Brutal Heat Halts Echo & the Bunnymen Concert in St. Louis Saturday
By Jaime Lees
Mon, Jul 24, 2017
St. Louis’ brutal weekend heat was so bad, it took down a rockstar.
At the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre on Saturday night, the lead singer of Echo & the Bunnymen (and the subject of our music feature this week) was overcome by the heat and had to leave the stage.
Ian McCulloch gave it his best shot. Wearing his signature jacket despite the day’s record-setting 108-degree temperature, he pushed through at first — and even took sustenance from an oxygen mask. But finally the heat cut things short.
The day had been brutally, dangerously hot. Still, the Violent Femmes went on as scheduled, with the Bunnymen following closely behind after the sun went down.
Despite every bit of their human instincts telling them to avoid the outdoors, a shocking percentage of the audience still managed to show up for the outdoor concert, with the seated area appearing to be about half full. And though the crowd loved the Violent Femmes’ set, it’s likely that most of the audience was there primarily to see Echo & the Bunnymen — the band hasn’t played St. Louis in twenty years. (Their last gig here was a slot at Pointfest 1997 on another stupid-hot day at the same venue.)
The venue did everything it could to make sure that it didn’t have mass casualties on its hands. The amphitheatre was well-staffed, cooling stations were easy to find, misting fans were circulating and, most importantly, administration smartly waved the usual policy that limits guests to bringing in just one bottle of water. From the front gate to the stage barricades, every staff member we encountered was kind and helpful. (Not much could be done to improve the restrooms, however, which are always and forever people-baking cinderblock kilns.)
The Violent Femmes started right on time and seemed to tolerate the heat fairly well. At that point in the night it was overwhelmingly hot down in the closely packed front bowl of the audience. About halfway through their set my friend and I decamped for the slightly breezier air that was available near the outer edges available away from the crowd.
We returned to our seats in time for the Bunnymen. Their set started normally enough, with the entire amphitheatre going dark and then the stage glowing in their traditional style: plenty of smoke machines and dramatically backlit like the film version of an alien abduction.
The band took the stage, and all seemed well — stellar, even — until it suddenly wasn’t. McCulloch’s voice was strong and beautiful for the first half of their set but then it became clear that he was slipping. He abruptly stopped singing and said he had to exit for five minutes “to breathe,” but he came back sooner than that and resumed his duties.
Try as he might, McCulloch kept fading. His breathing between songs had become labored and shaky. A worried stagehand who had previously been busy throwing bottles of water out to the audience followed his movements closely after that, placing an IV bag of fluid just behind him on the drum riser.
The band had to pause two more times (once with McCulloch just stepping to the back corner of the stage to get aid from an oxygen mask) but try as he might, he couldn’t quite swing it under these awful conditions. We felt like we were about to witness a truly scary incident if McCulloch pushed himself any harder. It was time to stop.
A few attendees didn’t feel the same way, taking their complaints to Twitter to say that they were let down, wanted a refund, etc. But I think that if McCulloch hadn’t needed to leave the stage, nobody would’ve even known that the band’s set was shortened. They still managed to play for just about an hour and skipped over lesser-known songs on their planned setlist in favor of the radio hits that most of the audience had come to witness. And in the end, they only cut four songs total.
Many of the complaints I saw said that McCulloch should’ve removed his jacket and that would’ve helped him with tolerating the heat. Meh. Maybe. But I think it was his full-body singing style that did him in. That kind of dazzling vocal ability must require a shitload of breathing tricks and the humid air was thick and miserable to simply exist in, much less sing. Add to that the heat from the stage lights and it’s a miracle that the dude didn’t collapse immediately.
There were ambulances leaving from the back area of the venue as the show ended, but if one of those was for McCulloch, he did a good job of bouncing back, because he played Chicago last night as scheduled.
As I described the after-concert scene to a friend the next day: “The very reasonable Midwesterners filing past us after the show were all saying that McCulloch should’ve taken off his jacket if he was hot, but that would be like Gene Simmons performing in flip-flops. Completely unacceptable.”
This show seemed to indicate that the legendary Ian McCulloch would rather drop dead than dim his personal style. And I, for one, have nothing but respect for that. Shine on, Mac. See you next time. (Hopefully indoors.)
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.
Chuck Berry Gets a Loving Goodbye from the City He Always Called Home
By Jaime Lees
Mon, Apr 10, 2017
It is impossible to overstate the significance of Chuck Edward Anderson Berry. He’s been frequently credited with inventing the entire genre of rock & roll music, but his influence reached much further than the radio. His existence changed the world.
