Thursday, April 27, 2006

Indianapolis ignored by national touring acts

Note: This is another column by my music editor "the kid"

About a half dozen or more times a year, I travel out of state. During those times in airports and assorted bars I wander in and inevitably meet someone else and strike up a conversation. Those situations can at first be awkward while both people size up each and try to break the ice. Almost by nature, most people attempt to do this by the easiest question that comes to mind: “So, where are you from?” When I respond Indianapolis, I am met with varying levels of response or curiosity. Half the people I talk seem to think Indianapolis is a neon cornfield inhabited by slack jaw yokels enamored with watching cars go around real fast. About twenty five percent of people I talk to actually have some idea about Indy, which is based primarily on sports, or based on their experiences when they were here twenty years prior. The remaining persons, and those who I particularly enjoy the most, generally respond with variable degree of wording: “Nice City.”

Indianapolis is a city ripe with potential and dreams of becoming a great city in its own right. It appears that our city leaders have realized that our city does have an image problem of sorts and have made efforts to minimize it. Our leaders have hired an advertising firm from New York to help with our “branding”. To show our progression our leadership touts our life science assets to give some indication that the city is on the cutting edge. Also our media outlets try to help our own self-image. Whenever our fair city hosts a big event, the local media comb the city for a visitor for a sound bite about how wonderful it is here. I can almost hear Sally Field in the background yelling “You like me, you really like me.”

As much as I would defend Indianapolis to all naysayers, it is hard to defend the city when it comes to our concert scene. Although the city does get a few national tours, the bookings in our city are as cutting edge as a phonograph. During the past few months several bands that I enjoy and who have toured the country have not bothered to stop by the Circle City. Death Cab for Cutie, Franz Ferdinand, Secret Machines, Elefant, Nada Surf, Artic Monkeys, Tapes N Tapes, Elf Power, Belle and Sebastian and the New Pornographers are some of the few whose only stop in Hoosier State at best consisted or will consist of a restroom break off I-65 on their way to Chicago. Can someone explain to me how Birmingham, Alabama can get the Strokes while we spend our Fridays at the Music Mill jamming to a Guns and Roses’ tribute band?
Now don’t get me wrong. This writer is no stranger to the emotional brilliance of “Rocket Queen”, but they fact still remains that the original band put out that song almost twenty years ago while new critically lauded bands steer clear of Indiana.

The easy answer is that our city does not have enough places to play. But simply put that isn’t true. In addition to one of the most successful amphitheaters in the country located in the Northern suburbs (Torpor has agreed to but a round of shots for anyone who can prove that they consistently call it Verizon Wireless Music Center and not Deer Creek), our larger venues include Conseco Fieldhouse, the Murat, and Clowes Hall. On the smaller level, and venues probably most appropriate for some bands on their first album, the city has the Vogue, Music Mill, Birdy’s, Emerson Theater, the Lawn at White River State Park and Radio Radio all, in my humble opinion, under used.

Perhaps the concert promoters of the Country share the same lack of familiarity with the city as I have encountered. As such they don’t feel that our city has quite the open mind to go see a band that may not have a song on heavy rotation on our local “alternative” station. Or perhaps it is the curse of the Rolling Stones who after not selling out the Dome several years back damned the city and swore never to return. All I know is that as a friend stated recently, when it comes to concerts Indianapolis doesn’t get much love.

That being said I have a few suggestions, some feasible some a little more difficult, to address this problem:

1. Our local radio station. Right now our local alternative station boasts a play-list that was rocking in 1995, but is very much dated today. Although the station deserves some credit for playing local bands Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos and the Virgin Millionaires the fact still remains that their play-list is dictated by corporate giant Clear Channel. I submit to you that if those persons who make the decisions what will play well in Indianapolis don’t know the city or have opinions that don’t reflect the city’s growing level of sophistication we will still be singing to Seven Mary Three five years from now. However, if by some chance, corporate has allowed the play-list decisions to be made locally, then it is plain sad that they don’t believe that the listeners could handle a song by a unknown or newer band but during two time periods: the wonderful “Hang-over Café” on Sunday morning or their edge of the X play-list for 15 minutes in the evening. If a newer band has a song that actually had some playing time here, then promoters might take a chance and book them here for a show.

