Sunday, December 20, 2009

Challenge to Metromix

Neko Case, who will likely never play a concert in the Lehigh Valley

Dear Metromix,

I picked up your latest issue in a plastic box outside Christkindlmarkt last week, and I'm writing to let you know that I have a beef with your "Best albums of 2009" article. I realize that Andy Hermann is the national music editor of Metromix, and he's probably never been to the Lehigh Valley, PA. But your list of the best albums (online content via NYC Metromix - TMC has not posted it online yet) does not even remotely reflect the musical sensibility of most Lehigh Valleyans.

If your intent was to educate the masses about "real" music, it falls on deaf ears. We in the Lehigh Valley have lots of opportunities to rock out to live music, but most of it is by way of cover bands. Some are more metal, some are more classic rock, others pop or punk; however, I doubt any of them covered a song from your #1 album, "Middle Cyclone," by Neko Case. If one did, I would be belly-up to the bar singing "Man-man-man, man-man-man eater" at the top of my lungs with the one other Neko Case fan in the Lehigh Valley.

But Neko Case didn't stop in our at any of our great local venues like Godfrey Daniels (7 East Fourth Street, Bethlehem), Porter's Pub (700 Northampton Street, Easton), or Crocodile Rock (520 Hamilton Street, Allentown). She did perform at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside last April. She also played two shows at my favorite live music venue in Washington, DC, the 9:30 Club, where I once took in performances by artists like Ryan Adams, Kasey Chambers, Basement Jaxx, Zero 7, Pete Yorn, Old 97s, Mindy Smith, and Keane. She never came to the Lehigh Valley, because her record company believes that there is no audience for her here.

People like me, displaced music fans, have a couple of options:

Metromix, I am disappointed. Your writers could have spent a few hours researching an article on the top 10 list of the best concerts that came to the Lehigh Valley in 2009 - it would have been easy enough, since you print their listings every week! By publishing this list, you have proven how little local content you are actually interested in providing to readers, and I think that's a shame.

Lehigh Valley Transplant


  1. Woah woah woah woah. There's definitely an audience for her here. DEFINITELY. If Pretty&Nice can do a well-received show at Muhlenberg, then she can definitely shape up. I know too many people who drive to Philly, NYC and even DC to go to decent shows to say that there's nobody who appreciates decent music in the Valley. Now, there's not much of a music scene (yet? I hear R5 Productions is doing stuff in Bethlehem), but there are certainly fans who do their best to stay on top of new stuff.

    I just heard Neko on the radio last night, so she's in the Valley, if only in a disembodied voice kind of way.

    But yeah, I really just want to see a decent, reliably-cool venue pop up somewhere within a thirty minute drive.

  2. Katie, are you THE other Neko Case fan in the LV? Where did you hear her on the radio?

  3. I think Neko Case has like, a handful of fans here, but not enough to make it worth her while. Also there is a pretty awesome music scene here, its just... hidden. Blame it on the cops. And on city administrations that think things like "night club districts" create cultural destinations instead of stifling people.

  4. Preach it! Metromix's complete lack of local content is one of the reasons I decided to start LV Scene. Not saying my site is perfect...far from it. But at least with both of our sites/blogs readers are getting content generated by local people.

    To be fair, I don't think you're giving Lehigh Valley music listeners enough credit. The fact that WXPN sees fit to pay money for a transmitter here in the Valley proves that there are enough of us listening to good stuff.

    As far as the success of Neko Case show in the LV, I think you could look to the Andrew Bird show at Zoellner Center last fall as a guide. The show wasn't sold out but it did have a respectable crowd...and that was before his awesome album Noble Beast had come out. A Neko Case show at Zoellner would probably see better numbers.

    Regardless, thanks for taking Metromix to task.

  5. Anonymous12/22/2009

    Metromix, Pulse Weekly, EXPOSED, and all of the so-called rags have the same info, same bars, and limited info. If you think it's tough to find a decent band venue, try being a clubber from Miami. This place has so-called clubs that play the same music EVERY weekend. No vibe, no feeling, just TOP 40 and NO ONE complains because unfortunately, it's all we have. Decent clubs get shut down due to "negative influence" meaning it gets "too urban" translation "ghetto". Uhhh, HELLO, last time I checked, the URBAN COMMUNITY was actually growing in the LV not shrinking and HIP HOP is VERY popular. Also, last time I checked crime did NOT go down due to the closing of the Down Low, Banana Joes, or The Bridge. But since we "bad" Hip Hoppers" cause so much havoc, isn't it ashame people STILL desire OUR money. Ask Pig Pen where they now have the flashing sign, "HOODIES ALLOWED".

