Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Maybe “heal” is too soon to call, but I’m confident that when we look back on the reactions of people, nationally and internationally, to the horrific shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, we’ll point to the broadcast of the 70th Annual Tony Awards as an important cultural milestone not only in its celebration of diversity but in its unabashed and sincere display of empathy towards the LGBTQIA community. From host James Cordon’s opening statement to Hamilton‘s win for Best Musical, the ceremony and its participants let their emotions drive their performances and their words. The victims of Orlando were truly in the hearts and minds of those performing in New York as Broadway paid tribute to the community that built it.

So let’s take a look at all of the moments that made this year’s Tonys so significant.

And as a side note, you should check out Carolyn Cox’s article about the Tonys over at The Mary Sue.

 

The Cold Open

Before the ceremony even began, host James Cordon opened the show with little fanfare. Just the camera on him, positioned from the back curtain, so those watching could see the full capacity of the theater; a theater full of the LGBTQIA community and their allies, a theater full of love and support, a theater full of voices crying “you are NOT alone!”

 

The Tonys have always made a priority out of giving it their all as a showcase of performance and passion. For many across the country and around the world the chance to see a Broadway production is slim whether because of geography or for financial reasons. And yet the lifeblood of the theater is made up of young people seeking an outlet for their creativity or a refuge from the world around them, so the broadcast takes on extra special meaning and importance for the theater community as it reaches out to the next generation.

The Hamilton Love Was Non-Stop

With a record setting 16 nominations, it was merely a question of how many awards Hamilton was going to take home at the end of the night. One shy of matching The Producers‘ record-setting 12 wins, Hamilton made an impressive haul, winning in several categories including Best Director (Tommy Kail), Best Lead Actor in a Musical (Leslie Odom, Jr.), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Daveed Diggs), Best Orchestration (Alex Lacamoire), and Best Book of a Musical (Lin-Manuel Miranda).

The hip-hop musical chronicling the “ten dollar Founding Father without a father” was all over the Tonys. Not only did Lin-Manuel Miranda’s company provide an opening parody of Hamilton‘s first song for James Cordon they also closed out the show with “The Schuyler Sisters,” a love letter to New York City with Angelica, Eliza…and Peggy proclaiming it as “the greatest city in the world.”

It’s not all that surprising how much of a presence Hamilton had; James Cordon is unapologetically Hamilton trash and he used the award ceremony to indulge in that love as well as pay tribute to the efforts of Miranda to provide entertainment for those unable to attend the show during the Ham4Ham lottery outside the Richard Rogers Theater. At each commercial break, the upcoming performers took the stage outside the Beacon Theater, surrounded by fans unable to attend the show, to sing a well-known show tune or a classic Broadway standard. Cordon even aired an edited version of his Carpool Karaoke featuring Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Jane Krakowski.

But there were two Hamilton related moments that prominently stood out. First, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acceptance sonnet after winning for Best Original Score. A man of compassion and intelligence, Miranda made “love” the word of the night as he paid tribute to his wife and the LGBTQIA community.

After his win for Best Book, Miranda told reporters, “Theater doesn’t exist without the LGBT Community. It’s the cornerstone of our industry and it’s heavy in my heart tonight.”

Secondly, the performance of “History Has It’s Eyes on You” and “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” showed exactly why Hamilton has become such a significant piece of art. Getting three separate introductions from James Cordon, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and Common respectively, the words and intent of the songs, not unlike the actual words of the Founding Fathers, took on new meaning. Out of respect for the victims in Orlando, Miranda and company performed without the prop muskets that would normally be featured, but I can say that their presence was barely noted as somber lyrics like “the world turned upside down” and “history has its eyes on you” reverberated through the Beacon Theater. It was a poignant moment as if the songs were chosen for a reason, sending a message to all those watching. Even the victorious shouts of “We won!” held back barely contained pride, joy, and rage. Hamilton secured its spot as the voice of a generation in that moment.

Frank Langella Pays Tribute to Orlando

After winning the award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance in The Father, veteran actor Frank Langella forfeited the typical list of thank yous and instead commented on the Orlando shooting.

