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Controversy erupts over criticism of St. Louis music event, An Under Cover Weekend [Opinion]

Disclaimer: This piece is the opinion of Scott Allen and does not necessarily the represent the views of the other writers at 3 Minute Record.By Scott Allen

This morning the Riverfront Times Music page posted a story that outlined some criticisms of An Under Cover Weekend, the two-day music extravaganza where St. Louis bands cover well established artists in a 30-minute tribute set. The story sent the St. Louis music scene into a buzz. Social media, pardon the pun, was atwitter.

After the initial tweet from @RFTMusic promoting the story I took to Twitter with a response:

Twitter screenshot
Twitter screenshot

After receiving some text messages about my tweet I decided to clarify my position.  Now, I have a few points that I would like to discuss.

First, I would like to applaud the writer for her take. To go out there on a limb and state your opinion on something takes guts and Jamie Lees showed she has those in spades. This is the United States of America and the Bill of Rights guarantees that we have the Freedom of Speech. Lees is a writer that contributes to the Riverfront Times and it’s her right to state how she feels on an issue.

While I don’t know Ms. Lees, I do know the organizer of An Under Cover Weekend, Michael Tomko. He is a personable, kind person that would do anything for anyone in the St. Louis music scene. A natural-born promoter with a wide smile an unmatched enthusiasm, Tomko curates creatively organized events such as the Indie Rock Ice Cream Social and An Under Cover Weekend that bring music lovers out to shows with a sense of fun and genuine camaraderie. People leave these events with big smiles on their faces and Tomko can go home knowing that he did a good job in promoting the event.

Last year I met with Tomko at a St. Louis bar to discuss his plans for An Under Cover Weekend. We sat down and got to know each other having never met in person. Eventually, he discussed his plans and I found him very organized and clear in his vision. He asked me to join in doing a couple of interviews of bands for the event and I immediately agreed. Later I got the chance to sit down with the members of Via Dove and Troubadour Dali and met many more St. Louis musicians in the process.  Those interviews were great experiences and are some of the most read posts on this blog.

Some readers may take issue with Ms. Lees herself for writing such an article. Surely she knew that there would be some sort of backlash to her words and was therefore must be willing to receive it back in kind. One issue seems to be from the advertisement of the shows. Lees writes, “The AUCW shows are being promoted online ad nauseum. It's smart business to advertise your show in any way possible, but the AUCW crew has gone into over-saturation mode, and it's enough to make me want to skip the show in protest.” In this economy and with many possessing a short attention span, the promoters need to push shows hard and do what they must to fill up a venue and get people standing in front of the stage. If she doesn’t like her social media feeds filling up with links advertising the show she could unfollow until the event was over and start-up again later. However, if she has a personal beef with Tomko, Lees needed to address that directly to him and not via an article.

The biggest issues that Lees seemed to have with An Under Cover Weekend was with what she called “better cover show events” and “self-congratulatory videos.”  Her take on other cover show events is subjective at best. This seemed like a music scene feud between the ultra-cool hipsters on Cherokee St. and Tomko’s choice of bands and the acts they were covering. In the past, Tomko has told me personally that he wanted to get more people in the whole St. Louis region out to an event like An Under Cover Weekend to demonstrate that there are music venues in the city that showcase great music nearly all week. As a musician friend of mine pointed out - people who bitch and moan that promoters are working events too hard are jealous they aren’t doing it or don’t have the contacts and talent to do as good of a job.

Lees continues her critique on the “self-congratulatory videos” when she writes,” I'm not sure what they add to the experience. We just want to go to the show and have a good time.” The videos show that the bands are determined to bring the concert-goer their best impression of the band they are representing. Rather than just covers, most bands want to transform into the band they are honoring with the covers. Furthermore, her slam on these videos demeans Tomko’s sense of history of the event and the fine work being done by local artists to capture these videos themselves. The St. Louis music scene has a great group of talented people behind the scenes to document what happens all year in the clubs and venues. From writers, photographers and videographers to club owners and promoters to sound engineers and producers, St. Louis is lucky to have a dedicated group of people who love music and want to share it with the masses.

