Spare the Rock in the LBJ/LASA Liberator

Feb 21

One of Ella’s classmates wrote a great article about the show for the school newspaper.  It includes some history, a recollection of the start of the vaunted Ella History Quiz, and more:

You can check it out here:

LBJ Liberator 2005-02

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Radio can be awful. Barb Abney is the best.

Jan 27

Pour out a sippy cup today for Barb Abney, who was unceremoniously let go from The Current today, just a few days after she was a big part of the station’s 10th anniversary celebrations.  I’ve been a sustaining member of the Current since day one, and this hurts.

I’ve known Barb since around 2000 or 2001, not long after we moved to D.C. She was then on the legendary WOXY (source of the “BAM! The future of rock and roll!” drop I use in one of our bumpers).  I listened online in my office as she played great music and emailed me about the Replacements and whatever else was on our respective minds that day.  I learned a lot about music and radio from Barb and WOXY.  After WOXY shut down (one of several times before it did so before its end became final), she was hired by MPR to join The Current.  I take totally undue pride in having been the very first person to email her at her address.

Barb is at once a true radio professional and someone who, you know, would be your friend if you just got a chance to hang out.  And, sure enough, I’ve gotten to hang out with Barb a few times, and I’m so glad to have her be my friend.

While at the Current, Barb launched Wonderground Radio, which, like us, mixes in a lot of not-for-kids’ stuff in to the mix.  (I’m glad to have been a small part of advising Barb on it when she was starting it up.)  I hope MPR keeps it going.  It’s a great alternative to other 24-hour services (online or satellite) and I have absolutely stolen playlist ideas from it.

In retrospect, I don’t know if I would have started up Spare the Rock if not for WOXY (and Barb).  In a time when radio frankly sucked, they were a commercial station doing interesting stuff, showing connections between songs, and not just listening to consultants.

I truly hope that Barb ends up somewhere else where I can hear her; I will tune in wherever she is.


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Summer Camp and Dreams

May 10

You know who Jarrett Krosoczka is, right?  Of course you do.  If you don’t, take a little bit and watch his Ted Talk.  I’ll still be here:

Welcome back!  Pretty great, right?

I’ve known Jarrett for something like seven or eight years.  He moved to Florence not long after we started the show on Valley Free Radio, and came by the show to talk about Punk Farm.  After we moved the show over to The River, things came together, as sometimes they do, and we co-created the Meltdown.  I can’t even begin to describe how great it is to work with him and Gina every year on making it what we humbly think is the best kids’ music and book event around.

It wasn’t until a lot later that I found out about his remarkable story (really, watch the video – it’s his story to tell, not mine).  And every time we talk about his story, it’s even clearer to me that the foundation of it is his grandparents (who raised him) and the Worcester Art Museum (where he got early art education, supported by his grandparents).  They’re who figured out — in not-easy circumstances — how to cultivate the hilarious and creative talent that is Jarrett.  They made it so he could fulfill his dreams.

He now gives back — and honors his grandparents — by helping raise money for scholarships to the Worcester Art Museum in their name, to help other kids pursue their dreams, or even just to have a creative and fun break during the summer.  Classes like this can make a tremendous difference, not just for those kids who will be the next Jarrett.

“But the auction for that doesn’t come up again until December!” you protest (accurately).  True enough.  But if you’re like us, you’re probably filling out (or putting off filling out) your kids’ summer camp medical forms.  And right now, there are some parents in central Massachusetts who are wishing they could send their kids to art classes at the Worcester Art Museum, and there’s more than finding their vaccination records in the way.  So take a minute and make a contribution.  There are a couple of ways you can do so:

mbtoLLFirst, go buy a copy of Monkey Boy to Lunch Lady – The Sketchbooks of Jarrett J. Krosoczka.  100% of the proceeds go to the Joe and Shirl Scholarship.

Or just write a check to the “Worcester Art Museum” with “Joe and Shirl Scholarship” in the memo line and mail it to Suzy Bonner, Worcester Art Museum, 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, MA 01609.

A few years ago, Dena and I decided that we’d donate any money I make from the kids’ music side of things to various non-profits, and this year, we are thrilled to be able to fund a half-dozen or so kids going to an art class at Worcester, in honor of Jarrett’s grandparents, from Meltdown proceeds.

So: When you’re filling our the forms for summer classes and camps for your kids, if you’ve got a few extra bucks, send it on to help some kids who need it.  Or if you go to the Meltdown (which is, after all, free!), think about how much fun you have, figure out a dollar figure associated with it, and send it off.

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Gordon Dean Hartrick, the Official Great Granddaddy of Spare the Rock • 1915-2014

Apr 10


[Ed.: I’ve added the full obituary at the end of the post; click on “Read More” to see it.]

The kindest and most decent man I’ve ever known, my Granddaddy Gordon Hartrick, shown here with Ella (admiring his beehives around ten years ago), with Cogie Ann, his late-in-life love, and with my Grandmother Alma (on their honeymoon), died peacefully yesterday in his home in the Arkansas Ozarks.  We’re playing Elizabeth Mitchell’s version of “Down in the Valley” this week in his memory.