2. Our colleges. Indianapolis, simply put, is not a college town. That being said, we still have several institutes of higher learning in the metro area. College should be a time of exploration and that includes to which music to be exposed. The student leadership at the area colleges should attempt to book some of the new noteworthy bands to come to their schools. Each school in the area that I am aware of has the space for a touring band to play and should capitalize on the opportunity.

3. Our local leadership. I say this tongue in cheek with the city leaders dealing with more pressing issues such as the sewers running amok and the consolidation of our police forces. However, if the city can pony up the dough for an advertising firm in New York then surely the city could front the money for a potential revenue-generating event that would bring the city an immediate buzz. Think about a Coachella, Bonnaroo, or Lollapoloza right in downtown Indianapolis. With an impressive line-up, imagine the number of potential visitors that would come to the city who would have never come here before nor would have a reason to outside of the month of May. When I say impressive I don’t mean Hoobastank rocking out the Circle during Final Four weekend but critically lauded bands (I will note some bands I indicated above are not an all encompassing list). But if anything, Final Four weekend showed it was that downtown could support a very large crowd for a concert as eighty thousand attended the Mellencamp show. Pulling off such an event would generate more buzz nationally than the commercials the city runs in other Midwestern cities and might influence concert promoters that the city could handle a band mostly ignored by our local radio.

Until the time Indianapolis is no longer ignored by concert promoters of newer bands, it will be road trips and disappointment. I look forward to the time when Indianapolis, when it comes to bookings, is at least in the same neighborhood as Chicago. Until then, enjoy “Paradise City” by some Axl wanna-be. By the way, if someone gets the chance to talk to that guy on Friday, see if he has any insight to when Chinese Democracy is finally coming out.

--The Kid


Blogger Butchieboy said...

Death Cab for Cutie played at the Patio a few years ago. Mabye they just don't like Hoosiers.

April 27, 2006  
Blogger indymtgpro77 said...

I am with you Torpor, our day will come.....too bad I will have left by then!

April 27, 2006  
Blogger torporific said...

Where are you going, Tim?

I didn't know that, Butchie.

April 27, 2006  
Blogger Jim said...

The sad fact of the matter is that shows by most of the bands mentioned don't sell here. Period. It's already difficult enough to get people in this city to see excellent local acts on a regular basis, so it's not worth it for other independent bands to come here to play.

The first thing that the city needs to do is build a more vibrant local music scene. Once that happens, acts from other places will start playing here more often.

April 27, 2006  
Blogger Jim said...

I should also add that a local scene is something that arises largely because of organic factors. I don't think that a local scene can, in large part, be manufactured by the powers that be. But the city can do some things to make itself more attractive. People who want to start artistically forward-thinking bands are attracted to a local music scene by cheap rent and sort of a cultural "street coolness." When I think of "street coolness," I'm thinking of places like the Melody Inn, the Dorman Street Saloon, and Radio Radio.

Montreal was the last musical "it" city and it has both of those things. Indy has the cheap rent, but it doesn't completely carry much street coolness. I do, however, think that downtown, particularly Fountain Square, has the potential to become street cool. The city needs to continue to promote places like Fountain Square.

God, I sound like Richard Florida, don't I?

April 27, 2006  
Blogger indygirl said...

Somehow we got Sigur Ros which completely astonished me.

I think people assume a drive to Columbus or Chicago isn't that far so there's no reason to stop at both AND Indy too. Cincy has the same problem.

April 27, 2006  
Blogger Going to the John said...

Think thats bad, try Fort Wayne...
Kansas, Cheap Trick, and one CD no names…

April 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear that philly has a kickass music scene.

April 27, 2006  
Blogger lemming said...

Very interesting post - Europeans usually ask about the races. Americans assume that we're all hicks.

April 27, 2006  
Blogger cinnamon said...

I to have noticed this Lemming.
I will add to this: there IS a new promoter in town. Clear Channel is switching some stuff up, from top to bottom apparently got them shaking in their golden boots. Now I am not one for rumors, ok I am. There might be another venue (by previuos mentioned promoter) in works it the coming years downtown, that will not be controlled by Clear Channel Empire. AND will be a home away from home like deer creek was to many of us. (wink, nudge, HINT)
The lawn is trying to get some big shows this summer, 311, OAR, Umphreys McGee, Allman Bro, etc. MUST STOP. i can go on forever about this!

