.  His was the first concert I ever attended in my life…in the glorious trappings of a school gymnasium in Acton, (or was it Maynard? or Harvard?) Mass. in 1963. As part of the concert Pete led a singalong of “Froggy Went a Courting” just for us wee ones, and I remember it to this day.  (And was totally tickled when Springsteen chose it for his tribute album The Seeger Sessions.)


I’m certain it was the first time I had ever been invited to sing in my life. And decades later I joined the decidedly nonexclusive club of folks who have produced programs about Pete’s remarkable life.

But none of that is particularly new, unique nor noteworthy. What might be, however, is the saga of Pete Seeger the public television host: Before finally being “readmitted” to commercial television in the late ’60s, Pete made 39 episodes of a quirky, wonderful, and decidedly low-production-value program called “Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest.” Take a look at Episode 1, with Pete talking about his “distrust of this little magic box,” and then going on to teach us all at home how to play along, and join the chorus…

How to Succeed in the Music Biz, c. 2008: Ingrid Michaelson

Girls and BoysDriving back from New England over the holiday weekend gave me the chance to hear both an appearance by Yo-Yo Ma on the Diane Rehm show (though the Silk Road Project seems a bit of a stretch for MLK Day), and a fascinating discussion on the World Café between host David Dye and the new singer-songwriter It Girl Ingrid Michaelson.In his intro to the show (also a holiday repeat, but since it first ran the Friday before Christmas, we can be forgiven for missing it the first time around!) David talked about Michaelson being a model for how to make it the new media landscape, and I think he’s on the mark: Unsigned and proud of it, instead she’s built a career through a mixture of MySpace and TV placement – both via Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, and more famously through an Old Navy ad that prominently uses her breakout song “The Way I Am.” (destined to be a wedding-song staple for the rest of the decade, I suspect…)Ingrid is talented enough, I suppose, and has written a couple of lovely songs.  But what struck me about the interview was her savvy and clearheaded understanding about into the business of the music industry right now, and where she sits in it:

I’m thinking about it [signing to a record label]. I’ve always been thinking about it.  But these great opportunities keep being handed to me.  I think a lot of it is because I’m independent and it’s such a great story.  There’s such a shift going on in the music world right now, and I’m sort of little guinea pig. Everyone’s helping out.   At some point, if it gets to be too much, I’ll look for a partnership.  I never liked the idea of being dragged around as a new artist. So I just want to get to a point where I have power and control and work with somebody, and not FOR somebody.

For more of Ingrid Michaelson’s back story check out this recent profile from the New York Times (buried in the NY/Region section, not the Arts page, and also just before Christmas in case you’re wondering).  Sample grab:

Not bad for someone who, until May, was teaching in an after-school theater program in the Stapleton neighborhood of Staten Island, where she still lives with her parents, a dog and a pet rabbit in the house she has inhabited since she was born. “It’s so uncool, it’s cool,” said her mother, Elizabeth Egbert, the executive director of the Staten Island Museum.

37 under 36*

AUSTIN, Tx – on the road again, (for the UTunes project) and taking the opportunity to catchup on some reading. First up is the latest edition – a special issue – of Smithsonian magazine, titled “37 under 36: American’s Young Innovators in the Arts & Sciences.” The whole issue is a good read, and I’m reminded that back in the days when the RoeDeo WWHQ was in Takoma Park, Maryland I had a neighbor who was a Smithsonian editor. She told me that according to their research NPR and Smithsonian Magainze had about the highest overlap of reader/listenership in the business, which was later verified by some audience research at the Big Dog.
So, no surprise, I suppose, but some excellent (and brief) profiles of some very public radio-friendly artists in the issue, including Sufjan Stevens(profiled by KCRW‘s Nic Harcourt – how pubradio can you get?); jazzman Jason Moran (a fave o’mine – he played a couple of our NPR Jazz Piano Christmas shows, not to mention appearanLinkces on Fresh Air and Jazz Profiles); singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, and composer Nico Muhly, whose musical setting of the classic Strunk & White “Elements of Style” text (really!) got him touted as a Classical Musicians To Watch in 2006. (So did Mozart, btw, what with all that 250th Birthday fuss).

Beyond the artists, all 37 are fascinating people, including people in Dr. Wizard’s line of work. I also like the profile of del.ico.ius founder Joshua Schachter.

400 musicians, 1607 voices…and Bruuuuuuce!

UPDATE: 15 MAY 07: Fred Child has been on location from the Virginia Arts Festival, broadcasting Performance Today from WHRO in Norfolk, along with some select excerpts from the Festival.

animated_final2The Queen may have gone home, but this is actually the big “America 400th” weekend in Virginia. The actual anniversary date of the Jamestown landing is Monday, May 14th. On-point editorial (“From Jamestown’s Swamp“) in today’s WaPo:

Americans love tidy success stories. Jamestown — Pocahontas notwithstanding — was anything but. Many of the original settlers were well-born men of leisure who supposed they would lead a life of ease in Virginia, provisioned by London, fed by docile natives and enriched by vast stores of easily accessed gold. They were misled…

The RoeDeo has been following the Jamestown saga for some time now, both for its historical thread and modern-day musical expressions. The “disovery of America” theme permeates the programming of this year’s running of the excellent Virginia Arts Festival, (a/k/a the “Tidewater Tanglewood.” Check out what’s happening this weekend:

Jamestown 400th Anniversary Weekend
May 11-13, 2007

The Virginia Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of JoAnn Falletta, and the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Mark Russell Smith, play separately and then combine – for the first time ever – to premier new works written especially for the commemoration by John Corigliano, John Duffy, Adolphus Hailstork and Jennifer Higdon. The works were commissioned by Jamestown 2007, a sub agency of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, in partnership with the Virginia Arts Festival.

