Here at The Current, we like to think ourselves resistant to trends. But one in particular has impressed me this winter: residencies, or weekly sets of concerts captained by one local artist at one local venue once a week. I actually got so excited about this month’s shows that I decided to see one from each artist; I dropped out of Andrew Broder’s kick-off thanks to a fever, but photographer Darin Kamnetz made it to all five, working the Cactus Blossoms, jeremy messersmith, Andrew Broder, Charlie Parr, and Metasota. And I kept seeing certain patterns.
The most drastic way my thinking changed: After seeing so many artists run their residencies, I came to appreciate how difficult they are. I thought I understood the commitment — but when I heard artists and other industry folks talk about the preparation, I realized I wasn’t giving artists enough credit. Several of the hosts have performed a different set every week, which means mountains of planning and forethought (as jeremy messersmith puts it: “Lots of practicing”). Red House/Compass Records group publicist Angie Carlson adds, “[Residencies] are a way to stretch musically and try out new material.”
Even so, the home-field advantage inherent to residencies tempers the whole challenge. It’s the Cactus Blossoms’ fourth consecutive year holding down a month at the Turf — and even before their residencies, they cut their teeth playing old-time covers in that room. Frankie Lee opened for the brothers, fresh off a December Clown Lounge residency of his own, and he ran that stage like he might his own living room. What best cooks up that comfort level is the easygoing residency crowd: friendly faces looking for a bit of entertainment and a place to drink a beer.
Standing in the front, back, and side of various audiences, I couldn’t ignore the demographic awkwardness of these January 2018 series; all but one bear a white man’s name on top. jeremy messersmith is aware of his advantage: “As a white dude,” he says, “I’m totally playing the music game on easy mode.” But more than the typical show, residencies allow artists to curate their opening acts; if you scour messersmith and Broder’s line-ups, you’ll find artists of different races, genders, abilities, and more. The former calls diverse booking “intentional and important.”
We need to see more diverse headliners next year, if the winter trend holds. messersmith was inspired to throw a residency when he watched Chastity Brown at Icehouse last year. What could happen at a Sarah White residency? A Spank Rock residency? 4th Curtis?
To be honest, I hadn’t heard about Metasota’s residency until his first show was already over, which provoked some soul-searching on my part. Sure, Nomad promotion is more low-key than anything under the First Ave banner, such as the three residencies at the Turf. But I almost missed an opportunity to cover the rap scene Meta knows so intimately, and by the time I got to see his third night at the Nomad, I was kicking myself for missing out on such a good time before. It wouldn’t be right to share these reflections without owning up.
The good news: each of the performers has at least one show left. Normally, if you’re reading my thoughts on a show, the headliner has already packed up and started driving toward Chicago or Omaha. But this time, you (and I) can pull up a new tab, google away, and add some tickets to our cart. Do that.