Special Shows: all about community

04/06/2011 at 9:22 am | Posted in How to this-or-that, Music, News & Explanations, Stories from Alaska | 2 Comments
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There are some special-enough shows coming up that they deserve more than 140 characters.  Because I’m sensing a theme.

First, the show details, then the important-ish things I’ve been thinking about for months:

4/14/11 Vagabond Blues in Palmer AK – Marian Call Poetry-Themed Solo Show

I only have one serious solo show in Southcentral AK this month, and it’s at one of my favorite venues in the state.  If you haven’t heard a show at Vagabond, it’s worth going and bringing friends.  Quiet, intimate, one of the best natural acoustic spaces for music anywhere in Alaska, hardly any of amplification needed.  Plus great coffee & healthy food.  I do hope you’ll come hear this show — I’ve been sort of creating my own venues lately, which is fun, but oh, what a relief to play in a music venue designed exactly for what I do! And this will be a special show for National Poetry Month — if you hadn’t picked up on it, poetry is deeply important to me and to what I do.  You may hear some unusual stories & poems!  Tickets available online at this link or at Vagabond Blues or Fireside Books. Bring the kids, it’s all ages and kids should enjoy concerts!  Facebook event to share here.

4/15/11 Acoustic North AK – Live at the Snow Goose Theater – Streaming Online at Ustream.com

Last year I helped coordinate a showcase of four female singer-songwriters in Anchorage.  The show sold out, tons of people watched online, and universally we heard the same thing: Do More Stuff Like This!!!! For a number of folks it was their most memorable concert of the year; I heard those exact words over and over.  It was like Mountain Stage or Prairie Home Companion, people said.  It was magic.

Why it was magic:  we were community.  We were experiencing something all at the same time, all together.

So we’re doing it again, but this time with more musicians (boys even!), several poets, and a more serious focus moving forward.  I love the touring artists we get through Anchorage.  But I want to see our very own local talent on the same great stages in the same quiet venues, not just consigned to noisy bars or background music.  We have incredible folks here in Anchorage (so many we couldn’t begin to fit them all on one bill) and I am excited to experience a few of them together in the right kind of place.  And you can see this event live in Anchorage, it will be amazing — tickets on sale now at http://mariancall.com, $10-15 — or you can watch it on Ustream, live or after the fact.  This will be a show to remember. Facebook event here for the live concert, Facebook event here for the webstream.  Invite someone!

 

Acoustic North AK Poster

Now for some ill-informed ramblings that I’ll likely regret when someone brings up politics in the comments (don’t).

The 49>50 Tour all over the continent taught me a great many things, like how suspicious I should be of Cincinnati chili (60%), how to eat a crab that still has its shell on (cringeing), and how often the GPS is infuriatingly correct (about 98% of the time. Infuriating).  But mostly it taught me that our culture is trying really really hard right now to figure out community.  That’s why social networking hit a nerve with this poor species and took off so quickly — and that’s why advertising is trying to sell you not shampoo, but a relationship with your shampoo — we’re reaching out for people, for a sense of connection, for sharing.  And yet in some ways isolating ourselves more.  We can select our company and our entertainment with incredible precision & customization, yet I don’t think that’s quite the route to happiness.  Two things have been rattling around in my brain with respect to this Acoustic North show:

1. I love my online world, Facebook, Twitter, &c.  I don’t see it as interfering with community — for me it actually creates community.  But then — I personally spend a LOT of time going out in real life, with real people, to real events that we share all at once.  I chat on Twitter with people and then try to get to a Tweetup or have coffee.  I make friends online and then drive several thousand miles to meet them in person, and try to create a real life experience we can have in common — including online Real Time Experiences.  (Webstreams and radio, I find, have a more unifying community feel than customized entertainment like Pandora.  Why?  You’re sharing the listening experience with other people.  It’s not just for you.  You selfish human you.)

My point is: the Internet is as community-creating or as community-sucking as you let it be.  If the Web is sucking your community away from you, if you’re getting Facebook-depressed and refreshing to no effect, then go have an experience together with a lot of other people in real time.  If you’re shy, find one that doesn’t make you nervous, possibly even a webstream or online radio that has a strong community.  It really really helps.  And it scratches far more deeply the itch that social media only begins to reach.  Don’t your most satisfying social media experiences happen when, for a brief moment, everyone’s talking or joking about the same thing? (#HollywoodPostItNotes tonight.)

2. I got to see a lot of towns & cities this year.  In fact I made a list, and it was short, of decently-sized metro areas in North America that I have not seen after my crazy tour.  And towns have different characters.  Citizens love to talk about the character of their city & compare it to others, by the way — just ask them what their town’s like and step back.

There are cities and states that have an incredibly strong sense of community and local identity, and there are cities that don’t.  This is not a value judgment, it’s a fact, easily observable (if difficult to quantify).  Just visit Austin or New Orleans or Joshua Tree for awhile, you’ll feel how much the community is a living, breathing character, and how important it is to the people who live there to participate in and protect and nurture its character.  Or just observe the way people behave & think differently about their town during the World Series or Superbowl — oddly I found a very strong strain of localized devotion & sense of community in smaller collegiate-sports-fanatic towns in the Midwest and South, far removed from the Austin or New Orleans sort of music/nightlife culture.  Where does this feeling come from?  Why did it bother me so much when it was absent?  Because it was often absent.

