You Can See Jon Hamm Right Here in St. Louis for $25

photo via AMC TV

You Can See Jon Hamm Right Here in St. Louis for $25
By Jaime Lees
Wed, May 31, 2017

For us locals, the coolest thing about Jon Hamm is that you might just see him anywhere around St. Louis. He’s a frequent visitor to his hometown, one who’s been spotted all over the city, from the Central West End to Tower Grove Park.

He also lovingly reps us when out of state, forever rocking a tattered Cardinals hat or t-shirt in paparazzi photos. Jon Hamm loves St. Louis, and St. Louis loves Jon Hamm even more than it loves the St. Lunatic. (Maybe.)

It’s entirely possible to catch ol’ Hammy at the library, too, and that’s one sighting you can be sure to enjoy soon … if you’re willing to ante up, that is. Hamm is coming to the St. Louis County Library’s Lindbergh location on Saturday, July 22, for an event where he will “discuss his local roots and storytelling through film and television performance with Curtis Sittenfeld, bestselling author of Prep, soon to be a new comedy series from HBO.”

The event page makes sure to note that there will be no meet-and-greet with Mr. Hamm, so you’ll just have to flirt with your eyes from the audience. But get to the event early; maybe your imaginary boyfriend will be roaming around and you might drool upon him.

And the worst that can happen is that you get to take in the majesty that is the St. Louis public library system. Did you know that they have books there and that they let you borrow them for free? Crazy. You can research anything from anacondas to zippers.

Get your tickets here, or check out the event’s Facebook’s page. Tickets are $25 and include, yes, a commemorative poster.

link: Riverfront Times

Chris Baricevic Is Putting St. Louis on the Musical Map

PHOTO BY HOLLY RAVAZZOLO
PHOTO BY HOLLY RAVAZZOLO

Because Chris Baricevic Is Putting St. Louis on the Musical Map
One of 75 reasons we love St. Louis in 2016
By Jaime Lees

Chris Baricevic is just 30 years old, but he’s already been the steady heartbeat of the south St. Louis music scene for more than a decade. The label he started eleven years ago, Big Muddy Records, is one of the region’s most revered musical organizations, the St. Louis equivalent to Jack White’s Detroit-born Third Man Records.

Big Muddy is not some vanity DIY project. It isn’t even a “boutique” label. Its artists are robust, well-practiced, world-class musicians ready to greet the world — Baricevic’s long roster has included Pokey LaFarge, Jack Grelle, Sidney Street Shakers, Rum Drum Ramblers, the Hooten Hallers, Southwest Watson Sweethearts, 7 Shot Screamers, Arson for Candy, the Monads and the Vultures.

Baricevic sees his role at the label as a hybrid of motivational producer and a spiritual mentor, but he’s more like a seasoned mountaineering guide, willing to carry the baggage so his artists can climb higher and claim their own victories. Baricevic often takes on the role of therapist or shaman (or maybe even mother) when leading his charges. He encourages them to develop their talents, embrace their community and to create art without ego.

His responsibilities go deeper than his current bands, though. He’s been the executor of beloved St. Louis musician/photographer Bob Reuter’s estate since Reuter’s 2013 death, and he’s also currently in the process of licensing the music of early 1960s local blues legend Henry Townsend for reissue. Baricevic does this all quietly and without fanfare. In fact, he’s so accustomed to staying out of the spotlight that he’s only now getting around to performing his own music with his new band, Kristo & the Strange Places.

Pure-hearted and a bit of a romantic, Baricevic’s humble exterior conceals a man who is naturally ambitious and seemingly inexhaustible. Authenticity is at the core of everything that he does, and he explains that he only cares to be involved with music that is “screaming from the soul.”

This St. Louis native has big plans for the city to “start to claim our creative landscape.” He promises, “If I get the resources I need, there is nothing to stop us.” Believe that.

link: Riverfront Times

St. Louis Ranked in Top 50 U.S. Cities for Music Fans

valuepenguinSt. Louis Ranked in Top 50 U.S. Cities for Music Fans
Posted By Jaime Lees
Fri, Jul 15, 2016

According to a recent report from consumer spending website ValuePenguin.com, St. Louis is ranked as the 42nd best city in the United States for music fans.

