First off, before I get started, click on this link right here. It takes you to a page featuring a recent live concert for the band I’m going to recommend today. Once there (it opens in a different window so just leave it open and bounce back to this window) click on the play button for the show on the right side. There’s no better endorsement for a band, in my opinion, than to actually listen to them play. Once you’ve started the show, come on back here. I’ll wait.
Okay, now that you’ve got some quality background sounds, we can move on. I love live music. I have a collection of concert recordings that would make the Library of Congress jealous. I began to collect live music during my freshman year (turned out to be my only year) at the University of Maryland in College Park when I was turned on to the Good Ol’ Grateful Dead. At that point, Jerry Garcia hadn’t yet taken his guitar and shuffled off this mortal coil, so I had the extreme pleasure of catching about a dozen Dead shows in those few years. More than that, I discovered something that made them extremely unique; they freely allowed people at their live concerts to haul in all manner of microphones and equipment to record their performance and freely distribute them out amongst their fans. Trading Dead bootlegs became a favored pastime for me, which led to trading for concert recording from all sorts of bands, some that implicitly allowed taping, and some that turned a blind eye. In a time before the internet, when the recording industry still completely dominated talent and distribution, the Grateful Dead found a way to use the free distribution of their music to build a following that kept them amongst the top grossing bands in the world for the better part of 25 years, almost completely without the support of the industry machine during much of that time. Talk about trend setting.
Then, suddenly, the internet came into being. Much has been said and written about people downloading music over the past decade or so, a lot of it slanted industry rhetoric that paints nearly all downloading as piracy. The dirty little secret of the industry is that, while there was and still is rampant sharing of copyrighted, commercial music, this new means of distribution has freed many artists from the yoke and shackles of the record companies. Today, bands can and do use the net to spread the word about their sounds, building large and successful followings by giving away access to their live recordings, replacing the industry distribution channels and marketing machine with their own home-made efforts to much success. Today, there are an almost endless array of bands out there of virtually all genres who allow taping and encourage the spread of their live recordings. For people like me, it’s one of most remarkable happenings I could imagine.
My first experience with discovering music on the net is the band you’re (hopefully) listening to right now, Yonder Mountain String Band. I discovered them on a website called Nugs.net, attracted not by them, who I had never heard of, but because the recording in question featured a guest performance by mandolin great David Grisman. I downloaded the song, cued it up and was amazed to hear a band that not only held their own with Grisman, but outshone him during a round of solos. Ever since then, I’ve been an enormous fan, buying up lots of CDs and seeing their fantastic live performances more times than I can remember, everywhere from Atlantic City to West Virginia to North Carolina to Atlanta.
Now, to be clear, their music is bluegrass. I know that turns a lot of people off right away, but let me say this; I didn’t like bluegrass music , either, until I started listening to these guys. While Yonder does play some traditional bluegrass standards, and their shows often pay homage to some of the greats like Bill Monroe and especially John Hartford (and if the band ever happens to read this, when are you guys gonna play “Girl With Green Eyes” already?) their music has some jazz-tinged influences, more in style than sound, and they certainly like to jam. I’ve heard them cover artists as diverse as the Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd, Ozzy Osbourne and Michael Jackson, among many others. You haven’t heard the Talking Heads‘ tune “Girlfriend is Better” until you’ve heard Yonder do it.
You can download some of their music from the place you are listening to right now, if you like. There is a link to the full archive of bands on the sidebar here, as well as another archive site that offers live shows for download through Bit Torrent. I’ve put a few links to some tools you may need to check out some of the music I recommend on here, as well. There’s a link to a Bit Torrent client site so you can use torrents, which if you haven’t done so before, is the easiest way I’ve ever run across to download large files. Look into it. In addition, most of this music is available in what is called lossless formats (FLAC and SHN being the most common). These file types are for storage and transmission, mostly, and, as the name sounds, they prevent the music from losing sound quality while being copied. You will have to convert the files to WAVs to either burn to CD or further convert to MP3s for your iPod and such. I also put links to some audio conversion tools for Windows and Mac that are very simple to use. Basically just drag, drop then listen. With the wealth of music out there, it’s worth the little bit of time it takes to learn.
Yonder tours pretty constantly, and they come to this area two or three times a year. I saw them twice this year; in Lancaster, PA in July and at the Keswick Theater outside of Philadelphia about a month ago. I even got copies of both shows from the etree archive site I’ve listed on the sidebar. It’s always nice to check out shows I’ve seen in person, just to see how they compare. Being that it’s almost winter, Yonder likely won’t be back in this area until next spring or so, but when they do, I’ll be sure to let you know about it. This is the first of what will likely be an ongoing series of looks at various bands that allow taping and the free flow of their live music. I’ve also started another section on the sidebar called “A Little Live Music.” I’ll be putting a link to the websites for each band I recommend as I get to them. Yonder’s site is already there. Check ’em out. Buy a CD. Or a hat. Crank up the volume and good listening!