Craig D’Andrea

Dave Mason at Blend

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Last night we saw Dave Mason play at Blend in Ridgewood, NJ.

Some things about last night were perfect, others far from it. Since I acquiesced to Lois when similar problems occurred at Canal Room in NYC (covered in this post), I’ll do it again, and cover the music (the perfect part!) first, so you can ignore all the peeves later on.

I have loved Dave Mason from the very start (I was a fan of Traffic, as well as the Dave Mason Band, forever). I still actively listen to both bands on my iPod. Lois doesn’t know Traffic, and until recently, didn’t know Dave Mason well either (though some of his stuff is so famous that she knew it, but didn’t know whose song it was).

When I noticed that Dave was playing at Blend (more details on that in the negative section), I played one of his albums for her in the car, so she too was excited to see them last night.

There are five guys in the band. I linked to the band section of the site above, rather than to the home page (which doesn’t seem to be particularly up-to-date). You can certainly read the bios on that site better than I can summarize them here, but I want to mention at least something about each member of the band.

In their order on the stage, left-to-right:

  • John (Johnne) Sambataro played both acoustic and electric guitars. He was fantastic. When it was his turn to wail, wail he did, leaving the crowd in a frenzy. But, he’s no hog, as he supported the entire band when that was more appropriate.
  • Bill Mason played the organ (electric piano). He was solid the entire night. On a few numbers, Dave turned it over to Bill for long solos. He was incredible on all of them. Like Johnne above, he brought down the house whenever the spotlight was on him.
  • Alvino Bennett played the drums. Super solid, perfect rhythm all night, just the right amount of flare. They never gave him a real solo, so I don’t know how he cooks when it’s all about him, but I have no doubt that he can cook. His sense of timing is exceptional. My only complaint is that he’s a little too unselfish, a little too the glue that keeps the band together. Suffice it to say, a great drummer!
  • Alex Drizos played bass. Basically, everything that I said about Alvino above regarding the drums applies to Alex on the bass. So solid it was wonderful to watch and feel the bass lines that he was laying down. Nothing flashy, ever, but always there to keep the bottom perfectly with the entire band.

Both Johnne and Alex sang incredible harmony with Dave all night. Bill sang on at least one number that I noticed, but certainly not many.

Here are photos of the band, sorry about the quality:

Johnne Sambataro and Bill MasonAlvino BennettAlex Drizos

On to the star, Dave Mason himself. I was a tad nervous going in for three reasons:

  1. Would he still have it? (If you recall, I briefly mentioned how awful the Jefferson Starship were in my uber-post on rediscovering live music.)
  2. Would he play the old big hits, or just do new stuff (and if the latter, was his new stuff any good)?
  3. Even if he played the old stuff, and even if he was flawless, would he play them the way I expected to hear them, or would he tinker too much?

I have definitive answers to all of my questions (and perhaps yours) coming up right now! :-)

Dave Mason is awesome. That answers #1 above. His voice is excellent (as always), and he can hit the full range of notes required to make his hits come alive, which is not unimpressive, since there are some pretty high notes in a number those songs. Whew!

His fingers still fly on the guitar. He doesn’t miss any notes, and he’s as soulful on some of the leads, while rocking the house down on others. Quiet when appropriate, driving at other times. A master of the guitar. On a number of his big hits, he played a 12-string guitar, and the sound of that is just wonderful as well.

Here’s Dave on the 12 string guitar:

Dave Mason on the 12 string guitar

On to #2. The answer is both! He played quite a number of his giant hits, opening the show with World in Changes and Let It Go, Let if Flow. During the night, he also played All Along the Watchtower, Every Woman, We Just Disagree and a couple of other favorites. He also played the title cut from the first Traffic album!

But, I said both above! He also played new tunes that I have never heard. They were awesome! While I would have been wildly disappointed to not hear any of the oldies, I have to admit, if he only played new stuff, and it was as good as the (at least three) numbers that he played last night, I still would have considered the show to be fantastic!

Finally, #3 above. If you watch any TV, you may know the slogan for Simply Orange (it’s an orange juice company). Their slogan is: 100% Unfooled Around With! That should be Dave’s motto with regard to playing the crowd favorites. He couldn’t have delivered better. Whew! :-)

Dave was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. That was based on his being part of Traffic. For my money, he could be inducted again, just for good measure, on the basis of his Dave Mason Band work, including his new stuff!

