Two documentaries caught my eye when I was planning my South by Southwest schedule in 2021. I felt fortunate to be able to see both of these as they had their world premiers.
The first of the two is Hysterical, a documentary that peeks into the lives of some of the most famous women in stand-up comedy. The cast includes Margaret Cho, Sherri Shepherd, Judy Gold and Kathy Griffin as well as many others as we learn about the beginnings of their careers and the roadblocks they experience to this day. Director Andrea Nevins moves deftly between subjects as they describe the lure of comedy. It’s an unvarnished portrayal of a life that each of these women are drawn to, but most of us can only imagine. No topic is off limits to these comediennes.
A particularly harrowing story is told by Kelly Bachman. She recalls telling jokes about Harvey Weinstein one night when someone pointed out to her that he was in the audience. People initially booed, but when she began talking about her own rape, the audience was on her side. Some of the other stories of sexism and discrimination are, unfortunately, as prevalent today as they were 30 years ago.
Hysterical is funny, poignant, and thought provoking. Exactly what you want a documentary to be. Hysterical is currently streaming on FX on HULU.
The second documentary was the eagerly awaited Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free, the story of the making of his 1994 album Wildflowers. Because of recently discovered black and white 16mm film shot during the making of the album, Director Mary Wharton was able to have Tom Petty star in his own movie. Current interviews with former band members, producer and Petty’s daughter Adria, filled in the edges with stories and explanations. Wildflowers became, to most, Tom Petty’s best album, certainly his most perfectly formed. When it was released, it sold 3 million copies, but most people didn’t realize how much unreleased material was left after recording.
As the story unfolds in the documentary, Petty wanted to record a solo album (only his second) and Rick Rubin signed on as producer. It was the first album he had produced with Petty. Eventually, most of the members of the Heart Breakers would end up being session players on the album. Although the nuts and bolts of record producing are interesting, the more fascinating angle to me was the song writing. Petty was in the midst of a failing marriage and this was laid bare in the songs on Wildflowers. The interviews that were recorded with Petty in 1994 are especially touching, since his divorce would not occur until 1996.
Full disclosure: I am a huge Tom Petty fan, so had been looking forward to this documentary. Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free did not disappoint – I felt grateful that all of this footage exists and that art, in some form or another, lives on after the artist has gone.
Wildflowers and All The Rest is a 2020 re-release of the Wildflowers album, but includes deleted songs, demos and live tracks.
Hysterical synopsis from SXSW:
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Country: United States
Synopsis: HYSTERICAL is an honest and hilarious backstage pass into the lives of some of stand-up comedy’s most boundary-breaking women, exploring the hard-fought journey to become the voices of their generation and their gender. Premieres April 2nd on FX.
Cast: Margaret Cho , Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold, Kathy Griffin, Jessica Kirson, Sherri Shepherd, Iliza Shlesinger, Kelly Bachman, Lisa Lampanelli, Wendy Liebman, Carmen Lynch, Bonnie McFarlane
Director: Andrea Nevins,Executive Producer: Andrea Nevins, Ross Girard, Jim Serpico, Jessica Kirson,Producer: Rebecca Evans, Carolina Groppa, Ross M. Dinerstein, p.g.a.,
Tom Petty Somewhere You Feel Free synopsis from SXSW:
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Country: United States
Synopsis: Drawn from a newly discovered archive of 16mm film showing Tom Petty at work on his 1994 record “Wildflowers,” considered by many including Rolling Stone to be his greatest album ever, “Somewhere You Feel Free” is an intimate view of a musical icon.
Cast: Tom Petty, Rick Rubin, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Steve Ferrone, George Drakoulias, Alan “Bugs” Weidel, Adria Petty, Stan Lynch, Howie Epstein
Director: Mary Wharton,Executive Producer: Warner Music Films,Producer: Peter Afterman,Cinematographer: Anne Etheridge,Editor: Mari Keiko Gonzalez,This film has not been rated.
One of the most anticipated panel discussions available on my schedule for South by Southwest in 2021 was “We Want Live Shows Again! Concerts in a Post-COVID World.” Hosted by Adam Shore (the US General Manager/Programmer of Driift, a global live-streaming company), the conversation took place between Michelle Cable (Booking Agent & Manager/Panache Booking, Panache Management) and Tom Windish (Sr. Exec/Paradigm Talent Agency) as they addressed the future of live concerts.
