SOME OF THE biggest local-music concerts of the summer are taking place every Wednesday night at Riverplace in Minneapolis--in front of a few dozen people.
On the surface of it, there's nothing exceptional about bands like the Billy's, Sadie Foster and Ride Ruby Ride playing on the patio at sports bar Joe Schmit's Hangout. Except that these gigs are "broadcast" worldwide on the Internet via NetRadio Network (www.netradio.net). What's more, the shows seem to be very successful: Each time a band performs online, NetRadio estimates a system-capacity listenership of 3000 to 5000 users. Even if these numbers are inflated, it still looks to be the largest audience these bands have ever had.
Based in two small office suites at Riverplace adjacent to the Hangout, the 10-month-old NetRadio is one of the foremost players in the infant world of online radio, and is growing fast. NetRadio reports 45,000 registered users, and many more unregistered ones. Navarre Corporation, a New Hope-based music and CD-ROM distributor, recently acquired a 50-percent share of the company, and the staff, at 25 employees and counting, seems to expand weekly. NetRadio has been criticized--in these pages, actually--for its conservative music programming (its channels feed standard-format classic rock, classical, country, and modern rock). But the station's new local-music booking looks like a step in the right direction. In any case, these are the first shots fired in the revolution of how Minnesota music gets out into the world.
This so-called "Exposition Hall Concert Series" is the brainchild of NetRadio's Nathan Wright, the staff "Web Wizard" who hosts the live events. Wright developed the idea after noticing a strong on-line response to the nationally-overlooked Dr. Mambo's Combo, who performed on NetRadio in January and May. "They're a Minneapolis band that's probably the first example of why this is needed," says Wright. "Now, in terms of selling artists on the Internet, it's just another extension of what artists need to do--it's another form of media."
Wright then commissioned Krista Vilinskis of OarFin Records to book the summer series--which, not surprisingly, consists mainly of OarFin-related acts. The shows have received strong e-mail and caller feedback. And in turn, NetRadio drafts a free web page for each participating band.
The most impressive part is the number of users that hit the site during the performances, which are among NetRadio's most popular features. This is made possible because NetRadio has access to "backbones"--essentially on-line signal boosters--around the country, which allow a greater number of listeners to log on to the broadcast simultaneously. Wright projects that with oncoming advances, listenership will be able to skyrocket even further. "Bandwidth will not be an issue within three months," he predicts.
Other NetRadio breakthroughs include the brand-new NetCompanion--downloadable "remote control" software that allows users to program their own NetRadio station, right down to the music, news and (attention target marketers!) advertising content. Ultimately, NetRadio plans to franchise to other countries that will provide their own local advertising. They've even hired an A&R rep to spearhead a recording label, and a second NetRadio branch has already been opened in New York.
With its hugeness looming, it's no small thing that these musical on-line pioneers are working on our own riverfront, and that local independent music is being invited along. With the success of the summer simulcasts, Wright is already searching for a nearby venue with the proper T1 Internet connection to take the performances inside come fall. And he adds that while the current booking reflects the available NetRadio music formats, it will diversify as the network branches out into a literal world of tastes. "By the end of the year we'll have 24 stations available, so there are many styles of music that can be played (live) there. . . I'd like to get every band that's in town on there."
As the technology improves, NetRadio could ultimately be a major asset for the local music scene, depending on how creative and inclusive the local music programming turns out to be. To some, like Ari David Rosenthal of local space-rockers Sacred Chao, it would be a good shot in the arm in a year that finds many losing morale. "I've always believed that narrowing your band to a local scene is a very unhealthy attitude," he says, noting his band recently performed an on-line gig of their own at the Cyber X cafe. "Trying to get yourself out to the broadest possible public without selling out is our vision. [This] is a great way to do that." (Groebner)
Johnny Clueless and G.B. Leighton perform tonight from 6 to 10 p.m. at Joe Schmit's Hangout. 15 Main St. S.E., Mpls.; 379-2100, with live broadcast on NetRadio (www.netradio.net). Coming Aug. 7: Mango Jam and Cartoon Water; Aug. 14: Rank Strangers and Punchdrunk; Aug. 21: Hillcats and Charlie's Cafe; Aug. 28: Medium and Wood.
THE REAL UNDERGROUND
ARE YOU BORED with summer music? Not a problem--just take note of the following gigs in these underground, up-and-coming, all-ages venues. Just don't tell anyone you found out about them here...
The Delta 72's groovy The R&B of Membership (Touch and Go) reveals yet another one of those stylin' D.C. political bands, but this one's got harmonica, organ, and Delta blues-disco tricks in full effect. They're playing Friday at the Bombshelter. 2951 Bloomington Ave. S., Mpls.; 649-4833. $5. 8 p.m. Luminol and Elvado open.
Just a few stones' throws away, the Famine Chorus collective has been making all kinds of noise with their ongoing exhibition Sauna Hut Available, and Saturday night brings the most offbeat musical event yet to hit their temporary space in the Calhoun Building at Lake and Aldrich. Headliners Better Off Airport and Sukpatch appropriate hip-hop formulas to demented ends (the Casio and drum loops on Sukpatch's new 7-inch are particularly cool). Also on hand are the reformoed Deformo; a sample-heavy new version of Blanket; plus Shampoop, Shepherd Kings, and possibly other guests and DJs. As with the rest of Sauna Hut Available, the interdisciplinary exhibit will integrate other forms, including visual art and puppetry. Famine Chorus's control of this space will expire at the end of August when they'll move to new digs, so check 'em out here while you can. 7:30; $5 donation. Famine Chorus Gallery House Inc., 711 W. Lake St., Mpls.; 824-9009. (Groebner)
Finally, a space dubbing itself The 35th Street Entry is presenting Iceburn, who we are told is a very cool, punk-free improv group from Salt Lake City who opened for Polvo here in town. They'll share the "stage" with like-minded locals Behemoth Thursday. $2 or donation; 8 p.m. 3525 First Ave. S., Mpls. (Groebner/Hermes)
DEAD AT THE ENTRY
7TH STREET ENTRY is the scene for the final gigs of at least four bands this month. Most prominently, Big Trouble House says goodbye on Friday, ending eight years of partnership between guitarist/vocalist Phil Harder and bassist Pat Langreck. Named for the legendary rock & roll house at 1925 Colfax, BTH cites the all-too-common failure of steady label support since the band's high-profile indie albums in 1989 and 1990. That's a shame, because over all this time, Harder's songwriting lens has grown increasingly rootsy, eclectic, and cynical. Harder will perform solo while concentrating his creative sensibilities on his more prosperous gig as music-video director with partner Rick Fuller. The farewell gig also features Fuller's band Venison, Thee Viceroys and Jimmy the Go-Go Man. $5. 8 p.m.; 338-8388.
After Saturday night, dream-poppers Summer Holiday will take a permanent holiday in order for leader Matt Walburn to attend music school in Boston. They'll play two Saturday sets at February's annual Ice Cream Show, with The Dallas S opening. $5. All-ages show at 4 p.m.; drunk show at 9 p.m. Box of Steaks will throw in the T-bone on Monday, Aug. 12, with abundant all-star guests. And scruffy popsters Tot 50 will sign out on Friday, Aug. 16, opening for The Hang Ups (after which half of the 50s may be usurped by Mountain Singers). 7th Street Entry, 701 First Ave. N., Mpls.; 338-8388.(Groebner)
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