Two of his new numbers were played relatively early in the show, and both were electric numbers. Here’s a YouTube video of one of them (from a previous show, well done, but much cooler last night). He only plays a drop of guitar on that number (but still beautifully), and it doesn’t stretch his vocal capabilities, but it’s such a fun song! The catch-phrase line is: Ain’t Your Legs Tired Baby, ‘Cause You Keep On Runnin’ Through My Mind! ;-)

As a group, they are extremely tight. No one ever overwhelms the others and the sound engineer keeps the relative volumes correct throughout. His name is Chris Curtis.

They played for 75 minutes, then left the stage (extremely briefly) for the obligatory encore. When they came back out it was just Dave and Johnne with acoustic guitars only. They played another new number that was gorgeous! Then the entire band rejoined, and they played Dave’s money song, Feelin’ Alright. They jammed it perfectly with Dave and Johnne playing lead guitars that reminded me of some of the great guitar duels performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Total time on stage was almost exactly 90 minutes. It left me with a strong taste for more, but it was completely satisfying at the same time! Bravo Dave, Johnne, Bill, Alvino and Alex, you were simply awesome!

They’re playing on April 4th, 2008 at BB King. I’m only telling you this because I just grabbed two tickets, so I’m no longer worried about him selling out (last night’s show was sold out). You are now forewarned that if you don’t go see Dave, you’re missing out on a great show! ;-)

OK, this post is already long, but has only been positive. I have a ton of negative things to say about last night, and it won’t be short either, so this post will be horribly long when it’s all said and done. Please feel free to stop reading if you only want to bask in the glory that is the Dave Mason Band, as they were truly as good as it gets…

<Rant>

As you already know, last night turned into YAAWTEW (Yet Another All’s Well That Ends Well) evening. While I can’t complain about the end, and therefore the experience in its entirety, there is plenty to complain about along the way. :-(

I had never heard of Blend before. They use at least two separate tickets agents, TicketWeb and Ticketmaster. I have accounts with both, and one of them must have shared my email with Blend. I don’t mind that. A month ago, I got an email from Blend promoting a specific show. I never heard of the band, and I didn’t particularly care to discover them (we have an insane schedule as it stands).

But, I quickly scoured the list of upcoming acts, and noticed that Dave Mason was playing there on March 6th, 2008! Wow, I thought that it would be cool if we could swing it. Unfortunately, at first blush, it wasn’t looking all that likely. We were scheduled to be in VA that day. It was also likely that we would be heading home that day, but I couldn’t be sure a month in advance, so I sat on the email, but left it visible in my inbox to annoyingly remind me each day.

After two weeks, we were about to leave for VA, and I realized that if we wanted to do it, we could swing it. I asked Lois. As noted above, she wasn’t really familiar with Dave’s music, but she’s a genius, and realized that I was more excited than a casual “Hey, do you want to see some band I used to listen to?”

She encouraged me to get tickets. As I noted in my recent post on Dan Tyminski Band at the Birchmere Theater, I get nervous going to new venues, in particular when they are first-come first-served type of places. If you read that post (or have ever been to a show at Birchmere!), then you know that my fears regarding Birchmere were 100% unfounded, as the place is nearly perfect in all respects!

What’s the opposite of Birchmere? Blend! :-(

We called two weeks in advance, to ask some standard questions (OK, Lois called, at my request, to get my standard questions answered). ;-) She asked if they serve dinner, they said yes. She asked if it was in the room where the show was held, they said yes, but that they also serve dinner in a more formal dining room. Lois asked again (I heard it with my own ears!) whether we could eat in our seats in the theater where the show would be, and again, she was told yes.

She was told that the doors open at 7pm for the show. The rest of the rooms (bar and restaurant) open closer to 4pm I think, so if we showed up really early, we could eat first I think. But, we were planning on leaving from Zope, so we would be driving straight from VA, and likely getting there at around 6:30pm.