    Alfonso Todd

  6. I completely agree.

    Joel, Zoellner occasionally books a good contemporary recording artist. Maybe 2x per year, but they don't promote well to their membership. When Rufus Wainwright performed as part of the Musikfest lineup at Zoellner, I was in the front row. Sister Martha even opened for him and did some duets. It was excellent. The place was mostly empty. Nickel Creek sold better a couple of years ago. Sorry to have missed Andrew Bird - would have liked to hear him whistle, live.

    Alfonso, we were just talking about clubs at a party tonight. Where do you go if you want to salsa dance and not be stared down like an outsider? Are there any decent hip hop clubs that have live original acts? PS ("Hoodies allowed" - love it!)

  7. Anonymous12/22/2009

    hey!! don't go knock'n porters on thier music's not the greatest doesn't suck either....we have some great local talent around......rock on!!

  8. Anonymous, I have nothing bad to say about Porters - only for the artists that don't play there and the publications that don't promote them enough.

    You're right, we do have some good local bands, and the Morning Call's Go Guide actually does profile local bands on a regular basis!

  9. From Hillary on Facebook:

    "There are tons of Neko Case (and other good music) fans here. We listen to WXPN on 104.9, but it's true we have very few opportunities to see such good talent locally.

    I'm a transplant from DC myself, I grew up going to the 9:30 Club (back when it was actually at 930 F Street!) as a teenager and lived there again after college for quite a while.

    I am hopeful that the new Musikfest venue at Steel Stacks will remedy that situation. I believe it will give the promoters the message that we have serious venues for serious music here in the Valley. Then perhaps Patrick Brogan will be able to book acts such as Neko Case and Gillian Welch and Vampire Weekend and who knows who else.

    By the way, my husband is in a great band that writes all their own music. It's called Real West and they play Porters, Tap & Table and other venues that support and appreciate good original music. Next time they play I encourage you to check them out!"

    Hillary, I'd love to see the band, thanks for the tip! I'm a card-carrying WXPN member and was impressed that they sponsored the Candlelight series at Musikfest a few years back. I can't wait for SteelStacks, either!

  10. Anonymous12/22/2009

    "Alfonso, we were just talking about clubs at a party tonight. Where do you go if you want to salsa dance and not be stared down like an outsider? Are there any decent hip hop clubs that have live original acts? PS ("Hoodies allowed" - love it!)"

    Actually, LVT, PigsPen is actually starting to allow live Hip Hop artists to use the venue to perform. (As long as we can bring in the crowd, it's all good, which is only fair.) I manage a group, REDLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT, and we plan to look into it soon.
    Salsa dancing without the stares? Maybe PACIFICOS or during brief 15 minute Latin sets of music in BAR WITH NO NAME on Fridays and Saturdays. Maybe you are getting those stares for a GOOD reason, Mamacita! (smile)
    DECENT Hip Hop clubs? If there were any clubs that played HOUSE music or some Jamiroquai, or even the ROOTS, I would say, YES! But unfortunately, most spots, play it safe and play the same tired tunes or maybe an occasional throwback. Sorry, I am looking for a spot like you all. The last time I found a decent DJ who had the club vibing, they raided the spot 30 minutes later....

    Alfonso TOdd

  11. Does anyone still listen to local radio? Because I've buzzed it a few times and it was all rap music and country -- I'm guessing that's what's popular here, along with nu metal and thrash and the emo stuff my daughter and her friends all listen to. I drove 45 miles or so to see Neko Case in Montclair a few months ago, and I was glad that I could see her without going to Philadelphia or New York. Despite people moving here from New York and New Jersey, LV is still pretty rural and small potatoes, and it should be accepted that the numbers of any alt-style music fans here is probably too small for these people to come here (seeing as how they need to make money). But I wish they would!

  12. I've been thinking a bit about this topic for the past week or so, and Sara's post makes me want to chime back in. Yes, rap music and country music is popular here - those are the two most popular genres of music in the united states, but as with everywhere else in the country, that doesn't mean its the only thing people listen to. I love both rap and country, but would say that neither of them are the primary "genre" of music I listen to - and the rap or country music that I like is never played on commercial radio anyway. The same can really be said for alternative music. I like a band called TV on the Radio. Ironically, I've never heard anything by them played on commercial radio. Commercial radio is only representative of a tiny sliver of the music people listen to.

    Have you ever tuned in to a non-clear-channel station? Say, WMUH, WDIY, or WLVR? Those stations play a pretty wide variety of programming. They also feature local DJs, as opposed to Ryan Seacrest for 5 hours every day, giving you a much better idea of what the local nuances in music taste are like.

    As for the live shows. First, I think its short-sighted to say that the LV is too rural for alt-rock. The LV has three urban centers full of young people who are mostly into rap, hip hop, R&B and their various derivative forms.