Adam Shore jumped right in by asking Michelle Cable what aspects she saw being different that pre-COVID, once artists begin touring again. She is sure that a lot is going to change, “The protocols are going to be a lot more specific, not going to be as relaxed. From guest lists to ordering drinks to loading in to a venue; how we structure deals and confirm shows and how last minutes changes happen because of the precariousness of the COVID situation. I think we can expect a full overhaul of the live touring industry. We don’t know what that’s going to be yet.” In addition, Cable works with Australian artists that have started playing again. They are having to check-in when they travel from state to state. If they go to the grocery store or get a coffee, they are scanning a QR code that keeps track of COVID hotspots. Additionally, venues are paying for a COVID marshal “who acts as extra security to make sure people use their masks and follow protocols.” She sees the artists and crews are going to have to provide COVID safety plans.
Things in the United States are going to be a different situation: Tom Windish thinks the artists and crews will take on COVID protocols themselves – he doesn’t see a national protocol or even a state protocol. “There may be just some regulations or guidelines for venues in certain cities or states.” Windish also said, “It is too early to see how it will pan out. I think a big thing is we don’t know yet is how will the money, the additional costs that are incurred for any sort of COVID protocol, whether government-mandated or not, will affect the artist. Unfortunately, I’m afraid it will affect the artist negatively. It will be different for every venue – it’s really too early for any venue to really know what the finances will look like. We’ve got a ways to go to figure it out.”
Shore’s next question for Cable addressed the artists’ personal lives, “How have you seen your bands take advantage of this time away from the road?” Her response indicated that it has been a fruitful time for the artists:
It’s been a different experience for most of the artists I work with. Fortunately, a majority of the artists I work with have taken this time to get really creative. Those that have been on the road for a decade have taken this time to heal and get healthy and be a little more human again. This has been a time for people to accomplish goals that are outside of touring. Some have collaborated, done more writing, producing other artists. A few artists that I have managed have started their own labels. It’s been a healing time, a time to restructure. A lot of started families during this time. People have gotten really creative with, like, their merch, like direct to consumer and fan engagement.
Shore’s next question was directed to Windish: “How do you see the agent, and the service the agent provides, being different going forward?” Windish explained:
There has been this hamster wheel for years – band makes a great song, gets interest, meets with tons of labels, signs a record deal, puts out the record, tours for like a year, and then does that again for as long as possible. How are we going to make the most on the shows, sell the most records? This time has given artists a chance to sort of step back and evaluate all the different sections of their business, all the way they communicate with their fans, gather new fans and try to make them better. There’s a lot of tools out there that most artists and their teams barely use or don’t use them very well. An example is selling merch on your website. There’s a lot more that can be done, and I’m not just talking about more products. How can you communicate with your audience the best? Also all the socials and everything.
To your question, I think a lot about services that agencies provide, or traditionally provided, versus what artists really need. Social media, for instance, is a big one. Most artists don’t have experts that are helping them with their social media strategies. Another is all this e-commerce stuff. People that help, like, look at your e-commerce or e-strategy across everything are really, really interesting. I’m talking to people that kind of go out to any creator out on the internet, podcaster, or people who have huge audiences and look under the hood of your business and see how you’re doing everything, and barely anyone’s doing it very well. Why would they? They’re experts at the thing they do. Who do you hire? There a few people that are awesome, but that’s who the biggest artists in the world are using. I don’t know that agencies will do it, but I think those are valuable additions that I think they should consider doing.
Shore’s last question addressed what happens next: “Since there seem to be so many new services, as an agent and a manager, where do you see the responsibilities lie and how do managers and agents ramp up?” Cable said:
I think what’s happening right now with live streaming where artists are doing live streaming with merch add ons, some managers are taking on this role, some agencies are taking on this role. Or creating their own platforms so there isn’t a third party that you have to pay. Some agencies have been creating streaming platforms on their own and then working directly with the artists and managers. I think that’s going to continue because artists have found that it’s a way to make money, engage with their fans more and do it well. I think the structures of hiring a social media within a booking agency or a management team, or someone who is really savvy at that has suddenly become much more real because that street marketing that we’ve been so used to, the print media is a thing of the past. Social media the sizing, the stories, the algorithms of your posting, those are all things we need to teach ourselves. The bottom line is everyone was impacted with this, especially the live entertainment industry. We were the first to shut down and we will probably be the last to open based on what we’re seeing, so we need to think about how we can all work together and of course take care of the artist and keeping them safe and happy. That’s something we need to keep brainstorming as we’re in this weird holding pattern.
