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Like a Rhinestone Cowboy

Since a very early age, there was never any doubt that Aaron Lee Tasjan would become a “rock star” in the grandest sense of the word. “I was 16 or 17 and playing in bars at gigs. I would sneak a few beers, and then fall asleep in math class the next day,” says Tasjan. [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Since a very early age, there was never any doubt that Aaron Lee Tasjan would become a “rock star” in the grandest sense of the word.

“I was 16 or 17 and playing in bars at gigs. I would sneak a few beers, and then fall asleep in math class the next day,” says Tasjan. “I didn’t see it as being hungover in math class. I saw it as an investment in my future.”

And oh, what a future has come to pass. The road that led to the Aaron Lee Tasjan we now see showcased on late night television—the cosmic troubadour clad in a mirror-balled Nudie suit and Stetson—was certainly in rock’s trenches, albeit many of those trenches were crusted in diamonds and gold.

What Tasjan categorized as “working” through his 20s was the kind of fantasy his teenage self would have sold his soul to have. Out of high school, he was offered a full ride to Berklee College of Music but declined, instead joining Semi Precious Weapons and then recording a debut with the legendary Tony Visconti (Bowie, Badfinger, T. Rex) for Interscope Records. Oh yeah, then he went on to a stint in the “new” New York Dolls, an underrated side project in the Madison Square Gardeners; and eventually Everest, a band signed by Neil Young.

None of it, though—no matter how surreal it must have been to be tour support for Lady Gaga—had Tasjan’s signature or the bulk of his heart.

“I took whatever job I could get and I don’t think I could have ever planned the gigs that I got back then,” says Tasjan. “I was living in New York, so there was rent to pay.”

Tasjan, who is only 30 but speaks with the wisdom of a guy who has weathered through enough egos and bad deals to accumulate a storied career in the music business, eventually had his fill of session gigs and buried album credits and moved to Nashville in 2013. There he was able to explore the same environs that nurtured his heroes like John Prine and Todd Snider; he could mix with other artists who were bending the genre of country music without feeling cheap. Above all, he thought the city a fertile landscape to start cultivating the voice he’d been hiding in his decadent “green” years.

“I always felt like back then I didn’t have anything to say,” he recalls. “I wrote songs but they didn’t say anything. If you are going to be a solo songwriter, you have to have some kind of artistry. You’re allowed to not like Ke$ha’s music all that you want, but at least she has something to say.”

The move certainly inspired Tasjan to finally step out on his own. He signed with New West —a label that takes that name literally, releasing everything from Rodney Crowell to All Them Witches—and released In the Blazes to acclaim in 2015. But it’s his recent effort, Silver Tears, a collaboration of Tasjan producer/friend Eli Thompson, that’s finally locked him into a new class of artist. It’s a dense rumination on lost love, wanderlust, and modern Nashville, which owes as much to the traditionalists as it does Ween. “Little Movies,” the stunning lead single, is itself a prismatic evocation of Tasjan’s desire to maintain the current revival of country while simultaneously keeping it relevant with echoes of Oasis or Radiohead. It’s whimsical, orchestrated folk that never takes itself too seriously. After all, it’s coming from a place where chaps and boots are still the required uniform.

“Moving to Nashville helped me to poke some holes and see behind the curtain a bit,” says Tasjan. “I got to see the hypocrisy in it. In order to take Nashville seriously, you have to admit that it’s a funny thing. By titans of the music industry, the scene that I’m a part of is viewed as the farm club for country music. It doesn’t sell as much as Kenny Chesney, but it thrives and survives there.”

Given Tasjan’s lengthy and illustrious CV, one would expect him to be an artist who thinks he has it all figured out. But he seems genuinely modest about his success—a reward for hard work, perseverance and constant touring. A settlement in country music is fitting for a kid from New Albany, who once learned from local jazzbos like Derek Dicenzo and Stan Smith, and was a hired gun for most of his career. If Silver Tears was an exclamation, it would be Tasjan giving a long, well-deserved exhale. And his star is unlikely to stop rising any time soon, with heralded slots at Nelsonville and Bonnaroo, the rhinestone cowboy will be on the road indefinitely.

“I love playing shows. I love writing songs. And I love the recording process,” says Tasjan, “but it’s not easy work. That said, even if the travel is hard, the interviews, meeting with people who are asking how to market what I do, being able to do this every day is worth all of that.”

See Aaron Lee Tasjan at the Nelsonville Music Festival (6.1 – 6.4). Visit aaronleetasjan.com for more information.

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Community

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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Community

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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