Wherein our rookie music editor reflects on her eight-month stint at the helm
As the music and events editor at the Syracuse New Times since April, in some ways I’m still the new kid: figuring out my way around, learning the intricacies of writing, editing, dealing with deadlines, planning ahead and keeping up.
But in other ways, I am blessed that so many people have taken me under their wing and helped expand my head and horizons in such a short period. My coworkers have been incredible and encouraging, always backing my initiatives to try new communication methods like blogging, video, photography, social media and more. But I’ve also felt completely taken in by an astoundingly tight-knit and supportive music community.
It’s a daunting task stepping into a position where I’m suddenly given the power to decide who is discussed and who is not in a community that has such a prolific music scene and history. There are individuals I’ve met who have spent their entire lives performing, promoting, building and growing as part of a community where I’m still a newbie. I suddenly had to understand it all and yet cover it fairly.
It’s been tough. But it’s also been fun. In less than a year I’ve been to far more concerts than I can count. I’ve taken thousands of pictures, collected and posted nearly 200 videos and have met and spoken with artists I never would have dreamed of: Gregg Allman, Rob Stoner, Felix Cavaliere, David “Rock” Feinstein, Ron Carter, Joanne Shenandoah, Ronnie Earl, Sharon Jones and a list of others. And beyond that, I’ve come to know a vast array of local musicians who deserve much more than my pen (or keyboard) can afford them.
The end of the year is always prime time for evaluation and I’ve taken a good while to assess 2011 in music. While some of this will be funny (I hope you’ll find my cynical side amusing), some of it is to be taken with all the very genuine feelings with which it was written.
• One of my very first cover stories was about Sterling Stage. Editor-in-chief Molly English told me about the story before I even had a desk. I poked around the venue’s website, but was still out of touch with the series since I hadn’t really had a fun summer in Syracuse. (My pre-Newhouse School graduation requirement, fondly referred to as “boot camp,” does not qualify as a fun summer.)
I interviewed the founder, promoter and producer of Sterling Stage, Eric McElveen, for nearly two hours and I transcribed every word. It struck a chord with me as I had been to a similar festival in Virginia, Spaghettifest, a few times and missed it dearly. I wrote the story, got a rousing response and thought it only fitting that I check out at least the first festival rather than spend Memorial Day lounging on a lake in New Jersey. I thought perhaps it could live up to Spaghettifest… As it turned out, I fell in love, went to every other Sterling festival I could this summer and have already promised to make them all next year. Nice job on that first assignment, Molly.
• I didn’t think I had a chance of getting a press pass into Superball IX, Phish’s fourday festival down at Watkins Glen. I knew publications like Relix would be posted up, but hardly thought The New Times would stand a chance in the piles of press requests I’m sure they received. I think my heart palpitated when I got the email saying I had been approved for two full passes.
I had no clue what I’d do. I only got notice that I was approved days before the event and being that it was over the Fourth of July weekend, all kinds of friends and family already had plans. It was their loss not ditching those plans for Phish.
Luckily, a few of my friends from New Jersey, Phish-festival veterans, were hauling up there for the whole weekend, so I had a place to crash. I bought myself a tent, a camping backpack and off I went on my own, having absolutely no idea what to expect or how anything would work.
The result? An online article that more than 7,000 people have read and one of the best experiences of my life. Rather than explain it all, read it online at syracusenewtimes.com. Look for “Soul Shakedown Party” on the home page.
• I was warned coming into the job that summer would be crazy. Indeed, summer kicked my ass. I didn’t sleep much from May to August, but I had a killer good time in the process. Among all the incredible events, two changed me in many ways. Superball was one. The New York State Blues Festival, which ran July 8 to 10 at the Inner Harbor, was the other.
Blues Fest was going through tumultuous times after skipping a year and I saw firsthand the internal distress of the organization. But they pressed on and pulled it together. Every day had significant highlights and the weekend undoubtedly ended as a success. Dana Fuchs was electrifying on Friday, July 8, and the Magic Slim set on Saturday, July 9, reminded me of my first B.B. King experience just a few months earlier.
But Sunday, July 10, was the day. I had spoken to Jose Alvarez over the phone for the preview story, but was anxious to meet him. In addition to being as charming in real life as over the phone, he was as sincere in his mannerisms as he was in his playing. Having the chance to see him play with his “brothers” in Los Blancos, friend Terrance Simien and “father” Ronnie Earl was easily nothing short of incredible. I still relentlessly listen to his record Diggin’ In (Toluca Rocket Music), in constant awe of his incredibly precise guitar playing that never lacks in emotion.
Seeing Alvarez play with Earl also clearly demonstrated where he obtained his style and sensitivity. At the end of Sunday’s show Earl told me that I “intimidated him with my eyes” while he was playing. In saying that, I knew he didn’t just play for an audience: He connected with them, felt them and responded to them. Alvarez follows suit. That day of music completely changed my perspective on every note I’ve heard since.
For more on the lighter side of 2011 music, check out the Highlights and Lowlights.
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