I’d never heard of Value Penguin, so I knew not to trust the results. What is a Value Penguin, anyway? It sounds like a new mascot for Aldi discount supermarkets. Still, in the little preview photo that I saw, it showed my beautiful city as “high ranking” (with a bright blue dot) so I expected us to be #1. I clicked over to bask in the warm glow of rocketing civic pride.

I glanced at the very top of the list and didn’t see St. Louis. I scrolled on down to #5. Still no St. Louis. By the time I got to #10 and didn’t see the Lou I knew that this list was crap and that Value Penguin was populated by morons.

Ranked #1 on the list is Nashville, so-called “Music City.” Well, that’s convenient. That’s like saying Chicago is the windiest city in the U.S. just because that’s what people call it. No, you lazy jerks, the windiest city in the U.S. is actually Jackson, Mississippi. And just because you call yourself something doesn’t make it true.

The rest of the nation might concede that Nashville is country music city, but that’s about it. I knew a guy who was an audio engineer in Nashville for a decade and he said that 95% of the studio recordings that get done there are either country or Christian or both. He was so starved for any version of rock & roll that he almost cried tears of joy when he was hired to work on a Paramore record. Yes, Paramore, that “band” that consists of one marginally attractive Hot Topic employee and whoever they pay to stand behind her while she grunts and fluffs her hair. That’s what passes for rock in Tennessee. No thank you.

I skimmed farther down the list and finally saw our ranking. Ah, #42. They say that 42 is a special number and that it’s the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.” I knew we were magical.

I also noticed that a city in Florida is a whole eighteen slots ahead of us. Florida? Florida is only good making the rest of the country feel smart. The only decent music that ever came out of Florida was from Tom Petty and he got the hell out of there as soon as possible. I feel so bad for music fans in that state. Its biggest stars are Marilyn Mason, Aaron Carter, Pitbull and Limp Bizkit. You poor, sad, floppy dick-shaped peninsula.

Value Penguin used fifteen categories to piece together this whack-ass list, each with their own weight and specifications. Cities were scored based on their performances in various arbitrary contests. Some of the categories made sense (how many record stores per 1,000 people) and some of them made use of wild card factors like the average amount of days with precipitation per year, average closing times at bars and the percentage of population using public transport to commute.

Yes, any of these things could influence the lives of music fans, but so could literally thousands of other factors. And as a statistics professor once taught me, correlation does not equal causation. You don’t have to be a numbers geek to see that this methodology is, at best, an elaborate game of pin the tail on the donkey.

So suck it, Value Penguin. We think that a good city for a band is also a good city for a fan. A good music city has multiple concert events to choose from each night. A good music city sees huge draws for local musicians. A good music city has volunteers and organizers and valued event planners. A good music city has cheap door prices. A good music city has affordable housing and a low cost of living. A good music city has musicians who support and celebrate each other. A good music city has dedicated and active fans. A good music city has small shows with big turnouts.

A good music city looks a lot like St. Louis, thank you very much.

– link: Riverfront Times

Black Metal Yoga: The Dark Side of Enlightenment

Author's friend "Anonymous Euronymous" shows us how it's done. / photo by Jaime Lees
Author’s friend “Anonymous Euronymous” shows us how it’s done. / photo by Jaime Lees

Black Metal Yoga: The Dark Side of Enlightenment
By Jaime Lees
Fri, Jan 8, 2016 at 6:46 am

I was crouched half-drunk and twisted on the floor while being slowly smothered by my own breasts. This sounds like an average night in the life of a dumbass music writer — and it is — if she is participating in Black Metal Yoga.

I’d wanted to attend Kelli McFarland’s Black Metal Yoga class since I heard about it last year, and after hosting the successful weekly class all through last October, McFarland is back this month to again bring the dark side to enlightenment.

Black Metal Yoga is a recent spin on an ancient practice. Some think of yoga as just a form of physical exercise, while to others it’s also an exercise in mindfulness or spirituality. Music can also be an experience in mindfulness and spirituality, so when it comes to yoga combined with music? Yeah, sign me up. If I’m ever going to be saved or centered, music is going to be involved.

McFarland’s class is held at Casa Bagus, a cute little building just west of the Cheshire Inn on Clayton Road. It’s a converted old six-family flat with an entrance at the back marked by a few Tibetan prayer flags and a large statue.

Back entrance of Casa Bagus / photo by Jaime Lees
Back entrance of Casa Bagus / photo by Jaime Lees

Having heard that the parking in this primo location can be competitive, I arrived more than an hour early settle in and scope out the scene. Finding no action to be had outside the studio, I killed some time and got some reading done over a Manhattan in one of my favorite places — the Fox & Hounds tavern in the Cheshire Inn.

