June 13, 2017 – Jessica Fleet Smith

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I’ve known Jessica Fleet Smith for a few years now. I’d always see her and her husband at Mimosa Market, a small bodega up brewery gulch in Bisbee, Arizona – one of those places tucked just far enough away that few tourists ever find it. She’s a unique creature, light-hearted and quick to smile, and always seemed rather shy. That’s part of what makes her so intriguing, I think. Effortlessly beautiful but secure in her relationship, appearing shy but absolutely confident enough to stand behind the microphone and perform in front of a gathered crowd. She’s a very genuine person, reserved and gutsy at the same time.

Today’s image is an unconventional one. I shared it on Facebook a few years ago after she performed with a group called Chasing Light at the Sidepony Express music festival. The classroom, news publications, critiques, and art critics drill into photographers that if the image isn’t tack-sharp, it isn’t worth looking at. This convention of “the image must be technically perfect” robs the photographer of so many opportunities. I’m a fan of atmosphere, of motion-blur, of selective focus – of the certain kind of mood that can be established using these tools. I think there’s something emotional and ethereal about images like this, taken from the crowd, imperfect and out of focus, and let’s face it – I’m no longer in the classroom, no longer pressured to make somebody else’s idea of the perfect picture.

I think this image captures Jessica’s bravery (and her distance) quite well.

Out of the Blue, the group Jessica is currently working with, doesn’t stray from Bisbee very often. But if you’re taking a trip down to the copper town that once was – if the fake, theme-park atmosphere of Tombstone doesn’t distract you from heading further south – I’d be sure to look ’em up. You can follow Out of the Blue on Facebook here.

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June 10, 2017 – Flip Cassidy

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Flip Cassidy and the Junkyard Gospel:
“Raw, rusty Americana folk-punk perfect for driving on long desert highways. Pairs well with whiskey.”

“The Reverend Flip Cassidy is a rusty man who plays rusty songs on rusty guitars. The Junkyard Gospel is a howling, raging acoustic sound bellowed forth with a voice like a rusty saw blade. His solo performances are known to be highly energetic and infectious, surprisingly loud, and have even caused rippling, whiskey-induced fervors in audiences, fellow performers and bartenders alike.”

Living in a celebrity-obsessed culture, I genuinely believe that a distinction must be made between pop stars and musicians. Pop stars are, in so many ways, packaged products, manufactured for mass-consumption. Pop stars are the Skittles® and soda of music. There’s certainly showmanship, charisma, and skill in the celebrity circuit, but the salt-of-the-earth musician is an entirely different animal. Traveling from town-to-town – drawing people together in parks, at farmers markets, saloons, and theaters – there’s an army of talented folk out there.

Musicians connect with people, hang out and have a beer after their set, tell you about the road, and occasionally crash on your couch. Pop stars have a celebrity that renders them inaccessible, walled-off by security, by entourage, by wealth. Going out to your local pub and watching people make music right before your eyes is a magical experience. Everyone should go out to see live music more often. These guys live out of their cars, on buses, in cheap motor lodges – they have stories, passion, and a measure of honesty and bravery.

Flip Cassidy blew through town and drew one helluva crowd. Not only is this wandering poet a musician, but an insanely talented photographer – naturally we had a lot to talk about. When he rolled through town a year later, I bought his old twelve-string guitar. It’s currently resting on the corner of my study. I highly recommend you take a look at his music and his artwork. This guy is always making something, and he produces really amazing work.
Check out the Junk Yard Gospel
Check out Flip Cassidy Photography

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June 07, 2017 – Carlos Arzate

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Living in Tucson for a majority of the past fifteen years, I saw a lot of bands come and go. Many of my college buddies had garage bands and a few of them had it in them to hit the downtown music scene. Most of them have scattered to the wind these past few years as degrees were earned, families begun and careers established. There are some,though, who have had some serious staying power here in Arizona, and Carlos Arzate is one of them.

Carlos Arzate is a singer-songwriter, native to Tucson, whose songs draw inspiration from his personal life growing up in the Sonoran Desert. I believe I read an article in The Tucson Weekly that described his style as “Sonoran Soul.” It’s got a ring to it, but it implies a softness that, while present in many of his songs, doesn’t communicate the dynamism of his work.