Berry was the ultimate cultural icon. No other figure in the history of modern music has had such a lasting, measurable impact. And as a native and proud St. Louisan, Berry has always held an extra-special place in the heart of locals. Chuck Berry, you see, belonged to us. He was the embodiment of all that is magical and special about St. Louis culture, and when he died last month, a huge part of our history died along with him.
It took a few weeks to put together, but Berry’s family planned a wonderful series of events to celebrate his life. Chuck loved an audience, and this entire past weekend was set up so that fans could participate in saying goodbye. There was a toast held outside on Delmar Boulevard on Saturday night, followed by a viewing of Berry’s body on Sunday morning at the Pageant that was open to the public.
The private service for the family was scheduled to commence immediately after the public viewing, and the Berry family gave out passes to the private service to three hundred members of the public who queued up excitedly in the hopes of witnessing this historic event. It was a generous offering to many of Chuck’s biggest longtime fans.
Some of those fans had been waiting outside the Pageant since 5 a.m., when the line for the viewing started. There was a steady stream of mourners all morning, but most just popped in for a minute or two, paid their respects and then left. There was never a long, intolerable line to get into the viewing. In fact, for most of the day visitors could pretty much just walk right in.
Many fans who expected the process to take longer spent the rest of their day hanging around outside the venue, enjoying the breezy weather while trading their favorite Berry stories. The majority of these fans had managed to see Berry play live, something that all agreed was a special event.
In a live music setting, Chuck Berry could not be beat. He played a monthly show at Blueberry Hill’s tiny basement venue, the Duck Room, well into his ’80s. Though those shows got progressively looser over the years, Berry made up for his slipping technical abilities by piling on the charisma. He stood there and smiled and the entire crowd smiled back, overjoyed just to be in the same room as him.
And though he was always untouchable on stage, Berry’s behavior off stage was more than troublesome. To put it simply: Chuck Berry was not always a hero. He had a long and documented history of assaulting women and this fact did not go unaddressed on the day of his service. A small group of protesters held up signs outside of the entrance to the Pageant to remind visitors of the darker side of his history.
But inside the venue, it was all love. Berry’s body was laid out tastefully and the room was beautifully decorated and lit. A parade of speakers took the stage to sing Berry’s praises. Many of them took the time to mention that Berry was a civil rights icon: What Berry did with music helped people to cross racial divides out in the streets. White audiences who might not have otherwise embraced a black musician were helpless to resist the power of Berry’s guitar.
Gene Simmons of KISS was a surprise speaker at the service. He was hiding out in the back and looked properly devastated before being asked to say a few words. His impromptu speech was one of the best of the entire event; he told the audience about his own past as a young immigrant to the United States and about how Berry and his music helped to bring people together.
“It’s a sad day, but I think it’s a happy time. Look at the legacy,” Simmons said. “He broke down the barriers and made all kinds of people’s hearts and minds open up to the idea that we all belong to the same people.”
Another crowd favorite was Marshall Chess, son of Leonard Chess of Chess Records. He’s an engaging, delightful storyteller and his charm was on full display. But the speech of the day, appropriately, came from Charles Berry Jr. He was funny, sincere and remarkably composed, given the circumstances. He explained that his father was his hero and that he felt honored to be able to learn from the master. He said that many people taught him how to be a musician, but that his father taught him how to be a man.
Charles Berry Jr. thanked his many friends and family members in attendance and then, in a remarkable display of midwestern hospitality, he took a moment to address the public, who had been seated in the balcony area. He looked up and said, “You’re my friends now, too, because you’re here with me.”
During this moment, and when Berry’s clearly heartbroken grandchildren performed (“We are doing this in remembrance of our grandfather, and for the joy of our grandmother”), the crowd always acted respectfully, seeming to realize that though it looked like a state funeral and the deceased was a world-renowned celebrity, this was absolutely a personal family event.
The entire service was overwhelmingly and impressively touching. There were musical performances from Marlissa Hudson, Dwayne Buggs, Johnny Rivers and Billy Peek. Outside after the service, the Funky Butt Brass Band played a devastating rendition of “St. Louis Blues” as the coffin was loaded into the hearse. (Little Richard had also been scheduled to attend and sing a gospel song, but he had fallen ill and couldn’t make it.) Near the end of the service, condolence letters from Bill Clinton, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and St. Louis mayor Francis Slay were read to the crowd. Slay’s proclamation was read by new mayor-elect Lyda Krewson, and it praised Berry for always sticking close to home.