Others inside the St. Louis music scene may criticize RFT Music Editor Kiernan Maletsky for running such a piece on the day the event begins, but I can’t take that side. From the point of view of the RFT this piece takes a side and that creates page views, which in turn creates ad revenue. As editor, Maletsky’s job is running a business and page view counts are very important to an online weekly that is owned as part of a national chain of independent newspapers. His other job is to present pieces that will stir discussion on a topic. Sometimes things become stale and a little controversy to stir the pot is a good thing. We can discuss the topics brought up in the article and grow as individuals and groups.

One point where I think people in St. Louis get caught up is in the criticism itself. The citizens of St. Louis are generally nice people who don’t have harsh words for anyone. People from the coasts travel to the Midwest and remark how everyone is so nice here and how they received great hospitality. When someone is doing something to promote the general good and receives backlash, the citizens rally around that person and attack the attacker.  Let’s be frank though - if we were in Boston, New York,  Chicago or even Los Angeles, someone with a snarky opinion would have put fingers to keyboard years ago and the callouses would have built up by now. However, Tomko is one of the nice guys and I can see where feelings were hurt and I’m sorry if my initial tweet added to those hurt feelings.

There are several people, myself included in that group, who will side with Tomko and what he is doing with music events in St. Louis. One of my oldest friends, Christian Powell, guitarist for Heroes of the Kingdom and Ring, Cicada, chimed in with a comment to my tweet on Facebook, “Want to know why great touring bands are beginning to come back to STL? It’s because the people putting on AUCW are bringing them here, established a great venue, and are doing all-ages shows for music fans. This is their weekend to just go to a show and have a good time.” I concur. To contrast the 1990s, the St. Louis music scene here is much more vibrant and strong today and has potential to keep growing and become more of a national destination rather than a pass thru city.

Personally, I plan to attend the first night of An Under Cover Weekend tonight at The Firebird (2706 Olive St.) and plunk down my money just like everyone else. I would encourage the local readers of this blog to do the same. In my opinion one story published on the day of the show will not affect the attendance of the event at all. If Ms. Lees does decide to stay home this weekend in protest then she might miss some great performances from a group of hard-working local bands and then again she might not, but overall I guarantee that group of 200 to 400 St. Louis music fans will have a good time.

Epilogue -

Upon the suggestion of a friend I have officially started my own personal Twitter feed away from the official 3 Minute Record feed.  If you consider me your friend and would like to follow me there in a capacity where all opinions are my own then I would welcome you do to so. Follow me on Twitter @ScottCAllen.

Architecturally Sound - Preservation helps St. Louis music scene

The latest architecture battles being waged in St. Louis are over the fate of a former gas station (cum Del Taco restaurant) built in 1967 with a distinctive saucer-shaped roof and a circular AAA office building. While not the most important landmarks in the city, the fact that St. Louisians are getting tired of losing old buildings with character to developers ready to put up a suburban strip mall is telling. Losing buildings and landmarks is nothing new in St. Louis. Big swaths of the city have been razed over time for large-scale building projects. From the demolition of 40 square blocks in the early 1940s for the Arch grounds including the Old Rock House (not to be confused with the current concert venue of the same name), to the 1950s when a large chunk of North St. Louis became the Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project only to suffer an even more terrible fate. Entire stretches of the city were bulldozed to build the Interstate highway system through the city for I-70, I-55, I-44 and Highway 40 in turn dividing neighborhoods from each other.

The 1960s brought the demolition of Chinatown neighborhood (or "Hop Alley"), an area of 30 acres bounded by Seventh on the east, Tenth on the west, Chestnut to the north and Walnut to the south to make way for Busch Memorial Stadium. Finally, the last 10 years developers replaced several blocks of older homes in the McRee Town area with vinyl clad facsimiles that will be lucky if they last as long as their predecessors. Yes, the urban space is constantly changing and re-shifting, but more often than not its replaced by cheaper buildings with less character.

Buildings along the riverfront which will be torn down to make way for memorial parkway, St. Louis, Missouri. Collection of Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection, Photography by

John Vachon

, May 1940

Currently, crews are in the process of dismantling another local icon that gave countless St. Louisans memories. The sight of the SS Admiral, a staple for decades along the brick lined riverfront, being cut up and sold scrap is sad. Recently, Midtown lost another piece of history as a nondescript warehouse building at Vandeventer and Forest Park Ave recently succumbed to an entity without a clear vision of both the past and future.