    Secondly, a bit of personal experience, that might illustrate that in fact, if a name-band like Neko Case or TV on the Radio would play here, at a concert that was adequately promoted (this doesn't mean just written up in the mcall), hypothetically a lot of people would show up. But there's nowhere to put the show.

    When I was 15, I started putting on concerts here in the Lehigh Valley. They were mostly full of awful pop punk bands along with a smattering of 3rd-wave ska, hardcore, and indie rock stuff. I did it because that was the kind of music I liked, and I was bored with the music that was available to me and I couldn't drive to Philly yet. I don't remember how many concerts I did, probably a dozen or so. Most of the bands who played were unheard of by... anyone. But, on a regular basis, 3-500 young people would show up to these concerts and dance and sing along, and feel like we didn't live in a dump where no one likes young people for a few hours. Mostly I rented out VFWs, neighborhood centers, and The Icehouse on Sand Island. It was a good time. Since that time, the scene for young people has continued to change, and a lot of the places I did shows aren't available anymore. Now the venues where people book DIY shows are illegal, they are hidden, constantly fearing the police shutting them down. And you can't grow a scene that way. There's no option to bring back bands once they get a little popular. Even if you make the connections that make that kind of thing possible, and help build up a fanbase, in the end you have nowhere to go.

    There were a handful of occasions where one of the bands I booked miraculously got popular or introduced me to another band that was popular, and I had the opportunity to book bigger shows - but the LV doesn't have a venue for a show bigger than 1000 people. And the rare occasion (musikfest) when bigger bands could be brought here - they aren't. When was the last time you saw a good rock band at Musikfest? Washed up bands from the 90s (or 70s) don't count.

    If I booked TV on the Radio here, I think 2000 people would come to see them. But there's nowhere for them to play. Its not that there isn't an audience, its that the cities aren't interested in supporting the arts in a meaningful way, and the places that do have access (musikfest) don't have any motivation to take a risk, or to book a show that requires meaningful promotion to sell tickets.

  13. Another thought. There is something to be said about the connection between the lack of opportunities to enjoy good music and brain drain. I wonder what the demographic breakdown is at a Neko Case concert, or a TV on the Radio concert? My guess is that its overwhelmingly young, college educated professionals. Neko Case might also attract some middle aged people who remember The New Pornographers.

    The Lehigh Valley doesn't attract 20something college educated professionals to live here because it doesn't offer us many job opportunities. And other small cities that don't offer a ton of great jobs for people at early stages of their careers (Pittsburgh, Savannah, Louisville) offer the kinds of quality of life benefits (good cheap housing, public transit, lots of arts/entertainment) that can make up for the lack of jobs. If anything, the transplants from NY and NJ compound the problem (probably not the readers of this blog) by moving into 3500 sq foot monstrosities in Lower Nazareth, driving their 4.5 cars everywhere they go and thinking that a night out at the Promenade is a cultural experience.

    If brain drain wasn't such a plague on the LV, and the people who were moving here for the few jobs that do exist were moving to the cities, I think that there would be more opportunities for music. Because the bottom line with trying to put on music like Neko Case or TV on the Radio is that whomever would do it - a DIY promoter, a club, a seated venue - would have to work HARD to make sure people knew that the show was happening. They'd have to pull the young people from Lower Macungie or Lower Nazareth into one of the cities, they'd have to get people from Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and all the suburbs, and from Bucks County, etc... to hear about the show and come out. And who wants to do that if you can just book some lousy cover band for $200 and sell enough beer to keep your club open?

  14. Capri, maybe I was at your shows back in the day... any of them headlined by Weston?! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I agree wholeheartedly, especially with regard to promotion/marketing. I listen to WDIY almost daily, especially The Blend. I don't tune into WMUH or WLVR as often but thanks for the reminder to do so.

    Stabler booked new acts in the 90's: Green Day, 10,000 Maniacs, Rusted Root, Bush, The Cranberries, etc. Not a super venue for live performances but better than nothing.

    The college campus communities are a big draw. How do they handle the concerts they get?

  15. Capri, you hit the nail on the head with regard to Musikfest and the wasted opportunities that happen there year after year. I've been living in the Lehigh Valley since I was a kid and attending Musikfest since college and I can't remember a them booking a single band worth paying money to see. Their lineup of classic rock bands and 90's has beens is frustrating because for a festival that's supposed to be about music they really miss the mark in this regard.

    That being said, Dr Dog's appearance at Musikfest last year was a welcome surprise and a highlight of my year. A full 2 hour set from an awesome up and coming indie band for free? That's unlike anything Musikfest has done before. I'm hopeful that the awesome turnout for Dr. Dog will show ArtsQuest that it can be worth it to take risks and book new and interesting musical acts.