He was the most curious and smartest person in any room (those facts were not unrelated), he had a remarkable breadth and depth of interests and knowledge, and he was filled with joy regarding just about everything. He cared and loved deeply.

cogie ann

It is no coincidence that one of his last words was “joy,” spoken of his children — likely both his children and the broader category, including the many foster children and other children that he and my grandmother Alma cared for (something that resulted in the Klan burning a cross in their yard, as my grandmother had the humanity to bring a burnt black child to the clinic for treatment). He rejoiced in the delights of the world, of nature, of his friends, of his family.


There will be an obituary [after the jump] — and his life’s details were remarkable (CCC, riding the rails, forestry, beekeeping, and so much more) — but it all comes down, for me, to joy.  Joy in all things.

Every time I sign something with my middle name (Gordon) or fill out a form with Liam’s middle name (also Gordon) — and every time I fill out something with Ella’s middle name (Alma) — I am honored to be associated with him and my Grandmother, and hope we are worthy successors to their names and their lives.

Even at 98, it feels too early for him to be gone.

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SXSW 2014: You Gotta Stay Positive.

Mar 16

I started writing this as just a list of highlights of my SXSW.  I quickly realized, though, that what I really needed to write about was why this was a great week despite being one that the “experts” of SXSW would undoubtedly consider a failure: I didn’t actually see all that music (comparatively), I (gasp!) paid for my drinks and food, and I didn’t see a single thing sponsored by Doritos.  There is no way I will be profiled as a SXSW Ninja Lifehacker.  The entire week was darkened by the horrific deaths and injuries resulting from a presumably drunk driver, of course, as well.  And yet here I am with, on balance, delight.

IMG_8659Wednesday afternoon brought the Family Music Meltdown.  We had a gorgeous day and a great setting at the Thinkery, and a fantastic crowd.  (We counted 539 people over the three hours!)  You can see a bunch of photos on our Facebook page.  The crowd was from all parts and populations of Austin, the performers put the stage — built from used pallets by — through its paces, and I think it’s safe to say that anybody who didn’t rock out wasn’t trying.  I do wish I’d thought to put on sunscreen.  In part as a result, I was wiped out, so I didn’t get out to see anything that night.

On Thursday, I met up with Lloyd from The Deedle Deedle Dees and walked through Flatstock, a crazy cool poster show.  We then caught the end of Jon Langford & Skull Orchard (with the fantastic Jean Cook, known to many as the violinist with Elizabeth Mitchell), and then some bits and pieces of various acts (mostly local) at Spider House.  And again, I went home and to sleep pretty early.

Friday I finally felt back up to really doing stuff.  In order, I saw:

  1. The Hold Steady at the radio day stage (good show, weird location);
  2. Holly George-Warren (whose husband is Uncle Rock) signing her probably-great book about Alex Chilton
  3. The Whigs at the Mophie Hanger (good garage rock)
  4. The Hold Steady (again) at the Mophie Hanger (great show, pretty cool location);
  5. Waco Brothers at Yard Dog (favorite part of SXSW every year, and their cover of 20th Century Boy was perfect);
  6. The Front Bottoms at Palm Door (terrific show) (where Craig Finn showed up, and he suggested that we then go see…);
  7. The Donkeys on the roof of Cheers Shot Bar (100% weird venue, 100% great band); and
  8. Kishi Bashi with Dena at Half Step (pretty enchanting, but I was super tired so I headed home).

Saturday brought another family music showcase — Whole Lotta Fun at the Whole Foods at the Domain.  Rain forced us inside, but we had enthusiastic crowds and performers again.  Koo Koo Kanga Roo, Sara Hickman, The Que Pastas, Lloyd H. Miller and the Austin Phonebook, and David Tobocman all made the day the promised whole lotta fun (measured in metric).  Plus, we were inside and I got to sit down, so I was more up for more rawk after the event…and the rawk came.

Some background before continuing the narrative: A few months ago, the Hold Steady did a campaign to fund an EP that was, in part, benefiting the family of a fan of theirs — a super fan — who had died suddenly.  One of the premiums was a 3-mile run with Craig Finn, something I couldn’t resist.

So on Friday, I wore running clothes under my regular clothes and went to see the band for the third time, this time at Brooklyn Vegan’s showcase at Red 7.

runwithcraigfinnAfter the set (best of the three I saw), I changed in the not-very-fancy dressing room at Red 7 and Craig and I went for a run into east Austin.  This was his second run of the day (he’d done one as part of an interview with Runners World), which might have been good for me, as it made it so I could keep up.

It was a ton of fun.  Craig’s my age, grew up in Minnesota listening to a lot of the same bands I did and going to a lot of the same shows.  We know some people in common.  He went to Riot Fest just to see the reunited Replacements (as did I), and thought they sounded great (as did I).  I also happen to think he’s one of the most talented songwriters around.

