Indianapolis ignored by national touring acts
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.