Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Thoughts on the LDS Independent Music Fest 2008

Some background: In the middle of 1999, a lonely LDS guitarist and folksinger in Idaho was frustrated that he had no way to communicate with other church musicians. He started an email group called LDSmusicians. A few days later, I found it and joined. Soon after, there were others and we became quite a chatty and encouraging group. We shared our song, and helped each other get more points with their mp3 sites. We talked shop, and critiqued each other’s work. We talked about ways to get gigs and promote ourselves.

And that summer, in 2000, we set up a couple of traditions. One was producing an annual compilation CD, and another was the music festival. As many as could make the journey would gather together at the American Fork Amphitheater on a Saturday in late August. We would play music together all day long, and at the end, we staged a concert. We’ve been doing it every year ever since, with one exception.

It’s always been a lot of fun to see people year after year. You get to hear their new tunes, tell some stories and have a great time. It’s like a big family reunion.

So, last weekend, it happened again. This year, it was a three-day festival, with a youth night on Friday, an all day event on Saturday, and a Sunday evening devotional for the more sacred music. I attended Friday an Saturday, but wasn’t able to attend on Sunday.


Steve Brown, of the acoustic duo Border Crossing, was in charge this year, and was greatly assisted by Julie Keyser. I showed up around 5:00 and saw them both there, as well as a few others. The sound and lights guys were there, setting. I was glad, ‘cause I’d done that in years past, and I was very grateful that it was someone else’s problem this year!

All of us just hung out and talked for a long time. It was great fun. In the back of my mind, I can remember Gaylen Rust, of yourldsneighborhood.combeing there, but in retrospect, I’m not sure. The two days kinda blurred for me. He was definitely there on Saturday. He’d helped out a LOT with the fest, in terms of promotions and sponsorship. We talked a lot about what was going on in LDS music. He’s getting involved pretty heavily in promotions and marketing. Which is something our little group needs desperately to learn.

At about 8:00, Shawn Phillips started DJing. It was supposed to be a dance, but there was hardly anyone there, much less dancing. Still, it was really cool to listen to the way he’d blend the music and the samples. At about 9:00 we decided to start the live performance part of the show. I went on first, and did what I felt was one of my best sets in a long time. I was feeling really confident in the show.

Then Arhythmatik took the stage and he had everyone dancing and shouting along with him. What a performer! He’s solid! It was exciting to me to see the few people that were there respond so well to two performers (he and I) that are so far out of what is normally mainstream LDS music.

It was a lot of fun, and I left that night thinking how lucky I was to be involved in such a great group.


The next morning I was slow getting started. I had my two boys with me, and it wasn’t easy getting them ready to go. Still, we managed, and when we arrived there were already a number of other musicians there. I was surprised to see Greg Hansen there. Greg and Gaylen have been teaming up to get the yourldsneighborhood jukebox going to help provide promotional outlets for indie LDS artists. It was fascinating to talk to the two of them. Greg has been involved heavily in the LDS music industry for a long long time. We talked a lot about trends, like the imminent death of the pearl awards, the future of the LDSBA and its convention, the way the internet is taking a bigger and bigger chunk out of retail… Fascinating stuff.

Early in the afternoon, we set up for the “Songwriters in the Round”. Four of us had been asked to sit up on the stage and take turns playing songs, with just our own acoustic guitars. I was both very honored to be asked to participate, as well and very nervous. I enjoy unplugged gigs, but I don’t do as well at them. I have a struggle remembering the words while I’m trying to play the guitar as well. But I did OK. I got Sam Payne, another participant, to scat along with me on “Thank You”, and Brendon came up to pound out a beat on my guitar case during “Superman”.

Neil Owen, Julie Keyser, and Sam also participated. Julie sang one about when she lost one of her babies after only a few hours of life. That one hit very close to home and got me teared up. It was very well written. Of couse Sam is an incredible writer, and Neil is the consummate bluesman. He does one (I don’t remember the title) based on some New Testament scriptures. Very gospel. Great stuff.

After the Songwriters, we had the open mic. A number of people had sort of stumbled onto us and they got up and performed. I was quite impressed with them, too, but I didn’t remember their names. My two boys got to sing a couple of primary songs, and everybody loved that as well.

As the stage guys and the bands for the evening began setting up, Julie and Steve stepped forward to present the first annual “Green Jello” awards. That first year that we had the fest, there were some in the LDS industry that whispered that our little show would be like a “Roadshow on Steroids”, or that it was all very “green jello”. Some of us got a little miffed, but others said that being “green jello” meant we were music of the people, not of the machine. In honor of that, they created these awards.

I was pleasantly surprised when they announced me as the “lifetime achievement” award. We all kinda chuckled over that one, but there are very few of us in the email group that have been with the group since the beginning, and stayed with it. I guess that’s an achievement! Anyways, I was touched. It sure made me feel good. And I got a cool little trophy, too.

In the Early Evening show, there were three ladies that had formed a group called “Musically Inclined”. They played some up-tempo tunes to minus tracks. Great job, and crystal clear harmonies.

Lindy Kerby did some tunes that I think were off her new CD. I love her voice. She did the solo at the end of “How Beautiful”

I did two tunes, too. I had planned on doing three, but my tracks CD had gotten scratched, and so that last tune kept skipping.

The evening show started with Jen Handy and her group. She’s got a killer voice, and her sound is a very strong Contemporary Christian vibe. Did I mention her voice is amazing?

Then, we got to hear more of Neil Owen, this time accompanied on the Dobro by Ryan Tilby and a bit of harmonica from Sam Payne. What a show.

Then, Sam took the stage. I always love watching him perform. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him more animated on stage than this time, though. They started with their version of “Route 66” and he was all over it. It’s fun to watch him dance, too. He’s the ultimate hick jazzman! Great set.

Finally, Alex Boye. Another consummate showman. But with a lot of heart and testimony. And another killer voice.

Overall Impressions

I’ve had a rather tough time these last two-three years trying to figure out what my place is in the LDS music world. And, it all sort of came together for me this weekend. I got a lot of encouragement from speaking with Gaylen, Greg, Alex, and Sam, and to suddenly be recognized so much by the group made me feel like I actually have a place in it.

I’m starting to see that my focus of writing, recording, and releasing mp3 singles is a great model for me to follow in promoting my site and my music. I’m not in a position where I can do a lot of touring or performing. Pressing thousands of CD’s is also beyond my limits. But I can put together some kickin’ tunes and share them on the ‘net.

I’m very excited about the ones I’ve been working on lately, as well. I’m collaborating with Arhythmatik on a rock/rap crossover tune, I’ve got some rockers and ballads both coming along, including one I wrote a few years back for my anniversary.

Come along for the ride with me!

Mark Hansen

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