I think it would great if what came out of this was artists could figure out how to make the same amount of money as they did before and have more time to focus on other things. Between song writing, and families, and doing other things, mental health is something, there has been more attention paid to it in the last few years, but not nearly enough and artists need to step back and get off the hamster wheel a lot. And I hope that this has actually been a good thing for them in that regard in a lot of ways. I know financially, it’s devastating, but I’ve talked to a lot of my clients and they do appreciate not being on the road all the time and seeing their family more often. It’s really important. If they can figure out how to do that more in the future, that would be great.
I found this conversation interesting on a lot of levels. I am very grateful that artists have been able to take this time to re-tool and rejuvenate. When you understand the hamster wheel, as Tom Windish described the musical routine, it is not sustainable for a balanced life or for an artist’s mental health. Fortunately, they have been able to prioritize themselves, which I am sure, leads to greater creativity, more output, and more money in the end.
I am encouraged that the people who are in the artist’s orbit are finding their own creative paths to support the artists without further grind. More engagement with fans is also a positive takeaway from this forum. I am anxious to see live shows again, as I am sure everyone is. However, as someone who has watched a lot of live streams this year, subscribed to more podcasts, and listened to a lot of music, I am grateful that care is being taken with the health and safety of both the artists and the audiences.
There was an interesting conversation tucked between movie premiers and music showcases at this year’s South by Southwest. Carole King is a Grammy Award®-winning singer, songwriter, author and environmentalist. She was joined by Jon Platt, Sony Music Publishing Chairman & CEO. Entitled Carole King & John Platt: Notes on Inclusive Leadership, the two titans of the music industry discussed their career paths and their viewpoints on inclusion in leadership.
There were several takeaways during this conversation between friends. It was interesting to hear that King, who began her career by writing songs with her then-husband Gerry Goffin, “…didn’t feel obstacles as a woman, but instead in my personal life.” Even though she entered the music business in 1960, she didn’t see barriers. Her tact was to keep her feet on the ground and do the task at hand. “If I have inspired people, I am glad and I’m glad I wasn’t conscious of it. When you are conscious, you are creating barriers to overcome.”
Jon Platt grew up in Denver during a time that there was no Black FM station. His brother listened to rock, so he grew to like it. He liked all types of music – a song is a song. When asked about the past obstacles in his career, Platt didn’t view himself as a victim. Obstacles were treated as a reason to work harder and smarter. He developed a thick skin. Additionally, he said he wouldn’t trade his journey for any other – good, bad and the ugly.
King then iterated, that when you have a goal, do the homework, be confident in it and go for it. “Like my dad, I acknowledge everybody. I didn’t get where I am without other people. Jon respects writers.” Respect the roles in bringing music to the people.
King also said that she works with a spirit of can-do – “The journey itself is amazing!”
Platt related that he tells young people when things are hard, you probably need to lean into that. At some point, it’s going to work out for you. That’s where the magic is. At 30 years old, I got the job at EMI, the lowest person at the company. I almost stopped, I was going to leave LA, go back to Denver and DJ before I got that job. The magic of leadership is do you have the ability to put others before you? When you are including people, you don’t think about what it’s doing for you – you think about what it’s doing for them. If you want to lead a team, you have to be inclusive and trust people. “My responsibility is to do a great job. When I do a great job, then I create opportunities for a lot of people.”
As we all emerge out of quarantine and into what will be a more normal existence, a panel discussion at South by Southwest moderated by Andy Gensler of Pollstar broached the topic of what is next in the world of live music in independent venues. Joined by Grace Blake from Iridium, Amy Madrigali, a Troubadour agency associate, and Dayna Frank, CEO of Minneapolis venue First Avenue, the conversation offered frank ideas of what has happened and what is coming down the road.
All three venues were coming off fantastic showings for 2019 and were looking forward to great things in 2020. In fact, First Avenue was due to celebrate its 50th anniversary in April of 2020. And then, as Andy Gensler put it, “The gut punch was South by Southwest canceling.” Although talks of forming an industry association between Rev. Moose (eventual NIVA co-founder and Executive Director) and Hal Real had begun a little earlier than when the pandemic hit, the SXSW cancellation gave an urgency to the situation that led to the formation of NIVA (National Independent Venue Association). From an initial steering committee of about 30 people, NIVA has grown into an organization that has kept independent venues front of mind during lobbying efforts (#SaveOurStages Act) and fundraising, all with the goal of financially shoring up the independent venues and all of the people who are dependent upon them. Blake and Madrigali both serve on the NIVA board and Frank is the current president.