For many reasons, we decided to leave on Wed from VA and head home. We got out later than we had planned, and arrived home at 10pm. We worked all day and left for the show at around 5:45pm. We got to Blend at 6:25. I dropped Lois at the door so that she could pick up our tickets (they were held at Will Call) and get on line for the 7pm opening.

After circling to find parking, I walked in the front door at 6:35. Lois was nowhere to be found. I had to wait for a number of people to be seated in the restaurant (including Jay Gold, if you know who that is!). Then I got to ask about Lois. They had no idea who I was talking about, but told me I was welcome to walk around and look for her…

I did, and I spotted her in the restaurant sitting alone at a table. I was surprised, to say the least. She told me that they informed her at the door that they would not be serving in the show room. It was now 6:45. We were more interested in good seats than in dinner, but I was pretty hungry nonetheless. When the waitress came by to ask if we wanted drinks, we told her that we were still trying to decide what to do.

We made one mistake which I am truly sorry for, and that is that we stood the entire time. While we weren’t directly in anyone’s way, the mere fact that we didn’t sit at our table was already a distraction to the rest of the diners. It also caused more of the staff to pay attention to us (which part of the reason why we didn’t sit).

Another hostess came over to ask what the problem was. We explained, and she asked “Who told you that they would serve dinner downstairs?”. Huh? So, either we’re liars, or you’re going to spank the person who gave us the bad information? Either way, you aren’t close to solving the problem. We explained our situation again, and she said she needed to check further and left.

A minute later, the manager came by. We explained (again). He said “Of course they are serving dinner downstairs, you’re welcome to just eat there!”. Lois was satisfied, but I said “Great, but that’s not what the hostess said.” Oh oh. You could see him turn white as a ghost, and he immediately backtracked and said “Uh, wait, let me check.”

He left, and Lois left with him. A few minutes later, a woman named Lori (sp?) came over to talk to me. She was marginally prickly, but I could understand, as we were borderline causing a scene (just from the traffic at our table). I explained our situation (again). She said that there was no food being served downstairs, but that occasionally, they do, when there is no separate seating and standing areas.

I told her that we called and asked specifically for this show and were told that they would be serving. Clearly, she thought I was lying. Again, wonderful customer service. Now it got weird…

I told her that all we cared about was getting good seats downstairs. I told her that my wife wasn’t really that hungry, and that she was willing to wait on the line for the doors to open at 7pm, and that I would order and eat here at the table, problem solved!

Amazingly, she says to me “What makes you think the doors open at 7pm? The doors open whenever the artist, in this case Dave, is in the mood to play!” Huh? Did the person we called also get that part wrong? Are the show times as listed on the site just guesses? If the artist wants to start playing at 6:30pm is that OK too, or just late starts are acceptable? This was getting surreal.

At that moment, Lois returned, in a reasonable huff. That was unfortunate, because Lori clearly had a hair trigger as well, and Lois was as close to that mood as possible. She told me to go with her, that indeed they were serving food downstairs. Lori lost her cool. She said “Maam, I’m the owner, and I’m telling you that they aren’t serving food downstairs!”. Lois said “I was just down there, and people are eating, and the bartender told me that I was welcome to come in and order!”

The fireworks started for real now. Lori called someone else over and told them to go downstairs and make sure the door was locked! Very nice touch! She then explained that the food was being served to the band, not the public. When Lois again said that the bartender told her she could come and eat, Lori said that we were welcome to eat standing at the bar, but not until the doors opened for the public, which would be very uncomfortable.

When she saw how amazed we were to be treated this way (by an owner no less!), she offered to refund our money. We politely declined. We walked out of the restaurant, and went around the corner to a Quiznos. This was my first time in one, and I had a very nice Mesquite Chicken sandwich on toasted whole wheat. We were back in the place by 7:05pm!

We went downstairs to pick up our tickets. There were already roughly 20 people ahead of us crowding the door (which was indeed locked!). We were given green paper wristbands, signifying that we had seats (not specific ones, just that we were allowed to sit in a chair). Standing room only people had orange paper wristbands. We were crowded in like cattle, in a tiny area, waiting for the doors to open. People were piling down the stairs to get on the line. This couldn’t end well…

It got extremely hot down there. Lori showed up and announced that she would turn off the heat, and I think she did, but it didn’t get cool, it just stopped getting hotter. The doors didn’t open until nearly 7:35pm.