I think part of this sense of community comes from experiencing stuff all together in real time.  You know very well the difference between watching a sporting event in the arena, watching it live at home, and watching it recorded later — those three very different degrees of involvement — the depth of connection is about being a part of something at the same time & in the same space as other people. Weather and seasonal changes, which touch absolutely everyone, have the same effect — the unusual environment here in Alaska bonds people together like very few other places I’ve been.  We experience so much out-of-the-ordinary stuff all together that even when we disagree vehemently with the Alaskan at the next barstool, we still have an incredible amount in common.

In my very favorite places on the continent, this sense of community translates into (or is it created by?) people going out all the time instead of staying in.  Maybe it’s to watch the sunset or the ocean, maybe to run a marathon or play in a pickup basketball game, maybe to hear free or paid concerts a couple nights per week, maybe a friend’s backyard barbecue, maybe it’s going out to the Farmers’ Market — there are cities and small towns where people go out All The Time.  And there are places where everyone stays in and the streets are barren.  I know which places I feel an immediate connection with as a visitor.  I know which I’d pick to live in.

And it’s not about nightlife, or spending money, or subsidizing certain industries, or a certain income or race or lifestyle.  Unless that lifestyle is Get Outside Of Your House And Your Head If You Want To Be Fully Human.  (Poor communities are sometimes much better about this than wealthy ones — sometimes not.)  It’s about crossing the mental hurdle that may keep you from connecting with strangers and getting out of your home.  It’s about building and participating in the structures that make it possible for a whole community to get out more — more family-friendly venues, more childcare, more free activities that are actually good, more accessible cabs & transit, &c.  Going out doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.  And if it does cost a bit — wouldn’t the economy of any town be invigorated by this sort of activity?  Isn’t that what every chamber of commerce wants, a vital social life on a broad scale?  USE them streets and sidewalks and parks.  VISIT your small businesses.  Drop a few dollars on a hot cocoa, a few cents on a good busker, and walk down a bike trail, and you’ve participated in the life of your town.  And probably made yourself feel more like a person.

For some of you, this is duh.  But I know a heckuva lot of folks who need to have this revelation for real.

I feel strong community in Anchorage.  Always have.  It could and should get better — I’d really like to see the local population turning out a little more for the evening entertainment.  We have so much going on that’s underattended (though admittedly lots of it is underpromoted too).  I’d love to see more all-ages venues here, and more quiet, grown-up friendly venues.  I want to see the average Joe coming out more for music and art here — I know it’s possible from visiting other cities where that is simply embedded in the local culture.

But here’s what I already love about living here: when the sunset is amazing and I’m not too pressed for time, I detour to go watch it.  And when I get to my favorite spot by the water, I find dozens or sometimes hundreds of other people already there.  When the lunar eclipse occurred, the whole town turned out to look for it in freezing temperatures, and everyone was talking about it the next day.  When the aurora went active at 1am on a weeknight and my roommate and I go went a quest to find it, the parking lot at Point Woronzof was already totally full of people of all ages and races.  It was a holiday atmosphere.  I was rubbing elbows with people different from me, people I likely disagree with, people I rely upon, my fellow Anchorage dwellers.  That felt like community.  That made me love my city.  That, world — we need more of that.

Come out to a show!  Get out of your house and go see what’s happening where you live!

(You know you have the internet on your phone anyway.  It’s not like you’ll miss anything important happening here.)

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2 Comments »

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  1. Would it be lame of me to say “I’ve been meaning to writer something like this for my blog?” Seriously, I’m having a hard time convincing my parents’ generation that “community” can exist without face-to-face contact, confrontation, and conflict. I am still Facebooking with the crowd from Claremore, Oklahoma. We spent one afternoon, in a park, and now I’ve got new friends. All a community needs is a common point of interest, be it music or sports or an aurora borealis.

    I am not a Twitterhead; pretty much refuse to be, in spite of missing out on up-to-the-minute pop culture. (Ask me if my life is ruined by this.) However, I am in pretty much daily contact with fellow typewriter users. We critique each other’s writing. We compare notes on vintage machines. It’s only recently that some of us have physically met, and yet we are certainly a community.

    You are so far away, and yet you are part of so many people’s lives. You brought together so many people, last year. Congratulations, for you are a leading citizen in the indie music community.

  2. I wish I knew how to find/create local performing spaces and collaborators. Have done so much through Teh Internets and through geek conventions, but have yet to find anything like a local performance space, especially one that feels like a home.

    Been trying to create/invent spaces, but not much luck yet. Too cold right now for ninja outdoor venues; meanwhile, I’ve been walking the streets trying to get any coffeehouse (or pizza place) in town to let me play there, and they all say “no.”

    Of course, you know yourself that DC was the only city that didn’t have an appropriate venue for acoustic singer-songwriter types. :(

    That’s all a bit of a downer, so what I really mean is: your upcoming shows sound AWESOME, so cool that you’ve made them happen, and wish I could be there. :)


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