There are many reasons why I love summer. For one thing, there are the various music festivals held throughout the tri-state region – a great opportunity to hear live music outside of a barroom setting. I myself applied to play at one of these festivals. The conversation went along smoothly until I uttered those six fateful words:

“How much does this gig pay?”

You’d have thought I was Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. The booking agent went on and on about how people were donating their time and talent for this community event, and how dare I ask for money when people much better than me were playing for free.

This drives me crazy. Are the arts and crafts vendors giving away their stuff for free? Are the food trucks giving away food? Is Penelec donating electricity? Why is it always the musicians who are asked to take it on the chin at these things?

Another thing I love about summer is that the nicer weather is more conducive to travel. Last weekend I saw the Lemonheads in Pittsburgh. It was only when driving home that it occurred to me that the audience… was entirely white.

I don’t want to be one of these “walk five miles to school” guys, but when I was growing up in the 1980’s, it wasn’t like this. White kids listened to Prince and Michael Jackson. Black kids listened to Madonna and Bruce Springsteen. Everyone listened to everything. But, around 1990, the races split apart, with blacks embracing rap and R&B, and whites gravitating toward country and grunge (and later, indie rock). 

I am neither a sociologist nor a musicologist. I don’t purport to understand how or why this split occurred. But it’s a disturbing trend, and it ought to be addressed.

The main reason I love summer is that the time off allows me to play more music. Earlier this month I actually went on tour!

Okay, it was only five shows in two weeks. And they were all in northwest Pennsylvania. And I went home after every gig. But this is my newsletter, so I’m calling it a tour!

I have a few more shows later this summer; check the website for details. In the meantime, I hope everyone reading this has the opportunity to take in some live music this summer – if not mine, then someone else’s.

As usual, thanks for your support. And remember… you only get about eighty summers in a lifetime, so make each one count.

 

 

One of the hardest parts of being in your fifties is that people your own age start dying. My new year got off to a rocky start when a longtime friend of mine, Joshua Schoenfeld, unexpectedly passed away.

Joshua was not only one of my best friends, he was also one of my biggest fans. It was he who suggested the album titles Foul Weather Friend and American Proust. Josh and his wife also came to see me when I played at the Baggot Inn in New York City in 2002.

Joshua was the proverbial “glass is half full” kind of guy. After the Baggot Inn gig, we went out for a pepperoni pizza. (Though a devout Jew, Joshua believed that what came out of your mouth was far more important than what went into it.) I was unsure how well my performance went (sparse attendance, not much applause) when Joshua reassured me:

JS: When you started playing, did anyone get up and leave?

FM: Well… no.

JS: Then you did okay!

However, even someone of Joshua’s sunny disposition would have found it hard to put a positive spin on my performance at the Tipsy Bean Coffeehouse in Erie.

I was in the audience watching my friend Tommy Link play there last January. When he took a break, he invited me to play a few songs during the interim.

I pretty much cleared the room. By the end of my third song, I was playing to Tommy and the baristas.

Tommy – to his credit – didn’t hold a grudge. To the contrary; he put in a good word for me to play at the Breakwall BBQ in Conneaut, Ohio. (I’ll be playing there on Sunday, June 2.) The Breakwall, with its lakefront location and picturesque sunsets, is one room I know I won’t clear!

I’ve had a YouTube channel for about 10 years, but I haven’t done anything with it for a long time. When I recently saw how many subscribers I had, I figured I should probably get back into it. Over the past few months, therefore, I’ve uploaded several new videos: mainly live performances, along with a couple of instrumental pieces I’ve been working on.

You can see what all the fuss is about at:

https://www.youtube.com/user/fmarzano2003

Well, that’s about it for now. As always, thanks for your support.

Rock long and prosper (or, as Joshua would have said, “Shalom aleichem”).

Those of you who know me well know that, when I’m not playing music, I’m either writing music, listening to music, or reading about music.

In his autobiography A Cellarful of Noise, the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein recounted a rare visit to a Fab Four recording session. Epstein had the effrontery to remark from the control booth that something didn’t sound right. John Lennon, in his now-famous reply, responded, “You stick to your percentages, Brian. We’ll look after the music.”

I mention this because pretty much the same thing is happening here in northwest Pennsylvania. One bar in the area asked to see my setlist before they would book me. Another local watering hole informed me that they don’t allow any original compositions!

When I inquired why, I was told, "Our goal is to keep people here." This drives me crazy for two reasons. It assumes that (1) meticulously crafted original songs won't keep people in a venue, and (2) boring covers of "Wagon Wheel" will.

Since when did venues get into the business of dictating the musicians’ repertoire? This makes about as much sense as me instructing them how much sauce to put on the hot wings, or telling them when the fries are done.