I know that drinking before yoga seems entirely counter-intuitive and foolish at best, but it was cold outside and I wanted to loosen up my stiff muscles before class. It was just one drink, I reasoned. But one drink always hits harder in that dark room and by the time I was walking back next door for class I could feel myself having a little more fun than I should’ve been having.

Upon entering Casa Bagus and meeting McFarland I immediately felt guilty. She was so kind and earnest and there I was, the douche that showed up with liquor on her breath. I chugged some complimentary water and resolved to kill my little baby buzz while I admired her hoodie featuring St. Louis band Hell Night.

McFarland was all calmness and business, something that I appreciate in a teacher but hadn’t quite expected at black metal yoga. I didn’t know what to expect, really. Was the teacher going to growl? Was she going to give new names to classic yoga poses— like would “downward-facing dog” become “Satan-facing dog” or something? Would there be a chalice of blood on a Buddhist altar? Would we students be using our bodies to form a giant pentagram?

As it turns out, black metal yoga is just regular yoga with the lights out plus a few glowing candles and some heavy music playing at a moderate volume. So basically: it’s perfect.

I knew a few other attendees in the sold out seventeen-person class — proof that good reviews of these sessions were widespread. Like me, at least a couple of these people also spent a decent amount of their younger years hanging out down street at the shuttered Hi-Pointe music venue. We joked that we once kicked it in this neighborhood as youthful rockers, but now we all find ourselves back on the same block at a yoga class. At least it was black metal yoga, we reasoned, patting ourselves on the back for being cool old people.

McFarland spoke with each student before we commenced, deftly accessing their skill level and discreetly inquiring about their limitations. She quickly put everyone at ease: She has a smoothly confident voice, an air of peacefulness and the type of impressively toned shoulders that only come from putting in hours on the mat.

With the candles lit it was time to begin and class started with students in a relaxed reclining position as the sounds of Earth’s sexy “Rise to Glory” swelled around us. Ten minutes and a few poses later, my liquor buzz was officially shaken off as I breathed deeply and sat with my legs crossed and my forehead to the floor.

As the songs progressed, so did we, making sure to exhale while moving fluidly from one pose to another. The music really does help to somehow slow down the mind and the breathing— two things essential to a good yoga experience. I got so into it that I almost even managed to avoid immature thoughts during a spot when we were alternating between cat pose and cow pose. (Almost.)

The traditional yoga studio set-up of hushed voices, oppressive silence and shitty pebble fountains is often seen by newcomers as uptight and, well, no fun. Not here. And at Black Metal Yoga you can forget about feeling self-conscious, too: it’s dark and loud and nobody is going to judge you for your ungracefulness.

With this class you just show up, try your best and enjoy some good music with like-minded people. We stretched, pushed, balanced and flexed our way through choice cuts by Neurosis, Pallbearer, Year of No Light and Torche. The hour-and-a-half long class ended, appropriately, with shavasana (aka “corpse pose”) followed by Motörhead’s “I’ll Be Your Sister” as exit music.

Having thoroughly enjoyed her class, I couldn’t resist asking McFarland a few questions about herself and her music preferences, hoping to absorb some of her sense of humor and her studied, wise body magic. McFarland’s responses are below as well as information on how to sign up for Black Metal Yoga.

Riverfront Times: How did you get into yoga?

Kelli McFarland: I went to class offered by Southeast Missouri State University as a freshman and immediately fell in love. I didn’t know what to expect, I thought it was just going to be a lot of stretching. I remember being in Warrior Two and suddenly feeling overwhelmingly happy. I’ve been practicing ever since, almost eighteen years now, and I tell people all the time that I still feel like an infant in my practice. That’s the appeal, I think. Yoga is something that you will never master. You just get on your mat and see what it has to teach you.

What inspired your Black Metal Yoga class?

I heard about Black Metal Yoga about three years ago. My initial reaction was judgmental. We are taught that sense withdrawal, or Pratyhara, is one of the eight limbs of yoga. Obviously loud metal music doesn’t not lend itself to the withdrawal of the senses. When I let go of my judgment, I realized that this type of yoga creates a space for those that are interested in yoga but might not feel welcomed or comfortable with the typical scene you find at most yoga studios. That’s the real appeal for me as a teacher. I want to bring yoga to people that might not think it’s for them. I have also found that for some people, the music helps block out “chatter” in their heads and actually quiet their mind.

