Originally posted at www.nodepression.com
A few months ago on a hot September night I got a call from my friend John who asked if I wanted to go down to a little coffee shop in our neck of the woods that was having an open mic night for singer-songwriters called Friday Night Writers. Neither of us had ever been to Flour Fusion down on Main Street in Lake Elsinore out here in southwest California, but he’d found the notice posted on this No Depression community site which made us both a little curious.
Back in the twenties Elsinore was a place to escape to for Hollywood folks who’d drive out on the weekends for rest and relaxation by the large natural lake that pushes up against the Santa Ana mountains. Today it’s a sprawling middle class suburb and home to over 50,000 people that shows it’s age and is plagued by all those modern urban problems such as gangs, drugs, blight, foreclosures and high unemployment. The three or four block long historic Main Street have been redeveloped with some interesting shops and restaurants but with the economy in free fall, it’s got a ways to go from reaching it’s potential. Nevertheless, in a world of freeways, fast food restaurants and malls…it’s kind of a nice place to hang.
The low riders were cruising up and down the street, there was mariachi music coming from the Mexican restaurant on the corner and the sidewalk outside the coffee shop was awash with inked and pierced teens and twenty-somethings who mostly were awaiting their turn on the makeshift stage by strumming, smoking and texting. The crowd inside was an all age mix of what looked like mostly friends and family members, and the vibe was mellow…nary a Hollywood hipster in sight except maybe for that skinny kid with the beard and a Martin sitting up front.
Nursing cups of coffee, we sat through several performances that were short in both duration and inspiration. John is an accomplished musician and I come from the business side of music, so we each set a high bar and it was looking like our wives would be seeing us get home a little earlier than expected. But we hung in there and lo and behold when we least expected it, there was magic. Not once, not twice…but repeatedly. I’m here to tell you…the kids are alright.
A few days later I tracked down the woman who started up Friday Night Writers and it turns out we had a few things in common. We both grew up back east..she in Jersey and me in Philly…we moved to California a few decades ago and we each own a vintage sunburst solid body Hagstrom electric, circa 1965. In fact, she’s holding it on the cover of her CD shown below called “Amber In The Clay”.
Although I didn’t get to see Davie Gayle perform that night at Flour Fusion, she was kind enough to share her CD with me and let me tell you, it rocks. A bluegrass and rockabilly fan when she was growing up, after landing in Los Angeles she kicked around the beach towns playing with several cover bands (Gayle Force and Spark In The Dark were two) with her brother Michael, who is a mighty fine and tasty guitar player in his own right. She sang on demos, did backup work at sessions when she could, and continued to pursue her primary passion of songwriting.
About four or five years ago she criss-crossed the country, spending time in Nashville and performing at the many songwriter nights they have there. In time, California called her back home and she worked with her brother and a number of first class musicians on “Amber In The Clay” which is released on Micheal’s Remba Records. Two tracks, Doghouse Flowers and Get Me, appear in the independent film “Missionary Man”. Also floating out there on the internet and worth checking out are some tracks she’s cut with her sisters and brother under the name of Sweet Alyssum and there’s nothing like that sweet familial harmony.
There’s a few things that fascinate me about Davie. First, she is simply an amazing songwriter with the ability to write and perform in various styles. On her CD she’s runs the gamut from blues to bluegrass, traditional country to rock. At times her voice seems to take me back to a fifties style of country singing and other times it’s closer to Bonnie Raitt . Last month when I finally got to see her do a set at Flour Fusion along with Michael on guitar and fiddle player David Strother, it was fine enough to leave me scratching my head and wondering why she isn’t more well known.
The Friday Night Writer series that she runs comes from her passion for music as well as trying to help bring some customers to her friend’s coffee shop. Her eyes light up when she talks about the young musicians who show up and play every month. I can attest that there are many who are quite good, and a few who are exceptional. I’ve managed to see Sal and Isela twice now and this husband and wife duo call their music Mexicanized/American. Aaron and Tiffany Ketts are another husband and wife team who are interesting to watch and then there are a whole bunch of solo acts, duos, keyboardists and pickers. Holly Diane, Michael Pulliam, Anthony Jaeger, Ashlee Morton…those are a few names I recall. It changes month to month.
There’s a twenty-four year old singer-songwriter named Brandon Thomas De La Cruz who I befriended through Davie, and he and I have had a prolonged online discussion about why he and others do what they do and where they’d like to take it. Here’s some thoughts he shared with me:
Personally I would feel very blessed if I were able to make a living as a musician and/or songwriter. Some of the gigs we play are paying (not very much), but most of them aren’t. Our audiences are mostly limited to our own friends and family, so we aren’t able to draw enough people to justify a club booking us for a paying gig. I don’t write songs out of the desire to make money. I write and perform in response to the gifts that come to me that inspire me to create something in return.
My expectations for having a career in music have changed over the past 5-6 years from when I first started writing and recording. I understand that the music I make isn’t very close to what popular music is today. I don’t know if it could ever be mainstream. But things like the internet seem to have allowed for independent artists and independent record labels to gain a wide audience without being part of the major label system. So I see myself being able to make a career in music when I’m good enough that people will take notice of my music either through word of mouth propagated on the internet or by being able to work with an independent label.
While the old school music business was about building stars, the new school is the picture-perfect long tail model. A few at the top who can sustain a tour of some sort, maybe get corporate sponsorships, license a song or two to film or TV, and still sell a few hundred thousand CDs or more…and then all the rest. The odds have always been against anyone breaking through on a major scale but nowadays let’s face it: new artist development only exists if your a fourteen year old girl with a TV show on the Disney Channel.
So instead of a few stars, we have lots and lots of light bulbs. People who are making great music in their bedrooms and basements than ever before, producing quality recordings while promoting themselves on the internet, playing local gigs at places like Flour Fusion or maybe at their church or local bookshops, selling tracks on iTunes and Amazon and maybe popping up on sites like this.
Although nobody (except maybe Amazon and Apple) has quite figured out how to make a living from all this long tail-ness, I rather like the idea of a DIY music environment. Diversity, creativity, freedom, exploration, entertainment, pleasure…all available with a cup of coffee.