Our run’s destination was the home of a very nice couple in east Austin who had pledged for another premium — an acoustic set by the band in their home.  I was heading there just to pick up my gear (which I’d put in the band’s van), but the couple — very generously — invited me to stick around (and gave me Topo Chico!).  So I also got to see three members of the Hold Steady (Craig plus Steve and Tad) playing songs (including “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” one of my favorites, plus a song from the new record) for three of us.

Photo Mar 15, 8 05 08 PMI then just went home.  There was lots more music to be seen, but I really could not have imagined a better way to end a great week of music.

I’ve seen far more music in past SXSWs, and I’ve found far more free food and drinks.  I’ve scheduled my movements with great precision, ensuring the highest proportion of music (and free food and free drinks) possible.  By many people’s measures, my week this year was an inefficient failure.

But I’ve never had a SXSW that felt more truly connected.  The events I helped put together were immensely satisfying, the music I did see was a nice mix of the familiar and the utterly new to me, and the chance to hang out with Craig and the band (and Joel and Elisa) was just as good as I could have hoped.

It helped me remember — even in the face of the horrible deaths of people who were just in Austin to be part of it all, even in the context of insane corporate branding and stupidity — why I spend so much time trying to put events together; why I wanted to move to Austin; and why I believe in music and this scene so damn much.  It’s about joy, about community, about making stuff better.

There’s gonna come a time when the true scene leaders
Forget where they differ and get big picture
‘Cause the kids at the shows, they’ll have kids of their own
The sing-along songs will be our scriptures

We gotta stay positive; we gotta stay positive.

* * *

‘Cause it’s one thing to start it with a positive jam
And it’s another thing to see it all through
And we couldn’t have even done this if it wasn’t for you

We gotta stay positive.

We gotta stay positive.

– The Hold Steady, Stay Positive

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Bye, 2013.

Dec 28

So.  2013:

  • We had a ton of fun doing the South by Meltdown showcase during SXSW, and look forward to doing something again this year (details soon!).
  • We’re now pretty settled into doing the show in an hour, and we’ve added a couple of stations.
  • I’m pretty confident we’ll get on the air here in Austin in 2014, though I of course wish it had happened faster.
  • We raised a lot more money via the label than I’d expected, given the fact that we didn’t have any releases (with our year-end donations bringing our cumulative total to over $100,000!).
  • We didn’t end up releasing a new Terrible Twos record, and I think we probably won’t.  Boo.
  • We had more in-studios and interviews than we’ve ever had before; being in a big music city helps.  Hopefully we’ll add more and more non-kids’ artists to the list of folks too.
  • KindieFest ended.  This bummed me out, even though I had decided to scale back my participation anyway.  It grew out of a showcase — really just a party — that I helped create the first spring we were on the air, when we were heading to Brooklyn and just wanted to hang out with AudraRox.  It had grown into an anchor of the year for many artists and others in family music, almost like a family reunion.  The sense of unity and common cause that was there was…really lovely.  I will miss it terribly.

On that last topic: As we had in prior years, we partners set aside some money for the next year’s startup expenses.  Once we decided to end the event, we each got our share of that money.  So I sat down to decide what to do with it.  (For the past few years, any money I’ve made from the kids’ music side of my life has gone towards donations — not just the beneficiaries from the label, but from other income as well.  So we’ve made some contributions to Liam’s school, for example, which has suffered the same fate as other Texas public schools.)

It didn’t take long to realize that the perfect thing to do with the final dollars I’d get from KindieFest was to honor someone who has really represented the best of the kindie music world — and the spirit of KindieFest: Molly Ledford of Lunch Money.

Molly understood the potential of something like KindieFest better than probably anyone (including myself).  She was a constant, happy, engaged, and smart presence, not just willing but excited to share her gathered wisdom with others.  She knows that working together will always — always — result in a better scene than working separately.  She was a producer on Science Fair and made that record way better than it would have been otherwise (including writing two songs on it).  She is a wicked good songwriter and Lunch Money has a vibe that works better than just about anyone else.

And she’s doing a ton of great stuff with Girls Rock Columbia, including writing their theme song:

(Incidentally, I love the “Sisterhood is powerful” line.  On my box o’ things growing up (wooden box, built by me and my dad), among the countless bumper stickers was one that said “Sisterhood is powerful,” with a fist/♀ combined symbol.)

So I sent off a few hundred bucks to Girls Rock Columbia today.  If you’re looking for a place to make a year-end contribution, could I suggest you do the same?  They take PayPal right there on their front page.  Or find your local Girls Rock Camp — there are a ton — and send ‘em a few bucks.

And maybe head over to Lunch Money’s page and tell them you think they’re pretty swell.  If I were starting a family music act, there’s not a single act I’d try to take inspiration from more than them.  (Not copy!  Just be inspired by.)

Happy New Year, everybody.  Love you all.

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