June 10, 2008

Inside a World Cafe Live taping

Ever wonder what a World Cafe Live taping is like?

(Never heard of World Cafe? It's a syndicated public radio show hosted by David Dye with live performances and interviews with bands.)

Usually, they record the show in the studios of WXPN in Philadelphia.

But sometimes, they record them live in the adjacent music venue called World Cafe Live.

Dye perches on a stool at stage left, leaning into a microphone to introduce the band and ask questions between songs.

While the band plays, he stays on the stool, his knees bobbing in time with the music. You almost expect him to start singing along.

Sometimes he puts on a pair of reading glasses to skim notes placed on the metal music stand in front of him.

The whole thing takes less than a half hour.

And the club sounds fantastic.

(Photo from Sun archives) 

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:59 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Non-Commvention, Random stuff

June 5, 2008

Ingrid Michaelson hits the big time

 ingrid michaelson

One of the biggest stars at this year's Non-Commvention was New York City singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson.

As an independent artist, she has sold more than 200,000 copies (!) of her most recent album, had a song in an Old Navy sweater commercial and I hear she's in talks to get a spot on Good Morning America's opening credits.

She played "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on a four-string guitar at this year's Non-Comm, which was one of the highlights of the weekend.

Last year, I interviewed 12 or 13 emerging artists in two or three days in Louisville for the 2007 Non-Comm.

After doing so many, I was exhausted and turned down the chance to talk to her. I've kicked myself ever since.
(Photo by Deborah Lopez)  

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:02 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Non-Commvention

June 4, 2008

Keep an eye on Newton Faulkner

newton faulknerOne of the standouts from this year's Non-Comm emerging artist festival was singer/songwriter Newton Faulkner.

Faulkner's got a No. 1 record in Britain but hasn't broken mainstream in the United States yet.

Live, he slaps the guitar and finger picks like a classical guitarist (similar to Andy McKee). But Faulkner also sings and has some pretty solid hooks.

I could see his song "Dream Catch Me" catching on here. You can hear it at his MySpace site.

Faulkner's also got a great sense of humor. At one point in his set, he picked up a small toy guitar, and before starting to play it, he said, "Oh, in case anyone went to the toilet and came back, I'm not massive. This guitar is just really small."

(Photo courtesy of the band)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:47 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Non-Commvention

Dirty hands

inky handI didn't shake hands with World Cafe host David Dye this past weekend for two reasons.

1) He didn't wash his after using the bathroom (yuck).

2) My furious scribbling made my pen explode, covering my right hand with black ink (pictured).

It took days for the ink to come off.

In the meantime, I was known as Inky.

(Photo by me)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:07 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Non-Commvention, Random stuff

June 3, 2008

Chipped teeth and The Hold Steady

the hold steadyLast week I sat down to talk to rockers The Hold Steady about their new album Stay Positive.

In passing, lead singer and guitarist Craig Finn said he always puts foam wind guards over his microphone.

I asked why and shuddered at his answer. ...

(Photo by Getty Images) 

Continue reading "Chipped teeth and The Hold Steady" »

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:07 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Non-Commvention

June 2, 2008

My ears are still ringing

Hey folks! I made it back from Non-Comm in tact. I'll start posting about it in a few hours.

Until then, enjoy this video of the Band jamming out "King Harvest Has Surely Come." 

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Non-Commvention

May 29, 2008

A folky, funky start to Non-Comm

The Non-Commvention in Philadelphia kicked off this morning with a performance by country folk act the Watson Twins (pictured).

The twins, Chandra and Leigh, toured and performed with Jenny Lewis in 2006. Their debut album on Vanguard drops June 24, and they played some tracks from it on the World Cafe Live stage.

The songs weren't bad, either. You couldn't ask for better harmonies, and the twins have a captivating stage presence. A cover of "Just Like Heaven" (also on the album) was an unexpected treat.

Phily Roy was up next, and delivered some tight acoustic funk from his new CD, as well as "Hope in a Hopeless World," a song Widespread Panic covers.

