Josh Vanek’s Own Weird Missoula
When I first started this blog and decided that I would try to make it a thing, I knew that Josh Vanek was one dude who’s mind needed to be tapped. He’s been around far longer and has been a hell of a lot more involved in the development of Missoula’s music community than almost anyone I know. He’s also got a phenomenal head when it comes to music and the DIY ethic. If you’re familiar with the local record label/distributor Wantage USA, or Total Fest (our annual summer celebration of fun-dudes-gone-wild), you should also know that he’s a big hand behind both.
I was delighted as all hell when Josh agreed to write an article for Weird Missoula. What follows is a fantastic rumination on some of the false barriers that exist between musicians and that often-lofty goal to a newcomer: a show. Considering that I first met Josh outside the Elks Lodge at a band-organized, band-booked, and mostly band-run mini-festival, what follows runs in perfect tandem:
In early October.. or latish September, I don’t remember, I got a call from Alex Sakariassen, a journalist with Missoula’s free weekly paper, the Independent. I’m a fan of the Independent, and think they hire good writers. I don’t know Alex, but know he writes for a good paper and I think he knows what he’s doing.
His task this particular week was to write a story about “getting a show in Missoula, if you’re a band” or something along those lines. Somebody like Colin [Hickey; Badlander/Palace booker] or John Fleming [owner of Ear Candy] referred him to me. Whatever, I have opinions, occasionally try to organize a show, and I’m always game for sharing them. For the better part of half and hour, I shared my thoughts. Largely, arguing that the premise of “getting a gig” was flawed, and that if you were a band making awesome music, you either should figure out how to rent a space and use a copy machine, or convince somebody to help you. He had a lot of questions, but generally, I tried to be clear that the premise that he was working from didn’t jive with my particular view that music is art, and the more it’s reliant upon bars/promoters/people coming to see it, the worse it generally is. Ultimately, I got quoted talking about how being invited to something on Facebook and in person are wholly different, and the latter’s the better. Whatever. Ultimately, being in the periphery of an article like this is a good spot for somebody whose musical taste is generally on the fringes. I think until musicians and music fans unshackle themselves from industry-biased understandings, they’re going to continue subscribing to impoverished understandings of music: where the actual music comes a good second or third to crowd, money, space, etc.
So, my capsule version of [the article] is 1) It’s hard to get shows if you’re a Missoula band; 2) It used to be easier; and 3) this all might be leading to fewer bands coming from here. Alex might disagree, but that’s kind of the gist I got from our discussion and his article. When I spoke to him, I was pretty clear that I didn’t think any of the above were true.
Here’s what I do think:
1) It’s easy to make a show happen in Missoula, MT in 2011. You can throw a party (easiest), rent space (harder) or convince a bar that enough of your friends will come out to have it make sense (hardest). If the last option is the only thing that a proper show consists of for you, then I can’t help you. Some of the best shows I’ve ever been to have been in cruddy, cramped basements. This is a core issue for me. The spot where it happens is immaterial. Cheap drinks are nice, but what about no drinks sometimes? What about BYO? Uh, ultimately, are you into music, or into drinks? I want music to be considered on its own, and separate of drinks now and then.
2) It used to be the ‘90s. Lots of us went to and organized shows at Jay’s. It was relatively easy. There was, as John Fleming points out in the article, a book you used to “book” shows. You got your show in there, and then there was that show. 90% of Jay’s shows, however, featured between 5 and 9 people. Sundays-Wednesdays, unless you were Boss Hog or something were not good nights to land on. Jay’s was great. It was informal, it was rad, it was a bar, your clothes stunk afterwards, the toilet was gross and the floor might’ve caved in on several nights. Bands got drunk, got a decent share of the door, some of the bar and a lot of my music-fan-defining moments were lived at Jay’s. But dwelling on the place as the be-all, end-all of Missoula’s musical history is kind of too sad for me to fathom. I think towns with far crappier options for live music have produced incredible bands.
3) Missoula has as many excellent bands now as it ever has. Probably more. Missoula’s got some great punk bands/musicians. It’d be great if there were more, but, man, I’d rather have this than a desert of goddamn cover bands. I think of Hana’s projects like 10yoGF, Shahs, Capricorn Vertical Slum, Bridgebuilder, Total Combined Weight, Zebulon Kosted, Mikki Lunda’s stuff, Bad Naked, Mordecai, Bryan Ramirez, Best Westerns, the Juveniles, Judgement Hammer, The Be Helds, Bird’s Mile Home, Joey and Goddammitboyhowdy, etc. etc. etc. and I don’t see some paucity of talented folks when I look at Missoula in 2011. I see a ton of awesome weirdos, rarely playing shows downtown and while I wish there were more, I don’t think there’s any less than throughout our history, or that it’s anything but more diverse and interesting than it’s ever been. You have to go and find it at weird places sometimes, but so it goes. You want to only see stuff downtown, you’re gonna see a lot of bands playing "Brown Eyed Girl" covers.
So, that’s what I do think, and I don’t say any of this to pick on Alex, or anybody else. I just really think that the way you need to look at the whole deal is different. The get shows, get signed, get big mentality is so broken and unrelated to music, or at least music-understood-as-art that it makes me ill. If you’re a punk, or at minimum a person inclined toward independence, please get comfortable with house shows, DIY shows and borrowing your friend’s PA. All the other stuff is business, and I, personally, like having a line between my business and my art. That’s a little reductive, I know, I’d like artists to get paid, but uh, you know what I mean.