Spare the Rock Events: Some Thoughts and Policies

Feb 12

There’s this story, based on a survey of folks involved in kid literature.  I don’t know what the results of a similar survey would be if done in family music, but I’m under no illusions: There’s no reason to think we’re immune from it.

So here are some basic policies for any event I’m presenting on my own.  They apply to presenters, attendees, sponsors, producers, crew, and me.  And anyone else.  I intend to include them in advance emails to performers and won’t book acts that won’t go along with them, and won’t put on events at venues that aren’t cool with them. My aim, and the aim of folks with whom I work, is to create fun, safe, silly events that are actively inclusive. These guidelines are consistent with what I’ve observed doing this for over a dozen years and are intended to be there to (a) hopefully avoid any future problems and (b) deal with the very rare problem case.

This is a first draft and if there are improvements suggested, I’ll consider and adopt them.  The structure is borrowed, with permission, from the JoCo Cruise Code of Conduct.

  1. Be kind. Treat others with kindness and respect. Be inclusive and friendly, like we try to get our kids to be.  This underlies everything else.
  2. Don’t harass others. These are not allowed, period: any kind of physical, verbal, or psychological abuse; threats, intimidation, and bullying; slurs about race, gender, ability, religion, ethnicity, or sexuality; unwanted romantic attention, sexual harassment, and generally gross or stalky behavior; and photographing anyone or engaging in physical interactions without consent. This includes, emphatically, contact (physical or otherwise) with children without their parent(s)’ or guardian(s)’ consent. If someone asks you to stop doing something and you keep doing it, that’s harassment. (A note: We sometimes take photographs at events. If you don’t want yourself or your kid photographed, let us know and we will respect that. I try to have photos be primarily of performers in any event, but kids are often in the background.)
  3. Be nice to our staff and volunteers. Number 1 up there applies to everyone working the event, too.
  4. Be nice to the venue. Clean up after yourself. Respect the facility. Be super nice to the venue’s staff. Tip well. (That last one applies everywhere.)
  5. Follow the law and follow the rules.  Duh. And if I become aware of any conduct that might meet the definition of a hate crime, you better believe I’m reporting it.

If an attendee is aware of any conduct that violates these policies, there will be identified people to whom they can make a report.  To be clear: if you see something problematic, tell someone; that’s your responsibility as a person engaging in society if you can do so safely.

The policies, and those contacts (who will when feasible include at least one person independent from the event) will be posted at events.  You have my personal commitment that harassment won’t be tolerated and we’ll deal with problems promptly. Because I’m involved in a range of events with different partners and contexts, I can’t make a general statement here about precisely what the process will be in all situations, but I do mean “deal with” appropriately and thoroughly. If I learn of misconduct at an event I’m part of, I will share that knowledge to try to prevent future harm.

For events/conferences I’m attending as a presenter or otherwise (as opposed to presenting), or events I’m helping produce without being a primary presenter, I’m borrowing ideas from John Scalzi’s policies: You need to have a harassment policy.  It needs to be clear and it needs to have an enforcement mechanism.  It doesn’t have to be the same as this one above, but it needs to be similarly broad in coverage and scope.

Again, I’m not basing this on any specific knowledge of specific misconduct at any family music event I’ve attended.  But the older I get, the more I realize I have an obligation to do what I can to make sure everyone feels comfortable and welcome and safe at events I put together.

Like I said, this is a draft.  I think it’s a pretty good one, but I’d love to know how it can be improved.  You can comment below or email me (show at sparetherock dot com).

(Note: I’m making edits in this and not noting them as I might usually.)


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Aug 15

One of the very first stations to pick us up after we moved to Austin was 106.1 The Corner in Charlottesville, an eclectic AAA station. I listen to them every so often, and it’s a community-oriented friendly place, reflecting the lovely city in which it broadcasts.

We air there Sunday mornings at 8:00 and, as far as I know, we aired this last Sunday. (It was a show that had been recorded prior to any of the events.)  About eighteen hours earlier, Heather Heyer, who lived in Charlottesville, was killed by an American Nazi, maybe a mile or two from the station, based on my maps app.  She was standing up against the white supremacists and Nazis and Klansmen who had infested her city. She was–and is–a hero.

