The scene article

In the grand tradition of the Internet I am going to talk about something I know little about and invite audience response: scenes – of the musical variety.

In the grand tradition of the Internet I am going to talk about something I know little about and invite audience response.

I spent the last week in Chicago. A band that I’m in, Fight the Big Bull, was invited there by avant-garde jazz luminary and Chicago scene-meister Ken Vandermark. Scene-meisters seem to abound there, or at least I’m assuming so because a scene certainly does. We played two shows in four days, both were respectably attended. Both were part of a continuously running, very successful series — an avant jazz series I might add (that to say that the sounds sometimes are “weird”). We attended another continuously running, even more well attended and successful, avant jazz series on our off night and in our short stay managed to miss at least one additional world class performance that was free and open to the public. Being a proud Richmond resident, concert promoter, performer, and interested citizen I am eternally curious as to what makes these things tick. What gets scenes started? What makes one continue to thrive? And what makes it die? Here are some factors that I’m going to bat around:

  • Geographical proximity to “The Industry”
  • Talent
  • Venues
  • Government
  • History and tradition
  • Strong leaders/personalities
  • Pure grassroots work ethic
  • Money
  • Population and demographic

So, to really clamor on about all these would be a task that would put me over 1000 words – my limit according to my fascist boss. But let me just say a thing about each one and then we’ll see if the usually chatty constituents have anything to say.

Geographical proximity to “The Industry”

It certainly helps. New York, Nashville, and L.A. have it. Chicago doesn’t and neither did Seattle when it came out of nowhere to sucker punch the course of American pop music culture. You know who else doesn’t have it – Jamaica! In one of the greatest scene stories ever Jamaica’s music scene went from some humble beginnings, let us not understate how humble they truly were, to truly influencing music internationally***.


Probably a “must”. Although I could be convinced that marketing and social climate could be substituted for talent. At least a “must” if one is looking to sustain.


Hmmm. Not quite sure on this one. Ill tell you this. There was, in the 70’ and 80’s, what they call the “loft scene” in New York. As you might guess they didn’t have venues. Also, house shows?


Also not sure where I line up on this one. I will say that some of the best “legitimate” venues I have ever played, as well as some of the most famous venues worldwide are bars that do not serve food. This is not possible in Richmond for some inexplicable reason – I bet it has to do with the Government.

History and tradition

Chicago does have this but so do some other places that have fallen by the wayside. Seattle didnt’t have it and neither did Jamaica.

Strong leaders/personalities

Seems like it could be a common thread although maybe not essential? maybe it is?

Pure grassroots work ethic

Probably a necessity but I don’t think it’s what turns the corner.


Certainly doesn’t hurt and I can see it being the answer that is most simple and most true. There are still places that slip through the cracks. Jamaica, New York in the 50’s, and Paris in the early part of the 20th century all had a jaw-dropping amount of artists that had found their way there – but weren’t making any money.

Population and demographic

Sure, more people must help but that also means there’s more going on. And Demographic? I know that the suburban sprawl doesn’t have the most artistically integrous past and that soccer moms are not avid concert goers (minus Poison at innsbrook) but does demographic truly matter?

Think about Richmond – it’s probably what you know and love best. In a lot of ways we stack up pretty well but sometimes it’s very hard to honestly self examine. Let us know your thoughts.

***So I could truly ramble about my fascination with Jamaican music culture. Somehow we take them for granted, those Jamaicans, but there music has permeated the entire world’s Pop Culture aesthetic. Seriously!!! Who else has done that…America, England — maybe — although, they are extremely close to just copying an already existing American aesthetic. Jamaica somehow created such a terribly fascinating thing out of dust…almost literally. LISTEN! Their peers are places like Barbados, Antigua, Trinidad, Saint Lucia, Grenada etc etc. How the hell did they do that! From a purely social, economic, racial, and cultural point of view it is one of the most fascinating turn of events that our community has had the chance to bare witness to.

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Matthew E. White

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