President Obama will give his “address to the nation” tonight, a polite substitue phrasing for the State of the Union address since he hasn’t presided over the union long enough to talk about how the past year went. In the spirit of the occasion, I thought it would be fun to prepare something similar, if a bit more localized and targeted. What results is a long-winded pep talk with a bunch of flowery speechified language that, hopefully, is an enjoyable and fulfilling read. Otherwise I’ve blown a lot of time sounding like a gasbag. Decide for yourself after the break.
Esteemed colleagues, musicians, club owners and fans, it is at last your time to determine the course of your music scene. For years fate’s rudder steered live music in this city toward the rocks, seemigly determined to leave it to the sharks and the cold water of civic indifference. Where musicians once plied their trade on the stages of the Regency Showcase, Rockwell, Bar Next Door, Drink, Remington’s and more, people now dance at ICON Nightclub, sip coffee at Coffee Ethic, play shuffleboard at Finnegan’s Wake, visit the Springfield History Museum and attend youth-oriented services for Ridgecrest Baptist Church. These were not all the places we lost; Culley’s, The Abyss, The Belmonte and Ground Xero turned their lights off without so much as the hope of a new tenant. Their empty rooms loom and haunt a scene once swelling with pride.
I see that pride returning, pride defiant in the face of turmoil and cunning in the shadow of obstruction. When city ordinance removed the chance for underage Springfieldians to see and play in music shows in clubs and bars, house shows grew in popularity. When the economy stripped bands of the money to record albums in professional studios, they built their own studios in their homes. That resolve and independent spirit has breathed life into local music during the most vacuous of times, and as long as it lives our music scene will never die.
Beneath that resolve and spirit is talent, diverse and versatile, that also will not be denied its attention. It’s finally beginning to get that attention; media outlets, charitable organizations and more are becoming more aware of who plays on a stage in Springfield and who follows those musicians: their readers do, their viewers do, their event attendees do. All this points to a greater truth: Springfield at large must pay attention to its music scene, which is as ingrained in the city’s history as John Q. Hammons, and Springfield is now finding it wants to pay attention. Against the odds and on its own terms, the state of the music scene is getting better.
If solidarity, recognition and opportunity are the goals, I have only this to say to musicians and clubs alike: The next step is in your hands.
It’s often said that the people most likely to become corporate CEOs are the ones who dress and carry themselves like CEOs while holding lesser positions. Now is the time to dress and act the part of a larger, more cohesive music scene recognized by outside communities. To be taken seriously, we must first take ourselves seriously.
That takes on several meanings. For one, it means taking information seriously. News is more available, and distributed more freely and quickly, than ever before. Hundreds and thousands of people can know the latest developments from a band in a moment’s time from their happening. This is a blessing and a curse. One can easily appreciate the sense of humor it takes for All Kills Aside to devise a story about its bass player’s welding accident as a tongue-in-cheek way of explaining his departure, but when the story is reprinted in the media without the tongue or the cheek an amusing tale takes on a different life. The truth is always a far more engaging and compelling story than it’s given credit for, and it’s the truth that must lead our way to the recognition and credibility we all seek.
We must also take one another seriously, as musicians and as performers. Every man and woman who learns to play an instrument picks up a craft, one that takes years of practice, diligence and desire to learn. Every man and woman who writes a song makes an attempt at art, a subjective thing and a risky one when that song is played in public. Those facts tie all musicians together, but how those facts are interpreted by the individuals often divides them. We may never look past all of our differences, but we must also not look past those fundamental similarities that bind us under the title of Springfield’s Music Scene. From jam bands to punk rock to hip hop to indie rock to country and bluegrass and jazz and blues and every point created in between, the same is true: Any genre can survive on its own, but a scene can only thrive as one. All are artists, all are craftsmen, and anyone who can bring an audience to hear them perform their art and their craft deserves the respect of others who do the same in a different place and manner. A note is the same played on any instrument or in any musical style.
The year ahead will bring challenges, but it will also bring opportunity. Springfield’s music scene has shown that it can endure even without the help of business or government. To grow and mature it must retain that strength to survive a fall while having the courage to reach up and climb the ladder again. We can climb as high as we choose, and I hope all of us will continue to the highest rungs while never looking down. Thanks to all of you, the state of our music scene is strong; it’s up to all of you now to recognize that and build upon it.