It’s raining a bit, but we’re off nonetheless in an hour or so, heading over the river, through the woods, and down the mountain this morning for our tiny rural New England Town’s annual crafts fair: four churches and the House of Art stuffed to their wooden rafters with the very best from local artists and craftspersons, from homespun alpaca yarn and family farm lavender salves to an endless array of jewelry, scarves and woodcarving, all made lovingly by friends and neighbors, familiar faces amidst a sea of comfort and joy.
Lunch afterwards, perhaps ham salad and soup in the church basement, or homemade bread and meat pies at the roadside breakfast joint near the equine rescue center like last year, while horses and sleighs parade past our window. And then home, with half the holiday shopping done, and nary a shopping mall in sight, while the fire burns bright and the family settles into our respective seats.
It’s days like this I love the local life the most: the four of us on the back roads, singing along to our favorite carols on the radio as we wander through an almost-winter, tires crunching over the roadside as yet unsullied by snow, soot and salt. And we’re gladdened to hear the storms of society turn around us, as the annual irritant antithesis of Buy Nothing Day turns to Small Business Saturday.
But as last year, and the year before, Black Friday and its aftermath still top our cultural discourse; the expression of the spirit of commerce in its myriad forms remains great and everpresent, and its antithesis few and far between.
This is not a political blog. Since our inception in 2007, however, we have done our part at Cover Lay Down to fight back against the subtle tyrannies of the consumptive society. We insist on offering links to purchase music from sources closest to the hearts and wallets of the artists themselves; we refuse to provide ads on this space, preferring to “walk the walk” of ethical consumption.
And because a blog is dialogic, so do we also, from time to time, step up onto the soapbox to speak out specifically on why, and how, to better support the local and the intimate – an articulation befitting a blog whose ethnomusical mandate explores the coincidence of sharing and the communal purposefulness of folk.
Today, then, for the fourth year in a row, we offer our own antithesis to the buy-everything-now message that seems to typify the ever-lengthening holiday season in the Western world with our anti-commercialist, pro-artist gift giving guide for the 2015 holidays. Read on for our annual Small Business Saturday treatise, an updated list of methods and mechanisms for supporting the local and the soul-serving this giving season…and, of course, a few songs to get you into the spirit.
Black Friday is duly noted for causing havoc and stress in the mass marketplace. But if we greet its well-intentioned antithesis Buy Nothing Day with suspicion here at Cover Lay Down, it is because there is nothing inherently anti-commercial about merely deferring product-purchase if we still plan to make it to the mall eventually.
Concerns about the way big business undermines and eats away at the profitability of direct creator-to-consumer relationships are real and valid, of course. But to see consumption as all or nothing is problematic: those who quite literally refuse to buy things unwittingly undermine their own communities, for example, by cutting into taxes for schools and roads, and by destroying the ability of neighborhood artists and local community retailers to survive doing what they love.
Happily, however, there’s a whole spectrum of opportunity outside of the false dichotomy of Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day. And the answer isn’t buying nothing – it’s buying local.
We’ve long championed buying local here at Cover Lay Down. We frequent local farmer’s markets and crafts fairs; we buy apples from orchards, and beer from the brewery; we keep maple syrup and honey that was harvested by friends. In our musical purchases, we try to buy at shows, as this tends to provide the most money for artists, and helps support local venues; we’ve posted about library finds several times, too, and celebrate regional labels and artists wherever possible.
But in the digital age, buying local means not only supporting your local shops, producers, and buskers – it also means supporting the small, the immediate, the independent, and the community-minded. As such, wherever possible, the links which we offer alongside our downloadables and streams go directly to artist websites and other artist-recommended sources, the better to respect the rights and ongoing careers of creators and craftspersons everywhere.
Which is to say: we’re about authenticity and sustainability here, a set of concepts deeply entwined with the organic and acoustic music we celebrate. With that in mind, here’s some suggestions for how to honor the community sentiment which stands at the foundation of folk music, even as you look for ways to show your appreciation and love this holiday season.
1. Give the gift of recorded music. Though streaming models make it more and more challenging every day, music sales remain the bread and butter of the starving artist. And Cover Lay Down stands behind every artist we blog: many of our regular features, such as our New Artists, Old Songs series, focus on new and newly-reconsidered music and musicians worth sharing with friends. So browse our archives and your own, and then buy CDs and downloads for friends and family direct from artist websites. Or check out independent artist-friendly labels like the recently-featured Signature Sounds, Waterbug, Bloodshot, Red House, and Sugar Hill Records, promotional houses like Hearth Music and Mishara Music, and small artist collaboratives and fan-fueled microlabels like Mason Jar Music, Yer Bird, Rarebird, Northplatte, and Asthmatic Kitty. Or, if you prefer to centralize your shopping, skip the chain stores and internet behemoths that undermine local mom-and-pops and pay mere pennies on the dollar, and shop instead at your local struggling music shop, Bandcamp, or even Etsy.