On the plus side, however, it does explain why so many musicians in the area play the same dozen songs (“Sweet Caroline”, “Last Dance with Mary Jane”, etc.)

So... bars in the tri-state area continue to be unwilling to book me. To be honest, I find myself missing it less and less. Bar crowds aren’t what they used to be.

Among other things, I’ve found that they speak in a kind of code, which I’ve managed to translate for your edification. Here are some examples:

“Turn it up!”

Translation: “I am a total rube. I don’t get out much. I wish to control the volume onstage just like I do on my home stereo. Please pour a beer over my head.”

“Freebird!”

Translation: “I am a total rube. I don’t get out much. I wish to control the song selection just like I do on my home stereo. Please pour a beer over my head.”

“One more!”

Translation: “I am a total rube. I don’t get out much. I wish to control the duration of the music just like I do on my home stereo. Please pour a beer over my head.”

So… I haven’t been playing in bars. Where have I been playing?

I play at senior homes throughout Crawford County 2 – 3 times a month. I also play at the Venango General Store on a semiregular basis. Then there’s the Little Church on the Hill.

On the third Saturday of each month, the Elk Creek Historical Society organizes “Coffee House on the Hill” – an event featuring potluck and local musicians at the historic (1855) “Little Church” in Wellsburg, PA (just north of Albion).

I myself used to play here when I was taking my first baby steps as a live musician, playing lead guitar for Dave Devine back in 1999. I used to joke that the average age of the crowd was somewhere between 70 and “dead three days ago”. Not that big of a deal (except that, if there was a fire, I’d pretty much be looking at certain death).

These days the Elk Creek Historical Society is in the hands of new people who are trying to cater to a younger crowd. When I reached out to them to play at the Coffee House, they were receptive to the idea - although, at the time of this writing, we haven’t booked a date yet. Once we set something up, I’ll post it on the website.

In the meantime, check out the excellent work the Elk Creek Historical Society does on their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/LittleChurch/about/?ref=page_internal

Finally, I hope all of you reading this have a joyous holiday season. And, if your holiday list contains that hard-to-shop-for person, the perfect stocking stuffers are right here:

https://store.cdbaby.com/Artist/FrankMarzano 

Rock long and prosper,

Frank

Summer got off to a rocky start this year. My May performance at the 215 Restaurant was cancelled the day of the gig. The explanation was that they had been hit with licensing fees from BMI, ASCAP, et al.

If a bar, restaurant, or coffeeshop features music – either live, prerecorded, or even FM radio – they have to pay a fee to the performing rights organizations: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC (referred to hereafter as the “PROs”).

The amount charged depends on many factors: seating capacity, cover charge, dancing, etc. You can see how BMI does it here:

https://www.bmi.com/forms/licensing/gl/ede.pdf

A lot of people (venues and musicians alike) perceive the PROs as “bad guys”. But if you’re going to make money off of someone else’s music, you should pay for the privilege. Music has value.

Unfortunately, the PROs think that music has more value than many venues are willing to pay. The result is that many places are foregoing live music altogether rather than pay the licensing fees.

This raises an interesting question: I’ve been a performing musician virtually my whole adult life, but I don’t recall the PROs being this aggressive previously. It appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon, during the last fifteen years or so.

What else happened during the last fifteen years? The digital music format enabled people to download music without paying for it and make exact copies of compact discs. YouTube is pretty much an infinite jukebox. Musicians can make professional sounding recordings on a computer without booking studio time, and distribute their songs worldwide without radio airplay or a record deal.

It seems that the PRO’s (who, no doubt, are in cahoots with the radio stations and record companies) decided to recuperate lost revenue from CD sales by going more aggressively after live music venues.

In this life, only three things are certain: death, taxes, and the perennially disappointing music lineup at Celebrate Erie. Consider this year’s headliners:

1) The Ohio Players – They were cool… about 40 years ago.

2) Dan + Shay – A fairly big name in country music, but we’ve had bigger.

3) Sugar Ray – Two-hit wonder who forfeited any claim to street cred when they appeared in “Scooby Doo”.

What makes Celebrate Erie different this year, however, is an increased commitment to community inclusion. They’re using local vendors whenever possible, and featuring local musicians on four different stages.

Alas, my application to play at Celebrate Erie was not successful. (The Erie music scene remains highly politicized.) But if the organizers deserve credit for hiring more local musicians than previously, we need not begrudge it to them.

Fortunately, I don’t need to depend on Erie to play music. The Venango General Store books me on a semi-regular basis, and gigs at senior homes in Crawford County have been rolling in.

Thanks again for your support. Drop me a line (fmarzano2003@yahoo.com) and let me know what’s happening with you. I really do read every email I get (and do my absolute best to reply to same).

Rock long and prosper!

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