Legendary local bluesman Mat Wilson is a huge fan of Berry and attended every event this weekend that honored his hero, including the public toast and moment of silence held at Berry’s Walk of Fame star outside Blueberry Hill on Saturday night. A scholar of American music with a special interest in regional history, Wilson praises Berry easily and enthusiastically.
“My band, the Loot Rock Gang, got to open for Chuck, and I also had a chance to open for Chuck playing guitar for my wife, Little Rachel,” Wilson says. “It was quite the honor. Chuck is the grandfather of rock & roll and I think it was really special to have him here in our neighborhood. He’s the originator. It’s not to be taken lightly that the originator of rock & roll came from our own town.”
Echoing this sentiment, St. Louis native and real life guitar hero Richard Fortus (Guns ‘N’ Roses, Love Spit Love, Thin Lizzy, Pale Divine) also stopped into Berry’s viewing on Sunday afternoon to pay his respects.
Fortus said, “For me, this was a big part of my growing up, being from St. Louis. Not only his music, but his persona. The early videos for me were huge: seeing Chuck Berry on TV and what an enigmatic performer he was. I remember playing down on the Landing when I was a kid and him coming in and grabbing a guitar and yelling at people if they didn’t know his songs. It was awesome.
“It was special, growing up in St. Louis and knowing that he was part of the lineage,” he added. “He’s one of the biggest parts in the history of rock & roll.”
St. 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.
30 Ridiculous Things You Can Still Buy at Nagle’s Before Its Doors Close Forever
Posted By Jaime Lees
Thu, Jun 30, 2016
St. Louis is full of hidden treasures but Nagle’s Variety & Collectible Gift Store in Florissant is not one of them. The family-owned classic “five & dime” shop has been in business for 46 years and has been a North County institution for decades.
The news came this week that owners Mike and Jeannie Nagle were retiring and liquidating the store’s merchandise and fixtures. The shop was shut down for a few days to prepare for one giant, final sale.
Nagle’s really was one of the last of its kind. With new dollar stores (and $5 stores) popping up on every corner, it was nice to have a reliable destination in mind when trying to hunt down the perfect funny little birthday gift or anniversary present. No matter what ridiculous item you were seeking, Nagle’s could hook you up.
It’s always been the place to find greeting cards, jewelry, candy, garden items, housewares, art supplies, crafts, candles, figurines, fabric, knick-knacks and tchotchkes of every variety, but they also kept up with trending crap. From Beanie Babies to Troll dolls, the toy du jour could always be found in multitudes at Nagles.
Truthfully, Nagle’s has always been just full of crap, but in the best way. The mission of the store seemed to be to sell you crap that you didn’t need. (And crap that you didn’t even know existed, for that matter.)
The store opened up again yesterday to begin its final sale. The doors opened at 9 a.m.; at 6 p.m. the parking lot was still full. Inside the aisles were crowded and the cash registers were ringing nonstop. It would seem as though the entire county came out to snatch up the good deals.
The store was offering everything inside for 20 percent off and despite steady business all day, it didn’t yet look picked over in the least. To say that there is still an abundance of inventory in that space would be an understatement. The store will continue to sell off all items over the next four weeks or so, with the discount percentage increasing all the while.
We took some time to go up and down the overstimulating aisles and choose some of our favorite (and/or most ridiculous) items still available in the store. All of these treasures (and toilets) can be yours. There is still time. Take yourself to Nagle’s, get this crap and bid your old friend a fond farewell.
The Riot story goes like this: On July 2, 1991, Guns N’ Roses came to St. Louis to play one of the first shows at a brand new outdoor shed venue called Riverport. (Now known as Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre.) During the show, Rose spotted a fan up front taking photos, he then flipped his shit and jumped into the crowd in an attempt to wail on the offender, a motorcycle enthusiast named Stump. After being caught on the big screen going berserk on his fans and lashing out at security, Rose was pulled out of the mayhem, said “Well, thanks for the lame-ass security, I’m going home” into the microphone, and then threw the mic down and exited the stage. The rest of the band followed.
The fans in attendance weren’t about to tolerate Rose’s antics (or the show being cut short) and they promptly rioted: ripping up the seats, lighting small fires, starting fights, tearing down signage and generally trashing the joint. The band fled the Riverport area and were driven across state lines into Illinois to avoid arrest.
