Sunday, March 13, 2016

FEEDING THE PIG: an overview of the main problem with Careers, Bands, Music and Arts organizations.


Once upon a time there was a farmer ...

  ... and he had a wonderful, vibrant garden. His garden fed his family, his livestock, even his neighbors. It was so healthy and food so plentiful he had enough produce for his local market and so his garden even provided him with an income.

  The farmer loved his garden and he tended it, took care of it, cultivated it, watered it and gave it all of his attention. 

Then, one day, the farmer got himself a pig. 

  And oh my, how impressed he was with his pig, so new and different from the garden. The farmer became so enamoured with the pig that he began to give it more of his time. His pig grew and got fat and the farmer fed it more and more of the garden's produce.

  Soon, most of the harvest from his garden was gathered just to feed the pig. The pig demanded so much attention the farmer had less time to tend his garden ... and so the harvest began to whither and dry up. Weeds began to take over the garden but the farmer hardly noticed because his attention was so consumed by his pig.

  One day the farmer was so exhausted from caring for the pig that he asked himself, "How did this pig get so big, and what has happened to my beautiful garden?"

  But still the pig demanded more from the garden, more time and attention from the farmer. And the farmer couldn't escape the demands of the pig. He began to loose his joy - with the pig, with the garden and all the good things he once had as a loving farmer.

  Until finally, one day, there was nothing left of the garden. It was gone ... and the pig couldn't survive and the farmer had nothing for market and couldn't feed his family.

Thus is the state of many arts and music organizations.

  Let's use music to explain, but this is true of all artists, bands, charities and non-profits. In my universe of folk and roots music, our "garden" is the world of songs, poetry, community, instruments, the audience and all that is part of being a musician and songwriter. It is a beautiful amazing colorful vibrant garden.

  And there are many loving, attentive "farmers" for this world: the IBMA takes care of the bluegrass garden, the Folk Alliance International cares for the folk garden, South by Southwest in Austin and more.

  The "pig" is the corporate structure any arts entity ... whether a national organization, a local community group or a garage band ... creates to oversee their operations. Mind you, the garden existed long before the corporate/business structures, but once they were created they tend to take over the garden.

Here's what happens:

  When the pig is first brought into the garden, the expenses are low and all the attention is on the artform, the artists and the garden itself. The good intention is to make the garden bigger and better while feeding the pig. As the pig grows the need for money takes over. Executive Director salaries, offices, managers, agent and staff, marketing. Vacations and benefits. Travel budgets. All of this money gets sucked out of the garden. The bigger the pig gets the more unyielding the budgets become and the more attention the farmer gives the pig instead of tending the garden.

  Before you know it the garden begins to whither and dry up. The cost of being members of the organization get way too high. The cost of attending the conferences get way too high. The pig overtakes the garden to such a degree that all the beauty that was the garden begins to dry up and leave. Feeding the pig makes the cost of being in the garden too expensive for the average artist.

  FACT: It costs the average musician upwards of $1000 to be a member of most music trade groups, pay for conference fees, travel and get hotel rooms and meals. That is more than most musicians make in a year. Heck, it costs $80 just to park your ding-dang car in Austin during SxSW now.

  If it costs more to be part of the garden than the garden can provide, the farmer needs to make a choice:

  abandon the garden or get rid of the pig. 

  My whole argument here is that the corporate structure of the arts world ... the pig ... has gotten so out of hand that it is ruining the very garden of arts we love. As the business models change and the ability of artists to make a living becomes more difficult, farmers need to reduce the size of their pigs. That doesn't mean the people running arts organizations are "pigs." Be careful how you interpret this. Most are sincere, passionate folks that truly love the art form they are helping. It's the size of the corporate structure that becomes the pig.

  Recently the project that Pete Seeger started ran into this problem. When the Clearwater organization began it was a community driven, music loving group that protected the Hudson River. As time went on, the pig got so big and fat that most of their attention was spent on raising money to feed the pig and NOT to protect the garden they were part of. Finally, this year they cancelled the famous Clearwater Folk Festival to conserve funds to keep the pig fed.

  By contrast, the WoodSongs broadcast has a live event with artists from around the world 44 weeks a year in front of 500 people on a Monday night with a 30+ member crew, syndicated to hundreds of radio stations plus American Forces Radio in 173 nations, a 5-camera TV broadcast edited, closed captioned, satellite fed and viewable in 96M USA TV homes on public television, live online feed plus over 800 shows archived for free on our website ... all on a weekly budget of $619. 