People of Color Sweep Major Awards

As mentioned before, Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom, Jr., Daveed Diggs, and Renée Elise Goldsberry took home awards for acting in a musical. Add to that list The Color Purple‘s Cynthia Erivo’s win for Best Lead Actress in a Musical and all four categories for acting in a musical were won by people of color. It’s a bittersweet moment of triumph since it’s the first time in the history of the Tonys that this has happened, but given the plethora of people of color nominated for Tonys this year, Broadway’s biggest night showed far more effort in promoting and encouraging diversity than the Oscars.

Speaking of which…

Diversity Steals the Showerivo

With so many people of color nominated, the plays and musicals nominated were just as diverse in their subject matter and significance to our current culture. Hamilton showed the parallels between modern and Revolutionary America through the lens of postmodern storytelling. Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed brought context to the Jazz Age play; the first to star an entirely black cast and a desegregated orchestra. The Tony performance also featured the incomparable Audra McDonald doing a tap routine while very pregnant! The Color Purple celebrated the hard work, struggle, and drive of black women finding strength in themselves and in the people they love. Worth noting was Cynthia Erivo’s powerhouse performance as Celie during the show. She brought the house down and showed why the Tony was hers to win. Even the revival of Fiddler on the Roof found significance as a celebration of faith through the struggle of the Jewish community in turn of the century Russia.

The most intriguing performance, however, was the revival of Spring Awakening with a cast made up of deaf and hearing as well as differently abled actors. Marlee Matlin, who made her Broadway debut in the Deaf West production, introduced the performance, noting that the themes of the play are universal but the deafness of some of the principal actors gives greater meaning to a musical about the failure of adults to listen to their children.

Of course one night of music and awards can’t erase the tragedy this country, specifically the LGBTQIA community, experienced, but in their own way the Tonys gave us a brief distraction. It was a generous gift and I thank them for that with all of my heart.

If you’d like to help the victims of the Orlando shooting, please visit https://www.gofundme.com/PulseVictimsFund

Kate Leth also posted a roundup of pertinent links for various donations and trauma counseling. You can go here: http://kateordie.tumblr.com/post/145813044112/anyone-in-orlando-or-has-followers-from-the-area

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Like a good portion of the world, last week I witnessed the amazing that is Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Advertised as a “visual album,” Lemonade premiered as an hour-long special on HBO, which coincided with the audio release of her sixth studio album of the same name on Tidal, the streaming platform owned by husband Jay-Z. Like her previous album, the self-titled Beyoncé, Lemonade is a continuation of her open and deeply personal exploration of womanhood, motherhood, Blackness, and the beyonce-lemonademusical roots that drive and inspire. It is also a very blatant statement about the struggle of black women framed within Beyoncé’s internal battle with Jay-Z’s infidelity.

Visually and audibly, there is no separation between the personal and the political as Beyoncé reads the work of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, wears the Yoruba body art of Laolu Senbanjo, and, through a variety of directors, cinematographers, and designers, celebrates and honors black womanhood. If you don’t feel your heart break when the camera lingers on the faces of Sybrina Fulton, Lesley McSpadden, and Gwen Carr – mothers of police brutality victims Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner respectively – as they hold pictures of their slain sons, then I don’t know what will crack that piece of stone in your chest. The film is striking, poignant, and like Sasha, fierce as shit. The music is similarly so as we take the heroine’s journey from betrayal to forgiveness and the emotional spectrum in between.

But I’m not going to review the album or the film. I can’t and I won’t because, as I’ve been told through various sources on the internet, this isn’t about me. Yes, I can enjoy Beyoncé’s work, but there are elements of her struggle and the struggle of black women that I will never experience. It would be disingenuous to make blatant statements about the universality of Lemonade or how it “transcends race” or some other such bullshit because it categorically isn’t true. Lemonade is about black women and I am not a black woman.

However, I’d like to think I’m an ally and the least I can do is spread the word about Lemonade and its many think pieces as far and as wide as possible. So here is a compilation of articles I’ve found that deserve your attention. They aren’t ranked and they’re in no particular order, so please give them some of your time and consideration and don’t hesitate to provide more links to articles.