Sure, it’s all a little gimmicky — Sunday, a 400-piece orchestra and a 1607-voices choir will perfom the Grand Finale program that may or may not be televised. But what an impressive line-up of first-rate American composers! (The Arts Festival also runs a John Duffy Composers Institute – this year’s faculty also includes Anthony Davis and Lee Hoiby.) In between, check out this lineup for “400 minutes of Music” Local hero Bruce Hornsby, Ricky Skaggs, and Chaka Khan, headline “an afternoon-long program featuring contemporary rock infused with native American musical traditions from Brule, a mix of folk, world, blues and soul music from South African artist Vusi Mahlasela, folk roots music from Michael Seeger, poetic urban folk from Jen Chapin, and alternative country from Scott Miller & The Commonwealth.”

Wow – that’s a helluva music mix. Mahlasela (former member of the African National Congress!) was just interviewed on Morning Edition, Mike Seeger (Pete’s brother) is an authentic roots-music hero – I can’t believe I first saw him perform – gulp – 40 years ago, with the New Lost City Ramblers. Jen Chapin (daughter of the late Harry) is a promising singer-songwriter whose debut CD Linger I thought was quite good if a tad overproduced. And Scott Miller? He’s been tagged “The Virginia version of John Mellencamp,” which I suppose is as good a description as any.

So, Unusual for most pop musicians, but utterly Hornsby, who’s one of the most interesting musicians around. (Yes, I’m in the tank for the other Bruuuuuce. I had a hand in bringing him to NPR last year. Check out his performance on Talk of The Nation, and/or his solo show at the Gilmore Festival.

You’re liable to hear Bach, Bebop, or bluegrass in the midst of his solo-piano shows, and over the years his collaborators have included (according to Bruce’s website – I can’t keep track of them all: The Grateful Dead, Shawn Colvin, members of the NY Philharmonic Orchestra, Ricky Skaggs, Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, Robbie Robertson, Branford Marsalis, the aforementioned Chaka Khan, Roger Waters, Bonnie Raitt, Pat Metheny, Gregory Hines, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.) Oh, and forward-thinking enough that you can
download some of his live shows. For a price, to be sure, but they’ll even make CD copies for you.

On the subject of concert audio, and getting back to where we started, you’ll be able to hear some select Virginia Arts Festival concerts on Performance Today, including the appearance in Portsmouth, VA. by the Academy of Ancient Music. No word yet on if/when the May. 11 concert featuring Duffy, Hailstork, Higdon et al will appear…

Sheesh. Meant this to be short now turned into another novelette of a post…


Stumbled across a fascinating, if bizarre, new music-recommendation service today, along the lines of Pandora, Last.fm, and (look over to the left of the page) Fine Tune. Only this one, “Musicovery,” is based on moods – when you log on, a little “mood-o-meter” pops up, and you can pop your cursor down somewhere in a four-coordinate “Axis of Angst” – “Dark,” “Calm,” “Positive,” and “Energetic.” And then plug in your genre of choice – Country, Classical, Pop, Electronica, whatever.
So, just for grins, (and being a Goth-Nihilist kinda guy), I thought I’d try out some “Dark Vocal Pop” and see what popped up. Check it out:

So there you have it. Nanci Griffith singing a Richard Thompson song is the Dame of Dark Pop. Okay, the song’s called “Wall of Death” – fair enough, I suppose. But my, what company she keeps: The Carter Family’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a old stoner song from Arlo Guthrie, and….who exactly IS Eros Rammazzotti? Okay, they win….the site’s about music discovery, and today I discovered this Roman hearthrob is “especially popular in in Chile, Germany,Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and most Spanish-speaking countries and has sold over 36 million records worldwide. He has one daughter, Aurora Sophie (born December 5, 1996), with his ex-wife, Michelle Hunziker, a Swiss model and television host.” Oh, and sings exclusively in Spanish and Italian. My bad, Eros – though I love the name, dude.

It gets progressively funnier/weirder/oddly mesmerizing when you try a few more categories. Here’s what slightly calmer darkness looks like in pop music:

Feelings? That late-unlamented make-out music from the ’70s ranked as one of the Worst Songs of All Time? Yeah, verily, dark and brooding. Always On My Mind?

Okay, let’s switch gears and try out some shiny happy “Positive” music – and let’s open it up to a few more genres, shall we?

So there you have it, folks, nothing says “positive energy” like Mars, the God of War, ready to kick some celestial butt and take names. Sheesh.

Interesting to note that they do offer a subscription service for a higher bit-rate audio. In Euros, to boot. Though I can’t imagine who’d sign up for this service just yet. Their catalog looks a little thin – I’m already noting a lot of artists popping up a lot (hello Eric Burdon and the Animals & Stevie Wonder) in a lot of different catergories.