  How is this possible, you ask?

 Because ... drum roll, please ... we have a teenie weenie pig.

WoodSongs Front Porch Association ... a teenie weenie pig.

Our commitment of the WFPA is to keep the pig on a damn diet. It costs a lousy $25 a year to belong and that is not just you but includes your whole band or family up to five members. On top of that, all members get FREE tickets to the WoodSongs Gathering this September. FREE. The proceeds of your membership does not go to feed the pig, it goes to nourish the garden by provided roots music education programs FREE to teachers and home school families.

  Join the WFPA, a pig-less organization that loves the garden. That's why we call our members SongFarmers. Check us out at

  My point is simple:  

  If the pig makes more money than the artists in the garden ... the pig must die. 

  Or at least go on a diet. 

  All arts careers, bands and groups need to take a close look at the condition of the garden you are part of. An organization with a flourishing garden and a little pig is doing it right. If you see your garden withering, struggling ... if the artists are frustrated and the audiences dwindling ... take a good close look at the pig.

... it might be time to trim some bacon.

Friday, February 12, 2016


Anyone attempting to create outside of the box is a target for those incapable of the adventure.

"The music on WoodSongs is good, The host is an idiot ..."
Grey Brendle, Beaufort, SC

And so goes a recent public post on a Facebook page from someone I don't know, never met and who hasn't a clue about me at all. Every now and then, these little verbal spears appear amid the accolades, praises, applause, standing ovations, awards-with-my-name-completely-misspelled and other genuine kindnesses. And it makes you wonder:


Not "why am I an idiot." Heck, maybe I am and I just haven't realized it yet. But why would someone you don't know say something so public about someone they've never met?

Garrison Keillor is a fine man who has created an otherwise impossible broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion and, aside from all the praise he receives, he is constantly BLASTED by those who think he talks too much, can't sing, is a terrible writer, self inflated ego and on and on. All from folks who have never met the man.

Chris Thile is one of the finest musicians on earth. A sincere fellow of indescribable talent. He is stepping into the golden shoes of Garrison as the new host of A Prairie Home Companion and, amidst the great reviews of his effort, I have read some of the most scathing comments about his impending failure, his "Garrison Wanna-Be" status and bone-crippling negativity of his hosting skills.

Mainly, it seems, from the same people who hate Garrison.

Actually, they hate Garrison and hate Chris but evidently listen to the show every week for some reason in order to be qualified to make such horrid reviews regarding efforts they themselves are incapable of imagining no less accomplishing. Even on a small scale.

So, again I ask ... Why?

Garrison and Chris do great work. The difference between those two gentleman and myself, aside from the shear stature of their accomplishments, is they are paid, I am not. I created and work on WoodSongs for free. I get nothing. Not a cent, not a $ ever. The crew works for free and the artists who come on the show do so for free. The show goes free to public radio, free to public television and I was able to arrange hundreds of complete broadcasts to be archived online that anyone can watch ... for free.

Heck, my hometown newspaper, even after all these years, can't even spell my name right on those very rare occasions that I am included in a story about events that I create. Can't someone who volunteers to do something good catch a break?

Evidently not.

All artists, dreamers, risk takers, poets and performers have a deep love for their craft. And they have an even deeper love for their audience. But presenting their creations to the scathing opinions of others is like showing your nakedness to people you already know don't like you. "Michael is an idiot. He can't sing. He can't play. He's ... blah blah blah"  Especially considering the enormous amount of stress, responsibility and pressure a project like WoodSongs would place on someone. Can you imagine doing 44 of these productions a year ... with virtually no money to operate on? Harsh criticism, especially in public, is the most disheartening, demoralizing thing in life ... and it can wound deeply.

Until you realize a very simple, basic truth: haters are even more scared and more lonely than you are. They swim in a deep pool of insecurity and such low self esteem that their only salvation is the self elevating illusion that comes from looking down on those they perceive accomplish more than they can.

I think, in the end, the words of harshness become irrelevant to the work at hand. Like any worthy endeavor the artist, creator or dreamer only achieves their goal by keeping their head down, their spirits up ... and band aids handy for the wounds that come from those critical of what they themselves are incapable of doing. Sometimes a critic can make you better, they can sharpen you like a blade against a stone. They can also so rip into your spirit so deeply it makes you feel like quitting.

