Bluegress sucks! I often do not say what I am actually thinking in this space. Though I vocalize dozens of criticisms all day long to my friends/co-workers, my wife and my dog, almost none of it ever ends up in print. I will often sit down to write this weekly column, having real opinions and feelings about art or other goings-on in our little community, and as the focus tightens on a specific work, action, group or character, I’ll stop short of typing them out. If it’s something I’m feeling positive about, then yeah, props and kudos are fun and they always make it in. When it comes to a band that stinks, or a scene, group or organization doing something lamely, I often keep my yap shut and let ’em spin on without the benefit of my two cents.
I’ll usually say something like: “Give it up for Mr. Local Artist who is making bank on his art,” but what I want to say is: “Damn, that art is cheesy! I mean, I’m glad a local artist is making money selling art, but it is shocking to me that people are willingly paying money for it.” Or, I’m saying something like: “Congrats to local organization/band/ scenester Burning Jamathon on its/his 20th anniversary of presenting/performing,” and what I really want to say is, “Burning Jamathon is super nice and all, but it is beyond depressing to live in a town content to constantly rehash the past.”
I know a lot of the motivation for blowing sunshine up Chico’s ass is because this is such a small town, and though the intent would be to comment solely on the art and the actions—not on the people—it’s hard when we all know each other to not take things personally.
Of course, most of you are probably saying, “C’mon! Give us a break, Arts DEVO. Quit making excuses and dish!” That is, of course, until I start talking shit about your friends’ ska band, then it’ll be more like, “Why don’t you go die, Jerkface!?” But I’ve been called much worse, so I think I can handle inciting a few more emotional reactions.
Bluegrass rules! The issue of criticism in a small town is tough throughout the arts section, not just in my personal column. Most people would agree that critical feedback from an impartial and experienced observer can be very beneficial in helping artists and presenters see changes that can be made in order to grow and improve. Yet, in addition to the small-town factor, something else that gets in the way of feedback is the commonly held belief that one needs to be a fan of a particular genre/form/artist in order to comment.
Take a bluegrass show, for example. Chico gets lots of ’em rolling into town. Usually these touring outfits are considered among the best in their genre. So, if a bluegrass fan is doing the review, the review is essentially over before it begins, because of course these experienced bluegrass folks are gonna play freakin’ bluegrass, and of course they’re going to play it really freakin’ well. I mean, what would it take for a bluegrass fan to not enjoy these shows? A broken sewage pipe leaking into the theater? Mimes on stage? If they already like bluegrass, it’s usually a done deal.
But what if there was a music critic who, though experienced in many genres of music, including bluegrass, is not currently a fan of the style? Should that critic still get a say in bluegrass matters? Is his/her opinion useful to readers, or should the conversation be directed by fans only?
You probably see what I’m getting at. If critics talk only about what we already like, then we end up being more fodder for press clippings and Facebook links, and less a part of a healthy dialogue with the arts scene, and a far less valuable and trustworthy resource for the community. It just takes a little courage on the part of the writer to trust in his/her experience and comment on everything that’s going on. We are the News and Review, after all.
Now, don’t expect me to go all crazy and start tearing into folks like some Local Bastard; I’ll still be your friendly Arts DEVO. But I can be friendly while calling shenanigans from time to time—like with your friends’ ska band. Someone tell those guys to get over themselves.