Music They Don’t Want You to Hear​

Many thanks to Ron Cooke of A Still Small Voice​ for including my song “Right or Wrong” in his radio program “Music They Don’t Want You to Hear​” back on January 12th of this year.

Check out the placement of my song in the middle of this set: (!)

Joan Baez | Blowin In The Wind | From Every Stage Live ​
Tommy Sands | The Answer Is Not Blowing In The Wind | Fair Play To You All ​
Jason Baker | Right Or Wrong | Common Man Blues ​
Joan Baez | Diamonds And Rust | Rare Live And Classic​
Joan Baez | Battle Hymn Of The Republic | A Continuing Debut ​

You can hear the show Archived at https://www.mixcloud.com/assv4u/

Or listen to the song here:

NERFA Report

The Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) is a regional affiliate of Folk Alliance International (FAI) and holds an annual music business conference in Stamford, Connecticut each November.

This year I attended as a Singer-Songwriter and Performer, and also as a Folk DJ, since I am co-host of a radio show called Folk Talk, a weekly 1 hour folk music & talk radio show hosted by Rik Palieri on WBTV-LP 99.3 FM, Sundays @ 4PM.

The Rix
The Rix

Other things I did differently from my first NERFA, last year:

  • Came as early as possible on Thursday and stayed through lunch Sunday.
  • I got an exhibit hall table, which I shared with The Rix, and which also served for promoting Folk Talk, as Rik Palieri, the host, is a member of The Rix duo. Our table was next to Zoe Mulford, who has appeared on our radio show, and it was a delight to get to talk with her and her husband.
  • I have physical CD’s of my new album, Common Man Blues, and was able to give it to DJ’s with a Track Card and Press Release folded and tucked inside the CD sleeve.
  • I bought the extra meals and made time for at least one nap.
Zoe Mulford
Zoe Mulford

I also did something NOT recommended: I seriously cut one of my fingers on my right hand carelessly reaching into my bag (shaving razor got loose) and had to detour on the way to an urgent care facility to properly bandage it up, as the single band-aid I had in the car could not contain the flow of blood. I had a GIANT bandage on the ring finger of my right hand.

20191107_094601.jpg
Comically Oversized Bandage

I attended a songwriter swap called “Unsung Songwriters” with my hand like that, and was glad I had the ukulele! I was able to swap the comically-oversized bandage for two normal fabric ones and at least I didn’t look as weird playing. Good thing I use my thumb and index finger for most picking!

Jason Baker and Alice Hasen
Jason Baker and Alice Hasen

Another new thing: playing a guerrilla showcase with a new accompanist with a single rehearsal! A violinist named Alice Hasen put out on the NERFA Talk Facebook group that she was available to join other artists in their showcases, so I, and apparently a lot of other people, took her up on it. She did a phenomenal job on everything she played on, and her own showcases were delightful! I was very excited to meet a young musician of this caliber, and although she is based out of Memphis now, she is originally from Shelburne, Vermont, up in my neck of the woods, so I am hopeful we will get to work together in the future.

Murder Ballads on a all-metal, round-neck resonator!
Murder Ballads on a all-metal, round-neck resonator!

Another way I stepped out of my comfort zone was signing up for the Crab Donkey “Murder Ballads” showcase. I specifically learned two songs for this: “Stagger Lee” and “Banks of the Ohio” and played them on a round-neck, all-metal resonator guitar on loan from Rik Palieri.

The showcases wrapped up, in classic NERFA style, at 3 AM, but we had people singing along even at that hour!

Vance Gilbert harasses Alice Howe and Freebo while my showcase buddies Susan & Ray look on…

Workshops I attended included Vance Gilbert‘s Performance Workshop (as usual, pure genius, not long enough) a DJ workshop about new digital platforms, and a workshop by Liz Stookey-Sunde, Founder of Music to Life, about connecting activism and music.

Hoping to get Vance to come up to Burlington to do his workshop and maybe a show. Also hoping to connect with Liz at Music to Life to develop a plan for a “Social Change Music Academy” concept.

“Folk Talk” is already part of the offerings on Folk Music Notebook, a new 24-hour folk music internet radio station created by Ron Olesko, DJ and Founder of  “Traditions”, now WFDU-FM’s longest running program.

NERFA is an interesting opportunity to connect with the community in a way that is different from the rest of the year, and I look forward to the next one!

Almost finished!

This album is almost ready!

Had a second recording session at Leilani Sound Studios. Overdubbed backing vocals and additional instruments for three of the tunes.

Rik Palieri, Jason Baker and engineer Calvin Lane at Leilani Sound Studios

Fabulous Guest Musicians!

