Great talent. Sitting in a quiet room among of attentive friends watching and listening to great talent. Watching and listening to well-done video of said great talent in the comfort of home or office. These are things that music lovers enjoy and appreciate, and thanks to a few ongoing projects, they are becoming more accessible.
One such project is the series of Tiny Desk Concerts which take place at the desk of Bob Boilen in the offices of NPR. The audience is comprised of other NPR employees, but the recording (audio and video) is of such quality that we can all enjoy. The series of shows, each called a Tiny Desk Concert, began in April of 2008, and there have been twenty-five sessions so far. I found the series after a friend sent a link to the Avett Brothers session which they recorded this past June. It is amazing to say the least. I've been browsing the other sessions, and so far, my other favorite is the Great Lake Swimmers' June 8 set. The setting is just perfect for lead singer Tony Dekker's voice. The series has quite an impressive roster of artists including Thao Nguyen, Vic Chesnutt, and Sarah Siskind. The latest session featuring The Swell Season is a little longer, thirty-four very enjoyable minutes.
Another series that has been around for quite a bit longer is the Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour. It's filmed at the Kentucky Theater in Lexington, KY (capacity of around 130) after starting in a local recording studio (capacity of 10). Now on show number 541, it is listened to by over 900,000 radio listeners on over 490 radio stations each week all over the world. It's a much bigger production, complete with host (Michael Johnathan) and theme song. Video of each show is captured by multiple cameras and then made available via their web site. One recent show that I really enjoyed featured Edgar Meyer on the upright bass and Chris Thile (formerly of Nickle Creek) on mandolin. An upcoming show I'm looking forward to will feature one of my new favorite bands, Those Darlins of Nashville, TN.
I discovered Those Darlins via another similar series, Lake Fever Sessions which is recorded in Nashville. While it is not filmed in front of a live audience, this series does achieve the same grand goal of bringing professionally produced videos of lesser known acts to our homes and offices on a regular basis. This series is the result of merging the talents of a recording studio crew (Lake Fever), an underground video production company (Tugboat Productions) and talented, forward-thinking artists. Their formula is defined on their web site pretty simply:
"- Invite some of our favorite artists into the studio for the better part of an afternoon and have them perform a few numbers.
- Document their performance with HD video and multi-track audio.
- Edit. Mix. Master. Upload.
- Lather. Rinse. Repeat."
We have a show in Oxford, MS, that combines some of the elements of all of these shows. Music in the Hall takes place in an office space, the big hallway of the oldest building on the historic Oxford Square. The audience is comprised of eighty or so friends of the bands and office employees. There are typically three bands per monthly show. HD video and multi-track audio is captured and made available online and via DVD. This show also combines the talents of a recording studio (Tweed Recording), a video production team (led by Joe York of U of Mississippi Media and Documentaries), and the most talented musicians in the surrounding area. The DVD of each show is typically available at Amazon and around town a month or so after each show. There have been six shows so far. Some artists and bands that have appeared at Music in the Hall include Jimbo Mathus, Shannon McNally, Amy LaVere, Blue Mountain, Tate Moore, Rocket 88, George McConnell, Mister Baby, and Mayhem String Band.
The common thread among these shows is a quiet room of attentive friends watching and listening to great talent. It can be a hard setting to find when loud bars are the primary venues to see our favorite bands, but thanks to these and other shows like them, it's not impossible.
Jimbo Mathus and JT Lack at Music in the Hall: Episode 5 filmed in Oxford, MS