The Nazis and white supremacists and Klansmen were not “very fine people,” none of them, as the president asserts. They were carrying torches. They were chanting “White lives matter.” They were chanting “blood and soil.” They were chanting “Jews will not replace us.” They were there specifically to try to strike fear into the hearts of people of color, of LGBTQ people, of anyone who isn’t like them.

My grandparents, Gordon and Alma Hartrick, are pictured to the right on their honeymoon, on which they hiked miles to see Mount Rushmore under construction.  Upon their move to Arkansas, they were foster parents to many children in southeastern Arkansas in the era of de jure and de facto segregation. An African-American child in the community suffered burns at one point, and my grandmother brought the child to the clinic for treatment. Someone from the Klan saw it and, for no other reason than being offended by my grandmother’s humanity towards a child, they burned a cross–twice–in my grandparents’ yard.

There is a direct line from those people to the people who killed Heather Heyer, who attacked dozens of others, and, yes, to Dylann Roof. These are not “very fine people.”

I am a straight white guy.  I cannot and do not pretend to know what it is like to be a person of color or a person who’s marginalized in just about any other way in the United States.

I know that by being born white and male in the United States, I started off with a huge advantage–born on third base, as our great former governor Ann Richards said (possibly quoting Barry Switzer), though I try to remember that I didn’t get there by hitting a triple, as the quote concludes.  (Incidentally, fellow white guys, it is possible to simultaneously recognize that you got super lucky just by being born how you were and be proud that you worked hard to do what you’ve done.)

I’m constantly befuddled about how to deal with events like this on what is, after all, a silly radio show for children.  I don’t know if I get it right.  But this time, for this weekend’s show, it’s going to be almost entirely music performed by artists from groups of which I am not a member: people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants. It’ll include some songs on point with the events, but it will also include some songs of hope, even if that’s not an emotion I’m feeling a ton of right now. I probably won’t talk about Charlottesville; I don’t know what I would say, and, again, it’s a silly radio show for children and it’s not my place to talk to kids about this. Parents can decide if they want to point out the songs we’re playing to their kids, if they decide that the songs have a place in that conversation.

This weekend’s show will not include this song, but I feel compelled to include it here.  Do not play it for your children, unless you are pretty flexible on the swears front.  I’m including this particular live version because–32 years ago–Jello Biafra addressed the nonsense that Nazis are patriotic.  “Phony patriotic rednecks are what brings our country down.”


Charlottesville listeners: We love you.

Other listeners: We love you.

Nazis: Well, listen to the song above.

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The kids at the shows will have kids of their own

Dec 17

you gotta stay positiveEarlier this month, I went out to Brooklyn to see three nights of The Hold Steady’s four-night run celebrating the tenth anniversary of their album Boys and Girls in America—their best-known album.  Today I updated my Google document in which I track shows dating back to around 2008 (it is a very imprecise list, especially for pre-2013 or so), and observe that the band is tied with Quiet Company for most shows in that period — 14 total.

I am, more or less precisely, The Hold Steady’s core demographic.  I’m 45 (same age as Craig), I grew up in the St. Paul suburbs (he grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs), I grew up listening to bands like the Replacements and the Suburbs and Arcwelder and so on.  And looking around the venue, there sure were a lot of folks like me—and a lot of guys (first show in ages where the men’s room line was much longer than the women’s).  The shows were (per usual) great, and I got to see friends (old and new!).

My first rock show in a club was The Suburbs at First Avenue circa 1987, the first of a number of “farewell” shows (that “farewell” thing never stuck; I in fact saw them this last summer at Taste of Minnesota).  Ella’s first rock show in a club was The Hold Steady at the Iron Horse in 2012, just before our move here.

For both of us, those introductions to club shows are almost not fair.  I’d put late ’80s shows from The Suburbs and any era Hold Steady show in my top ten live acts—maybe top three or four, honestly.  (This history with the ‘Burbs and other Twin Cities bands is part of why I am so utterly delighted to have a New Standards song on Let All The Children Boogie, incidentally.)

She’s gotten to see some amazing acts since then, too, including THS one or two more times, Quiet Company a ton, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, TMBG many times, Matt & Kim, and countless acts at ACL, Fun Fun Fun, and Sound on Sound Fest.  We went and saw Hamilton in January, which, while not technically a concert, was similarly transporting.  She’s doing dishes now, listening to Thao cranked up.  I’m guessing Lizzo will be next on the playlist.