How is BMY different from other classes you teach?

Currently, I also teach Yoga for Athletes at Casa Bagus. Obviously the biggest difference between these classes and Black Metal Yoga, is the lack of metal during class. However, they are similar in that athletes are another group of people that generally have the tendency to think that yoga isn’t for them. Both classes are awesome for me as a teacher, I get to introduce yoga to people that might not check it out otherwise.

How do you choose the music you’ll use?

I get help with the playlists from my boyfriend, Andy White. He’s a musician and has a real talent for matching the flow of my sequence with the appropriate intensity of music. Generally the music and the sequence begin gentle then ramp up and get more aggressive in the middle followed by a slower, soothing finish. We’ll rough out a playlist and a sequence, then prior to class, we’ll do the practice along with the music. Afterwards, we make any tweaks necessary to make the sequence and the music complement one another.

What is the soundtrack to the rest of your life? Who are your favorite bands / singers / etc?

I like all different types of music! I’ll always have a soft spot for the classics, Zeppelin, Sabbath, the Doors, but I also like contemporary music. Lately it seems like I keep getting into female bands or female leads: Ex Hex, Eula, Heartless Bastards and Angel Olsen are some that I’ve been listening to. I love being turned on to new music. Recently I discovered Moondog and can’t seem to get enough of him. I’ve started tossing around new ideas for my next music-themed yoga series…. more on that to come.

Casa Bagus
6318 Clayton Road
St. Louis, MO 63117

Link to class info is here, Black Metal Yoga is offered every Tuesday night in January.

(Oh yeah, and you can catch Hell Night playing with Fister and Black Fast at The Lion’s Daughter album release show tomorrow night at the Firebird.)

link: Riverfront Times

10 Things We Could Do with $1.1 Billion Other Than Build a New Rams Stadium

Clearly the tastier option. / photo of concrete from TedDrewes.com
Clearly the tastier option. / photo of concrete from TedDrewes.com

10 Things We Could Do with $1.1 Billion Other Than Build a New Rams Stadium
By Jaime Lees
Mon, Jan 4, 2016

So building a new NFL stadium in downtown St. Louis will cost $1.1 billion. Yeah, billion.

With floods devastating much of our area, unforgiving winter weather approaching and regional tensions high, it’s increasingly difficult to see how a new stadium for a failing football team could possibly be any kind of priority.

Not all of that $1.1 billion would be from our tax dollars, of course: the majority of the project wouldn’t be paid for by residents. (Though it’s not like we get a vote in it.)

With all of this money talk floating around, we got to wondering what else St. Louis could do with $1.1 billion. We could renovate what needs renovating. We could preserve what needs preservation. We could donate huge amounts to HeatUpStLouis.org and the thousands of other worthy charities in the area.

But how much is $1.1 billion, anyway? It’s such a big number that it’s hard to get a mental picture of what $1.1 billion could do. We made a list of examples to help us understand.

Here are ten St. Louis-specific things that we could do with $1.1 billion.

1. Pay admission for 92 million visitors to the City Museum

2. Order 11,000 more statues of Chuck Berry that don’t look like Chuck Berry

3. Cover the cost of sending 110 million visitors to the top of the Gateway Arch

4. Buy 367 million people a concrete from Ted Drewes

5. Gift four years of undergrad tuition to 5,813 students at Washington University

6. Pay off more than 74 million City of St. Louis parking tickets

7. Bail out KDHX … like, at least twice

8. Ship a $50 care package from Imo’s Pizza to 22 million people

9. Purchase 6,419 beers for each of the 19,150 people in attendance at a capacity St. Louis Blues hockey game

10. Blanket every square inch of land in Forest Park with Gooey Butter Cake and still have $443,710,640.00 left over

Lest you doubt our math on that last one, here’s how we got there:

a. Forest Park is 1,371 acres. And one acre equals 43,560 square feet. That means Forest Park is 59,720,760 square feet.

b. One gooey butter cake is one square foot. That means it would take 59,720,760 gooey butter cakes to cover Forest Park.

c. The average price of a 12-inch gooey butter cake? $11.

d. The price of 59,720,760 Gooey Butter Cakes at $11 each would be $656,928,360.

e. 1.1 billion minus $656,928,360 = $443,710,640.

