Festivals 2013: An Observation On Representation

They could resurrect Nina Simone and give her top billing, and I still wouldn’t go to Bonnaroo. Or Coachella. Or Sasquatch, Santa Claus, Lollapalooza, Loch Ness—it’s hard to keep track of these massive music festivals that pop up in otherwise uninteresting locations every year across the continental forty-eight. Suffice it to say that the music festival is not my scene. It’s too much heat, too much eight-dollar water, too much vomit, too much traffic and parking hell. Not to mention that it’s unequivocally a bad listening environment. [Why listen to your favorite band for two hours in a theater with great acoustics when you can (barely) see them perform an hour-long set from a quarter mile back in desert heat?]
However, I understand the allure. It’s a long weekend in which to see a plethora of bands for relatively inexpensive admission, and it’s a chance for nineteen-year-olds to try MDMA and wear glowstick bracelets. [Surprisingly, neither MDMA nor Glowstick Bracelet are headliners at any of the festivals I’m about to discuss.]
Although I have no intention of attending any music festivals in the near future, the announcement posters are ubiquitous this time of year on social media, usually captioned with exclamation points. In the past few weeks, full lineups for four of the more popular festivals—Coachella, Bonnaroo, Sasquatch, and Firefly—have come out, and in looking at all four lineups, the underrepresentation of  headlining female acts and acts of color is astounding, and the dominance of all-male, all-white headliners is worth talking about. And I don’t mean to ghettoize, but a juxtaposition of all of these bands suggests that perhaps it’s actually the same four or five white guys with dumb clothes, inexplicable monikers, and ironic-or-are-they glasses.
Now, before I get into the data, I want to say first: this has nothing to do with quality or talent. I am no more an arbiter of taste than anyone else, and do not intend to take anything away from any of the acts that happen to be festival headliners. I love many of them! This is little more than an observation about representation.
With that in mind, let’s look at Coachella’s lineup first.

The headliners, of course, are those names in the largest font—Blur, The Stone Roses, Phoenix, Red Hot Chili Peppers—and, in line with this troubling thesis, they are all-white, all-male acts. Moving down just a tier below, there is only slightly more diversity to be found with the inclusion of the hip-hop groups Jurrasic 5 and Wu-Tang Clan, as well as the female-led Yeah Yeah Yeahs. (And don’t forget Gillian Gilbert on keys for New Order.) But little should be made of this exceptionalism: it reinforces rather than undermines. Because the rest of the acts in slightly-smaller-than-headliner-but-still-bold font support this overarching theory. Modest Mouse, the Postal Service, Sigur Ros, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Hot Chip, Grizzly Bear, Vampire Weekend, Social Distortion: all-male, and you have to squint against the glare of all-whiteness.
In the smaller font that requires bifocals for to read it, you’ll spot Janelle Monae here or Tegan and Sara there, but you can bet the size of the font is proportional to the size of the stage they’ll be playing on festival grounds, and they’re certainly not considered headliners.

A look at Sasquatch’s website makes the headliners more apparent than this well-designed but ultimately defamiliarizing graphic. Top-billed are Mumford & Sons, The Postal Service, Sigur Ros, Vampire Weekend, and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. All-male, all-white. The next two acts listed—the XX and the Lumineers—offer a female face [though not on lead], but they’re followed by more of the same with Arctic Monkeys, Cake, Primus 3D, Empire of the Sun, Imagine Dragons, and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, a traveling, rotating brigade of six-to-twelve mostly-white, mostly-male members. Grimes is one of three female acts [out of almost fifty!] and her name is the last listed in the lineup’s fourth tier of acts.
As with Coachella, the further you scroll down, the more likely you are to encounter occasional racial or gender diversity, but it’s catch as catch can, and again: they’re not the headliners. The stages will be smaller, the sets briefer and earlier in the day.

When I saw the first three names pop up in the announcement video this morning, I thought it was business as usual. Indeed, Paul McCartney, Mumford & Sons, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, it should go without explanation, are all-white, all-male acts. But then, magically, we got Bjork! [For the sake of full disclosure, Bjork is also one of the three announced acts for the less-attended-but-still-noteworthy Pitchfork Festival, along with R. Kelly who also shows up here. And what a duet that would be.] It’s exciting to see that Bonnaroo has given Bjork some well-deserved top-billing. Further down, we even get our second female solo act in Cat Power, which is equally exciting. In terms of racial diversity, there’s the aforementioned R. Kelly, the reappearance of Wu-Tang Clan, Nas. At first glance, it seems Bonnaroo is doing a bit better than the previously-discussed festivals in terms of offering a diverse mix of acts. However, if you’re fixing for an all-white, all-male act, there’s no shortage of them, and they’re still dominating this festival. You’ve got The National, Passion Pit, Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Gov’t Mule, Portugal the Man, Gaslight Anthem, Dirty Projectors, and Local Natives to choose from, and that’s only in the first half of the lengthy lineup.