When asked about their takeaways from this year, all were quick to answer. Blake said, “We were really able to provide some comfort into how to navigate the system. We were able to say to Congress, you really need to step up and help these venues who have never asked for anything. For me, it was a lifesaver.”
Madrigali related, “To echo what Grace said, we came together. Sending 2 million letters to Congress. Showing the power of what we can do in our cities and our country. We can communicate with our government. My first lobbying call was with Representative Adam Schiff – myself and my GM. In his world, LD is Legislative Director and in my world, it’s a Lighting Director. We had great support from our representative and we are really lucky.”
Although President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law on March 11, 2021, Frank reminds us there is much to be done, “We are waiting for the SBA to finalize rules and open up applications for grants. We are nagging them every day. We’re hopeful that an SBA administrator gets confirmed soon so someone from the administration can guide the process along. We definitely need the SBA to provide the safeguards.”
Gensler then asked about the future: “We’re seeing some southern routing opening up in New Zealand. Are things creeping back to your venue at all?
According to Blake. “New York has some of the strictest restrictions. We have to walk before we can run. I do look forward to the vaccination process to continue to happen so that, as we head to herd immunity, we can get closer.”
When asked about Live Streams, Madrigali said, “We had the SOS Fest (October 2020). Coming up, we are doing a TV show. It’s minuscule as compared to where we were before. In November 2019, we had booked 30 nights. In November 2020, we had booked 5 live streams.”
Frank hasn’t found it financially feasible to open for less than full capacity, so summer may not be in play, but fall may be a different story, “When the fall happens – and I am going to will it into existence – we will be busier than we have ever seen.” Blake is “cautiously optimistic”, and is looking toward the fall as well. “October is almost booked. November is getting booked, December. 2022 is looking good, especially for overseas acts.”
For those venues still trying to hang on until the fall, Madrigali recommended checking the SBA website to apply for funds. Frank recommended that artists try to get PPP loans as an independent contractor.
For more information about NIVA and the work being done, go to www.nivassoc.org. Since it can take time for grants to be issued, money is still being raised to help those venues in the most need. A donation link is provided on the website.
Georgian-born American singer-songwriter NAINNOH hit the ground running with her self-titled full-length release this week. The 11-track collection boasts endearing, psychedelic sounds led by sublime vocals. Her accent alone seems to lend itself to the psychedelic feel, while introspective lyrics and beautiful instrumentals interweave for a truly transcendent experience.
While the pace of most tracks in this collection are slow, calculated yet somehow organic. At times, you will find yourself mesmerized by the cadence of the track. In other instances, you will be completely enamored by the way a sound or word is annunciated, as in tracks like “Water.” “Colors,” “Threads,” and “Break Apart” are the louder, faster track options to check out.
This is the perfect soundtrack to your next full moon circle or stargazing experience. Check it out in its entirety below!
Sweetlove’s origin story isn’t anything reminiscent of a meet-cute. The work that seems to burst and pour from the seams of this artist has resulted from a long road littered with several intense personal battles. 6 magical tracks come at us today with the release of her EP Goodnight, Lover.
Goodnight, Lover is packed with the self-discovery that comes along with growing into your skin. “Devil on Your Shoulder” should be more sinister, but as Sweetlove implores that it “feels good when you’re living free,” there’s less of a negative connotation to the aforementioned idea of anyone playing devil’s advocate in your court. The title track slows the pace of the project down a bit, a twangy love ballad that will bring you right back to your boots. (Er, roots.) It throws feelings of all-encompassing passion out into the ether, preparing you for the slow, sincere beauty of third track “The House.”
“Did You Even Know” comes rolling in with Garth Brooks-esque momentum, a song that calls for appreciation in the now. Circling back to the theme of devils, “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” comes in with the soft, assuring instrumentals of a light, summer song from our youth. The soundscape is simplified, a sense of loss, a beautiful song that allows you to mourn as you sing “it will get better.” “Things I Didn’t Say” perfectly rounds out the established feelings of loss through a lens nothing short of bittersweet. It’s the perfect testament to a love experienced to the fullest.
We highly encourage a glass of whiskey or wine and a night on the patio under the stars with this new collection from Sweetlove. It will help you tap into feelings you won’t recognize, and many you simply haven’t felt for a hot minute. Check it out in its entirety below.
photo by Anna Azarov