Two of these songs were blessed with the talents of a couple of friends of mine who happen to be fantastic musicians: folk troubadour Rik Palieri and Burlington songwriter Janice Russotti.

Rik Palieri, Jason Baker and Janice Russotti

“We Don’t Know Any Better”

On this song Rik played his banjo ukulele, kazoo and joined the backing vocals as well. Rik said “This is the first time I have ever made a recording with the banjo uke!” He really gave it his all, and the kazoo work was equally memorable.

Rik Palieri playing the Banjo Uke!

Janice added a clever, subtle harmony to the chorus and it really completes the song. We had a lot of fun recording this.

Janice Russotti harmonizing!

“Let’s Fight The Sun”

This song was inspired by a passing Facebook comment about plans by MIT, Bill Gates, and others to work together to solve the problem of climate change by figuring out a way to block the sun.

Janice played Rik’s old tambourine on this track, and it broke apart! You can hear this instruments’ last performance on this track.

I was going to add a ukulele to the track, but Rik offered to play banjo! The results sound great to me, way better than the uke would have.

Rik Palieri and his amazing banjo!

Janice, Rik and I formed a chorus for the backing vocals, and it all worked out even better than I had imagined.

Jason Baker, Janice Russotti, and Rik Palieri sing together.

Waiting on the mix…

So the final mixdown was delayed due to the engineer becoming ill, but I have word the mix is imminent, so I am hoping in just a few days I can announce the official release of Common Man Blues.

Speaking of the title track…

Common Man Blues
Common Man Blues by Jason Baker

“Common Man Blues” also got another overdub (in addition to the vocals and harmonica). Rik lent me a resonator guitar, and I have been practicing my Open G tuning. Didn’t get to show off much here, just added for some atmosphere really, but it works well for the song.

This song exists because of another great musician and his contribution to the early development of this work. Legendary Jazz pianist and composer David Amram was gracious enough to work on this song with me, as part of his interest in re-thinking and re-visiting the 12-bar blues form.

David Amram and Jason Baker at NERFA 2018

Look for my album announcement shortly!

Getting it on tape

Metaphorically of course…

It’s just an expression, since most recording is done digitally onto hard drive space in or connected to a computer. Yes, I got some studio time this weekend and recorded!

Nice studio: Leilani Sound Studios

Calvin, the sound engineer I worked with, has done sound with me before, so that helped. The studio itself is small but neat and comfortable. After a quick setup, we were off recording live takes to start.

Four songs, four approaches:

  1. Strictly a live take, no overdubs, pretty much done.
  2. Done in parts and cut together, with vocals and harmonica overdubbed, still needs a slide part overdubbed.
  3. A live take, harmonica overdubbed, will need various overdubs for rythym instruments and lots of backing vocals.
  4. Several live takes cut together, will either get overdubbed by a special guest or we may try a live take.

Crunch time next weekend

All those final overdubs need to be done next weekend. That’s a bit of pressure, but sometimes that can be good for getting things done.

Your thoughts welcomed in comments!

A Common Blues, man

You know what’s not easy to do? Record an album with no money!

I want to finish recording an album but I really don’t have any money. Being a contractor I only get paid while at work and having a heart attack precluded that last week.

On the bright side, I am more than halfway done.

All songs are written.

7 of them have been recorded in some fashion:

2 in my home studio, 5 at Robot Dog Studios, due to the generosity of DJ/Blogger Tim Lewis and the studio.

Three to go, well, four…

So I am considering re-recording one song, as the arrangement has already changed slightly.

Otherwise I have three songs ready, but dread putting a home recording up against the Robot Dog stuff (the two I have are done with just enough reverb and overdubs to slide by, I think. May have to ask for an impartial opinion).

I have selected which song to use as the title track: “Common Man Blues”, a song loosely inspired by Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”. I even have cover art ready.

Digital distribution is already paid for, sending my stuff to YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify and more. See those links to hear what I already have online.

Ok, but how to get there?

So I am considering how to fund recording the rest of the album, and possibly funding a run of CDs.

Should I even bother with CDs?

Should I try a Kickstarter campaign? Or some other way of crowd funding?

In truth, any suggestions are welcome folks.

Comment on this post to let me know your ideas.

My heart is broken…

Literally. I had a heart attack last week.

I don’t normally talk about the details of my personal life much on here, but as you can see if you look, I have been absent from here a while. I felt too busy to take time to write, with a variety of things happening that were already pretty challenging.

So, now, I am feeling that if I don’t make time to do the things I know I want to, like communicate to the world about my journey as a songwriter here, well I might just run out of time.

