B y J a n i c e J a r r e t t
YOU HAVE TO make your own break," was the way Hal Jackson summed up the entire local music scene in one pithy phrase. He's one of many acoustic musicians in town. And he knows what he's talking about when it comes to hosting, producing and performing acoustic music here.
His fellow Tucson Kitchen Musician Association members all tend to say the same thing: There are a hell of a lot of incredible musicians around, but this town is piss poor in venues. But the TKMA folks keep trying to do something about it.
Next spring TKMA will host the 11th annual free Folk Festival, a full weekend of traditional and contemporary folk music by more than 60 groups and solo artists.
Although forged from the purest artistic motives--"to produce and promote the annual Tucson Folk Festival, and to enhance cultural awareness"--TKMA has had to deal with the hard facts of economics and marketing.
In spite of grants and an increase in media support over the past three or four years, adequate funding continues to be a formidable obstacle. (And who knows what the Newt assault will cost them down the line.)
As current member Elise Grecco says, "We ask a lot of our musicians. We usually don't pay them; they do a benefit to raise funds for the festival." If the weather's right, soda sales are high, people show up for the pancakes and guitar-picking and TKMA may even clear a profit. Like this year.
This net gain enables the association to pull off at least three larger concerts in addition to the festival, and maybe some smaller, much-needed performance opportunities for locals.
A series of TKMA-sponsored "Acoustic Showcases" opened this month at the Southwest Center for Music, 2175 N. Sixth Ave. The first show, with sets by Sal Valdivia and Lisa Otey, packed the room. The second, on Tuesday, August 15, features Sherlin J. Gerhart along with Amo Chip & Hal Jackson.
Unlike a majority of scattered, unpredictable venues in town, the Southwest Center's dance hall is acoustically designed, a near-to-perfect spot for the intimate roots-of-music styles TKMA supports.
"Acoustic," in the TKMA context, is "too broad to fit under a single umbrella," says current president Don Simpson. It includes anything from rock and roll "unplugged" to folks who play Woody Guthrie. "The only relationship between them is instrument and voice."
Take Amo Chip--a multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter--whose original music covers a range of styles. "It reflects the East Coast, urbanization. It reflects time in North Carolina, in the mountains," Chip says. "It reflects traveling coast to coast. It reflects the Bay Area, rock and roll, Michigan, Bob Seeger...." From reggae to rock to avant-garde jazz, "it's like having a vocabulary from all over the world. I don't think I'm ever going to end up in a style. I got a little Taj Mahal in me, got a little Ornette Coleman, and Rasaan Roland Kirk, and without a doubt, I got some Miles. You want to talk about Joe Henderson? Please."
Accompanying Chip at the concert, and on Amo's CD, So Many Ways, is singer/songwriter/guitarist Hal Jackson, himself a seasoned player plugged and unplugged. Their set at the showcase will reflect their love of performing music in a personal setting, where the lyrics can be heard, where "the voice can be out front. It's about touching people and making them listen and feel something."
Recently-drawn-to-Tucson Texan Sherlin Gerhart, if forced, might call his music "eclectic country." Having covered the bases from Jimmy Buffett to Hank Williams, including Ray Price and other lesser-known greats, singer/guitarist Gerhart finds the variety and support of the acoustic scene in Tucson particularly appealing.
Gerhart finds heartfelt connections in blues, folk, country and bluegrass roots. In fact, this profound appreciation for root musical styles is shared by all the performers and behind-the-scenes folks.
They would all probably agree with Jackson that all rock, pop, blues and folk basically break down to an acoustic guitar and the voice--you can see it in the unplugged videos of Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen. That return to intimacy, to the source, is accessible in a room with great acoustics, without a bar and cigarettes, without the sports TV.
Tucson doesn't have a lack of talent, but rather a lack of focus. Jackson suggests we could use some promoter to start picking local talent, some one to "get that push behind it to really get it across." After all, Motown came from the local Detroit sound. Memphis has its sound and Philly has one, too. Why not Tucson?
Until someone with the right connections comes along, at least we have the TKMA, making music with limited resources and a lot of hard work. They're always looking for new input (you don't have to be a musician)--for $10 a year you can be a voting member.
Be on the lookout for monthly shows, including the annual Valley of the Moon performance in September, a co-sponsored blues showcase, musical camp-out on Mount Lemmon with Eb Eberlein, and yet another hot Acoustic Showcase--they're making our own breaks, thank you.
Catch Sherlin Gerhart, Amo Chip & Hal Jackson at 8 p.m. Tuesday, August 15, at the Southwest Center for Music, 2175 N. Sixth Ave. Admission is $5 at the door. For information call 884-1220. To join TKMA, call 881-2016.
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