Jason Isbell in Stones column

A Chaotic Serenade: Dead, Stones, DBT, BJ Barham

A Chaotic Serenade Columns

A Chaotic Serenade: Dead, Stones, DBT, BJ Barham

I wanted to try something new here, so I hope you’ll humor me a bit. My full time gig is as a rural mail carrier and I work mostly on my own, which allows me the opportunity to listen to a lot of music day to day. Once I’m home, I’m usually involved with something music related somehow, whether it’s editing photos or reviewing an album, or maybe just writing or sharing something relevant on the Americana Highways Group Facebook page or similar group pages I curate. I enjoy sharing what I’m listening too, or find interesting in the big ol’ world of music and decided a weekly of bi-weekly column would allow me an opportunity to do so. I’ll be talking music, sharing my photos , souvenirs and tales from decades of chasing bands. Hope you dig it, and I look forward to your feedback, questions and suggestions. So without further adieu, here’s a bit of what crossed my desk this past week.

Arkansas singer/songwriter JD Clayton’s upcoming January 27th album Long Way From Home download hit my email this week and I’ve been stuck on it most of the week. Clayton turned heads at Nashville’s AmericanaFest earlier this year and it certainly seems the buzz around him was worthy. This is one of those albums that just has a ‘good feel” to it, and I haven’t been this excited about new music in a little bit. I’ll be following up with a full review of Clayton’s debut full length the week of release. Check out one of my favorite tracks, “American Millionaire” here:


I’m a big Deadhead, so going forward I’ll likely drop a bunch of Grateful Dead shows in these reports. One of the Grateful Dead Facebook groups I participate in is essentially a writer’s group, and it’s a constant source for revisiting the best moments over the band’s career. This past week, I mostly darted in and out of early December shows from 1973 and 1974. With 12-01-73 Boston, MA and 12-06-73 Cleveland, OH getting the most attention. In a similar vein, I’m also actively archiving Jerry Garcia recordings, and lately spending a lot of time listening to shows from 1980 thru 1982 as well as some of the Garcia, David Grisman recordings from the early 1990s, particularly this gem from 08-25-91 at Squaw Valley’s Goldcoast Concert Bowl. Just a beautifully played show, with a lively and engaged Garcia. Of particular note the encore of “Ripple” features some fun banjo fills courtesy of Bela Fleck. You can see fan shot footage of the show here:


I’m also sorting through a bunch of live Rolling Stones shows, with focus on the 1972 and 1973 Exile On Main Street tours with Mick Taylor. So much swagger and excess, and through it all Taylor rarely falters. What an impact he made in the Stones, and I can’t help but wonder what could have been if he’d been in the band through the eighties. Here’s audio the widely available bootleg from the 10-17-73 Belgium gig titled, A Brussels Affair:


I was pretty excited to see the Drive-By Truckers added an Oklahoma City date in March of next year in their new tour announcement. DBT was one of those bands that I discovered back in my days of running record and cd stores, and I still vividly remember the first time I listened to A Southern Rock Opera. Somehow, I knew at that moment that a new music obsession was born. Like many of my music obsessions, the intensity has ebbed and flowed over the years. Line-ups changed, as did the bands creative focus. The overtly politically charged albums left me and others less interested, perhaps even somewhat alienated, while others feel that’s when the band found their rightful place. Whichever camp you’re in on that subject, it goes without saying, there’s nothing quite like a DBT rock show. I most recently photographed the band back in 2018 here in OKC, and I hope they’ll allow me to do so in 2023. Here’s a few I’ve taken of the band over the years:

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In addition to an active playlist of Americana and rock music, I listen to a lot of heavier bands as well. Just this week I stumbled on to a band that hails from Las Vegas called SpiritWold. An interesting mix of Hardcore, Thrash and Metal. Their newest release, Deathwestern is where I started and while it’s one of those definitely not for everyone kind of albums, I found it a lot of fun, and the riffs are just insane.
Check it out here if you’re so inclined:


Finally, the biggest news this week came from a show here in Oklahoma City. American Aquarium is leading the fight against venue merchandise splits with BJ Barham boldly speaking out strongly on the subject from the Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City. For those not familiar, often times in contracts artists sign with venues leading up to a performance, venues stipulate that they are entitled to a percentage of the band’s merchandise sales. It’s a practice that’s gone on behind the scenes for a while now. I first started to realize it attending metal shows where suddenly the same shirt a fan could buy from the band’s website for $35, suddenly costs $50 or more at the concert. The band raises the price to meet the percentage, stiffing the fans that know nothing of the process. As Barham explains, in bigger venues this at least makes some kind of sense. After all, the venues provide staffed booths as well as set-up, counting in and counting out merchandise inventory and sales. That type of cooperation isn’t typically happening in smaller venues, where the band’s crew does everything. But still, many of these venues expect their “share” of merch sales, with a common argument that those sales wouldn’t be happening unless they provided the stage for the bands to play. Yet, when bands try to use this same reasoning in regards to the venue’s alcohol sales, it’s quickly shot down. Barham has decided to put the issue in the public forum and let his fans decide. He’s discussed the issue with each venue before heading over to social media to update that night’s scenario. If the venue insists on or waives the split, he lays it out being fully transparent. Following the Tower Theatre’s refusal to waive the split, Barham went viral with the video I’ve included below, which has undoubtedly ruffled some feathers. To play devil’s advocate for just a moment, I have no doubt that many of these venues insisting on merch splits aren’t doing so in the hopes of becoming some kind of pariah. The Tower Theatre is one of my favorite local venues, and I’ve seen first hand how well they treat the artists and crews their hosting, more often than not exceeding the band’s expectations in hospitality. That said, in this economy, every dollar counts for both artist and venue, and it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out and if other artists follow Barham’s bold path. I reached out to the Tower Theatre for comment, but they did not respond.


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