I think it’s safe to say she loves music and specifically live music—that photo to the left is from Quiet Company’s run at Holy Mountain (RIP), and watching her be transported was a lovely moment.  As I remember saying at the time, there are no doubt more important parenting goals than having kids who like to go see great music performed well, but I’m still glad to have achieved it.

Anyway.  She’s going to go off to college next year.

This is not a surprising fact; she’s that age and she’s always had college in her plans.  She’ll end up somewhere great (hopefully with a good college radio station!) and she’ll do well, I’m confident.

I sure hope she also keeps seeing great live music and finding new great bands.  (I keep looking at the venues in the places she’s considering, hoping they’ve got a good talent buyer.)  And I hope she goes and sees a band that becomes for her what The Hold Steady and The Suburbs and Quiet Company and Mates of State and Fishbone and The Thermals and Michael Franti and Sharon Jones and so many more bands have been for me.

We’ve been doing this radio show thing for kids and families for over eleven years now (and have no plans to stop any time soon).  Lots of our early listeners are in the same situation we are, or will be soon.

My hope is that at least for some of your kids, the show has been an introduction not just to great music for kids, but as the first step for your kids finding music that moves and engages them the way these bands have done for me.  Get out to the shows with your kids, even as they get older; you might have to take a nap before hand (Uncle Rock has a whole song about that), but it’ll be worth it.  I’ll be out at the Against Me! show with Ella at the Mohawk in a few months and hopefully a lot more before she heads on the road.

At almost every Hold Steady show, Craig Finn declares, “There is so much joy in what we do up here,” and it’s palpably true.  That joy comes from every person in the venue, and it is shared with every person in the venue.  Help your kids find the band who brings the joy for them like that.  Maybe it’s a band you like, maybe it isn’t; be excited about it either way.

(Also: Buy music.  Buy merch.  Tip well.  Sing along, even if you don’t sing.  Support the bands.)

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

–The Hold Steady, Stay Positive

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“I want to stay connected to everyone.”

Mar 03

Tomorrow is Liam’s 14th birthday. It’s also the anniversary of the day that last year, Eric made the decision to remove his ventilator. Because this year I’m hoping to focus on the former, I’m writing some words now about the latter, looking through my Facebook messages and emails with Eric from the time.

ericbaseballA few days earlier, the subjects of our messages were mundane (though of course we all knew things were going downhill). I’d gotten a message from him asking if we’d sent a Bite Squad gift certificate.  We had, but it apparently arrived with no indication of its source. (Confidential to Bite Squad: Maybe tell recipients the name of the folks from whom they’re receiving a gift certificate!)

And then, on March 3, Eric must have posted something suggesting that the end was near, as I asked him if he was “heading into, I don’t know the right word, the final run.”

(Scrolling through Eric’s Facebook page to find what he posted, it is a hell of a challenge to get through the March 11-12 posts without just weeping.)

Aha! Found it. He posted a link to a column entitled “Death, the New Normal,” which discussed the process of getting used to death as one gets older. The column closed with Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Dirge Without Music,” a poem I also quoted in a piece I wrote during the process and, if memory serves, in the eulogy I gave at his funeral. The poem ends, famously, with “But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.”

Deep down in the comments thread, after friends noted their own refusal to approve or be resigned, Eric wrote: “On the other hand, resignation must come, eventually.” He was ahead of the rest of us. Honestly, he’s still ahead of me; I am still pretty damn far from approving.

(As an aside, as an epidemiology dork, I love that the fact that the previous post from him was a link to a story about a psychology journal banning the use of p-values.)

Anyway, so, I wrote to him on the 3rd asking if I was reading his post correctly. He agreed that he did feel he was getting through the end: “I’m so tired all the time and I sleep a ton. My only desire is to stay connected until the time comes.” And: “I’m thinking of working with hospice on stopping the vent, a matter of weeks. All I need from you is to stay connected.”

I asked about the alternative to removing the ventilator; he responded: “The alternative is to sleep more and more as things progress. It seems I could shorten that and be more aware when I pass.” In response to my question about whether awareness was a goal: “Since I want to stay connected to everyone I want to stay aware rather than fade away, although fading away may be more peaceful.”

My response: “I can see how having some measure of control could be appealing and a way to make it your process rather than the disease’s or a machine’s, if that makes sense. It also must be difficult to plan your own end, though once you’ve accepted it I assume it is easier.”

