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Our View: Ask not what the music scene can do for you

August 8, 2017

For many of us, music is as essential to life as food and shelter. Unlike, say, food, though, it’s easy to think that music should be free. Radios give away chunks of it, punctuated by endless commercials. The Internet devalued the price of songs and albums to literally nothing. And shows...well, Rochester is awash in free performances.

But Rochester’s music scene needs a cash infusion, and material pursuits have nothing to do with it. Investing in a show makes a listener more likely to invest their energy. Energy is what a music scene depends on. Just ask Christian Clements, of Positive Tuesdays, a promotion company responsible for bringing acts like Har Mar Superstar, P.O.S., Nato Coles, Caroline Smith, and Bad Bad Hats to Rochester stages.

“Anybody can walk into a bar and see a band playing for free, but you’re probably really there to just have a few drinks, maybe drink enough by midnight to sing a Sublime or Jimmy Buffett cover. Sometimes it’s great to be a cheeseburger in paradise, but you still haven’t made an investment,” said Clements.

“Without an investment, your engagement is different. When we engage in music, the band notices. They become more engaged. They put on a better show for you. You are now a part of the performance. You’re invested. You get to become a critic,” he said.

Rochester’s music scene is poised to explode. Just crack open a 507 Magazine and look for John Sievers’ byline if you want proof of its weekly expansion. Or take a cruise through Facebook, acts like Second Story, Hair of the Dog, The Shift, Under the Pavillion, JT & The Gunslingers, Push & Turn, KnuFunk, Zaire Huruku, and a slew of others are making quality original music. Thanks to Positive Tuesdays, local rockers Under the Pavillion opened for Har Mar Superstar and hip-hop musician Jae Havoc appeared on a bill with Astronautalis and Sarah White.

But we’re still looking for what we can get for nothing. Down by the Riverside shows are perennially packed while venues like the Wicked Moose have gone by the wayside. America has played here for free. So have The Wailers. Dessa and Enemy Planes have obliterated Thursdays on First stages and Kathy’s Pub packs quality bands onto its stages three or four nights a week. So does the North Star Bar. So does Forager and so do a host of other establishments. That’s not even counting the rising number of open mic nights in the city in places like Cafe Steam, Forager, Charlies, and the Coronoa Club.

The artists have clearly met us more than halfway. It’s on us now to unshackle music from its background role. What the city needs is an audience readjustment. If you want a music scene, you have to care. And, cynical as it sounds, the quickest way to care is to part with cash.

Remember the cherished St. John’s Block Party? Remember when Mates of State played in 2011, or The Hold Steady in 2013? Those memories have long outlasted the sting of whatever the price of admission was.

So the next time you’re asked to dig into your pocket for music, ask not what the scene can do for you, but what you can do for the scene.

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