When we walked in, we saw that there were roughly eight or nine rows of chairs tightly packed together, and then open space from the last row to the door. We could have gotten aisle seats in the first few rows, but I grabbed two seats in the fourth row, dead center. So far, so good. The seats were hard plastic, and were reasonably uncomfortable to sit on for hours, but that was hardly the low point in the evening.

The temperature in the room was close to absolute zero! While I only had a T-Shirt on, I also (cleverly) declined to check my coat in the sauna area, so I was able to get comfortable quickly. A number of people commented to me that I was indeed a very smart guy to bring a parka-like coat to the show. ;-) Over the course of the evening, it got marginally warmer. I never took my coat off, but during the encore, I was mildly on the warm side…

So, I was prepared for the show to start late, after all, nothing in this place was as advertised, so why would I expect 8pm to be a firm time. A little to my surprise, someone came on the stage at 8:09, perhaps to announce Dave?

Nope. The person came on to announce an unlisted warm-up group. Well, group is a stretch. Two people, both locals that play in the upstairs bar at least twice a month. Nikki Armstrong and Dave Fields. Nikki is a blues singer, and Dave is blues singer/guitarist/producer.

Dave’s guitar (an acoustic one) wasn’t mic’ed correctly, so that delayed the show. While they were trying to sort that out, Nikki was freezing on the stage, and she was wearing a coat! They gave up (thankfully, reasonably quickly) and Dave switched to an electric guitar, which worked.

As I’ve mentioned before, not communicating effective and correctly with your customers is not a great strategy. These people were not listed on the site. Aside from the surprise angle, their music wasn’t a great match for an act like Dave either.

They played six songs. Most of the people that were seated were polite. We were quiet during the songs, and clapped after each one. The people who were standing completely ignored Nikki and Dave. They couldn’t have talked louder if you egged them on to try. Honestly, I can’t even blame them. No one came to see them, and there was nothing about their music which was compelling enough to grab our attention.

Basically, they have some talent (certainly tons more than I have, so who am I to talk?). But, they are more like a lounge act (in my opinion), that is expected to be there in the background, for some people to focus on a bit here and a bit there, but for others to continue to converse while the background music fills the room.

Dave plays the guitar respectably, but considering the string of simply amazing guitarists that we’ve seen in the past six months (Bill Cooley, Joe Don Rooney, Keith Urban, Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour, Craig D’Andrea, etc. – all linked in the tags section of the post), it was a disappointment.

In general, it was a time-waster and a disappointment. Of course, at that point, we were wondering whether this was just par for the course for Blend, and whether we should have taken the refund. The show was sold out, so offering us the refund wasn’t all that generous (it certainly was offered with derision, not apology), because Lori could have sold those tickets five seconds later.

They left the stage at 8:45pm. I assumed that Dave would be on at 9pm. All of the equipment was already fully set up. Wrong again. They came on the stage at 9:12pm.

You already know that from that second onwards, it was a perfect evening. Of course, we didn’t get home until 11:30pm (yup, we’re old folk, so that’s late), when we could have been home by 10:30 if they had put Dave on at 8pm…

The only good news (not counting the concert itself) about Blend is that they didn’t get a dime of our money, even though we started out wanting to support the place. We wanted to have dinner there, but I ended up eating at Quiznos. I wanted to drink there, but ended up happily passing (even though waitresses were serving people drinks from the bar at the seats). I simply was happy not to give them any more of my money, even if it meant missing out on a chocolate martini. ;-)

</rant>

Andy McKee with Antoine Dufour and Craig D’Andrea

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Last night, Lois and I went to Canal Room to hear three amazing acoustic guitarists, Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour and Craig D’Andrea.

I have written about all three before, as well as their label Candyrat Records in this post. I also posted about Andy McKee (including how I discovered him) in this post. I owned all seven albums that the three artists had out between them (or so I thought). ;-)

It was my instinct to cover the bad parts about last night first, and then end on a high note. Lois intuited that I was leaning that way, and asked me to cover the good parts first. Since Lois is always right, I am acceding to her wishes. ;-)

Even though Andy McKee was the clear headliner, he came out first, and introduced the other two guys. Well, aside from saying who they both were, he actually introduced Craig D’Andrea, who opened the show. Here is a photo of Andy during the intro (click on any photo for a larger version). I’ll describe more about the place and the stage and other things you will see in the photos, in the bad section of the post. ;-)

Andy McKee

Craig had an instant rapport with the crowd. Perhaps that was partially because his parents were there as well (two tables over from us). Just kidding, since we didn’t know it was his parents until near the end of the show. He’s a superb guitarist, who entertained both with his music, and his self-deprecating humor, which he worked well. He played for roughly 25 minutes.

