Music notes: Paying musicians necessary; Greek Theatre a gem

By From page B1 | September 21, 2012

decicco column sig

The denouement of a nearly two-week-long public battle for Amanda Palmer with regard to paying musicians came Wednesday, when the Dresden Dolls singer announced she would cough up a few dollars for her volunteers.

Palmer earlier announced that on her tour she would crowdsource string and horn players from fans in the cities where the buses stopped because it was too costly to haul paid players around on the road.

Palmer, who raised $1.2 million via Kickstarter for her new album, “Theater is Evil,” previously said the fans would be paid in “beer and hugs.”

The move drew the enmity of the Internet — including perpetual instigator, musician and engineer Steve Albini — about the issue of paying musicians for their work.

Last Friday, Palmer posted a blog entry defending the choice not to pay the volunteer musicians, saying, “You have to let artists make their own decisions about how they share their talent and time.”

That’s a nice sentiment to express when you have a Kickstarter that can rake in a million dollars faster than you can say “starving artist.”

At a time when not even the biggest stars in music can sell 400,000 copies of an album in its release week — Justin Bieber has the year’s biggest single week with 374,000 copies of “Believe” — the idea of making sure artists are paid for their craft is more important than ever.

If album sales will not fuel the future of musicians’ salaries in the way it did in the past, many are turning to the road for ticket and merchandise sales to finance their creative juices.

Appropriately, Palmer relented to the pressure and understood that being in her position should mean not having to make such choices. She also noted she would retroactively pay the musicians from previous stops.

“I’m blessed,” she wrote in her most recent blog entry. “I’m a financially successful musician working in a culture where support for musicians is in a state of terrifying flux. Nobody knows this better than me and my friends, all of whom are trying to navigate their own creative ways in the murky waters of a new-digital-music-future during a recession.”

Get me to the Greek

I spent Saturday night at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley seeing My Morning Jacket and will return again Saturday to see Wilco.

It becomes increasingly obvious to me that the Greek is one of America’s most-overlooked outdoor venues. Even calling it “The Greek” makes many people think of the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park.

Best-of lists rave about Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Washington’s The Gorge Amphitheatre, New York’s Saratoga Performing Arts Center or Wisconsin’s Alpine Valley Music Theatre to name a few.

As someone who has been to all of those, the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre on the UC Berkeley campus belongs in the team photo of great outdoor American concert venues.

True, the concrete benches are unforgiving. Parking can be challenging and expensive. Also, there are seats that put fans at a 90-degree angle to the stage, not an ideal vantage point.

Those caveats permitted, the Greek has many virtues.

Those on the sand pit floor are close enough to catch a drum stick or a guitar pick. Behind them in a half-circle rippling out from the stage are a series of steps leading toward the prized stone throne chairs, a wink and a nod to the venue’s forbearer in the ancient Greek city of Epidaurus.

The reserved seating area — the uncomfortable benches — seat most of the venue’s 6,500, many of whom stand for the headliner’s performance.

Perhaps the hidden gem of the Greek is the steep lawn. With the venue in Berkeley’s eastern hills, the view is breathtaking, allowing visitors to watch the show with a view beyond the stage of Sather Tower, the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. Also, since most concerts are at dusk, guests take in the view at sunset.

King Crimson, Jack Johnson and the Grateful Dead are a few of the artists that have recorded live albums there.

It will be 110 years old next year and this year marks 30 years since it was inducted into the National Registry of Historic Places.

For its views, the caliber of musicians it draws and its quality, the Greek deserves to be seen as an equal with some of the nation’s best outdoor venues.

To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco is the editor of the Tailwind and writes the pop culture blog/column For Those About to Rock. Before joining the DR staff in July 2007, DeCicco (pronounced Deh-CEE-Coh) worked at The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., and the Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colo. A 2004 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, DeCicco spends his free time attending concerts, listening to music, going to movies, traveling and hiking.

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