On an unseasonably cool evening last week in my adopted hometown of Missoula, Montana, under dour gray skies that threatened rain, several hundred people flowed into a riverside park to hear a concert by the Oblio Joes, a local rock band.
Virtually unknown outside of Missoula, the Obes -- as they are called by their fans and friends -- have been playing together for nearly 15 years. They have recorded several fantastic albums. They have assembled the kind of local fan-base that most bands would beg for. At their shows, teens and 30-somethings stand shoulder to shoulder, shouting out requests for songs from the band's extensive catalogue of catchy, jangly rock songs, singing along with every word, raising fists in the international sign of rawk.
This show was bittersweet. A few weeks before the show, lead singer and songwriter John Brownell announced to the band and his friends that he was done playing with the Obes. This concert in the park would be the band's last gig.
It was a great show, powerful, emotional, raucous. People in the audience screamed at the top of their lungs. The band played like they were on fire, ripping through their catalogue with a hunger that hadn't been evident in their most recent shows.
Then, it was over.
Thus seals the fate of one of the finest bands this town has ever produced, a band that -- had it relocated to one of our nations capitols of commercial music, as some others have done (most notably Colin Meloy of Decemberists fame) -- surely would have been better known around the country, perhaps the world. To my ears, Obes songs like "Don't Believe," "Ginger," and "Surreal" can stand up alongside the best pop-rock tunes of the past decade. The fact that you probably haven't heard those songs is a testament to what this band was about: keeping it real, keeping it local. They really never tried to make things any different, never bellyached about "making it big." They just thrived on playing rock music for their friends in town.
There are bands like the Obes in small towns all over America. You won't read about them in Rolling Stone or Spin, but then, maybe that's part of what makes them such a beautiful part of life -- real life, not the life you read about.
That's the life that is the focus of this blog, "Flyover."
"Flyover" is, specifically, about art in the American Outback -- the people and places usually given less attention by those hopping from coast to coast. It's a place for arts journalists and artists outside the major American urban areas to celebrate, discuss, critique and share what they do. While it was established to continue a conversation begun at USC Annenberg's 2007 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater, we hope it will ultimately grow to serve a larger community of journalists, artists and institutions involved in the arts in America.
The four journalists blogging here live in small cities tucked away in the corners of America: Missoula, Savannah, Lansing, Madison. We have in common a deep love of and commitment to the arts; and we see great art around us. Just because it doesn't show at the MOMA, or show up in Rolling Stone, doesn't make it any less valid. In fact, to us, it makes it all the more precious.
I'm Joe Nickell. By day, I serve as arts and entertainment reporter for the Missoulian newspaper. By night, I play in a rock band called Two Year Touqe (yes, I know, how ironic -- a word-man in a misspelled band), and co-produce Rox, the world's first and longest-running online TV series. I'm a drummer, and a dreamer, and who knows -- maybe more. This week I found out I won some award for arts writing; but since the circumference of my balding head is already 3.01 standard deviations above the norm, it probably can't swell anymore. I have a six-week old baby who is very cute, a wife who inspires me, and I live in a place that feels like heaven.
Over the course of this week, you'll meet the rest of the "Flyover" bloggers. I hope you'll visit us regularly and jump into the conversation. And we thank Doug McLennan for inviting us to move into his ArtsJournal world. If you care to see what we've been talking about already, there's an extensive archive of previous posts written when this blog was hosted at rox.com.
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program