By Ann Treacy
There’s a lot of great music in the Twin Cities. There are a lot of great places to see local music. But how to raise the voices of local music beyond the local stage? DEMO is doing that with the Naked Songwriter, a video series starring emerging Minnesota musicians airing on YouTube and MTN.
Each video features an artist or group playing the music they want to play with just enough introduction to up the intimacy to a comfortable warmth. Taping for the shows recently moved from a coffee shop to Orfield Labs, dubbed the quietest place on Earth by the Guinness World Records in 2005 and 2103 because of their anechoic chamber. Orfield was formerly Studio 80, the birthplace of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and Lipps Inc’s Funkytown.
Generations of Minnesota music would echo through the halls if the walls weren’t so well insulated.
DEMO (Diverse Emerging Music Organization) is a nonprofit organization striving to the support education and promotion of diverse, independent musicians. DEMO is a younger brother to DAMF and was founded by Steve McClellan when he left First Avenue in 2005. DEMO worked on promoting emerging artist by booking them at New Band Nights but soon found that was a need that others could (and were) filling. They realized that emerging musicians would benefit from professional video and audio recordings to post online and use as they wanted – and that was a need that could be uniquely filled by DEMO.
Last year, DEMO produced 15 videos. Last week, they recorded with Faith Boblett, Mister Doctor (Stacy K and Dave Mehling), Mother Banjo and Ben Cook-Feltz. I was able to be a fly on the wall for Ben Cook-Feltz and Mother Banjo (Ellen Stanley, who was joined for the video by her husband, Cook-Feltz.). The shows are recorded in the exact room where Bob Dylan recorded Blood on the Tracks. The room includes the musicians, two camera operators, producer Ozzy Dahlstrom and sound engineer Dave Berg in the control room.
The sound is clear and pure. There’s no background noise, and the acoustics just swallow up echoes. It’s the auditory version of seeing an image in the sun without a shadow. The videos are fabulous showcases for the musicians. The musicians seem to feel immediately comfortable and hit their stride. I overheard Stanely, thank someone sarcastically for reminding her of the Dylan connection in the space, “You couldn’t have told me after I played, huh?” Standing on the shoulders of earlier Minnesota musical greatness serves the artists well. From what I saw, they rise to the occasion, and it adds a layer of interest that will help raise the profile of all Minnesota music.
The Naked Songwriter isn’t the only project of DEMO; they also host songwriter circles, lessons for kids and other educational opportunities for musicians of all ages. Again you can check out the 2015 videos online now, and the 2016 series will be up soon.