Arzate is just as expressive and kind in person as he is on stage, and he’s deeply anchored in the music scene, collaborating with other prominent musicians. I have enjoyed every performance and would absolutely recommend checking out Carlos Arzate & The Kind Souls. The songs tell a story, communicate an emotion and paint atmospheric pictures.

This is one of my favorites, written as a first person narrative of a laborer who chooses to risk the dangerous journey across the desert to the United States in search of a better life.

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June 05, 2017 – Bowie Johnson

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I’ve met Bowie Johnson a couple of times now, along with other musicians who passed through town on their way to Austin, Texas to perform at SXSW, I think (these meetings were also usually met with a heavy dose of revelry and booze). He’s the lead singer of a group called Dum Spiro Spero, the name derived from a latin phrase that translates to “while I breathe, I hope.” I really dig the motto, and I really dig that Bowie and his band-mates adopted it.

They’d roll into town on their own bus, and they killed it every time they set up in the Grand Saloon and started playing.
Beats and claps, smiles and dance – these guys liven up every room they play with timeless music that damn-near anybody can sink their teeth into. I’m no music journalist, so I won’t dig into the details. Strings and chants, boot-heels clapping on the ground, these guys keep the energy up and make time for anybody who wants to hang out, drink a beer, ask a question, or get an autograph.

Looking forward to seeing them again soon.
Check out their page here.

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June 01, 2017 – The Song-Man

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I’ve been trying to pick some kind of theme for each month and, after looking through the endless archive of images I’ve collected over the years, decided that I would see if I could identify a month’s worth of interesting “music and theater performance” images to share. I’m not a veteran concert photographer and I’ve always have a difficult time getting good images; low light environments and a pitiful lack of knowledge regarding flash photography and artificial light, I’m sad to admit that the terrible photographs outweigh the good ones by a sizable margin.

Nevertheless, I have managed to squeeze-out a few good moments.

We begin today, on the first of June, with the image of a guitar-man wielding his instrument. I lament that I don’t even recall his name. All I recall is that he was an opening performer at a night club in Bisbee, Arizona – a one-man band whose performance was nothing short of mesmerizing. He made the guitar do things I hadn’t seen before, making it both a percussive instrument as well as constructing a melody. It was close to magic, what he was able to do, and the room fell completely silent when he began to play.

If you recognize this man, please add his name in the comment section at the bottom of this post.
“Performance June” has officially begun. See you all tomorrow!

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January 22 – Piano Guts

01-22 Piano Guts post

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
~Plato

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This past week I have been spending my days in church; most of that time has been spent tearing it apart.

But no. I’m not a rock star and this sanctuary isn’t a hotel room. I’ve been remodeling it with a carpenter friend who’s been teaching me some of the finer points of woodworking and repair. This week’s project had us redesigning & rebuilding a stage. Sledge hammers and circular saws aren’t anything I ever associated with church when I was growing up. Back then, church was this big room where people mutter the same responses like wind-up toys, kneel and stand over and over, and I always left feeling more perplexed about religion than when I arrived.

Even after being forced into catechism, most of my lingering questions remained unanswered or ignored. The King James Bible isn’t the most relatable piece of literature to a twelve-year-old. Hell, it barely makes sense to most adults. Religion was a frustrating experience altogether, which is probably why I elected to reject religion outright from an early age. I have since made peace with those adolescent frustrations. I still haven’t found god, but I don’t feel like I’m being judged just because I stopped looking. There’s a really big club called the Catholic Church, and I just happen to not belong to that club. And that’s okay with me.

Morality and decency isn’t defined by your faith. It’s defined by your actions. I made a house of worship look a little more grand today, and I have every expectation that the congregation will enjoy the things that I have built for them. At least that’s the hope.

There’s this upright piano that the church is remodeling, too; they’re going to install a keyboard but keep the veneer of the old piano. Keyboards don’t go out of tune quite so easily, and the church had been spending over a hundred bucks a month just to keep the old piano in tune. Earlier tonight, before grabbing my water bottle and coat, I snapped a few pictures of the piano’s interior. I’d never actually seen what the inside of one of those vessels actually looks like, and I thought it was a fascinating, industrial arrangement.

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