Think back, way back, all the way to spring 2014. If you’re a reader on the reg, you’ll remember that I set a new mantra in place for myself. Gone would be the worn path that I had traveled the past decade in search of new challenges. I wasn’t out to change the world, just my state of mind. Let’s be clear though, this isn’t so much a story about me. It’s a story about challenging yourself. And it’s also about me.
Blowing off the massively attended SxSW for the much smaller, still mostly unknown Big Ears Festival was a sigh of relief from the get-go, but a much bigger mountain than I had expected. With Austin’s annual gathering, a media type can be one in a thousand, all competing for the same talking points. That changes with the niche festivals, but so do the artists. I suddenly found myself not only having the attention of my subjects, but finding that my subjects weren’t the usual, accessible musicians either. They were artists. Legends. That definitely raised the ante. These are the folks who don’t waste time, and they especially don’t suffer fools.
The research was longer, the mornings sleepier, and my nerves more on edge than ever. But when I sat across the table from The Velvet Underground’s John Cale discussing the merits of Pharrell, or probed ex-Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon on starting over, I could feel the work paying off. Not just of that month’s prep, but of 15 years of practice. It was one of the first times I felt that I was in the right place. Maybe even doing it the right way.
Next came Hangout Festival, an oasis on the Gulf, where folks are relaxed and even the palest homebodies enjoy their time in the sun. Hangout was a complete contrast to Big Ears. Dropped guards led to easy conversations that wandered even when directed. Most important impression? It’s a lot easier to get to know someone when you’ve got your feet in the sand and the sound of the tide rolling in is your soundtrack. I’ll be a return visitor for sure.
I’ll quickly point out two interviews I’m really proud of that happened here in the middle. Sean Lennon and Deltron 3030. They both benefited from the luxury of time, and I spent weeks with them on my mind. It’s a great feeling when it all works the way you hoped. These are the ones we live for. They’re the ones you hope stick around for a while.
Oppositely, The Black Keys and Broken Bells never hit the mark that I hoped for. Both featured duos with members who aren’t known as being all that gabby. I could have walked away defeated, but it’s more beneficial to look at these as something to strive for. Can I be the guy who can bring out the talk in even the mumbliest of musicians? A new muscle to work.
I skipped Bonnaroo in favor of centering in on the task of Forecastle. On one hand, it can be nice to have a major festival in your backyard, but with this new mission statement, I took it as a chance to load up on more work than I had tried since I was the new guy trying to prove my worth. 15 interviews in 3 days can be daunting. Think of each interview as an exam and the way you would have to study for one. Mine was 15 tests crammed into 72 hours. I’m not sure the Ray Lamontagne chat worked in the way I had hoped, and there are several forgettable ones, but there are a few that will stand as some of my favorites. This was both a lesson in knowing your limits and how much you can bite off. There were no disasters, but it’s a good stat to refresh with yourself time to time.
That’s the thing about challenging ourselves, whether it be New Year’s Day or Wednesday. If we go for it, we may fail as much as we succeed. If we do it right, there’s hope we’ll find a new direction when we come out. Or at least a fresh perspective. I set out to change one small thing in a window of time, and while I’m just now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, it feels like the road on the other side is going to be a lot more interesting. That’s what I set out for. A summer well spent.
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.