He opened the show with Morrison County. Here is a YouTube video of him opening his show at CMU with the same song (therefore live, and close to the experience we had last night). He’s being introduced by Antoine Dufour, so you can get a sense of his gentleness on stage as well. You can also get a sense of the pacing of this type of concert. The song itself doesn’t start until nearly the two minute mark, but watch the whole thing, it’s most definitely worth it!

Next up was Antoine Dufour. In my Candyrat post, I mentioned that while I love all of them (that includes Don Ross, Kaki King and Peter Ciluzzi as well), I probably have an ever-so-slight preference for Antoine. The rest are brilliant, so I feel silly sharing such a razor-sharp distinction, but, if I didn’t say it, I wouldn’t be sharing my complete thoughts.

Antoine was a little slow to engage the crowd with banter, but when he got going, he was quite hysterical. He is a soft-spoken Canadian (I covered that fact in a short Canada Rocks post) with a French accent. Completely entertaining in every way, including his amazing guitar playing.

So, earlier I mentioned that I owned all of the albums that the three had between them. It turns out that Antoine released a new album last week. I bought it at the end of the show, and got to shake his hand and tell him how awesome he is, so now, again, I own every album that they have released. ;-)

Antoine played half of the songs from the new album, so when I listened to it today at home, it was comfortable and familiar. Here is a YouTube video from the same CMU concert of Spiritual Groove, which is off of his Development album (not the newest, which is Existence).

Antoine played for roughly 35 minutes. Here is a fuzzy photo of him. I like to think it’s fuzzy because his hands are moving at the speed of light while he’s playing. ;-)

Antoine Dufour

After an intermission (there was no break between Craig and Antoine), Andy McKee took the stage. He too is completely personable, and when he tells a story, you hang on his every word. He too is a genius with the guitar.

Here is a YouTube video of him playing Art of Motion at the same CMU concert. The music starts at the one minute mark, and he tells a story about how the song came to be named, which he also told last night.

Andy played for roughly 70 minutes. When he was done, he called Antoine and Craig up to the stage, and they played one of Antoine’s new songs, A Hiding Place for the Moon. The only word to describe it is Wow! Here is a YouTube video of them playing it together. While it’s incredible, it really doesn’t match the quality of sound or experience that we enjoyed last night. The CMU recordings are better quality…

Here is a still photo of them during our show last night:

Andy McKee with Antoine Dufour and Craig D’Andrea

After the trio played that song, Andy stayed on the stage for one final solo. Between the trio and the solo, the encore was roughly 20 minutes, and was awesome.

The crowd was nuts about all three of them, with ovations lasting a pretty long time after each number.

That ends the good part of the post, and if you are spiritually averse to negativity, this would be a very good time to close your browser.

Last night was far from perfect (though the music was as close to perfect as you could hope for in a live show!). Let’s start with the one part that was entirely my fault. :-(

We have never been to Canal Room before, so I committed the cardinal sin of assuming I knew where it was. From the website, I just zoned in on Canal and Broadway. I know where that is. Given that I cut it way too close on Thursday for the Al Jarreau and Najee concert, I decided to grab a cab rather than risk another bus ride. It was raining, but not too badly.

We got to the corner of Canal and Broadway at 7:15pm, and the doors were scheduled to open at 7:30pm. Perfect. Except for the fact that from the addresses, it was obvious we were in the wrong place. Oops. I used Google Maps on my Treo to see that it was on West Broadway. I knew it was close, so I didn’t panic, but I didn’t know exactly where. Again, Google Maps with Directions, led the way. It was a three block walk, and we got there at 7:34.

The doors were open, but the line was still outside, as only a few people at a time could get in. It’s completely unclear whether we would have been near the front of the line if we had gotten there 10 minutes earlier, but it’s possible, and might have made a world of difference.