  1. Sydney Gore, “‘Lemonade’ is a Love Letter From Beyoncé to Black Women” via Nylon
  2. Syreeta McFadden, “Beyoncé’s Lemonade is #blackgirlmagic at its most potent” via The Guardian
  3. Miriam Bale, “Critic’s Notebook: Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ is a Revolutionary Work of Black Feminism” via The Hollywood Reporterbeyonce-ibeyi-lemonade-715x5011
  4. Naila Keleta-Mae and Anupa Mistry, “Beyoncé Speaks Directly to the Black Mainstream with LEMONADE via The Fader
  5. Regina Bradley and dream hampton, “Close to Home: A Conversation About Beyoncé’s Lemonade” via NPR
  6. Angela Bronner Helm, Lemonade: A Searing Ode to Grown Black Womanness” via The Root
  7. Morgan Raymore, “What Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” Means to Young Black Women” via Feminist Culture
  8. Vrinda Jagota, “Beyoncé’s Lemonade is about so much more than Jay-Z cheating on her” via SheKnows
  9. Yohana Desta, “Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ is a powerful tribute to black girls everywhere” via Mashable
  10. Jazmine Joyner, “Art: A Review of Beyoncé’s Visual Album Lemonade” via BlackGirlNerds
  11. Gabby Beshadu, “Finding Life After Abuse With Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade'” via The Establishment
  12. Flose Boursiquot, “I got ‘LEMONADE’ all on my lips” via Blavity
  13. Dominique Matti, “Why Lemonade Is For Black Women” via Medium

David Bowie was and always will be a cultural icon. He let his freak flag fly and encouraged everyone to do the same. He invited us to embrace the idea of being ourselves, turning whatever made us odd or weird into the very thing that made us cool. For Bowie, being himself was an exploration into multiple personas: He was Ziggy Stardust, he was The Man Who Fell to Earth, he was Jareth the Goblin King, he was Nicola Tesla, but above all else he was David Bowie.

Bowie’s presence, his musicality, his persona are eternal. His style and swagger live on in artists unafraid to push the boundaries of performance. His aesthetic has been the subject of countless homages and his music has a way of popping up where you least expect it, though it’s never unwelcome. He could bring us to tears as we mourned the loss of Major Tom, but he could just as easily bring us to our feet to dance away the blues. We had him for a short time, but there’s no doubt he lives on.

He’s waiting in the sky now and he’ll shine on forever.

 

 

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I may not be able to see the musical for a good year or so, but my God if it was possible to marry a soundtrack, I’d be the first in line. Seriously, I haven’t been this obsessed with a musical since I was twelve watching the Les Misérables 10th Anniversary show on PBS. But if you told me ten, five, even one year ago that one of my favorite albums ever would be the cast recording of a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton I probably would’ve laughed in your hamilton-musicalface. Really hard. Like, rolling on the floor, gut-busting laughs that leave you breathless.

Don’t get me wrong, I find the Revolutionary era of American history fascinating, but that’s because I studied and specialized in the subject. The further we move away from the United States’ beginnings the harder it becomes to make the Founding Fathers relatable as flesh and blood men of their time. Instead, we venerate and idolize them for their virtues and great accomplishments while not-so-subtly sweeping their flaws and mistakes under the rug. We forget that for all their eloquence and statesmanship these were men subject to the same trappings of ambition, pride, lust, greed, and paranoia as the rest of us.

Enter Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ron Chernow’s 800-page biography of Alexander Hamilton. Coming off of his success for the musical In the Heights, which he received the Tony for Best Original Score, Miranda picked up Chernow’s book while on vacation and became inspired to tell Hamilton’s story. But what’s so inspiring about a man who modern audiences only know was killed in a duel and appears on the ten dollar bill? In Miranda’s mind not only is Hamilton’s life the immigrant’s story but the man’s tenacity, zeal, and naked ambition makes him a kindred spirit of modern day hip-hop artists like Tupac and Kanye West. After reading Chernow’s book, Miranda spent the next seven years working on the musical that originally started as the Hamilton Mixtape. The first inklings of the emerging musical came from Miranda’s performance of what would be the opening number at the White House in 2009.