The Firefly Festival is only in its second year, but let us not ascribe progressive intentions to it for this reason, as their lineup shows no sign of going in a different direction. Largest font? Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Right underneath? Vampire Weekend, Foster the People. All-male, all white. Karen O isn’t far behind as lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (the second time in this list of four that she’s been the exception to the rule.) Calvin Harris, Passion Pit, MGMT? Check. And then we get Ellie Goulding, one of two font-increased solo female acts. (The other, Azealia Banks, also served as an exception to the rule at Sasquatch.) Artists of color are represented in Kendrick Lamar, Alabama Shakes, and Public Enemy, but the other twenty-one headliners, per usual, are markedly caucasian.
There are, of course, many music festivals big and small across the country, some of which have yet to release full lineups (Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, Austin City Limits.) One can hope that these festivals may demonstrate a taste that is more inclusive of what must be called minority acts in the festival circuit, rather than recycle. Before they’re announced, while there’s still time to make a few changes, may I offer these suggestions?
Give me Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Brandi Carlile, the newly-reunited Breeders. Give me Lauryn Hill, Mary J Blige, John Legend. Give me The Roots! Give me Metric, Neko Case, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey. How about Robyn? The list is endless, which makes the lack of variety and diversity from festival to festival even more frustrating, and even less acceptable.
What are we meant to gather?

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The Buzz About 2012 - Our Favorite Music

We have listened to many strong records in 2012, and been in awe of powerful live performances.

First, we present a list of our contributors' favorite records of 2012.

Second, a group of our reviewers and contributors, with fifteen to twenty years of individual music industry experience voted on their favorite new artist of 2012. Highly debated, but a welcomed surprise.

We look forward to the great music of 2013!

The Buzz About Staff

Our Contributors' 2012 Favorites:

Regina Spektor - What We Saw From the Cheap Seats

Avett Brothers - The Carpenter

The Lumineers - The Lumineers

Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls

Admiral Fallow - Tree Bursts in Snow

Shovels and Rope - O' Be Joyful

Brandi Carlile - Bear Creek

Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...

Cat Power - Sun

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - The Lion The Beast The Beat

Beth Orton - Sugaring Season

Rose Cousins - We Have Made a Spark

Adrien Reju - The Lucky Ones

Anais Mitchell - Young Man in America

The Buzz About's Favorite New Artist of 2012:

Hailing from Broken Arrow, OK, JD McPherson, a former art teacher, released Signs & Signifiers in 2012. JD traveled to Chicago to record Signs & Signifiers at Hi-Style studio, which is housed in the attic of producer/bassist/studio owner Jimmy Sutton’s home and is 100% analog.

Lauded as “a sound that is vibrantly reminiscent of 50s after hours dancehall hits mixed with angsty tunes to appease the most brooding bluesman,” (Yahoo! Music) JD and his band have blazed the country this year with his “timeless, forward-thinking rock & roll” (Rolling Stone). His self-directed video for “North Side Gal” has garnered over a million views to date.

JD McPherson is our favorite new artist of 2012. In addition to live performances that have audiences dancing in sold out standing room only venues, it turns out McPherson is a nice guy. Humble and gracious with his time, he is seemingly in awe of his success. "I wasn't sure anyone would come over to the stage," JD shared with us as people filled the grounds to hear him perform at the 2012 XPoNential Music Festival.

We include the aforementioned YouTube clip of "North Side Gal," from Signs & Signifiers, but encourage listeners to take in the project as a whole. Perhaps summed up best by Patrick Doyle for Rolling Stone, "McPherson may sound like a purist, but he's a sharp songwriter, and his punk spirit and wry wordplay make this more than just a time trip."

Ingenious lyrics and skillful musicality are at the heart of Signs & Signifiers, and the heart and humility of JD McPherson make his infectious melodies resonate.