However, even though St. Louis has retained many historical buildings over the years, I'm surprised that after this year's April storm damage to the main terminal at Lambert International Airport that someone didn't start bringing up the idea of tearing down the iconic terminal in favor of something more stale and square.

After years of allowing historic buildings to be demolished for parking lots or mostly unused urban plaza spaces, (i.e. Ambassador Theatre 1925-1997) St. Louis has finally started to fight back against developers trying to destroy the character of the urban space.

The Ambassador Theatre, erected in 1925 by the Skouras Brothers and designed by Rapp and Rapp who had designed the St. Louis Theatre (now Powell Symphony Hall) debuting the year before, opened its doors in 1926. Seating 3,000 people, the lavish theatre rivaled the Fox Theatre (opened in 1929) as one of the grand movie palaces of the 1920s and welcomed 2.6 million visitors the first year. Movies and live performances showed for 40 plus years, but by the early 1970s the Ambassador was in decline and the movies stopped in early 1974. Concert promoters started hosting rock 'n roll concerts by some of the most famous bands of the era. In fact, a concert by St. Louis based Pavlov's Dog opening for progressive rock band Nektar was broadcast on KSHE-95 on May 7, 1974. Even though the theatre was designated an official city landmark in 1978 that didn't keep the owners from stripping the important elements from the lower six floors in the late 1980s or the eventual demolition in 1997.

Ambassador Theatre, 701 Locust St., St. Louis, Mo. 63101
Ambassador Theatre, 701 Locust St., St. Louis, Mo. 63101

Ambassador Theatre (demolished), Corner of 7th and Locust, St. Louis, Missouri - Courtesy cinematreasures.org

A decade later, St. Louis lost another iconic entertainment venue, Mississippi Nights, as a new casino felt they needed more parking spaces, further destroying the character of Laclede's Landing and the warehouse district that once stood where the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (the Arch) now stands.

Not that there haven't been success stories too. The benefactors of Fox Associates banded together to save the Fabulous Fox Theatre from the brink in the early 1980s. After being dormant for a few years, the group poured in over $2 million dollars to rehab the building.

During an earlier preservation movement, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra saved the St. Louis Theatre by transforming the building into Powell Symphony Hall, moving from its home at the Kiel Opera House in 1968. When the Ethical Society moved from the city to the county in the mid-1960s it left behind the Sheldon Memorial, but the building's perfect acoustics were saved numerous times over the years and finally recast as the Sheldon Concert Hall. More recently, the Old Post Office, a building dating to 1884 received new life even hosting music now and again while historic preservation tax credits during the 1990s saved the Washington Avenue district creating lofts, bars, restaurants and more.

Thankfully, in recent times there has been an upswing of preservation advocates and architecture bloggers in St. Louis thoughtfully discussing the relative merits of the urban landscape and offering suggestions to what new use buildings. See their work regarding the Del Taco and AAA building here and here.

While the tide is turning, however, these advocates are usually up against much stronger forces at work looking to demolish these structures for something new and shiny yet lacking soul. Even the preservation board, a group that should take things slow and keep the wrecking ball at bay, seem at times to be on the developers side.

A renaissance is currently underway downtown, but it took 20 years and an ownership change (and over $78 million including over $29 million in public bonds) to breathe life back into the Kiel Opera House, the venerable limestone building at the corner of 14th and Market. The newly renovated 77-year-old building, now dubbed the Peabody Opera House, will again open its doors to the public this October. The rehabilitation project, in the final stages of being updated for the 21st century, is nearly complete. With an updated loading dock and state-of-the-art back stage area, the Peabody Opera House will be one of the premier venues in St. Louis to draw touring acts, stage shows and live entertainment.

A July 2010 St. Louis Post-Dispatcharticle stated that the venue could "host 135 main theater events in its first year, up to 190 a decade later." The reopening of the opera house, however, drew the ire of some at Fox Associates causing the group's president Richard Baker to say:  

"It's a horrible waste of public money. At a time when the city is cutting back or charging for services, I don't see how they can justify spending money on a venue that isn't needed."