Would you rather have that stadium or all of this? Decisions, decisions.

link: Riverfront Times

Why Do We Complain So Much About LouFest?

photo by Jaime Lees
photo by Jaime Lees

Why Do We Complain So Much About LouFest?
By Jaime Lees
Tue, Sep 15, 2015

St. Louis loves to complain. We’re also passionate about our city. Mix up this cocktail and we’ll drop our customary Midwest politeness: You’ll hear enthusiastic speeches about every regional issue from the opening of a new IKEA to a possible new football stadium.

There are many things that divide this town, but most complaints are dropped if the matter in question has been shown to benefit the residents. Arguments are often ended with a conciliatory, good-natured, “Whatever. If it’s good for the city I guess it’s fine.”

But LouFest has been met with outright ire since the annual music festival began six years ago. Seasoned festival-goers whine that it’s too small. Those of us accustomed to smaller concerts whine that it’s too big. And each year the lineup is met with cries of “LameFest” or “more like PooFest.” Every single year there is an avalanche of criticism for this music festival, even if it does bring in money and is “good for the city.”

Why? I’m not sure, but I have a theory. I think that we’re all quick to whine about LouFest simply because of the actual name of the festival.

Most other major music festivals don’t have a tight association with the cities in which they are held. For example, while we all know that while Lollapalooza is now held in Chicago, it doesn’t necessarily represent Chicago. It could be held anywhere or moved to any other city without losing its identity. But with a name like LouFest, it’s implied that this festival somehow represents St. Louis.

This is why we all get bitchy. That “Lou” gives us assumed ownership, and therefore a free pass for complaining rights. And when I look at the LouFest lineup, it doesn’t at all represent the St. Louis that I know. So just like everyone else, I start complaining, too.

I interviewed LouFest founder Brian Cohen and executive producer Charlie Jones a couple of years ago and they really won me over. I asked nothing but hard questions and I was impressed with their answers. To be blunt, I expected them to be annoyed at my insistence that the festival didn’t include enough local acts in decent time slots. They countered my questions with a list of all of the regional considerations they’d included, like making a point of booking a couple of local bands each year and renting space to St. Louis merchants. They also stressed that they didn’t have to include any local flavor at all. True. Very true. Can’t argue with that.

I’ve been to LouFest on three different occasions to see three different bands. One time was to see Dinosaur Jr (on a side-stage at a criminally early time in the day) and the other two times were during different years to catch separate headliners. As such, I’ve seen with my own eyes that LouFest does lots of things right. From the very beginning the organizers were focused on recycling, encouraging people to bike to the festival and general eco-friendliness. And it’s lovely see major touring bands while lounging on the grass of beautiful Forest Park instead suffering through the flooded concrete bathrooms at Riverport.

I prefer my music just a little weirder than most festivals offer, so I never really expect the LouFest lineup to thrill me. But this year, in particular, the lineup immediately struck me as relentlessly bland. As I looked over the list of performers I realized why: Women and people of color were woefully underrepresented.

So I crunched the numbers.

I did an informal tally of the artists listed on the lineup (not including support musicians) and came up with a total of 128 performers. Of the 128, 112 are white men and only six are women. By my estimation, the LouFest lineup for 2015 was 90.6 percent white and 95.3 percent male.

Even if my calculations are off a bit here, the official numbers would still show a huge discrepancy. And if I’d included support musicians in my calculations (such as our beloved local talent — the backing band for Pokey LaFarge) the numbers for white male performers would just go even higher.

That is something to complain about, and I can’t imagine an acceptable excuse for this remarkable lack of diversity. I know nothing about what it takes to execute an event of this size, but I do know the talk on the street. I know what gets said in the real world, and what’s being said isn’t nice. In the months and months of planning that it must take to put together a lineup, somebody should’ve noticed this offensive trend in booking. I can’t call any festival that features 87.5 percent white male talent a success. Not here and certainly not now.

In a city with multiple richly diverse (and thriving) music scenes, this lack of women and people of color just doesn’t make any sense. And with the “Lou” included in the LouFest name, I expect to see some mirroring of our population — and the organizers just repeatedly miss the mark.