It’s easy to laugh at the idea. Hamilton and hip-hop don’t exactly overlap no matter how refined you make the Venn diagram. But when you move past the conceit of the musical and listen to the actual music, it all begins to make sense. Hip-hop and rap are, at their core, about self-aggrandizement, hyperbole, and passion and when one looks at the writings produced by the Founders those same core tenets materialize. They wrote for posterity’s sake, with history in mind, and men like Hamilton could rise or fall by the strength of their words. To win was to have the most convincing argument, which also meant destroying the argument of your opponent through cleverness and rhetoric. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a rap battle. In fact, there are two moments where the old school rap battle serves as the delivery method for cabinet debates between Hamilton and Jefferson. They are, by far, my favorite pieces for the Hamilton-Lafayette-Mulligan-Laurenssheer amount of history covered through amazing lyrical dexterity. I could listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs battle all day as Hamilton and Jefferson. All. Day.

But the Hamilton soundtrack, produced by Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots, is more than just hip-hop. It’s the best fusions of R&B, jazz, rap, soul, pop, and traditional Broadway, but above all else it’s filled to the brim with energy. And therein lies the strength of the musical. The frenetic nature of hip-hop propels the story, making Hamilton and the rest of the Founders dynamic and active participants in the creation of the American experiment. These aren’t the stuffy white men of static images in history books, these are living, breathing revolutionaries looking for a fight, a cause, to improve their lives and prove themselves to the rest of the world. It’s also worth noting that the entire main cast is intentionally composed of people of color. As Miranda puts it Hamilton is “the story of America then told by America now.”

And at the center of it is Alexander Hamilton, played by Miranda, and the amazing cast bringing George Washington (Christopher Jackson), Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette (both played by Daveed Diggs), and Aaron Burr to life. Using Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.) as the musical’s narrator, Hamilton follows the youngest Founding Father from his revolutionary beginnings to his untimely end. Miranda and company present a man who lived like every day might be his last, a man obsessed with glory and legacy as the only means of proving himself and rising above his lowly origins. But Hamilton isn’t just the immigrant story, it’s the story of American politics, which haven’t changed all that much, and the flawed men in power.washington

As someone who has studied the Revolution, I appreciate Hamilton‘s approach to the Founders. Framed within the context of “who lives, who dies, who tells your story,” the musical neither condemns nor condones the behavior of Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Madison, and Washington. They all get their moments to shine, but they’re also undercut by their own arrogance and insecurities. The exception might be Washington. Commander, president, and father figure, Washington still retains an air of heightened reverence but the song “Right Hand Man” does a brilliant job of articulating Washington’s frustration with Congress and his own soldiers while “History Has Its Eyes on You” brings out his gentle, compassionate side beautifully encapsulated in Chris Jackson’s voice. Hamilton, however, is as much at fault for his own ruin, “The Reynolds Pamphlet”, as the people out to destroy him politically. And while Hamilton and Burr’s duel is an inevitability the road towards that confrontation is paved by two lives that intersect and parallel at key moments. And yet, at every turn, we get a reminder of Hamilton’s looming death. Whether it’s in the subtle reverberations of gun shots at the end of specific songs or Hamilton’s personal mantra of “I am not throwin’ away my shot!” we know what’s coming.

Hamilton Richard Rodgers Theatre Cast Lin-Manuel Miranda Alexander Hamilton Javier Muñoz Alexander Hamilton Alternate Carleigh Bettiol Andrew Chappelle Ariana DeBose Alysha Deslorieux Daveed Diggs Marquis De Lafayette Thomas Jefferson Renee Elise Goldsberry Angelica Schuyler Jonathan Groff King George III Sydney James Harcourt Neil Haskell Sasha Hutchings Christopher Jackson George Washington Thayne Jasperson Jasmine Cephas Jones Peggy Schuyler Maria Reynolds Stephanie Klemons Emmy Raver-Lampman Morgan Marcell Leslie Odom, Jr. Aaron Burr Okieriete Onaodowan Hercules Mulligan James Madison Anthony Ramos John Laurens Phillip Hamilton Jon Rua Austin Smith Phillipa Soo Eliza Hamilton Seth Stewart Betsy Struxness Ephraim Sykes Voltaire Wade-Green Standby: Javier Muñoz (Alexander Hamilton) Production Credits: Thomas Kail (Director) Andy Blankenbuehler (Choreographer) David Korins (Scenic Design) Paul Tazewell (Costume Design) Howell Binkley (Lighting Design) Other Credits: Lyrics by: Lin-Manuel Miranda Music by: Lin-Manuel Miranda Book by Lin-Manuel Miranda

