Author: Alvira, Marco

This Ainít Your Grannyís Generation

Itís Friday night and I sat down at my desk and thought that I might actually get a jump on my Sunday column. After pouring a bit of my customary pre-writing bourbon, I began to stare at the computer screen. Iíd planned out my bit of monthly prose while watching the Giants on the tube take a rare shellacking. I actually wanted to start writing earlier, but I just had to see the game. The team was on a roll and after upgrading my TV gear, the games look like theyíre being played in my living room. I can almost smell the dirty, sweat stained leather of the gloves (oh, how I love that scent).

Two hours later, the bourbon is gone; Iíve chewed the remaining postage stamp sized ice cubes swimming in slightly brownish water at the bottom of the glass; Iíve engaged in three fiery political discussions on Facebook and news groups; Iíve commented on six cat pictures; and Iíve had an online discussion with my niece getting her Masters in fiction writing at Riverside. At this point, it is obvious to you, the reader, that Iíve only written two paragraphsónone of which have one iota to do with bluegrass. This lack of productivity is not for the want of ideas, for inspiration is abundant. The problem is that the media by which this inspiration is conveyed is intrusively ubiquitous. The television in my study has about 600 programming options. Iím involved with four online social networks. My insatiable appetite for news is fed by thousands of web sites representing hundreds of interesting view points and perspectives on the dayís events. My phone chimes at me at random intervals with G-Mail, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, etc. Iím constantly distracted and Iím beginning to wonder how this communications deluge might have crippled national productivity; I mean, multiply the amount of time Iíve spent scanning the news features on the Yahoo home page by 250 million, and we might have a rough estimate.

Of course, this is the moment when I suppose youíre expecting me to opine about the good olí days before communications technology became so integrated with our being. Well it isnít going to happen. Iím no Luddite, and as my favorite philosopher, Popeye, once said before downing a can of spinach, ďI ams what I ams.Ē And I ams a creature born into a technological world and Iím glad. Certainly, there is a quaint charm to the good olí days back in the 70ís (1970ís, not 1870ís) when one would get to know all the tellers at the local bank after years of weekly visits. Today, however, I can complete multiple transactions between my different accounts, banks, and those of my children with a few simple clicks of the mouse. If technology can do that for banking, what can it possibly do for bluegrass and roots music overall?

I was recently chatting with a couple of folks at the Fatherís Day Festival that were lamenting the woes of some recording labels traditionally friendly to bluegrass. While calmly watching the wailing, the renting of sackcloth, and the tossing of ash into the air, I recalled a conversation I had with a young group in San Francisco. They were excited to be releasing their second, independently produced CD and begin their west coast tour. Everything from recording, to contracts, to posters was made in one memberís living room. Many bands today, because of the digital marketing tools available to them like Tunecore, Bandzoogle, or CD Baby, are eschewing record labels. The alacrity with which some bands are able to promote themselves by communicating directly with fans is amazing. With one smart phone, a band can reach hundreds, if not thousands, of fans with a few quick twitches of the thumbs. Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Bandcamp, Kickstart, and Tumblr get music and a message to multitudes in a blink. A fan base flung across thousands of miles is drawn intimately close by the use of Twitter. When the Old Tire Swingers, Paul Chestersonís band from the Fresno area, was touring England, those of us back home could follow their daily progress across the pond between sips of coffee during break at work.

The other day I walked into a cafť popular with the college kids in town. This place is a far cry from the smoke filled cafť depressos where I misspent the days of my youth in Berkeley. This place was lacking the dark moody light and French cigarettes common in the bistros of the 1970ís. Also missing, for the most part, were books and newspapers! In place of the olí paperback were Kindles, Nooks, iPads and a variety of Android powered devicesói.e., varieties of tablets and e-readers. It was tough to find a sports page lying around left over from the morning daily rag. Itís no wonder that formerly great papers like the Chicago Tribune are on the verge of bankruptcy. The Bay Area has seen the disappearance of papers like the Oakland Tribune and the Contra Costa Times. The Examiner is a shell of its former self and the Baltimore Examiner on the east coast is gone forever. The days of getting messy newsprint on your fingers with the morning cup-o-Joe may soon be a bygone memory. Young folks simply donít read print media like they used to. It makes me wonder about the day when the cost of printing the Breakdown will exceed the number of folks actually reading it on pulp. As a youth, I depended on periodicals like BAM to keep me abreast of the local music scene. Digital blogs and magazines, all of them flexible and able to adapt rapidly to changes in the local music environment, have replaced them as conduits of information. Newsletters about jams and gigs have become the buggy whips of music communication in the digital maelstrom.

To many of us that grew up in slower times, these changes may seem dangerous at most and uncomfortable at the least. I imagine that young musicians must feel liberated to be able to control their own musical fortunes as much as they do today. If the CBA never existed, I wonder how a group of 27 year olds today, gathered in a room, might envision such an organization in an age of magical communication.
Posted:  7/1/2012

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