Maybe LouFest needs some kind of image consultant to point out these overlooked and/or ignored aspects. Some pieces of LouFest’s PR campaign just seem tone deaf. For example, in the weeks leading up to the fest, an electronic billboard on Highway 44 advertised multiple cheesy LouFest designs. Most were innocuous, but one of the designs seemed downright condescending to women: “LouFest: He is going, and yes, he thinks you’re cute.” So (straight) women (or gay men) only go to music festivals to flirt? Can’t they just like live music, too?

It’s bizarre that these kind of issues continue to exist in 2015, especially with an event that is so high-profile. I understand that it’s a corporate-sponsored major event and that it involves contracts and a lot of moving parts, but someone needs to be accountable for overall quality control.

I cast my vote with my money this year for a better, more representative LouFest: I didn’t go.

But I want LouFest to do well in the future — I’d just be happier if it did a better job of showcasing the city it claims to celebrate. Yes, lots of other festivals and smaller local events could be accused of this same issue, but LouFest is not just any weekend festival. Like it or not, LouFest is part of our face to the world.

So here’s what I ask of LouFest: First of all, fix your irresponsible advertising strategy. It’s not cute. Second, fix your future lineups. You can easily neutralize your white man problem by doing one very simple thing: include more locally-sourced musicians. (It’s eco-friendly!) If you look to our own neighborhoods, you’ll find a diverse pool of talent where women and people of color are plentiful and celebrated. Do it for us, your potential local-music-loving attendees.

Basically, LouFest, we like you because we think you are good for the city, but you need to start doing a better job of earning that “Lou,” OK?

– link: Riverfront Times

Vintage Vinyl Partners Split; Lew Prince Moving On

Lew Prince (left) and Tom "Papa" Ray at Vintage Vinyl. / Photo by Jon Scorfina
Lew Prince (left) and Tom “Papa” Ray at Vintage Vinyl. / Photo by Jon Scorfina

Vintage Vinyl Partners Split; Lew Prince Moving On
By Jaime Lees
Tue., Jun. 16 2015 at 7:15 AM

Tom “Papa” Ray is now the sole owner of Vintage Vinyl. After more than three decades of sharing duties with co-founder Lew Prince, Ray assumed full ownership yesterday, as Prince moves on to new adventures. Both men talked to the Riverfront Times, sharing their pride in the store. The reason for the split? As Prince says, “I did this for 35 years. My kids graduated from college and it’s paid for. My house is paid for. Now I get to do something different. It’s just that simple.”

Vintage Vinyl started in 1979 when Ray and Prince began selling used records out of a booth at Soulard Farmer’s Market. The business thrived and eventually put down roots on the west end of the Delmar Loop in University City.

The store was recently named as one of the ten best record stores in the U.S., which only confirmed what locals already knew. Vintage Vinyl has long served as a hub of St. Louis music culture. In addition to the expected music store wares, Vintage is also a friend of the local scene: it stocks tons of local music, frequently hosts local bands for in-store performances and boasts a thriving paper fliers section just inside the front door, internet be damned.

“I’m looking forward to continue working with the best staff that we’ve ever had in the 35-year history of the store,” Ray tells us. “And being a part of the musical community in St. Louis as well as the record store mothership in the Delmar Loop.”

Vintage Vinyl ownership isn’t the only musical venture in the life of Tom Ray. He’s also a long-time DJ at KDHX who currently hosts the Monday drive-time slot with his show the Soul Selector. He was also recently tapped to curate a compilation released by Trojan Records and is known to play a bit of harmonica with blues acts around town and on tour with Los Angeles band Vintage Trouble.

Ray credits the shop’s success to the rich musical history in St. Louis.

“I would say that we started with the knowledge that we saw that there was a responsibility to not only serve our customers but to understand how important of a foundation city St. Louis is in American music — which is something that I often saw ignored by other store owners,” he says. “It was almost like they were oblivious to the fact that, you know, we have musical greatness in our DNA here in St. Louis.”

And though the Soul Selector is now the sole owner of Vintage Vinyl, co-founder (and White House award-winning) Lew Prince was kind enough to grant us a jovial exit interview of sorts late last night. (Prince is also a former RFT writer.) Here, he walks us through his history with Vintage Vinyl, his political views and his plans for the future.

Read on:

Will you please explain to me your current situation?

It basically is: Tom and I started this company 35 years ago. I did this for 35 years. My kids graduated from college and it’s paid for. My house is paid for. Now I get to do something different. It’s just that simple. I don’t know what it is yet, but something different!

Until then, maybe you get a couple of naps in?