The women of Hamilton, though, are not to be ignored. Alexander Hamilton’s relationship with the Schuyler sisters may have been complicated but the musical uses that complexity to bring out the romance and tragedy in their history. Renée Elise Goldsberry is amazing as Angelica Schuyler-Church, the eldest and most intellectually profound of the sisters. In “The Schuyler Sisters” Goldsberry brings out the fun and youthful exuberance of Angelica’s search for a “mind at work” while “Satisfied” exposes her love for Hamilton and her dueling feelings of regret and happiness for his marriage to her sister Eliza. Phillipa Soo, though, is inspiring as Eliza Schuyler-Hamilton. Kind and supportive of her husband, her desire to “be part of the narrative” takes a tragic turn in the wake of the Reynolds Affair. The song “Burn” makes your heart break for her as she condemns her husband’s words and denies history access to her heart and mind. It’s a poignant commentary on the lack of documentation from Eliza concerning the affair and Soo brings such raw sadness and anger that it’s hard not to imagine the reality of Mrs. Hamilton’s circumstances.

This is all to say that I love, Love, LOVE this soundtrack and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hamilton wins all of the Tonys! Miranda has also mentioned that there are plans to film the musical, which I believe should be done as soon as possible. Not only does it put Hamilton into the homes of people who don’t have access to or can’t afford to see Broadway shows but it could be utilized by schools as a new way to teach kids about the American Revolution.

So raise a glass, people, and join me in my love for Hamilton!

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Before you see him appear as Kingpin on the Daredevil series, you can listen to Vincent D’Onofio (Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Men in Black, The Cell), in collaboration with musician Dana Lyn, talk about being a hamster in the debut track from his forthcoming spoken word punk album Slim Bone Head Volt. As reported by the AV Club, Slim Bone Head Volt came about while D’Onofrio and Lyn were rehearsing for an off-Broadway play. The two

came together to mix her experimental music with his free-form words, described in a press release as springing from “the free-form system of Stanislavski mixed with the daring of Sturm Und Drang and the broken fourth wall of improvisation.”

The debut song, “I’m a Hamster” is a throwback to the beat poetry of Allen Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs with Lyn’s music bringing to mind the soundtrack of Naked Lunch. It’s insane, hilarious, and awesome. Take a listen!

Slim Bone Head Volt will be released on March 3, 2015 via Buddhabug Records. In the meantime, what do you think of “I’m A Hamster”?

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A friend of mine wrote an article about Mumford & Sons cover of “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel. In the article, he states that he prefers the cover to the original, to which I cried, “Bullshit! No one can prefer this cover-songsbanjo-laden Brit-folk version over the quietly understated hippie folk original!” Actually, I didn’t say that, but it was implied. Another friend of ours chimed in, siding with me that the original was the better song, though not simply because it was the original. This then prompted the article’s author to pose a question on Facebook as to whether or not a cover song (studio produced covers, mind you) can be better or as good as the original.

My answer: Yes, but it’s very hard to accomplish. Cover songs, by definition, are created because the original was so good that the cover artist wanted to create their own version. Or some studio producer forced the cover upon them. I’d like to believe it’s the former, but we’ve definitely seen the latter displayed often enough.

For a cover song to do well it really depends on if the artist brings anything new to the song. Those familiar with the Supertramp song “Give a Little Bit” are probably aware that the Goo Goo Dolls did a cover version. And that’s about all you need to know. They didn’t do anything else to the song except make it sound like a Goo Goo Dolls song, which made it very boring. It was about as straight forward a cover as you could get and it made very little impact. You also have radical departures like Madonna’s cover of “American Pie” by Don McLean. The song was for her movie The Next Best Thing, but the butchering of verses – taking the song out of its original context of honoring the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valenz, and The Big Bopper – and dolling it up with autotune and electronica made the song a hot mess.