For more information: http://www.jdmcpherson.com/

"North Side Gal"

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Bee Well: In Support of Honeybees

A friend of The Buzz About, Melissa Brodeur, wrote a book supporting healthy honeybees. It is a non-profit effort. Melissa reached out to a unique group of artists, including Pearl Jam for lyrics and local Vermont photographers to craft an intriguing collection of pages that make up The Bee Well Book.

From Melissa:

The Bee Well Book is a collection of bee-ish art, recipes, interviews, music, educational pieces, and much more all put together in a beautiful, one of a kind book. The Bee Well Book is a non for profit book, 100% of the proceeds go to support healthy honeybees!

In this book you will find submissions from local Vermont artists, as well as artists from all over America, and interviews with rural and urban beekeepers. Popular musicians and artists such as Pearl Jam and Emek contribute to the book.
All of these contributors were asked by me to be in this book for a specific reason. They all came together because they believed in the project and the cause. We hope you enjoy our tribute...

For more information on the book, please visit www.beewellmassage.com.

Thank you and Bee Well,
Melissa B

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Ten Random Pop Culture Musings


I have failed at updating my Little Hens here at thebuzzabout.com.

Life gets so busy sometimes and muddles my already scattered brain. It's not an
excuse for neglecting you...but, an explanation of sorts.

On that note, I hope this update finds you all happy, healthy and prepping for
the holiday season.

I have some random thoughts (big surprise, I know) that I want to share.

Hang on to your knickers, folks.

1. GLEE...Meh.

As one of Glee's (self-professed) biggest fans, I am underwhelmed with this
season. I miss the "old gang" and honestly can't stomach having Finn lead New
Directions. Having everyone break up in one early episode this season almost did
me in. However, this past week's Thanksgiving episode did bring some
satisfaction. The opening song, a perfect mash-up of Home/Homeward Bound, was
the highlight of the episode. And, I must confess, that I sort of love SJP
(shh...it is our little secret). Am so over whiney Blaine and (spoiler alert)
the promo for the NEXT episode was a shocker...can you say, "Blam"?

2. The Girl Who Knew Too Much

A gal I know through AgainToday.com's fan community is the web developer/master
for www.girlworldproject.org and she told me about a cool Kickstarter campaign
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2300763/the-girl-who-knew-too-much-final-production?ref=card to help fund final production of The Girl Who Knew Too Much, a documentary by Scott Squire and Amy Benson. As I watched the video explaining this documentary
I was overwhelmed with a sense of sadness...and then a sense of duty.

Take a few minutes and watch the video and please spread the word (and even
donate a couple or more bucks to show your support if you are able):

The mind-blowing statistic that suicide is the #1 killer of young girls and
women of child bearing age in Nepal (and other parts of South Asia) was more
than I could bare. This documentary did not set out to shed light on this
epidemic initially. However, when one of the featured young women, Shanta,
committed suicide with only one year remaining before she'd graduated from high
school, the focus of this film changed. Shanta's story NEEDS to be told and this
film must be seen. Knowing that young girls and women are dying by their own
hands at such an alarming rate hurts my heart.

Please consider backing this campaign. You can certainly donate financially,
but, there may be more power in spreading the word. Use your social media super
powers to tell your friends/family about this project.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Twitter): @GirlKnewTooMuch
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (FB): https://www.facebook.com/GirlWhoKnewTooMuch?ref=ts&fref=ts

Thank you.

3. Pickled Okra - An Aquired Taste

In late September we stumbled upon a "new-fashioned, old-fangled" bluegrass band
called Pickled Okra. They were playing at a wedding we attended. Their authentic
clothing and sound captured my attention and drew me in. Check them out at
www.getokra.com and give them a listen

We'll be catching their Holiday Hoedown in Seattle on 12/5 - featuring our pal,
Brandi Carlile. Can't wait!

And, for the record, I don't like pickled okra (the food)...am more of a "fried
okra" gal.

4. She's Back!

That's right! Jonatha Brooke, my all-time favorite singer/songwriter, is back.
She's got a new website and a new project called "My Mother Has Four Noses". She
started a PledgeMusic campaign (with some pretty cool items for those who
donate) to get her new musical workshopped in NYC, the cast album recorded, etc. 

Read all about it here: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/jonathabrooke?utm_campaign=project4830&utm_medium=project_badge&utm_source=unknown.

In the three days since the start of the campaign her fans have come out
full-force to help fund it. 146 backers have funded 39% of her project so far.