However, Baker looked childish as it seemed he felt his turf was being invaded by the new kid in town which he felt could afford nice toys because of a perceived silver spoon. The fact is that larger cities like Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York support a myriad of entertainment venues and the only way St. Louis can hope to have that sort of cultural vibrancy is to have different spaces for promoters to choose from when deciding where to book their shows. This diversity of venues can only help St. Louis bring in more entertainment allowing marketers to paint the area as a destination city rather than a pass through.

With renovation happening and new buildings going up (including one for St. Louis Public Radio station KWMU) and a plan in place, Grand Center will be fine. The Fox Theatre will continue to flourish even in this economic climate with the right management and entertainment mix.

While music venues come and go, St. Louis music fans have fond memories of seeing great shows at the Arena, the Hi-Pointe, the Rocket Bar, the Side Door, the Galaxy, and more. Each space had their own good points and bad points, but a common thread between each is that all were old buildings that had character and charm albeit crumbly bathrooms. Most, however, need other businesses nearby to keep patrons coming back.

When the Pageant opened in 2000 the live music scene was at a low point as stopping in St. Louis was lower on the pecking order for many touring acts. Impresario Joe Edwards and Pat Hagin put the city back on the map and over the years, the venue became a lynchpin for the revival of the University City Loop east of Skinker into the City of St. Louis. This gentrification meant that as other buildings were rehabbed, businesses opened and nightlife flourished and a neighborhood teemed with activity. No one can deny that the venue gets high marks from many people including websites like Pollstar and preservationists are happy because of the neighborhood revival.

Overall, I enjoy places like the Pageant and to large extent the Old Rock House, however, these new venues do not match the grandeur of the older spaces. A sterile room with concrete floors and little ornamentation gives the audience no feeling they're in a special place to see an interesting event. Yet, it's easy to criticize when the bankroll is someone else's and the costs run into the millions of dollars.

Even when Blueberry Hill took over the space formerly occupied by Cicero's and raised the ceiling, upgraded the facilities to put in the Duck Room, a dank club with bare rock walls and a low ceiling covered with stickers of touring bands was transformed. However, something special was lost including a slightly better sound experience as now the orientation of the stage on the side of the room bounces the sound off the back wall quicker than if the stage was located at one end.

Even Cicero's current location seemed promising when opened in the 1990s, but the sound proofing installed to keep the loud music from rattling the upstairs tenants as the they slept made the room dead - much like a recording space. Here there is no need for a band to crank the amplifiers up to eleven unless they're set on damaging the hearing of their fans.

All this brings us back to the Peabody Opera House. With the best of both worlds: an updated historic building with everything going for it including character, ambiance and a room built for sound, the management and promoters could be onto a potential gold mine. Entertainment dollars are hard to come by in the current economy, I hope that St. Louis gets behind this new venue while continuing to support the old ones. When Aretha Franklin and Jay Leno come to town to help rechristen the space on October 1 let's all head downtown to cheer them on. Now I'd better figure out where I'm going to park.

Woke up early...

Ugh, woke up way early this morning. I hate waking up before the alarm, it's just so wrong. You know what else I hate? I'll give you a hint, the new season kicks off tonight. Yup, that horrible piece of @#$% American Idol kicks back up tonight. Come on America! You still flock to this enormous piece of musical garbage? It's the most glorified karaoke competition in the world and probably the second biggest atrocity for the music industry in the last 15 years, right behind the mp3. I am happy to say that I have never sat through an entire episode of this stinking pile of manure. I realize that the people that make the final rounds have vocal talent and whatnot, but I guarantee you that if you got off your damn couch and went to any high school/college musical performance or head out to a club to see some local music, you would find equally if not more talented people. And those people may even actually be playing their own music. But what about the episodes where we get to laugh at the people that are horrible? Go to any local open mic night or karaoke bar. Trust me, you will see way worse. Plus, you will actually be out amongst new and interesting people. You may even make new friends while you bond over pointing out how terrible (or amazing) someone is. I guess I am just frustrated that all across America tonight hundreds of truly talented musicians, with more heart than any of these idol idiots, will perform their own music and be happy that 10 people show up. Meanwhile, millions of people will turn on their damn TVs to watch glorified karaoke singers sell their souls to become the next big thing only to hit the bargain bin six months later. A couple of quick posts here and then I'm out...