The point is nothing we do should be for any other reason than for the love of it. Love is the greatest transaction of the arts, and haters have no place in that world. They are, at best, jealous onlookers.

Recently a very good friend of mine, David McLean, came up with an idea of an award show that he himself couldn't be part of. I watched him get blasted from all onlookers ... at first. But he kept his chin up and didn't stop and now he is a hero. I'm proud of David. His heart proved more powerful than those who denied his efforts.

I'm sure Mr. Brendle is a fine fellow and I can sort of imagine him sitting in front of a TV watching WoodSongs muttering and throwing his popcorn at the TV set every time "that idiot" comes on the screen. And that's ok, because his harsh review means he is watching the show, the very thing we all work so hard ... and for free ... to accomplish.

It's just a shame the only thing I know of the gentleman is his public unkindness. Maybe, someday, Mr. Brendle will accomplish something so wonderful they will place a star along Main Street in his honor with both his names misspelled, too.

But in the meantime, back in 1937, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius said it best:

"Fear not the words of a critic, for no one ever erected a statue in honor of one."

Folksinger, TreeHugger, SongFarmer and Idiot

Monday, January 25, 2016


Several folks have written and asked me about the bronze star I wear the lower part of my jacket.

Let me explain:

My father died about five days before I was born. My step father was a very fine man, but when I found out about my real dad when I was 12 years old, he became a striking mystery to me. As I grew up, I found that I missed him greatly, wished he was nearby, longed to know what the sound of his voice was like when he called my name.

The very first male relative I met of my father's was my son, MichaelB. When he was born and finally opened his eyes, I saw ... for the very first time ... a reflection of my own father.

Eventually I went on a search for my dad's past and his family and finally found them. My cousin, Laddie, became very proactive in seeking out belongings and artifacts of my dads.

One of them was my father's bronze star.

I do not wear it on my chest as the star is not mine. I put it on my lower jacket as a tribute to my father. I wear it, not as a military or political statement, not as a pro or con statement of any kind. I wear it in honor of my father who earned it. It let's him be with me when I am on stage ... and I find it comforting.

I always wondered what our relationship would be like. Would he like me? Would he be proud of me? Would we be close as a father and son should be?

All I know is this: if I was to leave this life I would hope my son would love me enough to publicly remember me and be proud of me. This I am doing for my father.


Saturday, January 23, 2016



I do understand, with respect, that our Governor is trying to balance the books. I'm sure the waste in spending equals or surpasses what we spend to encourage the arts, and in turn I'm sure the arts council could do a better, more fair, job at spreading the grants. Having said that, I would hope our good government officials would consider the possible words of Winston Churchill, when considering cutting money for the arts in order to fund the war effort:

"Then what are we fighting for?"

Whether Churchill actually said this or not is irrelevant. The point is simple, you can not provide a good place to live when the quality of life is not inspiring. Kentucky will not attract the lucrative "creative class" (I always hated that phrase, anyway*) if the creative atmosphere of Kentucky is desolate. The arts are in fact an investment to attract families, tourism and entrepreneurs to the Commonwealth. It pays for itself many times over.

Re-directing HOW arts money is spent may be a wiser and more lucrative course, instead of cutting it. But that's a whole-nuther issue and nobody has yet asked my opinion :)

I hope everyone reading this would consider becoming a member of the WoodSongs Front Porch Association as we send massive roots music education into classrooms and home school families. Free. We call our members SongFarmers. I think the government and arts council might study what we are doing just to see how much good can be accomplished on so very little. Visit us at ( is being rebuilt so it may not be ready when you read this)


* Why I hate the term "creative class."
Simple, artists should never be separated from the spirit of their audience. Being an artist, making a living as one, comes from the grace and good heart of the audience. "Creative Class" somehow implies the artist is special, more blessed, more important than the audience that provides for them. Bull-dinkies, I say. An artist is best positioned as a servant, a laborer of heart and spirit underwritten by the audience that accepts their work. I'll give you an example of why this class structure doesn't work: Michael Jackson, arguably an impressive talent, jumped the shark when he floated a statue of himself down the Themes River. Michael Jackson wasn't god-like because he was famous, rich or had a massive audience. He was a fragile, flawed, mortal person EXACTLY like his audience. He would have been less lonely and a lot more stable if he viewed his position in a humble manner.

To quote Pete Seeger: "It is better to have friends than fans."

'nuff said.