Rose’s bratty behavior was already well-documented by this point. His fragile ego always came across as insecurity wrapped in peacocking machismo, but on this night he seemed extra volatile. Dude was wearing Mormon underwear and a hideous gorilla jacket that would make even Dian Fossey cover her eyes but he still decided that he was going to jump into the audience and try to be the alpha male.
Because his aggro, immature outbursts were commonplace, this particular tantrum couldn’t have been entirely unexpected, but the reaction of the crowd was immediately beyond the capabilities of Riverport security. The police called in every available officer and the rioting crowd was mercilessly escorted to the exits. The riot resulted in sixteen arrests, 60 injuries and a reported $200,000 in damage to the amphitheatre.
It took a year for Rose to finally be arrested on an outstanding warrant when he landed back in New York after a European tour. He was released on $100,000 bail but soon faced a St. Louis judge on multiple accusations of assault and a property damage charge. In the end Rose was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay $50,000 to St. Louis-area charities.
But before he even went to trial in St. Louis, Rose had already declared his own personal war on the city. His vendetta was long-running, too. Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II were released a few months after the incident and included “FUCK YOU, ST. LOUIS!” in the liner notes. Rose was also seen on stage wearing a “ST. LOUIS SUCKS” t-shirt and he trashed the city at every opportunity. (Riverport is technically located outside of St. Louis in Maryland Heights, but a shirt that reads “MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MO SUCKS” wouldn’t have been nearly as flashy.) He also wore a St. Louis Cardinals hat for approximately one second in the “Don’t Cry” video. (At the 1:11 mark.) He must’ve wanted us to know that he was thinking of us because it’s not like he wore hats and bandanas in an attempt to hide his thinning hairline or anything. Nope, not at all.
Maybe Rose has since softened his stance on St. Louis after working with our native son, wizard guitarist Richard Fortus. Fortus became a member of GNR in 2001 and has decades of high-level professional experience under his studded belt. (He founded Love Spit Love and played with Thin Lizzy, to say the least.) He’s smart and talented and any city would be proud to have him as its ambassador. Fortus recently gave an interview where he explained that he missed the 1991 riot entirely. On the night of the riot, he said, he was playing across town at Kennedy’s. (For local rock fans of a certain age, this statement will read as pure, undeniable St. Louis street cred.)
So where and when will this new Guns N’ Roses concert happen? We have no official information on that yet, but we’re guessing that they’re implying that the show will happen sometime this summer. But making plans is not GNR’s strongest trait— you know how it went down with Chinese Democracy. And assuming that “Riverport” still has a ban on Rose (and doesn’t want a reenactment of 1991 on its hands), GNR would have to find another large venue to play.
When discussing this dilemma with a friend, he offered what appears to be a very reasonable venue prediction for the upcoming event. Keep in mind this is entirely conjecture, but he pointed out that current Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt recently mentioned on a podcast that in addition to welcoming the much anticipated NHL Winter Classic hockey game, that he was also planning on hosting an upcoming concert at Busch Stadium downtown.
In the last few minutes of The Ryan Kelly Morning After podcast Episode 37 (titled “Segment 1 – Show Open 03/10/16”), DeWitt says, “We’ve had a couple of false starts on concerts, so I don’t want to jinx it, so I’ll leave it at that. But we’re trying to get one good one this summer and then one or two big ones next summer.”
Could it be Guns N’ Roses? Absolutely. Not many other major touring bands could hope to even partially fill a venue that holds more than 46,000 attendees. Furthermore, if this show is at Busch it would almost surely have to take place during the All Star break between July 8 and July 12. This location might also be good insurance against another riot— most St. Louisans would think twice before damaging the Cardinals’ nest.
What’s a St. Louis rock fan to do? We have ambivalent feelings about Guns N’ Roses. We remember what happened on that hot summer night long ago, but years of prolonged exposure to KSHE has weakened our resolve. We, as a city, have always liked to party, but we still have very little tolerance for ego trip bullshit.
So to Axl we say this: Remember what happened the last time you tried to act a fool here? We don’t play that mess so don’t even try it again. We’re primed and ready. If you try to step to us on our own territory we’ll turn on you even faster than last time. Behave yourself because we promise you that this, sir, is the jungle.
Missed the action? Check out a short two-part documentary on the Riverport Riot below. It includes an interview with Mr. Stump and a hilarious “only in St. Louis” story about Izzy Stradlin’s lost amplifier from witness Sebastian Bach of Skid Row.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Full disclosure: this writer volunteers at Vintage Vinyl one day a year to distribute free Schlafly Beer to music lovers on Record Store Day.