Lots of good stuff going on this weekend around the Lou... Friday night at Hurricane's in Collinsville you can catch Dibiase, Hope and Therapy, and Kill A Drifter... Saturday night at Off Broadway is the Blood Pony CD release party... Also on Saturday, The Goodtime Engineers are playing as part of the local showcase at The Pageant... Be sure to catch ant of these shows as all are great bands from the area. Sorry to all of my friends in these bands as I will not be able to make any of these shows, I will be in Vegas watching Chuck Ragan, Lucero, and Social D. I hope you all understand. :)

Next Tuesday offers a great chance to see some great local singer/songwriters at the Focal Point. Dana Anderson, Steve Chosich, Jesse Irwin, and Molly Simms are all scheduled to play from 7-10 PM for only $3. I cannot stress how awesome this night will be, don't miss it.

Hopefully I will be able to remember enough from the Social D show(s) to offer up a review when I get back. :)

Marshall Crenshaw and the Bottle Rockets tonight at Off Broadway... should be epic.

Last, and certainly not least... Happy Birthday Mom!!! Here's a little JT for ya on your day, love ya!


Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame - Part Honor, Part Sham

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio

Tomorrow, Wednesday, December 15th, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame will announce the 2011 class of inductees at 10:30 a.m. EST.  Over 500 voters received nomination ballots to select the newest class of artists for induction into the Hall.  To be eligible for nomination into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame a solo artist or band must have release their first single or album 25 years prior to the year of nomination.  For example, this year's nominees had to release their first single or album no later than 1985.   The 26th annual induction ceremony will be held at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on March 11, 2011; the event televised on

Fuse

.

The announcement of the nominees for possible induction came on September 28, 2010.

  • Alice Cooper
  • Beastie Boys
  • Bon Jovi
  • Chic
  • Neil Diamond
  • Donovan
  • Dr. John
  • The J. Geils Band
  • LL Cool J
  • Darlene Love
  • Laura Nyro
  • Donna Summer
  • Joe Tex
  • Tom Waits
  • Chuck Willis

Rumor has it that Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Darlene Love, and Tom Waits will get the necessary 50% of the vote and become new inductees.  I agree that each of these artists are deserving of their place in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Each represent a different style of music and were influential to many of the artists that grew up listening to their music. Alice Cooper influenced scores of fans with his hard Rock style and edgy stage shows.  A songwriter turned performer, Neil Diamond may seem like a lightweight for many, but many of his early songs were classics and he's much more Rock and Roll than Barry Manilow. Dr. John is a legend and it's a travesty he was not inducted years ago. Darlene Love is a relative unknown to most people outside of the music industry, but has put her stamp on many classic recordings, especially those created by Phil Spector.  Finally, the eclectic Tom Waits is the most influential of the group. His first album, Closing Time, released in 1973, contained the often covered "Ol' 55." He has constantly changed and morphed over the years with his brand of blues, folk, jazz, rock and experimental music highlighting his baritone voice that over the years has become a growl.  Waits should have been in a decade ago when Bono gave the introduction and inducted Bruce Springsteen.

Since the board of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame (read: Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone) has seemingly capped the inductee class at 5 acts each year (the last year there were more than 5 was in 2004 in which 7 acts were inducted), the Hall is still adding artists from the 1960's and 1970's into the honored ranks.  Since the Hall began inducting acts in 1986, the voting has had a lot of catching up to do over the last 25 years. While a few artists from the 1980's have received their due in the past five years - The Pretenders, R.E.M., U2, Madonna, Metallica, Run-DMC - they are top-tier, first ballot acts that honor was bestowed without pause.  However, those are the only artists inducted so far that that have released an album in 1980 or after.  Besides selling high-priced plates and worrying about each year's lineup at the induction ceremony, the focus for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame board needs to be on the men and women who were most influential and deserving of the honor.

Among the nominees not receiving the nod this year, I will agree that Bon Jovi and the Beastie Boys both deserve their place in the Hall.  However, much of the music of the 1980's was of the One Hit Wonder variety.  We'll see if the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame will step up and recognize the underground movement of the 1980's with such bands as: The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, 10,000 Maniacs, Robyn Hitchcock, The Smiths, The Cure, Pixies, and others. These artists influenced the bands of the 1990's and 2000's and should get their due.