Eric responded without dancing around it: “Picking a day is really freaky. I’m still looking for some wide advice from hospice.” I said I hoped they had some wise advice, since I sure didn’t. His arms were tiring out, he wrote, but he said he wished he could have a time frame so he could plan. Without any firm predictions, he made his own plan and chose a date (March 12). A few days later, we talked about the process; he was frustrated that there were still details to be set up (I learned later that the IV provider was hesitant to let the doctor prescribe IV pain meds, fearing it was too close to assisted suicide, so they ended up with patches, I believe). “Once all of that is set, it will go better,” he wrote.

battleThen the day before, we messaged some more about logistics, and I sent him a photo of the setup that our friend Paul Hagstrom set up for digitizing some old Battle of the Band videotapes; he was glad his kids would see it eventually. He wrote me after he got back from getting the IV line done: “I got to experience some spring like weather on the way [home], which was nice. See you tomorrow.”

Around the same time, my mom was sending him daily—lovely—emails, with stories about me, about grandkids, about goats—about what Eric called “regular things.”

Her, on March 10: “I have no words of wisdom. I will just observe that you are living until you die, as you intended, and I admire you immensely. You are teaching again.” Eric responded: “It’s funny, I think a lot about my maternal grandmother lately, who had a long slow death from cancer. I have a funny feeling she’s helping me get through this. She handled her death with a lot of grace.”

He continued: “I don’t need words of wisdom, I just like hearing from people. My days are full of sleep. Let’s hope tonight is too. We talked to the girls about the fact that my vent won’t last much longer and we grieved together. I’m getting a large IV at the hospital tomorrow because the nurse couldn’t do it at home, but then I’ll be coming back home. That’s how they will administer the sedatives on Thursday. I feel 90% peaceful about it, and 10% nervous, which I think is reasonable.”

Actually, you know, another quote from my mom’s emails feels about right—something I’d forgotten until going back through my emails tonight. She told him a story about a conversation she and I had when I took a semester off to work on Paul Wellstone’s first Senate campaign, and finished it: “You know that your girls are going to be remembering what you taught them. They may not be dropping out of college to work on somebody’s Senate campaign, but the things they have learned, and are learning, from you are settled into their bones, and will serve them well.”

She was right. A couple of days later, Eric died, on as close to his own terms as could be achieved with ALS, teaching all of us around him until the end. And staying connected to everyone. I’ve written about it before, but the extended periods of eye contact he made—with every single person in the room, and, I firmly believe, with so many more people by extension—made it so Eric fulfilled his fundamental goal:

“I want to stay connected to everyone.”

Still connected.

Still miss the hell out of him.

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Best of 2015

Oct 28

treesSometimes I post my whole Fids & Kamily ballot; this year I just love all of my top ten (and beyond!) so much that I don’t want to do that, other than saying that the best family record of the year for me was Molly Ledford & Billy Kelly’s Trees.  Funny, sweet, catchy, sometimes a little melancholy, smart: it’s so darn good.

Here’s the rest of the list, in alphabetical order (in the way that iTunes does it):

  • Alastair Moock & Friends – All Kinds of You And Me
  • Gustafer Yellowgold – Wisdom Tooth of Wisdom
  • Jazzy Ash – Bon Voyage
  • Lori Henriques – How Great Can This Day Be
  • Lucky Diaz & the Family Jam Band – Adelante
  • Red Yarn & Friends – Deep Woods Revival
  • Renee & Friends – Simpatico
  • Suz Slezak – Watching the Nighttime Come
  • Tim Kubart – Home

Records that came really close:

  • The Bazillions – On the Bright Side
  • Bunnyclogs – Whales Can’t Whistle
  • Cat Doorman – Calling All the Kids to the Yard
  • Lloyd H. Miller – Sing-a-Long History Vol. 1: Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
  • Pointed Man Band – Flight of the Blue Whale
  • The Pop Ups – Great Pretenders Club
  • Turkey Andersen – s/t
  • Vered – Hello My Baby

And way more.  It was a good year.  Go buy some music.

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Some Numbers

Oct 10

47: The (approximate) number of folks we’ve had come by the studio since we moved to Austin just over three years ago.

28: The (approximate) number of acts I’ve booked for shows in Austin since moving here (doesn’t include The River’s Family Music Meltdown & Book Bash back in Northampton).


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