Ferndale Library’s monthly local music concerts return on Fri., Oct 6, with a special live recording session and listening party hosted by the River Street Anthology. This grassroots music documentation project was started by Michigan singer/songwriter Matt Jones back in 2014, out of the basement of his home in Ypsilanti, (on River Street). After ten years of recording and performing his own music around the scene, Jones decided to follow the footsteps of iconic ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax and begin archiving contributions from all of Michigan’s singer/songwriters, poets, musicians, and more.
“It’s a work of historic preservation- of music preservation,” said Jones. “I always say that first……the thing that has changed as I’ve continued to do this is that I never knew what to say after that…, because I honestly never knew what it was; it was always growing and changing so much.”
The state-spanning cultural survey has evolved into being a way to listen to the place we live. Said Jones, “It’s what you would hear if you put your ear to the ground. It isn’t just music anymore, it’s stories. Now that so many songs have been recorded, and I’ve seen so many faces, when I think of the RSA, I just think of stories.”
Jones has traveled thousands of miles and recorded hundreds of musicians from all over the state, with all of the intimate and exclusive performances captured and preserved in Lansing, by the State Archives of Michigan.
The RSA Listening Party is a special opportunity to witness live recordings of local artists, view exclusive videos of past performances from recent trips to Michigan cities, and listen to special recordings of live songs that are unavailable anywhere else. Above all, what you can experience with this special First Stop Friday concert is: stories!
“We don’t think about the “human experience” when we go to shows,” said Jones, “At least I don’t… But listening to and collecting these experiences…both the experiences that the artists are recounting with their lyrics or songs, plus the experience of recording them- that’s where the story is…”
State Archivist Mark Harvey will be joining Jones to talk about the Michigan History Center and his partnership with Jones and the RSA. Video, photographs and recordings will be shown and played for the audience.
“Lately I have been concentrating more on listening to what the artists have to say outside of playing/singing,” said Jonse. “I’ve been recognizing the power these artists have within themselves- like each one is a walking treasure trove….”
Jones said he’s not sure how much longer he’ll be doing this, but that it could easily be a few more years. That would mean a couple hundred more Michigan musicians. But he’s not putting any parameters on it yet. Said Jones, “I would really like to take the RSA and push it into new realms. Sarah (Campbell-Jones) and I have been throwing around the idea of creating and hosting programs involving home recording workshops, songwriting workshops, tying everything into the importance of preservation and the need for keeping everyone’s stories alive. I would love to get the RSA out of my house, and into a space of it’s own- a space to hold the events and workshops that we are tossing around. I would love to some sort of podcast, or even AM radio. A place where we could talk about the artists more, play selections from the RSA, interview, and record live on the air.”
Jones said that there is also talk of applying for a 501(c)3 (nonprofit) status. He said “things are going to start expanding, but not in an obnoxious way!” Because, as he puts it, he’s “not a salesman” and that he’d be forever leery of the people who start programs more for personal gain than anything else.
“Being a musician, you run into that sleazy behavior all the time, and we would have to find a way to build something without the cheese-factor attached.”
What makes each RSA Listening Party special is that Jones always arranges for a couple artists to be recorded live in front of the audience, including a performance by Tamara Finlay and a live reading by local music journalist Jeff Milo.
“The listening parties are amazing in that they are SO off the cuff. I let the artists I select do the talking for me. I can be very picky about where they happen, but I like them to take place in spots that feel like me, or like us, ya know…, like the RSA… …organic, scattered, anything goes. I select 10 or so audio clips/films from the project, roll out the projector, and start rambling. Large or small audience, I think the presentations make a significant impact on the audience. I try to instill in the audience how important every one of these artists are- not just the ones they’ve heard of, and more than anything, I try to instill the idea that these people and their stories are important and worthy of preserving.”
The RSA Listening is here to demonstrate the worth of preserving the stories of these artists….!
“Thing is though,” said Jones, “the “worthy” part goes for the audience too. The audiences are everything to the artists. At the end of each listening party, I will have one or two artists come to the front and record for the RSA in front of the crowd…sort of a “this is how we do it” demo. Charlie (Steen, videographer) is there, Misty (Lyn Bergeron, photographer) and Sarah (Campbell-Jones, illustrator) are there, and we swarm on that artist, like we would anywhere else. I just try to tell stories about people in a way that sticks in their memory. Hopefully we can do that in Ferndale, at the library!”