Canal Room is not a full-time concert venue (like Joe’s Pub, BB King, Blue Note, etc.). As an example, there are only three nights in the next 11 days in February that have a show listed, and 10 dates in March. Perhaps because of that, it’s a complete waste of space as far as concerts are concerned. If you click on the link to their site (at the top of this post), you can see an automatically rotating slide-show of photos of the place. It’s beautiful, and comfortable, but not oriented to maximum quality seating for a concert.

So, comfy leather chairs and booths, but spread out for their bar/lounge business. By the time we got in, there were no seats left on the lower level, near the stage. You could stand there, but we weren’t interested in standing for hours on end. We went upstairs, where most of the seats were taken as well, but one round booth that comfortably seats six, and could easily accommodate eight (though more snugly), was empty.

The two end seats on one side had a reasonably good view of the stage (you can judge for yourself, as all of the photos that Lois took were from that seat). I would say that we were between 30-50 feet from the stage (so not far), and elevated (which was good), so they weren’t awful seats. The acoustics turned out to be excellent, so hearing the subtleties of their guitar playing was not a problem.

That ends my contribution to the bad parts. While our seats were fine, it was still very annoying that there was a ton of wasted space right near the stage. On the top level (as can be seen in all of our photos) there was a glass divider. You could easily see through it, but it also often cut the performers at the neck, meaning, part of them was above the glass, part below. It was mildly irritating.

Much more irritating were the gigantic columns that obscured the view of many people on the upper level. While it didn’t obscure ours at all, it affected where people wanted to stand, sit, etc., and possibly caused some people to talk more than they otherwise would have, if they had a clear view of the stage.

Next, the service. Most people started off walking to the bar (downstairs) and bringing back their own drinks. Neither of us was in a hurry to drink, so we just relaxed at our table. After a bit, a waitress came over and asked if we wanted drinks. I asked for a chocolate martini (surprise!) ;-) and Lois asked for club soda (because, at the time, we just assumed that there was some kind of drink minimum).

The waitress asked me what the ingredients were for the chocolate martini (which didn’t bode well), but, when it showed up, it was perfect, so no complaints there. Lois’ club soda came completely flat (which I guess, technically makes it water). The waitress knew it in advance, telling Lois that the machine lost it’s compression, but that she would bring her another one when they fixed it.

At that point Lois asked if there was a drink minimum, and we were told no, so she just canceled the drink. Now it got weird, very weird. The waitress asked me if I wanted to run a tab. I said yes. She asked me for my credit card (for her to keep until the tab was closed), and for my driver’s license. When I showed her my license (should I have been flattered that I was being carded, or was it just to check photo id to match to my credit card?), she said “I need to take it with me.”

What? We were incredulous. We’re no youngsters, and this has never happened to us at any restaurant, bar, club, concert, etc. Perhaps when renting a car. She said she needed to photocopy the license because of credit card fraud. Wow, Canal Room must attract some type of crowd for this to be such a problem there, and not at our other haunts. I’ve gone on too long about this, but suffice it to say, it was weird at best…

More peeves on the way. The show was scheduled for 8pm. No announcements of any sort were made. Andy McKee walked on to the stage at exactly 8:30pm. No apologies or explanations for the late start. At best, it’s rude. Why not just print 8:30pm on the tickets and be done with it?

I’ve already covered the show, which was simply awesome, so in the midst of these complaints, I need to reiterate that point! :-)

Craig D’Andrea’s set was relatively unmarred, in other words, completely enjoyable. One other couple was sitting at our booth (and they got there just minutes after we did). The booth is a large semi-circle. We were at the left edge and had a clear view. The right edge had an obstructed view. So, the couple slid in, but not entirely to the middle. We all seemed OK with our situation.

When Antoine started his set, a bunch more people started drifting upstairs, looking for seats. I feel like dragging this part out, because it completely annoyed us, but I’ll cut to the chase. An extremely rude couple ending up sitting back-to-back with us (meaning, they were the right edge of the next booth over). The people at their table warned them when they asked if the seats were available that they would provide little-to-no view. They sat down anyway.