Jackie Greene and Wild Sweet Orange play later this afternoon, and I can't wait for Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings tonight.

(Photo by Pamela Littky) 

Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:40 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Non-Commvention

I'm off to Non-Comm

For the next few days, I'll be live blogging from the Non-Commventon up in Philly.

What's Non-Comm, you say? Funny you should ask.

Every year, folks from triple-a radio stations like WTMD and WXPN get together with industry types to talk about emerging artists.

There are live showcases, interviews and meet and greets.

Here are some posts from last year's convention.

This year, I'll be seeing some performances from people like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Jakob Dylan (pictured), The Watson Twins and a dozen more.

Of course, I'll also keep doing normal nightlife stuff like Fab Five Friday.

Are you ready? I know I am. Bring it on!

(Photo by Getty Images) 

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:27 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Non-Commvention

May 22, 2007

Live from Louisville interviews

All this week, WTMD is airing a series of interviews Erik and I conducted in Louisville at the Non-Commvention. Here's the schedule:


7 a.m. -- Martin Sexton 

9 a.m. -- Keller Williams


7 a.m. -- Jason Isbell

9 a.m. -- Paula Cole


7 a.m. -- Raul Midon

9 a.m. -- Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave) 

You can also go to the station's Web site to hear the interviews.


Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Non-Commvention

May 20, 2007

Ryan Adams lame in Louisville

Singer/songwriter Ryan Adams headlined a Louisville showcase Saturday night and really let down the crowd.

I saw Adams last year at Sonar, not too long after he released 29. He was energetic on stage and had a talented backup band. The band was still tight at last night's show, but Adams' erratic behavior made for a boring performance. I'll explain in a minute.

Following a warm, solid performance by Suzanne Vega, Adams came out about 11:05 p.m. The lights started out low and never came up. The whole stage stayed cloaked in hues of dark blue and red. You could barely see Adams or the other band members.

Adams hid himself even further. Wearing sunglasses, a hat and a hoodie, he was totally camouflaged. He hunched over a mike and -- get this -- read lyrics from a binder in front of him. Dude can't even remember the words to his own set of new songs!

So I sat there, in the dark, listening to melancholy folk music from musicians I could barely see. I almost fell asleep.

After only 30 minutes, Adams shouted a quick "thank you," -- the first thing he'd said to the crowd the whole night -- and bolted. There was no encore. His set lasted until 11:35 p.m. It was supposed to go until midnight.

I would have rather sat at home and listened to the CD. It's good, and I suggest you buy it. But I'm not so sure about seeing him live this tour. 

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:22 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Non-Commvention

May 19, 2007


Got into the elevator yesterday and saw Augie March front man Glenn Richards. I said "What's going on?" In a classic case of TMI, he replied, "If you must know, I'm busting. I need to get out of this elevator and onto the toilet. Hey, you asked." Thanks a lot for the update, Glenn.

Hoots and Hellmouth were busking outside of the Brown Theatre, and I walked over to check them out. Not bad at all: Three shaggy-haired guys, two on acoustic guitars and one on mandolin, standing and stomping on a small wooden platform.

I also noticed a guy across the street banging on seven plastic buckets turned upside down. I'm thinking about writing a story on Louisville's street performer scene and Baltimore's lack of a strong street performer scene. So I asked him some questions, and he refused to talk to me unless I paid him first. Since I don't pay for interviews (not even a couple of bucks), he just ignored me and kept banging away. Frustrated, I gave up and walked away.

I was also standing out in front of the hotel when I noticed the cellist and keyboard player from Sea Wolf having a smoke. They recently played the Recher Theatre with the Silversun Pickups. After the show, the drummer finished locking up the trailer, and the rest of the band started to drive away. Then they realized they were short one band member, and stopped to pick him up.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:40 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Non-Commvention

May 18, 2007

Whiskey by the glass

Before the conference really got started yesterday, we took a trip to Churchill Downs. On the way there, I kept an eye out for the dive bars that ring some race tracks -- the places where broke gamblers can take the edge off after a bad day.