Before we get too dramatic, here are the details:

  • I awoke early Monday morning with severe aching pain in both my arms, shoulders and back, and felt dizzy. I suspected heart trouble and took aspirin, but when the symptoms did not subside after an hour and a half, I ended up in the emergency room.
  • I did not have a blockage, as would be likely in these situations. Instead, I have a dissection, a tear in an artery, and that it not something you can quite repair. It will take genetic testing to try to figure out the cause.
  • The treatment is to keep my blood pressure low, and so far that is it, just taking the medications and getting used to them (they can make you dizzy). I will be living a “heart-healthy” lifestyle from now on.

So, what does this mean for my music schedule?

  • No gigs were impacted by this, although I missed Songsters night at Lamp Club Light Shop that night.
  • I am still scheduled for two hour gigs at Gusto’s Bar in Barre on August 30th, September 27th and October 26th. Radio Bean is October 3rd.
  • I was invited back to The Open Door in Hillsborough, New Hampshire for a 15 minute spot. I ended up signing up for April 2020, as I saw my friends Dan & Faith will be headlining.
  • I am more determined than ever to complete the recording of the final songs selected for my next release, Common Man Blues. More on this in my next posts.
  • I will be doing as many open mics as possible.

Keep trying, before we are dying…

I am also trying, once again, to re-commit to this blog and try to make it relevant to what’s happening for me musically. I hope you feel free to comment on any post new or old, write me with feedback or suggestions, link and repost anything here.

Note: I did write a song since facing death, and it’s about the fear of death of course! Not sure it’s all that great a song… 😉

Talk to you again soon,

Jason Baker

Review of America Dreams in Issues Magazine #26

I am pleased to announce a review of my album America Dreams has been published in Issues Magazine #26.

Here is the text of the review:

This is a traditional folk album with a slightly jaunty twist in the music.

The lyrics are political and generally left wing. They lend to be long-form slow-motion tirades against greed, apathy and injustice.

Jason sings well. He hits the pitch correctly and on time.

The approach is ironically quite conservative, but then again, folk music is all about tradition so that makes sense.

The songs have a bouncy rhythm. They’re made up exclusively of voice and acoustic guitar.

If you like folk check it out.

Download Issues Magazine #26

Thanks to Issues Magazine for the review!

Folk Alliance International Conference 2019 – Report

Background on FAI

First, for those who are not familiar with Folk Alliance International, some basics from their website:

“Folk Alliance International’s mission is to serve, strengthen, and engage the global folk music community through preservation, presentation, and promotion.”

“The FAI folk umbrella represents the broadest international iteration of the genre, encompassing a diverse array of music including Appalachian, Americana, Blues, Bluegrass, Celtic, Cajun, Francophone, Global Roots, Indigenous, Latin, Old-Time, Traditional, Singer-Songwriter, Spoken Word and every imaginable fusion.”

“The organization began in Malibu, California in 1989 when Clark and Elaine Weissman and the California Traditional Music Society gathered a hundred people involved in the presentation and performance of folk music and dance.

Many people have contributed to the growth of the organization. Volunteers have chaired numerous committees both to produce the annual conference and to further goals throughout the year. The work of FAI takes place under the leadership of a Board of Directors, but every member of the organization contributes to the success of our endeavors.”

Every year, as part of this mission, vision and history, they produce a big conference. Usually in recent years it has been in Kansas City, Missouri, where the FAI headquarters is located. This year, 2019,  was in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, so was physically as close as it ever will get to my home. So it became clear I had to go.

Now, FAI also has regional organizations that put on regional conferences and events. Where I live, my regional affiliate is Northeast Regional Folk Alliance, or NERFA. You can read about my experience attending NERFA 2018 here.

To register for either conference, apply for official showcases, etc., one has to join FAI as a member.

Registering

Registration is a modern, online experience. Since prices will change, I won’t list them here, but the conference itself is not very expensive if you get a member/early bird/showcase submission rate. One key difference between FAI and NERFA conferences: no food is included in FAI registration. It’s important to budget for on-site food expenses.

Once registered, if you are an artist looking for showcases, you are then able to apply for Official Showcases. Unlike NERFA, there are not two levels of official showcases (Formal and Semi-formal), just Official Showcases and Private Showcases (NERFA uses the term “guerilla showcases”). Note: there is GLOBAL competition for these spots, so don’t be disappointed if you aren’t selected.

If you are planning on doing Private Showcases, get your act together early or you will similarly be shut out. At the same time, don’t over book yourself or you will not perform well. better to do fewer showcases well than it is to do every one you can. There is so much more to do, so many people to meet, that you need to budget your time, as well as your money. Meeting people is actually the biggest opportunity at this conference, not performing.

Unless you are travelling from a long way, the largest expense is likely to be the hotel. Many people share rooms by posting to the Facebook group FAI Conference Notice Board. It’s a good idea to join that group as all kinds of useful information appears there, from info on guerilla showcases to the hotel/conference wifi password.