2. Give the gift of time and presence. It’s good to get out with friends, and shared experiences make the best kinds of gifts. So check out tour schedules and local venue listings in your area, and support your local coffeehouse or small venue by booking a table or row for you and your loved ones – there’s still seats available for this year’s Winterbloom holiday shows, for example, in NYC and Boston, at Robinson & Rohe shows up and down the East Coast throughout December, and at our upcoming show this Friday night with American Roots duo Mike + Ruthy in Springfield, MA. Take a child to their first concert, and open up their world to the immediacy and intimacy of live performance. Take a friend, or a group, and open them up to a new artist’s work. Or host a successful house concert, and invite friends, the better to share the artists and music you love.
3. Give the gift of access. If you can’t always get out to a show, spring for a gift subscription to Daytrotter ($32/year) for the music lover in your life, and let them download years worth of studio sessions and stream exclusive live sessions from a broad set of musicians. Or sign them up for Concert Window, which offers live concerts almost every night from some of our favorite folk clubs, concert halls and living rooms, and where two-thirds of profits go to musicians and venues. The live-on-screen performances and sessions can be viewed alone, shared over distance through skype and chat, or shared with a friend over a beer on the couch – and the virtual concert is an especially apt gift for friends housebound by physical limitation, geographical isolation, or preference.
4. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Patreon, and Pledge Music help artists make art, and donations in someone else’s name are always a nice gift – it shows you’re thinking of them, and it honors the connection you share through music. As a bonus, just as donating to your local radio station can net you a free mug, crowdfunding comes with the promise of product – a reward you can redirect, if you give in someone else’s name.
So browse the folk categories on each site, or skim facebook pages for links to projects in the works that need your support. Examples we’re excited to recommend this year include an impending record from Rose Cousins, whose previous kickstarter-funded release We Have Made A Spark still spins in the car in regular rotation two years after release, and who promises both copies of that record and original haiku and handbaked cookies for supporters at various funding levels. We’re also proud supporters of HARK, the new 14-track CD from Wintery Songs In Eleventy Part Harmony, featuring the incredible talents of Boston-based singer-songwriters Jennifer Kimball, Rose Polenzani, Laura Cortese, Cousins, Jenna Moynihan, Valerie Thompson, Brittany Haas and Natalie Haas in celebration of the sixth year of putting on their holiday show at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA – many funding levels for HARK come with dear handmade ornaments and decorations to delight your holiday tree and table, and there’s only 6 days left to go in the campaign, so hit them up soon if you can.
Over at Pledge Music, Jamgrass mainstays Hot Buttered Rum are seeking funds for a three-EP series; one of the three is planned as a tribute to the songs of Ralph Stanley, a project which promises to be both transformative and authentic, as are rewards from personalized postcards to signed drumheads and private instrumental lessons from band members via the web. Meanwhile, on Patreon, recurring funding is needed for Beehive Productions’ ambitious short video series Ear To The Ground, a series about the culture and community of Roots Music which has recently featured some strong covers and originals from CLD faves Charlie Parr, Cricket Blue, Anna & Elizabeth, and Mike + Ruthy; rewards for your support range from exclusive previews and alternate takes to t-shirts, stickers, and that warm fuzzy feeling of being a patron of the folkways as they move ever onward.
5. Give the gift of promotion. This one is mostly about giving the artists themselves some of your hard-earned time and energy, but artists need gifts, too. So like artists’ Facebook pages, and show others in your feed what you are listening to, the better to spread the word. Join a street team, and volunteer (by yourself or with a friend, as a fun gift date) to help sell CDs, hang posters, or man the door at local coffeehouses and clubs, thus freeing artists to spend their time playing, meeting the crowd, and sustaining their own fan base. Start a blog, for you or a friend, or donate to support one in their name.
6. Stay tuned. Looking for something a little more concrete in the way of coverfolk recommendations? Willing to wait for a few more weeks to decide which albums to purchase for your loved ones and friends? Just as we did last year, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2015″ by mid-December; the items on those lists constitute our highest recommendations, and function as a concise gift guide for the coverfolk lover in your life.
And if it’s holiday music you’re looking for, just wait until next week, when we kick off our coverage of this year’s seasonal releases…
Until then, here’s a repost from year’s past: a short set of relevant covers to get you in the gift-giving spirit.