On the other hand, there are cover songs that do right by the original, but showcase an aspect of the song that might have gone unnoticed before. One of my favorites is Nirvana’s cover of “The Man Who Sold the World”. Originally a David Bowie song, Kurt Cobain’s raw vocal on the Unplugged album makes the song far better than Bowie’s snyth-style. Cobain makes the lyrics sound desperate and regretful, which feeds into the somber music led by a haunting guitar riff.

There’s also the Dixie Chicks cover of “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks that was a very popular cover song because they honored the original, but still brought their own style to the song that, to borrow the most over used phrase on American Idol other than “Yo Dawg!”, “made it their own.” Like the original, “Landslide” is kept very minimalist in the hands of the Dixie Chicks, but they still add their country twang without overproducing the song. Plus, the harmonizing of the three women make certain words and phrases pop, emphasizing the emotional resonance of a song Johnny-Cash-Hurtabout age, experience, and longing. And then there’s Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. Do I even have to justify how beautiful that song is sung by The Man in Black? Trent Reznor has gone on record saying that the song truly belongs to Cash and I completely agree with him.

Cover songs, however, can be tricky when one factors in time, popularity, and the artist. We all know “Respect” as an Aretha Franklin song, but it was originally sung by Otis Redding. The song just took on a different meaning when the words came from a woman instead of a man, which also made more of an impact during the 1960s with the Women’s Liberation Movement. The Animals had a big hit with “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, but Nina Simone was the original recording artist even though the songs came out within a year of each other. Both are very good, by the way.

The songs of the fifties and sixties were especially nebulous in terms of who sang which song first and how a more well-known artist might make a particular song skyrocket into popular culture even as a cover. We have to remember that cover songs are not new things. Rock and roll was pretty much built on cover songs with white musicians covering black jazz and blues artists to make them more “palatable” for white audiences. Pat Boone made his career off of cover songs of black artists. There’s even a website ! Even Elvis Presley was a cover artist with “Hound Dog”, which was originally sung by Big Mama Thornton.

Hairspray has a great sequence in the middle of the film that shows how white covers of black music were utilized and retooled to present what producers thought was a more “wholesome” image. And, lest I forget, the Beatles did cover songs too. Their first few albums, while featuring plenty of songs written by Lennon and McCartney, had a lot of covers as well. However, once the Beatles moved into only writing their own songs, they, in turn, became a band that others tried to cover. Movies like the God-awful Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the much better Across the Universe created narratives around cover songs of the Beatles’ catalog.New girl in town

I guess what it really boils down to is preference and taste. I tend to go for originals over covers as the better version of a given song, but a lot of that is also based on which version I was introduced to and grew up with. It’s kind of like how some viewers, generally younger kids, think that the songs featured on Glee are original songs when they are, in fact, covers made specifically to sell iTunes. Hell, sometimes songs on Glee are covers of covers. Case in point, the version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles sung by Kurt in the episode “Grilled Cheesus” is actually a cover of the slowed down version made for Across the Universe. You can call it snobbery or being too much of a purist, but it’s my preference, which means I really can’t begrudge anyone else’s taste in music. I do like a lot of cover songs, I just don’t necessarily believe they’re better than the original. That doesn’t mean that I won’t debate the merits of one song over another. That’s part of the fun!

So tell me your favorite cover songs! Do you prefer covers to the originals? Start a dialogue, people! Share your music with us!

Sam talks with Kyle Stevens, aka Kirby Krackle, about the rise of nerd rock and his latest album.

After an oddly unprecedented summer full of mostly sunshine, the first day of Bumbershoot, one of the largest music and arts festivals in America, kicked off with weather more familiar to the citizens of Seattle, Washington: rain. Undeterred, people were ready and prepared for the three-day event with jackets, plastic ponchos, and, yes, even umbrellas so as not to miss any of the music, comedy, and art spread out over the Seattle Center in the shadow of the Space Needle.bumbershoot-2014

