The music industry, suffering from over consolidation, corporate greed and creative paralysis, has not sought revolution among its ranks. The music business revolution will not be engineered by executives at Apple Computers or Napster. It will not eminate from Clear Channel, Sony Music, the RIAA or ICM. No, I think the revolution in the music business will be reluctantly led by some of it-s least likely members. Like all good revolutions, those with passion will seize the day.
Enter Little Steven. Otherwise known as Steven Van Zant, Little Steven is on a one man crusade to save rock and roll. Best known as a recording artist and the long time lead guitarist for Bruce Springsteen, as well as the actor who plays Silvio on The Sopranos, Little Steven refuses to rest on his accomplishments as most others have. Instead, he continues to push the envelope of his own creative dreams, giving us a vision of the possibilities still to come. Recently, he-s taken his love of music to radio, to help expose bands that make his heart tick.
His radio show, Little Steven-s Underground Garage, is now broadcast on over 160 radio stations, many of which are commercial rock stations, whose audiences would otherwise never hear this music. It-s an astonishing mix of great new undiscovered rock, mixed with lesser known classics. To many music fans, Little Steven is a savior, a man brought here to balance the scales, and give us back our reason for living.
Last week, I attended the first Little Steven-s Underground Garage Band Festival on Randall-s Island in NYC. Af first, it felt like a convention for rockers with two left feet, But as the day rolled along, I began to experience the beauty of Little Steven-s creation. It was all about the purity of the spirit. It was about the misfits and the alienated, about the ones who never felt a part of and the ones who never wanted to. Garage band music is really rock that doesn-t fit neatly into a package, but actually burst out at the seams from it-s own electric energy.
With an agenda of 40 bands scheduled to play, it was an ambitious event. There was a turntable stage to accommodate set changes. But by 1:00 in the afternoon, the movable stage had broken. Performance times were cut. A rainstorm threatened to break things up. It was a bit of mayhem. Inspite of the problems, the festival gave hope to a discontented group of 16,000 music lovers desperate to be touched by the hand of authentic rock and roll. Whether you were there to see Iggy Pop, The Strokes, Bo Didley or Mooney Suzuki, the bands that played the festival were defined by their passion to play, not their commercial success.
In contrast, in the same week I also attended London-s V Music Festival, which is held just outside the city every August. Unlike Little Steven-s Festival, the V is a well coordinated two-day event with 30 bands each day, four stages, dance tents, and camping areas. Over 70,000 people attend and I heard some of the best of what-s on British radio at The V, with performances from Dido, Keane, Faithless, Snow Patrol, The Killers, and Muse.
But inspite of all that good effort to keep it contemporary and relevant, the soul of rock was nowhere to be found.
I found the V to be a typical corporate excursion, perfectly timed out with everything well planned. It bored me to tears.
I can-t apologize for not liking the V. I happen to like my rock music messy and spontaneous, soulful, and complete. And I-m pretty sure, I-m not alone. If you feel the same, watch out for the coming music revolution, starting to make waves in garages everywhere.
This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.