The best one I found had an old neon sign out front that read "Whiskey By the Glass." I didn't have time to snap a photo of the place (or have a glass of whiskey there), but it was tickling just to drive by. Still, I really wanted to walk in and ask: What other way is there to drink it?

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:22 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Non-Commvention

Sarah Borges

Sarah Borges is another singer to keep an eye on. She brings punk energy and attitude to country/rockabilly music. Her band is called the Broken Singles, and like most of the rest of the artists here, she has a new album on the way.

I sat down with her yesterday, and after the interview, she said she had a funny Baltimore story. Apparently, she used to work for a service that places personal ads in newspapers. And semi-regularly, some dude from Baltimore would call her office responding to one of the ads, and just keep asking: "fast or slow? fast or slow? fast or slow?" I don't think she ever answered him. Creepy ...

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Non-Commvention

More live performances

Despite it being freaking 9 a.m., Jesca Hoop and Augie March both had great sets at a label showcase this morning.

Hoop's voice is hypnotic. Her songs didn't seem to have hooks or choruses, but I didn't notice right away. I'm not sure how this will translate on her album, which comes out this fall, but live, Hoop is enchanting. She picked an acoustic guitar while a vibraphonist gently hammered out shimmering tones alongside her on stage. It was a classic sound.

Australian rock outfit Augie March went on next and played tracks from their new album, which will also be out soon. Lead singer Glenn Richards (an English major in college) writes smart, literary lyrics, and the rest of the group fills out the sound surprisingly well. I was really impressed with the drummer, who knew how to back off and let the songs play themselves.

Jesca Hoop and Augie March. Remember those names. These are both great artists to watch.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Non-Commvention

The new Rilo Kiley

I got a sneak peek at the new Rilo Kiley album last night in the van on the way home from dinner. One of the label reps had an advance, advance copy (it doesn't actually come out until August, she said).

We listened to the first four songs on the ride home. Rilo Kiley fans are going to freak. Rilo Kiley is known for its blend of indie rock and alt-country. But on the new album (not sure of the name), they're definitely trying for a pop hit. The fourth song has a disco beat!

I think it's great when a band shakes things up. And Rilo Kiley fans should appreciate the band trying a new direction. But indie kids can be stubborn and might not like what Rilo Kiley is dishing. We'll see this fall.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:26 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Non-Commvention

Brett Dennen, bourbon and Jessica Who?

brett dennenIf last night was any indication, this weekend is going to be full of action. I'm going to post some photos later today when I can work the bugs out of this computer.

It started with Brett Dennen (who I didn't think drank) having some bourbon around dinnertime with some of the WTMD staff in a bar across the street from the hotel. Dennen actually played about an hourlong set in the bar later last night.

At dinner, I sat next to Jesca Hoop, an up and coming singer songwriter from northern California. I'm actually interviewing Hoop today.

But I didn't know any of this at first. She just introduced herself as Jesca, a musician. I thought she said "Jessica." And since there are so many unknown musicians at this conference, I didn't know she was Jesca Hoop.

So I got the attention of World Cafe host David Dye, who was sitting across from me at the table, and mouthed the words "Jessica Who?" while indiscreetly pointing to Ms. Hoop. Maybe Mr. Dye didn't understand I was trying to keep it quiet. Or maybe he did, and wanted to mess with me. He looked at me, and said, in a booming voice:


I smacked my face with my hand and shrunk in my chair. I'm sure she noticed, but politely ignored our little exchange. Thanks, David.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Non-Commvention

May 17, 2007

Live from Louisville


I'm in Kentucky for the next few days for the annual Non-Commvention, a long weekend of live music and interviews with established and up-and-coming musicians. It's a four-day stretch where major labels meet with AAA radio stations such as 89.7-FM WTMD and showcase their new talent.

Brett Dennen, Ryan Adams, Paula ColeKeller Williams and many others will be here. I'm sitting down with as many as I can, and I'll be posting my progress daily.


Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Non-Commvention
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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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