Please consider donating your time (share info through social media) and/or your
money. Jonatha is a sweetheart with the voice of an angel and one of the
wickedest senses of humor around. Thanks.

5. Wits

We listened to the live taping of a Minnesota Public Radio show called Wits
online Friday night. Maria Bamford (damn funny lady) and Brandi Carlile were the
guests. If you've been to radio show tapings or listened to "old school" radio
hours you can imagine how this all played out. The comedic skits and improv bits
were brilliant. And, who knew Brandi could hold her own against one of the best
funny ladies around.

Listen to the full podcast here: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/programs/wits/2012/bamford-carlile.shtml

Watch a video of the Wits Game Show segment "None of Us Can Relate to That" with
Brandi and Maria here (IT IS HYSTERICAL):

6. Silver Linings Playbook

I am dying to see this film. Love Jennifer Lawrence. I plan on reading the book
during my travels to/from Seattle next week. Have any of you seen this film?
Read this book? Thoughts?

7. iPhone 5 (Yes. Please. And. Thank. You.)

I am eligible for an upgrade via AT&T now and I am dying to get an iPhone 5. I
am addicted to my smartphone. It's a problem...a blessing, but also a curse.
And, I am finding that this "smart" device is actually making me "dumber" in
some ways.

What did I do before I got a smartphone? The answer is...paid more attention to
other things, other people, to myself and my needs. Granted, without the
interwebs and technology I wouldn't know all of you lovely folks and wouldn't
have met people from around the world. It would be much more difficult to stay
in touch with my family and friends down in GA and SC. Still technology is
eating away at many of us...actually DISCONNECTING us on many levels.

Finding the balance between technology/the interwebs and being present in the
"here and now" is no easy task. How do you all find a balance between the two?

8. Gangnam Style...um...yea...there's that.

9. Let's Have a Kiki...huh? Had no idea this was even a song.

10. Happiest of holidays to you all wherever you are.

Start thinking about your resolutions for 2013 and we'll chat about them soon.

 I'll start...

In 2013 I resolve to focus (HARD for me to do) on being present and invested
more fully in those who are in my life....oh, and to floss regularly.

P.S. - Hugs are the best

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Ani DiFranco at The Keswick Theatre

It’s just a few days after election day, and Ani DiFranco opens up her 10th show at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, Pennsylvania with “Which Side Are You On?,” the classic protest song popularized by Pete Seeger and seriously re-worked into the title track of her last album.

Ani windmills her right arm, striking strings on each bass beat like a clock, then slides the guitar up and over her body, revealing a bulging belly beneath a black empire shirt tied into a prim bow in the back. “Yes,” she says, smiling. “I am getting fatter.”

DiFranco’s pregnant. She cracks wise about overpopulation and teases that at least she’s not bleeding anymore. They’re just jokes of course, but the point rippling just beneath the surface fins through: Of course the personal is still political. But shit, this about love--and what could be more personal or political than that?

Ani plays a mixed bag of old and new songs, one song so fresh that she requests forgiveness should she mess up, because she just wrote the last lyric an hour earlier. (She doesn’t mess up.) But she doesn’t hold back on giving us the sing-along golden oldies like Untouchable Face, Fire Door and Shameless—though they’re prefaced with playful comments about how many years she’s been fulfilling the same old requests.

I imagine that for Ani, playing songs written so many years ago feels like unfurling a garland of paper dolls, eternally linked silhouettes of earlier and earlier incarnations of herself, each version faithfully clasping the hand of the one behind her, pulling her toward today: the brilliant, relaxed woman with a second husband, a five-year-old daughter, a round belly, fading tattoos and a head of loose curls, baring her teeth into the white light for a theater full of adoring gender-punks, a few holding babies with bellies full of warm milk.

Watching her scratching into the guitar like it’s a poison-ivy itch, falling backwards from the mic and jerking her body to the rhythms doled out by cohorts Todd Sickafoose on upright and Terence Higgins on drums, I’ve never been more convinced that she’s still doing it for the joy it brings.

Her fans have changed too, of course. For us, those opening notes are aural constellations that twist open the universe of our pasts, delivering glimpses of who and what we’ve left behind, but haven’t forgotten.

And then just before the encore, she sings Overlap: “I build each one of my songs out of glass / So you can see me inside of them I suppose / Or you could just leave the image of me in the background, I guess / And watch your own reflection superimposed.

We all keep moving forward, and it’s a gift, these presents she gives us so graciously.

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