[laughs] You know, I am going to take the next month or two off. I love to travel. One of the benefits of the job that I had was the way that Tom and I structured the company. It wasn’t something that was going to make us a bunch of money, but [it did] give us free time to do the things that we want. I mean, you see Tom go on the road with Vintage Trouble, the band he plays with. You see Tom go off on the road opening for bands as their DJ.

And over the years the two things that I’ve done is, first, pretty much every year or so I take a month or two off and go hiking in the Himalayas, go hiking in the Andes. I go up a river in Thailand. I spent months and months walking around China in the late ’80s. I spent months walking around Tibet in the early ’90s.

Oh my god.

Yeah! And this job is what freed me to do that. I think I’m headed to the Himalayas for August and part of September. There’s a little former kingdom up there called Sikkim that’s between Nepal and Bhutan, that used to be a separate country but now it’s part of India. It’s one of the places in the Himalayas that I haven’t walked so I’m going up there, I think. When I get back I’m hoping to find a job.

And the second thing that I’ve always been able to do is to go off and do these political things that I’ve done. I’ve been a spokesperson for Business for Shared Prosperity and Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, which is a national organization for almost a decade now.

So, I don’t get paid for any of that. But it sort of frees me to be part of the political process in a really interesting way. So maybe I’ll do something with that.

I really think that you’re a local hero when it comes to stuff like that.

[laughs heartily] You know, I totally backed into that stuff. I was really pissed off when dumbass George W. Bush kept talking about “job creators” and all of these backwards things. So I thought, well, through Vintage Vinyl I’ve created a couple of dozen jobs. I had about 25 employees. And I just thought that he was wrong. Most small business owners that I know really want their people to be able to earn a decent wage and understand that national health care or some form of healthcare for everyone is really important. And I’ve always done issues that, like, essentially have a moral center.

Yeah, it seems like employees who are well taken care of are better employees, too, right?

Absolutely. I think as Americans we sign this deal that we’re going to take care of each other. That this is a country that is constructed to be — at its root — classless. That is to say: anyone from one class can move to any other class if the system is working correctly. But it’s not working correctly right now. And simple things like a basic wage and safe working conditions and reasonable health care are how we help each other in this country.

I’m interested how you build on your interests. You built Vintage Vinyl so clearly you can do things and get them done, and now that applies to your political interests, too.

I’m really good at organizing certain things and motivating people to accomplish things together. The structure at Vintage Vinyl has never been top-down. It’s always been sort-of like an amoeba. [laughs] We’re all pushing against the wall and we’re all pushing in the same direction. And that’s sort of how I do what I do.

Well, Vintage Vinyl is a retail store but it’s also a community center.

Yeah, Tom and I very much wanted it to be the musical center in St. Louis. We wanted it to be a place where people who were interested in a certain kind of American music or world music could find each other. Because Tom and I found each other at college, you know? We have known each other since 1970. I was a sophomore and he was a freshman at Webster University. I was playing guitar and he was playing harmonica and we hit it off musically. We had very broad, broad tastes. The range of the things that we liked was really similar. And in the days before the internet, the way that you learned about music was going through each other’s record collections. And he and I both had pretty vast ones, even then, and we discovered things. Like, “Oh, you like that! Wait until you hear this guy!” You know? That kind of stuff. That’s how Tom and I bonded. And, you know, here we are getting close to 45 years later.

You’ve been riffin’ off of each other for a long time.

Exactly, exactly, exactly. Between us both, I think it’s three wives and five kids later. [laughs]

Tell me about, maybe, your best moment as far as organizing the store or tell me a story about something that really sticks out that really touched you.

Somebody sent me a column that some young woman wrote on the internet a couple of months ago. And it was a woman that I absolutely remember. I think she was a high school kid. What she wrote was that she came into Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis and she described to the guy working there — and she described me as the guy: bearded old guy with a t-shirt — she’d told me what kind of music she was interested in. And I suggested some things to her and she chose a Led Zeppelin record. And I told her it was good choice and why. She took it home and she loved it, of course.

And since then, she said most of the time when she goes to a record store and describes her taste, that people laugh at her. You know, there’s kind of a music snobbery that goes with some record stores and she was really appreciative that the first time she went into Vintage Vinyl that nobody did that to her. She wrote that it made her feel brave and the whole thing was kind of a thank-you note to me.

