I'm not in this audience
OK, I don't hate the Dave Matthews band. I just don't like them. No, it's not even that. I just don't have an opinion one way or another about them. I'd rather hate a band/artist, like I hate Katy Perry. At least Katy Perry elicits a reaction from me, it's just not a positive one. The Dave Matthews band is boring to me. They put me to sleep. Their music is like wallpaper to me. It's not even that they're mellow. I like a lot of mellow stuff. But Dave Matthews is right up there with Hootie and the Blowfish and all those "adult contemporary" bands. I think that's what really bores me. "Adult Contemporary." It's like, once you're an "adult" you should strip away any kind of sweat, passion, danger, or beauty from your music. Just be "clever" sometimes, keep the tempo straight, show off your chops now and then (but don't, under any circumstances, startle or catch somebody off guard with your talent). The majority of "Adult Contemporary" artists are, quite frankly, excellent musicians. They're just a crashing bore to me. They are safe. And anybody who reads this blog with any regularity knows that to me, "safe" is the kiss of death.
So, as I trudged out to the first Chill on the Hill at Humboldt Park, I found myself contemplating the Ethan Keller Group, a very safe pick to open the popular public free series. Keller himself is a likable chap, and his band of mellow craftspeople seemed to fit the bill on a temperature-recordssetting hot summer night. We settled down as they did the most risky thing this family-friendly crowd could expect-- removed their shirts to deal with the heat and show us their relatively toned bodies. They lost me after two similar-sounding songs. (Later in the night, my kid even commented, "Do ALL their songs sound justs like this? Yes, they do," she answered herself.). I couldn't put my finger on why they lost me so early, despite some smoking guitar work, until somebody mentioned the Dave Matthews Band.
"I hate the Dave Matthews Band," I replied. And that really cemented it for me, why this talented, competent, pop-sensible, award-winning local answer to the DMB was losing me. They are "adult contemporary." They are "safe." They are in rotation at 88.9, reminding me that while I really like Radio Milwaukee and I'm overjoyed that there are two, count 'em, TWO independent, alternative, listener-supported radio stations in town that are thriving, it's WMSE, 91.7 who gets my money when I can afford to call in a pledge, simply because of that "safety" factor.
All this aside, the Ethan Keller band has an audience. They're mixing a few genres together (folky hip hop, if you will) and they're doing it competently and successfully. I'm actually kind of liking some of the rap/hip-hop bits he does, but he does it so mellow that it almost sounds like he's bored with it. But it works. It works in the summer festival atmosphere with the heat, and the ability to have a conversation with your friends with a glass of wine and a blanket, while the kids run around oblivious to it all. I would expect to hear Ethan Keller on national radio as well, and I'm positive he'll be a headlining act at the Miller or Briggs stage at summerfest in less than a couple of years. Yes, there's a huge audience for this kind of stuff. I'm just not in it.