April 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since Indianapolis does not have a true alternative radio station, the Indianapolis people are not familiar with the bands that you have mentioned. Maybe with the increased expansion of satellite radio, more people will be exposed to the alternative music scene and the demand for these types of band will increase. Until then, I guess I will just go see Kelly Clarkson at Verizon. I have my fingers crossed that Jessica Simpson comes here this summer.

April 27, 2006  
Blogger John Good said...

Clear Channel is a pox that must be removed. I know that, most likely, is merely a dream, but give me that, damn you! I'm tired of a few people making decisions for all of us.
I want Air America in Fort Wayne. Hell, I can guess you don't have it even in Indy. That aint right.

April 27, 2006  
Blogger torporific said...

Jim, I had to look up Richard Florida, but I remember when that book came out. I agree that a scene cannot be manufactured by authorities. It really just has to happen. Of course, the community leaders can do things that indirectly affect the music community, but things rarely work when they're forced.

Fountain Square has been touted as the next big thing for 10 years, but although much improved, it still hasn't lived up to the hype.

April 28, 2006  
Blogger toobusyliving said...

It's all about Jane Jacobs - she had all the answers.

April 28, 2006  
Blogger Nölff said...

I think it all depends on the venues.

We get more punk, metal, and jazz shows than Atlanta. We don't get ozzfest and all that festival shit, but we get good touring bands.

A lot of bands don't come here becouse they presume everyone in South Carolina is racist and I think that's a prejudice double standard..... We're not Mississippi.

April 28, 2006  
Blogger Craig said...

Indy Jazz fest is usually okay. The Sunday night show this year is Wynton Marsalis Quartet, the Neville Bros. Dr. John...if you're into that sort of thing. It's only $25, you can't beat the price.

Best trumpet player in the world for $25.

April 28, 2006  
Blogger your judgemental aunt said...

you complain about people getting the wrong idea about Indy. Well stop talking shit about it. You post was full of...we get no concerts, our radio station sucks, non residents know little or nothing about Indy, the Rolling stones hate us, etc.
You didn't say anything that would have me or any band want to stop in town.
Maybe the money shouldn't have went to a NYC PR firm but used to bribe locals to tell people what Indy does have to offer?

April 28, 2006  
Blogger Marie said...

I don't live in Indy but I did some years ago and we often had the big names in town? Now I'm dating myself but I got to see Led Zepplen, Aerosmith (several times), CSY, Eagles, YES, Clapton, Black Sabboth, Black Oak Arkansas, Grateful Dead........and so many more the list would take up to much space. So what happened to Indy? Why aren't any of the newer acts coming to town?

Anyone here going to see CSN&Y at Deer Creek?

The jazz fest is pretty nice but most of those acts play at a small town bar nearby and I can actually yak with the muscians over a beer. So I haven't felt inclined to go to the jazz fest.

take car all in INDY and rock on!


April 30, 2006  
Blogger torporific said...

Marie, which small bar do they play in indpls?

April 30, 2006  
Blogger Rob G. said...

Excellent post.

Conicidentally, I blogged about something else I think contributes to this as well. It's right here...

Long story short, folks around here, at least at smaller shows, have a tendence to ignore the touring/out of state bands, which I think only gives Indy a rep as closed minded. There seems to be a glaring gap in support for bands below the level of filling up the Vogue. Hell, even for that I've seen shows at the Vogue I thought would kill and you get there and the place is probably covering the guarantee.

I also don't think a scene can be created. I know lots of people in the local music scene are trying to do just that, but as a long time vet, I've seen many people try and all fail.

And I kind of think this is were the problem starts. Too many folks are trying to build a "local" music scene as opposed to a music scene, period. Too many people seem to accept (most) anything local and (most) anything big time national (meaning Murat or larger) but have a real reluctance to the mid-level bands. That's where things grow.

I'd also like to mention there is another radio alternative, my show, The Free Zone. We've been on the air for ages, but the problem is the time slot and getting the word out. It seems to me that either most people in town don't know about us or don't care.


May 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the "Kid" here. I haven't figured out this whole blogging thing yet. That being said, I wanted to thank Rob G. for his post (and the same to Jim for his thoughts on the matter). I just looked up your radio show. For everyone it is on 88.7 on Fridays and Saturdays at midnight. I wasn't aware of your show but now that I am, I plan on listening this weekend.

May 03, 2006  

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