In many ways, Bumbershoot is indicative of Seattle’s cultural vibe. Have an eclectic taste in music, well there are several stages set up with musical acts ranging from up-and-coming artists to established acts topping the Billboard charts to veterans who show no signs of stopping. Traveling from one end of the Seattle Center to the other I heard new artist, and winner of the Experience Music Project’s (EMP) Sound Off!!, Otieno Terry perform a beautiful cover of The Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” only to have the music eventually taper off until the heavy beats of Sam Lachow‘s hiphop set took over at Fisher Pavillion. This is a festival where Bootsy Collins gets driven around in a golf cart and everyone watches him drive by and goes, “Yup, there goes Bootsy Collins!” And I consider myself a winner on all levels when I can sit outside and eat a Skillet burger while members of The Presidents of the United States of America, plus some male audience members, shake their butts on stage as Luscious Jackson sings “#1 Bum”. I also understand that a lot of this is filled with local references, but maybe that’ll just entice you to make your way to Seattle one of these days.

"Finger Power" by LET'S

“Finger Power” by LET’S

The arts are also heavily emphasized at Bumbershoot, which says something when you consider the amazing talent brought in from the musical acts alone. Peppered throughout the grounds were booths from local and out-of-town artists selling hand-crafted jewelry, clothing, and ephemera. The great thing about walking the grounds and hopping from booth to booth were the varied conversations people were having with the artists and sellers over their wares. Even if they didn’t buy anything, people were genuinely interested in how the artists created their products. The level of engagement between artists and festival-goers is, in my opinion, what really makes Bumbershoot stand out. Not only are there the outdoor booths, but several art installments were inside various buildings. Flatstock is a staple of the festival with artists gathered who mostly specialize in creating posters for many of the bands and comedy acts featured. But there are also several interactive art exhibits that truly required the full engagement of those participating. Seth David Friedman’s “Black Poem” requires viewers to create a narrative by feeling their way along a series of oblong sculptures without the use of sight. And “Finger Power” by the Seattle art collective LET’S encourages people to interact with the piece by controlling lights, sounds, and video. And because Seattle is ensconced in a region well versed in technology, the Bumbercade offered several games that engaged the senses and morality of the people playing. The most touching exhibit, however, was the tribute to photographer Jini Dellaccio who passed away in July. Selected photographs were displayed to show Dellaccio’s ability to produce striking images through the faces of her subjects. In many of the photographs it’s the eyes that draw you in as if you’re meeting the person face to face.

To top it all off, Bumbershoot pulls in a staggering lineup of comedic acts as well as shows that play on the traditions of storytelling, variety acts, and civil interrogation. The Words and Ideas section of the grounds featured a wide array of performers who, like the musical acts and artists, relied on engaging the public to emphasize the greater meaning of community and the shared experience of those in attendance. One such show, The Failure Variety Show, featured several performers sharing stories of how they failed – whether through relationships, jobs, or reliving past failures from childhood – while two technicians attempted to build a Rube-Goldberg machine for the grand finale. The irony being that the machine wasn’t finished by the allotted time and the technicians madly scrambled around the stage triggering sections one-by-one. Whether intentional or not, the failed attempt at building the machine brought the audience together through laughter and the knowledge that failure isn’t the end of the world and good things can happen as a byproduct of failure.

Paul F. Tompkins and Rory Scovel

Paul F. Tompkins and Rory Scovel

And as far as the comedic acts go, it’s hard to fail with solid performers like Paul F. Tompkins, Janeane Garofalo, Pete Holmes, Rory Scovel, Michelle Buteau, and Doug Benson, just to name a few. Even if you’re not familiar with their standup, going to see one of the comedy shows can quickly create new fans. I got to witness such an event at the first Dead Author’s podcast where H.G. Wells, as played by Paul F. Tompkins, spoke with Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, as played by Rory Scovel. Watching the improvised interplay between the two kept the audience, if not the performers, on the edge of their seats. Or literally out of their seats as Scovel’s Carroll wandered the stage in fear of the tablet Tompkins’ Wells used to record a promo for the podcast.

Three days just doesn’t seem like enough time to cover everything Bumbershoot has to offer, but luckily there’s so much to explore and discover. Even when you think you’ve done everything, something or someone surprises you with something they’re selling, a joke told with perfect timing, or an old song played with as much passion now as it was when you first heard it. One visit to Bumbershoot will never be enough. By the end of the weekend a year almost seems too long to wait for the next festival.

And here are some more photos for you to check out!