I always felt like that what’s we’re supposed to do and that’s what we try to teach the employees. And in the beginning it was hard. In the beginning Tom and I were really bad at hiring people. The store got better when Tom and I quit hiring people because we hired people that we thought would be really entertaining, as opposed to people who might be good for the job. [laughs]

So, once we handed over the hiring and said, ”Look, what we want are people who are evangelical about music — people who are going to take the sound that someone is describing and find it for them. And the next time they come in maybe the employee says to them, “If you like that sound, here’s the next one. If you like ZZ Top, maybe you wanna hear Muddy Waters.”‘ And that’s kind of the theory.

That’s very sweet. Then you guys get to kind of go on a journey together.

Yep! And I’ve gotten to do that with thousands and thousands of people. You wouldn’t believe just the nice things that people have done for me and said to me over the years. I’m at the point now where people who I turned onto music as teenagers are now working for me. They became managers at my store. And it’s pretty cool.

But the thing to really get into this article is that I’m looking for a job! Because what I got for Vintage Vinyl won’t support me until I collect Social Security. So anyone out there who is looking for somebody who can run something or organize people or who has a nice slightly-unpopular charity [laughs], I’d be really good at that. So this is my job application. I’m hoping to get about five or six of these interviews so that I can use them all as my job applications, I gotta tell you.

I do have pretty good skills at building an effective value-based organization. Vintage Vinyl is built much more on a value system than on a commercial notion or I’d have some fuckin’ money! [laughs]

I am bizarrely selfish about how I spend my time. Basically, in life, you’re just trying to keep yourself entertained. And I’m desperately trying to keep myself entertained by doing things that please me. But at the same time, what pleases me involves both my aesthetics and my value system. And that’s really all there is. If you spend your life that way, I don’t think you get to have many regrets in the end. I’m inside of twenty years from the end. Eh. And it’s part of the reason that I don’t want to go to work everyday doing retail. I want to do something else. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’ll find it.

A future shopper (or possibly employee) outside Vintage Vinyl on Record Store Day 2015. / Photo by Jaime Lees
A future shopper (or possibly employee) outside Vintage Vinyl on Record Store Day 2015. / Photo by Jaime Lees

Full disclosure: this writer volunteers at Vintage Vinyl one day a year to distribute free Schlafly Beer to music lovers on Record Store Day.

link: Riverfront Times
link: Feminist Hero: The Guy Who Sold Me Led Zeppelin IV

The Blue Pearl, New Bar/Music Venue, to Open on Cherokee This Summer

Whoa Thunder performing at the space that will hold The Blue Pearl / photo via Lo-Fi St. Louis Facebook page
Whoa Thunder performing at the space that will hold The Blue Pearl / photo via Lo-Fi St. Louis Facebook page

The Blue Pearl, New Bar/Music Venue, to Open on Cherokee This Summer
By Jaime Lees
Tue., May 26 2015

At 2926 Cherokee Street, owner/manager Julie Sommer is getting close to opening a different kind of Cherokee bar — one she hopes will appeal to an older, more sophisticated clientele. The Blue Pearl plans to feature roots music and light food offerings.

The business has already had its hearing for a liquor license. While Sommer needs to apply for occupancy and health department permits before her license can be finalized, her goal is to open within the next few months.

Sommer explains, “Part of the idea for the space was to appeal to an older, working crowd. Basically, I still love to hear live music, but I am older and work a lot, so I don’t want to go out to see a band that doesn’t even start until 11 p.m. or midnight. … I think a lot of ‘non-traditional’ folks in the Cherokee neighborhood and St. Louis generally might welcome the idea of early live music. There are many contractors, artists, and other self-employed entrepreneurs who I believe would appreciate the opportunity to go to a nice place to hear music in the late afternoon or early evening.”

The hours aren’t yet set, but Sommer expects to be open to the public four days per week. In addition to a full bar, she plans to serve salads and simple snacks — dried fruits, pickled beets and marinated olives.

Even before its opening, the bar has already become part of the Cherokee Street scene. Local film maker Bill Streeter used The Blue Pearl as one of many locations for his Lo-Fi Cherokee music video series, with the soon-to-open venue hosting the performance of local “hyperactive synth and guitar rock bandWhoa Thunder. [The Lo-Fi series premieres this Friday, May 29 on Jefferson Avenue near Cherokee Street. Event information here.]

We caught up with Sommer via email to get the details: link

– link: Riverfront Times