Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Venue Review in the New York Times

Former WKCR DJ Ben Ratliff reviews Thursday night's Steve Earle/Alison Moorer show at City Winery in today's New York Times. Terrifically, the review is as much about the venue as the show:

Most of us would agree that this is an exquisitely strange time, anywhere, for the opening of a club and restaurant with wine-making facilities on the premises, where annual membership will cost $5,000, and a barrel of your own custom blend somewhere around $2,000. (Although you can buy a ticket for an individual concert without a membership, and order a Riesling and a sampler of cheese from Murray’s. Or just a glass of water; there’s no minimum.)

It’s strange that the restaurant — unlike comparable operations in Napa Valley — is located far from a major wine-making region; when you create your own wine here, you’re only halfway buying local. And it’s strange (but kind of funny) that what most people call a double bill — two artists whose work has something in common — City Winery calls “Pairings.”

But it was strangest of all that Steve Earle — a self-defined socialist and generally a songwriter and performer who doesn’t waste a sticky situation — did not comment on the dissonance of the evening.

Mentioning that Ben Ratliff was a WKCR alum led me to find this interview with him from Dusted magazine in which he offers some thoughts on the greatest radio station on the planet:

Ben Ratliff: I played various instruments growing up, clarinet and guitar and piano. The technical schooling I’ve had in music is just through private teachers. In college I took music classes, but they were history, music history. I studied Latin and Greek. But at the same time I was working at the college radio station, and that was a very intense community of people.

Sam Frank: Does Phil Schaap [WKCR eminence; prolix on mic] preside, or does he just come in and do his show?

Ben Ratliff: You mean does he actually live there? He spends a lot of time there. It was common to see him around the place. It was a social hub, and if you did a show there, it was likely that you were going to spend a lot of time in the station. So you just had very close proximity to an enormous record library that you could borrow from all the time, and that was something I did. They had an incredible, huge library of jazz records, and I got to know it. That helped a lot. I don’t know how I would have gotten that knowledge otherwise, the money I would have had to spend—scary thought. Then I got into writing, and for some reason, I don’t know why, I really wanted to write about jazz. I think because I was checking out cultural criticism, American cultural criticism, writing about movies and art and jazz, and I really locked into writing about jazz as a great way to deal with subjects bigger than the music itself. Dealing with jazz is a decent way of dealing with a lot of American issues and larger cultural issues.

My understanding is that when Ben was an on-air personality at WKCR, he called himself Buddy Ratliff -- although maybe that's just a general nickname that he uses.

Speaking of WKCR, I was enjoying the Max Roach Birthday Broadcast last night and this morning, and a two-week long -- yes, two weeks -- festival of the music of Roy Haynes starts at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. (And yes that is preempting the Moonshine Show.)

And who else will be at City Winery soon? Suzanne Vega, Philip Glass, Marianne Faithful, Jill Sobule... Not a bad line-up.

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