They then proceeded to talk to each other, rather loudly, nearly non-stop. Stares did nothing. This continued into Andy McKee’s set as well. When Andy was playing a song he wrote for his father, who had passed away (a clearly emotional part of the show), finally, someone shushed them. They looked around angrily, to see who might have been so rude as to interrupt their conversation.

Listen up folks. There are a million places in NYC to sit and chat, with and without drinks, with and without food, with and without music. A concert, where people specifically pay to see a specific artist is not once of those places. Thankfully, due to their annoyance at being shushed, they moved far enough away from us that we were able to enjoy the rest of the show without having to hear them on their date.

Anyway, we’re old folks, and this is the third night this week that we’ve been out later than we’re usually awake. Last night was 30 minutes later than it needed to be, just because they started late.

I’m probably leaving out a number of additional nuisances. We basically don’t like the place, even though it’s reasonably beautiful on some levels. We are hoping that these (and other) Candyrat artists discover the joys of playing a place like Joe’s Pub, where you hear zero conversations during the performances, ever. We also hope that no one else that we love ends up playing Canal Room. We’d likely go, with eyes wide open this time, but prefer not to find out if this was unusual or not…

Candyrat Records

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I have written twice now about Magnatune as a real leader in the new age of publishing music. I am completely impressed with their business model and operation, and if you missed the first post, here it is.

Candyrat Records is another cool online music label, but they don’t quite measure up to Magnatune in my opinion.

First, let’s cover what makes Candyrat Records cool.

  1. They have some amazing artists on the label
  2. They actively promote many (not all?!?) on YouTube
  3. Those that they promote, are very high quality videos (specifically, the audio is very good quality, so you really get a good sense of the artists capabilities)
  4. They offer DRM-free downloads (320Kbps MP3′s)
  5. They sell some/most (not all?!?) albums on Amazon.com MP3 downloads also

I’ve been threatening for a few posts now to tell how I discovered Magnatune and through them Jeff Wahl. This is as good a time as any. ;-)

In this post, I mentioned that Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation) had introduced me to an Andy McKee video on YouTube. That video was posted by user “rpoland”, who I believe is the owner of Candyrat Records. He has 108 videos posted. Most of them are for a variety of acoustic guitarists that Candyrat represents.

At the time, I didn’t pay attention to that, but I did fall in love with Andy McKee. Instead of going to Candyrat’s site, I searched for Andy McKee on Amazon’s MP3 downloads site. I found three albums and bought them all immediately.

A few weeks after I bought those albums, I was listening to Pandora. I have six different stations that I’ve created on Pandora, and one of them is mostly acoustic music. On January 2nd, 2008, I heard a song that I thought was fantastic, so I made sure to write down the artist’s name: Don Ross. I went to YouTube and found tons of videos of him as well, and noticed that it was the same “rpoland” and Candyrat Records.

This time I went to the site. I saw on the front page of the site that a few days from then, Don Ross was releasing a new CD with Andy McKee. Cool! I went to Amazon.com and checked for Don Ross, and sure enough, they had something like five of his CDs available. I decided to wait to see if they would pick up his new CD when it was released.

When the day came, I checked, and Amazon was not carrying the new CD. They still aren’t, over a week after release. So, I decided to investigate Candyrat a little further. I searched for Candyrat DRM. I found a very interesting blog post here. As you’ll see if you read that post, he makes a lot of the same points I make here (or will make, shortly). ;-)

When I clicked on Magnatune, I listened to Jeff Wahl (and watched a bunch of his YouTube videos as well), and ended up buying all three of his CDs (as previously reported).

Now that I was sure that Candyrat music was DRM-free, I decided to buy the new Don Ross and Andy McKee album from them, which I did. While everything worked, and the experience wasn’t bad, it wasn’t Magnatune quality either. Here are the material differences:

  1. Music is available in one format only, 320Kbps MP3 (or you can order a physical CD). Magnatune is just awesome in offering a variety of download formats
  2. You can only pay with PayPal. I happen to have a PayPal account, so I personally don’t mind. I know that you can use a plain old credit card through PayPal, but there are still many people out there who will likely be nervous about new-fangled services like PayPal. It should be an option. They should get a Merchant Account and accept credit cards directly.
  3. All music costs $9.95 per CD. (OK, I didn’t actually check all the music on the site, but all of the albums I checked were $9.95.) There are two separate problems with that. The first is that as I mentioned previously, not all music is created equally, and therefore shouldn’t necessarily be priced equally. But, the bigger problem is that when the same CD is available on Amazon.com, it’s cheaper, so it would appear that they are driving you to purchase on another site. Perhaps that’s their intention.
  4. When you purchase on their site, the zip file you download has horrible naming conventions for the files inside. Magnatune unzips into a perfect directory tree for direct import into iTunes (and most other naturally organized music player software). I had to create my own directory structure and rename and move all of the individual MP3 files in the Candyrat download. Not a huge problem, but annoying nonetheless. Another reason to buy their albums from Amazon.com when available!
  5. All Magnatune albums (over 441!) are available on Amazon.com. Some (many?, but not all) Candyrat albums are. Why?
  6. On Magnatune, I can listen to every album, for free, completely. On Candyrat, I can hear 30 seconds of each song. The saving grace is that for the artists I was interested in, there are a plethora of YouTube videos, but Magnatune still gets it more correct on this feature.
  7. Pricing differences! Aside from the fact that Magnatune lets you name your own price (with a $5 floor), they suggest a price for each album. Their suggested price is the same price they’ve negotiated on Amazon.com. Candyrat sels their albums at a fixed price (that’s fine), but charges more than Amazon.com. How can their costs be higher to deliver directly when they don’t have to pay Amazon?
  8. Transparency with the artists. I love knowing exactly how much money that I spend is going to the artist with Magnatune. If I knew for sure that spending the extra $1 with Candyrat over Amazon was putting that $1 directly in the artist’s pocket, perhaps I would pay it happily. But, for all I know, that extra $1 goes only to Candyrat, in which case the Amazon experience is better, so why not save the $1 as well?

There may be some other differences, but those generally cover the big points for me. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing evil, or even wrong with Candyrat, but they don’t get it, quite like Magnatune does.

As for artists, I’m in love with the Candyrat acoustic guitarists, of whom they have a number of superstars! Since discovering Don Ross on January 2nd, I have bothered to look more closely at Candyrat, and have purchased one album by Peter Ciluzzi, one by Craig D’Andrea, and two by Antoine Dufour. All of them are spectacular, and all have amazing YouTube videos available. I have linked one to each of their names, but you should check them all out, and then buy their music (I bought mine on Amazon.com, not Candyrat.com).

In addition to the above, Candyrat also represents Kaki King, who I’ve written about before. I bought two of her CDs from Amazon as well, and a third is available on Candyrat, which I may buy in the future.

So, I’ve supported Candyrat and their artists quite a bit lately. I’ve purchased two more Don Ross CDs from Amazon, the Don Ross and Andy McKee one from Candyrat directly, the two Kaki King, the three Andy McKee, and the four mentioned above (Peter, Craig and Antoine), for a total of 12 CDs in a short period of time.

I know this is crazy long already, but I need to add one more story to the mix. When the Don Ross and Andy McKee album was announced, a quick search showed that they were touring together. I was really excited to see them. Unfortunately, they are touring in Hawaii and the West Coast only (for the time being). I mentioned to Rob Page that I really wanted to see Andy McKee live, and he said that he too had looked at his site and couldn’t find anything on the East Coast.

When I went to either Don Ross’ or Andy McKee’s MySpace page (I can’t remember which), I noticed that the top friends linked were all Candyrat artists. I think it’s really cool that they support each other so well, and it’s one of the benefits of the label I guess. That’s how I first discovered Craig D’Andrea. Then, on his MySpace page, I saw that he was playing in NYC on February 17th at the Canal Room.

When I clicked over to their calendar, I saw that Andy McKee was headlining that show, and Craig was the second guy listed. The third guy listed was Antoine Dufour. By the end of the day, I had tickets to see the three of them (I can’t wait for Feb 17th!), and had bought Craig’s CD and both of Antoine’s. I love them all, but even though Antoine is listed third on the bill, I may actually be most impressed with him. I’m listening to him on iTunes now as I type this post. ;-)

Whew. Another mega-post, sorry, but I had to get this all out of my head, and I finally did. :-)