Typical Day in Seattle

Typical Day in Seattle

Neighbor Girl by Jini Dellaccio

Neighbor Girl by Jini Dellaccio

The Failure Variety Show

The Failure Variety Show

Flatstock

Flatstock

Me and Rory Scovel

Me and Rory Scovel

Me and Janeane Garofalo

Me and Janeane Garofalo

Me and Pete Holmes

Me and Pete Holmes

Over the last week fans of the accordion-wielding, Polka-powered musical god of parody that isweird-al-yankovic-mandatory-fun-album-cover “Weird Al” Yankovic were treated to the release of eight new music videos, one video per day, in celebration of Yankovic’s 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun. The videos debuted on different outlets across the internet and showed that Weird Al is still the king of musical comedy as his parodies and pastiches invoke as much laughter as they do bits of social commentary.

The first video released was “Tacky“, a parody of Pharrell’s monster hit “Happy”, followed by “Word Crimes“, a parody of Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and T.I.’s “Blurred Lines”, “Foil“, a parody of “Royals” by Lorde, “First World Problems“, a tribute to the Pixies, “Handy“, a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, “Sports Song“, a parody of college fight songs, “Lame Claim to Fame“, a tribute to Southern Culture on the Skids, and “Mission Statement” a tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and possibly Young.

In order to maintain the uniqueness of his songs, Weird Al made sure the videos were just as engaging, making more traditional music videos with the help of some celebrity guests and procuring the talents of animators for others. The animated videos specifically serve the purpose of bringing the songs to life in ways that live action would’ve faltered. For example, “Word Crimes”, an admonishment of the grammatical errors, syntax, and text speak that’s invaded our virtual lexicon, incorporates hilarious visual elements to point out just how lackadaisical we’ve gotten in our ability to write simple sentences while also incorporating the ridiculous flashing hashtags from Word Crimesthe source video. Even though “Blurred Lines” was released last year, Weird Al still manages to make the song relevent despite the gap between when the song was deemed a hit and the more current parodies on the album.

The inclusion of songs parodying hits like “Blurred Lines”, “Royals”, and “Radioactive”, though, shows the pitfalls of creating studio albums based in musical comedy. Now more than ever music and comedy have become mediums where relevancy is based in moments rather than the long-term. This is due in part to social media and our massive cultural Attention Deficit Disorder. A YouTube video or an article may get heavy rotation one day and, suddenly, the next day we’ve moved on to the next cat video or BuzzFeed quiz. We consume media as quickly as it’s produced and just as quickly discard it for the next shiny thing that comes our way. So one can imagine that crafting an entire album of parody songs is difficult when you have to pay attention to the Billboard charts for the hits you can work with as well as keep as up-to-date as possible. Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” is the most current songweirdal referenced on Mandatory Fun, released in February of this year, and the inclusion of its comedic twin, “Handy”, on the album was more about having a song that was a current hit, which shows in comparison to the other eleven songs that were given more time and production value.

The album, however, doesn’t suffer when it comes to the timeliness of its songs. Yankovic, his band that still consists of Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, Steve Jay, and Jim West, as well as the marketing team behind Mandatory Fun were smart in utilizing social media to launch the album via the eight videos. Not only did the videos individually saturate the internet, but the combined efforts and instant visibility of eight videos in a row catapulted Mandatory Fun into the #1 spot on Billboard, the first time in Weird Al’s 30 year career that one of his albums has charted so high in its debut week. And while there is some level of nostalgia surrounding Weird Al, there’s also genuine love and interest for the man behind the accordion and which songs he’ll tackle next. What Mandatory Fun’s marketing shows is how essential social media has become to the music industry and Weird Al as an artist.

tackyMandatory Fun has been confirmed to be Weird Al’s last traditional studio album with RCA Records, which is probably for the best if Yankovic plans to stick around. On a recent episode of Comedy Bang Bang, Yankovic was very candid about the fact that he’d rather have the freedom to produce a parody video or song around the same time the hit comes out as opposed to waiting and compiling songs for an album that can take up to two years to produce and distribute. With his plans to go completely digital, Weird Al will be able to create and distribute his work instantaneously, similar to the South Park method of animation production.

What does this mean for the viewing and listening audience? Simply this: more Weird Al!