These things are always fun, even when they don’t end with the results that I would prefer. And let’s face it: since I’m a college student far more enthralled with folk singer songwriters, pop-rockers and classic rock acts than with the more popular choices of top 40 hip hop, pop, and R&B, wide-scale surveys like the one CAB is currently running rarely result in the kind of live shows I would be interested in going to. CAB’s latest survey, which aims to assist the board in choosing which entertainment to bring to campus next semester, covers everything from preferred genres to ideal concert environments (i.e., indoor/outdoor, festival/coffee house, etc.), reasonable price ranges to the main event: prospective musicians and comedians.
So what are the best acts on the list? That’s hard to say and obviously is entirely in the eye of the beholder. With this survey, CAB has students choose their five favorite picks in a variety of different genres (though, really, the genre distinctions are not terribly clear here), and as I made my way through the names, I was pleasantly surprised (albeit, not blown away) by the inclusions. Rather predictably, many of these bands and performers are situated squarely in the middle of the road, populist enough to be recognizable and obscure or forgotten enough to be affordable. Neither of those things are bad, but their are not necessarily many risks being taken here.
Perhaps my dream of a campus concert series is just too informed by something like the Ann Arbor Folk Festival for me to be happy with these more modest selections. After all, the festival is a 36-year staple which has, in the last four years alone, hosted a slew of legendary and contemporary greats, including Pete Seeger, Iron & Wine, The Swell Season, Ryan Adams, Emmylou Harris, Glen Campbell, Kris Kristofferson, Jeff Tweedy, Benjamin Gibbard and Dawes. But again, my music tastes are hardly that of a typical college student, and CAB’s survey is likely full of acts that will appeal to the same audience that flocked to Ludacris two years ago and Boys Like Girls the year before that.
In any case, with this week’s column, I wanted to give the list an in-depth perusal, highlighting my personal picks, pinpointing the ones most likely to win the WMU popular vote and contemplating what it would mean to actually have a concert in Waldo Stadium. So without further ado, let me do just that.
Note: Since this is the Zoo Mixtape (and since my knowledge of stand-up comedy is pedestrian at best), I will be focusing solely on the music section of the survey. Click here if you want to take the survey and follow along.
1) The (Mostly) Country Music Section
Unlike the majority of my college-aged cohorts, I actually don’t have anything against country music, though my choice artists in the genre are far more folk-based than most of what mainstream country has become in recent years. Most of the choices on this list are of the latter tradition, but there are actually some decent names here, even if I can’t say that I would be willing to fork over my hard-earned cash to see any of them. Still, the likes of The Eli Young Band and The Band Perry stuck out as some of the better offerings. I know almost nothing about the former act, other than that their recent no. 1 hit (“Even if it Breaks Your Heart”) was penned and recorded by Will Hoge, the guy who is actually my favorite country artist working today, back in 2009. And the latter, basically a less popular version of Taylor Swift, can be thanked for injecting pop radio with a refreshing dose of darkness and weight last summer with their heartbreaking hit “If I Die Young.”
Also included in this category, for reasons unbeknownst to me, is Gavin Degraw, a pop singer/songwriter enough past his prime to be affordable for the college concert market. Degraw made a big splash in the early to mid ‘00s, when his album, “Chariot,” spawned a trio of hit singles, including “Follow Through,” the title track and the still-kind-of-ubiquitous “I Don’t Want to Be.” The rest of the list, which boasts names like Kellie Pickler, Jana Kramer, Billy Currington and Big & Rich (you know, in case you really want to wear your “Save a Horse, Ride a Bronco” shirt to a concert), can be viewed on the survey page.
2) The “sort-of-Alternative-Music” Category
For quite some time now, the Grammy Awards have included a category called “Best Alternative Music” album: I don’t know what “alternative music” means as a generic genre title, and I’ve always gotten the sense that the Grammy Foundation doesn’t really know either, only using the category as a place to drop artists and albums when they don’t know what else to do with them. The case here is a similar one, since there is no discernable connection between a loud and trashy pop band like Cobra Starship and a reggae-hip-hop beat-boxer like Matisyahu, but I suppose the categories are rather irrelevant anyway.
In any case, there were two standouts here for me: the first, alt-country folkie Brandi Carlile should have been featured in the first category but got my vote here instead. Her latest album, this year’s “Bear Creek,” offers a balance between folk classics (her closest parallel is Lucinda Williams) and modern favorites (the opening track, “Hard Way Home,” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Fleet Foxes album). The second standout, emo/alt-rock band Brand New, has hardly ever been a favorite of mine, but with the worship that they get on one of the music sites I write for (Absolutepunk.net) and with my own affection for “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot,” an acoustic ballad from 2003’s “Deja Entendu,” I felt rather obligated to throw them my support in this category.
3) The Rock Category
A lot of the bands on this list followed the same trend as the aforementioned Gavin Degraw, coming to prominence towards the beginning of the millenium and fading from it as the decade expired. But even though many a hipster would consider a few of these acts as “has-beens,” I still have a soft spot for some of the ones that served as my gateway artists into musical appreciation. The list’s best offering is Third Eye Blind, the ‘90s pop-rock band whose biggest hit, 1997’s “Semi Charmed Life,” remains one of the catchiest songs ever written. They released their fourth album (called “Ursa Major”) back in 2009, but for me, their self-titled debut will always remain their peak…and one of my favorite albums, period.
Other entries, bands like Switchfoot and Lifehouse both get a fair amount of credit for getting me into music again, post-2000. The former is a band I still respect and follow, and “Vice Verses,” their most recent record, actually made my top 15 last year. As for the latter, I still play choice cuts from their three best records – 2001’s “No Name Face,” 2005’s “Lifehouse” and 2007’s “Who We Are” – when I am feeling in a particularly nostalgic mood.
The rest of the list may seem to be equally locked in the past, but that appearance is only on the surface: The Shins and The All-American Rejects both released solid records this year, pop-punk act All Time Low dropped their best album to date just last week and more recent successes, performers like Neon Trees, Owl City and reigning American Idol champ Phillip Phillips will spice up the options for a more radio-bound crowd. If I had to hazard a guess at the poll winner, I would point towards one of those last three.
So do you want to have a say in which of these bands or artists make an appearance on campus? Want to tell CAB to bring a hypnotist show to WMU or to hold a concert event in Waldo? (Really, Switchfoot’s more U2-influenced tunes could be a perfect fit for the stadium environment…) To cast your vote on these subjects and more, head over to the survey login, work your way through the five pages and give yourself a chance at a slew of prizes, including tickets, gift cards and even a set of “Beats by Dre” headphones. Oh, and maybe you can get your favorite band to come to Western.