First Timer Opportunities

As a first time attendee, there are some special opportunities offered, and I encourage any first time attendee to look into these and apply early, etc:

  • First timer scholarship: I applied for, and received, a scholarship which reduced the cost of the conference registration itself to $100. If you are applying for an Official showcase, you can apply for this!
  • First timer Showcase: I snoozed and didn’t apply in time to this Private showcase. If you do apply promptly, you will likely get a spot. Do it!
  • Connecting Folks Mentors: I signed up for this and was connected with Joe Crookston, who is an experienced performing singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. We played email tag for a while, then finally got a long call in while he was returning from a Canadian tour. He was very encouraging, and it was cool to meet up with him in person at the Connecting Folk breakfast at the conference. Get yourself a mentor!
  • First-Timer Downloadable Guide: They have a whole guide for first time attendees on the website. A lot of this matches what my mentor Joe said. Check it out here.
  • First Timer Orientation: Attended this on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s a tip: plan to get to the conference as early as possible and stay as late as possible. Opportunities abound when it’s less crowded.
  • First Timers and Connecting Folk Breakfast: Sit with an experienced FAI attendee and volunteer mentor and have any questions answered about the conference.

Workshops, Artist Mentoring, Speed Meetings, Classes

There are so many things happening at this conference, I can’t list it all here, but I will share some of what I did:

  • Attended workshops like “Songs that Ignite Change” and “Catching Attention when Releasing your Art”
  • Took classes like “Creative Guitar Tricks for Songwriters” with Joe Crookston and “Stage Critiques” with Vance Gilbert
  • Signed up for an Artist Mentorship session with Si Kahn (!)
  • Met industry folks in a series of Speed Meetings. Very interesting, but not for the sensitive.

This barely scratches the surface of what I did or what is available during the conference. The biggest problem is that you can’t do everything you will want to.

Some of these require extra sign up and some require extra payments. Check out the conference website and app and plan ahead!

Showcases

So if you just want to see music, this is really a great opportunity to see a LOT of music.

There are Official showcases, which are well-produced and do really showcase an incredible array of the hottest talent. Take notes.

Then there is the spectacle that is Private showcases: four hotel floors of small room after room of mini-folk-clubs, with all kinds of decorations, setups, and music. The hallways are covered in posters, and when it gets crowded (the Private showcases run from ~10:30 to 3 AM and in a few cases, later!) it is hard to navigate the hallways, with instruments everywhere you turn.

If you are scheduled to play a showcase, get there as early as you can. The elevators are likely to be a jam up, so learn where the stairs are and use them.

It’s also polite to the other performers to check out what they are doing and show them support. You will also want to see old friends play, new friends play, your favorite talented artists play, etc… this will be a balance you will need to figure out for your situation. Again, you literally can’t do everything.

Si Kahn

It was really a great experience meeting songwriter and activist Si Kahn. I contacted him in advance of the Conference and sent some links. He wrote back and asked for ALL the lyrics to the songs on my album! We sat and talked for a while, and I got to see him perform up close in a private showcase. He was very kind and supportive of what I am doing, and talked about “entertaining the troops” versus “winning over converts”. Just a really nice guy all around!

Vance Gilbert

I may have annoyed Vance Gilbert: after I took his performance class I tried to check out as many of his showcases as possible. The man did a LOT of showcases. So, since I don’t get to see him up our way much at all, I figured I would check out what he was doing and see how he applied what he was teaching in the Stage Critiques class. He noticed, and said something about me following him around. I tried to make a joke. It was awkward. Ugh.

So, Vance Gilbert is a fucking genius. He will tell you so himself, but I will tell you it’s true. I was lucky enough to be picked first to be worked on in the class, and it was a revelation. So was everything he said to everyone else. He just has the knack for knowing what to do with a performance, how to tweak the arrangement, how to deliver a line. All of that and more. I am going to beg him to come up to Burlington and do a workshop for Burlington Songwriters group.

Meeting people, new artists

Above meeting slightly famous dudes, I met all sorts of people, and discovered all sorts of artists. These are not just industry contacts, these are friends, fellow musicians, and inspiring artists. This was the real investment: spending time with these folks, jamming, talking, and helping when needed: I was able to help find a melody for a song that needed to be performed just a few minutes later, give up the 9-volt in my ukulele to save a private showcase, and support a world-class musician in her last-minute showcase. It felt good to be part of a community.

I will be featuring some of these artists in the blog here over the next few weeks. Look for “FAI Discovery” in the blog title!

Folk Alliance International 2020 Conference will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA January 22-26, 2020