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Tower of Babel

Skateboarding was the reason Winston Hightower and I were talking over the phone. Lost in the translation of bad reception in my living room, I then realized we weren’t speaking in person at the end of an exhausted workday simply because of an injury—on a skateboard. Like rattling bedroom pop laments on anything that possesses [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Skateboarding was the reason Winston Hightower and I were talking over the phone. Lost in the translation of bad reception in my living room, I then realized we weren’t speaking in person at the end of an exhausted workday simply because of an injury—on a skateboard. Like rattling bedroom pop laments on anything that possesses a record button, that activity is more instinctual for Hightower than forced. Accidents are bound to happen.

See, since high school at Columbus Alternative, Hightower’s self-proclaimed “weirdo” personality was default. There has never been an awkward phase. Making music, skating, playing house shows in an infinite number of hardcore bands—that was just as much of a curriculum as sports or chess club were for “normal” teens. At 23 though, with the December release of Too Close to Home (on Superdreamer Records)—a now mythic tape that taps into a primal joy and faded yearning that is central to Hightower’s true voice—he’s become a sonic polyglot. The list of punk bands he’s either started or participated in—Tastes Kinda Like Sad, Splashin’ Safari, Yuze Boys, Making Friends, Minority Threat—would make any local veteran blush, but in the current realm of house show bands (i.e. the sub rosa zeitgeist), projects like this are as ephemeral as trading cards and comic books. That’s not to say that any firecracker experience Hightower gleaned in the trenches (add busking at Global Gallery to his experiential CV) provided a bedrock that informs the slapdash naiveté of his solo work.

“I love punk music and I love the camaraderie of playing in those bands,” says Hightower. “It was that sense of community that made me indulge in it so much, but after a while it became really repetitive and I decided to take a break from it. While I had that break, I wasn’t playing anything. I started listening to the music I listened to before I found punk, which was funk and classic rock. And I suppose that was what was influencing me when I started recording again in my bedroom.”

Even given that introspection, it’s refreshingly daunting to try and pin Too Close to Home or the just released Expiration Date to a particular genre. Sure, the guitars shift in and out of a woozy ’70s FM alternate reality and Sebadoh’s alternative nation, yet a song as infectious as “In Denial,” is also cracked in all the proper ways. Hightower discovered Zappa at 13, he’s a die-hard R. Stevie Moore fanatic (who has recently returned the adoration on Facebook), and a herald for the original Columbus-based madcaps from the early ’80s and beyond (Rep, Jay, House, Shep, Squid) buoy his work in local fringe lore. There are shades of Daniel Johnston, Alexander Spence, and Tiny Tim, but the true spiritual guide, or drive, for Hightower was his father, the late L.B. Hightower.

“When I first started recording Too Close to Home my dad was, by then, really sick and he died during the process,” remembers Hightower. “After that I fell into this huge nostalgia trip and started looking through old photographs. It was obviously a life-changing experience, but it truly guided me to start making weird art.”

L.B. was a “mild jingle writer” for urban radio, and at one point produced a beat for Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. His love of Parliament and Led Zeppelin rubbed off on his son, but it was his sonic tinkering in his basement studio that has formed the most lasting legacy. The themes of familial longing and the lo-fi crackle inherent in Hightower’s songs come directly from the vintage equipment once used by his dad.

“It was always a thing that when (my father) passed away I would inherit all of his recording gear, because he’s always been sick,” says Hightower. “That allowed me to finally make the music I always wanted to make.”

As his Bandcamp page suggests, Winston Hightower is “just a person,” swimming through that water to arrive at a place of personal expression that is as loose and entertaining as it is exorcising for the artist. In a deft balance to these howling echoes, he’s continued to move forward with Minority Threat, a hardcore outfit putting politics and race relations at the forefront, but also a group of “heavy metal professionals” whose monster chops teach Hightower a technical element he says has been missing. “Earnest” would be too cheap a word to describe how Hightower is progressing, “humble” too soft. There’s a confidence in his voice that’s beyond his years, and where once he’s always played as part of a whole with a full-band behind him, HYTWR, he’s bound to become the absolute center of attention.

For music and more information visit winstonhigtower.com.

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Music industry designates Blackout Tuesday as time of pause

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To honor the memory of George Floyd and fix the injustices surrounding his death, the music industry has designated Tuesday as a time of pause to collaborate on ways to better support the black community.

Businesses and organizations within the music industry have been asked to pause regular work to reflect on how they can better serve the black community, according to a report from Variety. In general, businesses and organizations across the board have been asked to use Tuesday as a way to focus on the effort.

The message that circulated around social media quickly on Monday stated that “Blackout Tuesday” is being used as “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community” and “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change.”

The movement has been gaining momentum under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Major labels such as Capitol Music Group and Warner Music Group announced their alignment with the “Blackout Tuesday” cause. 

Companies have also announced practices such as pausing social media activity throughout the whole day.

Spotify and ViacomCBS have already announced an 8 minute and 46-second moment of silence for Tuesday. The time reflects how long the Minnesota police officer dug his knee into the kneck of Floyd.

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Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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