MUSIC MECCA: YET ANOTHER OPINION

By Todd Smith

Is Louisville a music mecca? It depends on who you ask.

Playboy magazine says yes, our beloved editor says yes, Puckett says sort of. Ask Louisville musicians and you get a wide variety of responses, ranging from "hell, yes" to "hell, no."

So, who is right? Who gets to decide? Is the title a reflection of the reality, an observation of what is; or is it the false impression of an outsider? And what does it take to be a music mecca? A vibrant club scene, with lots of bands playing every night, or a flourishing original scene, with lots of bands getting deals and selling records?

Well, I've never been one to run from a good debate, so forgive me, but I just can't stop myself from adding another opinion into the mix.

When I think of a "mecca," I think of a place to which the multitudes are drawn. I think of thousands of Muslims tracking across the desert toward the divine city; the hub, the headquarters, the epicenter of all activity.

When I think of a "music mecca," I think of a place to which the musicians are drawn. I think of thousands of musicians tracking across the country in beat-up vans toward the music city; the hub, the headquarters, the epicenter of all activity.

Is Louisville such a city? Well, I-65 is not very clogged with beat-up vans full of musicians on their way in. New York? Yes. Nashville and Los Angeles? Undeniably. But Louisville… I don't think so.

I think the title "music mecca" is a bit over the top, if not simply premature, for what Louisville is. Oh, it's tempting to accept it and be proud of it, and no one would be happier than me if it were true. But can we honestly compare Louisville's scene to that of New York or Nashville? In Nashville, there is a studio, a music publishing house, or a songwriter on every street corner.

I think my issue is really just with the word, "mecca," with the definitions and implications it carries. I don't think that label is appropriate for Louisville, but does not a city, called by any other name, have just as many great bands?

How about, "industry hotspot?" Now, we're talking about Louisville. I would place us much more among the ranks of a Seattle than a Nashville. There has never been as much industry attention on our town as there is right now.

But the "hotspot" is an illusion, a window of perception on the part of the music industry. It is the romantic impression that there is "something in the water down there" that somehow makes the musicians better than the musicians in other places.

But when you think about it, why would one city have a higher ratio of great musicians to normal people than any other city of the same size? And why would Louisville have more viable artists now than in the past? Some of our best artists have been around for years; the industry is only now opening to them.

The hotspot mentality also seems to restrict its town to one type of music, as if it was incapable of producing anything else. Athens made college rock, Minneapolis made dance and R&B, and of course Seattle made grunge. But we make it all: rock, R&B, hardcore, country. Louisville is impossible to pin down, and hopefully that will set us apart from any other hotspot that flashes bright then fades away.

Louisville is and always has been a great place for music, it's just that now the rest of the world is finding out, thanks to Days of the New. So who cares what you call it; let's just keep making great music now that we have some attention, so that in five years the industry is not looking for "the next Louisville."

Who knows, if we keep working hard, maybe someday we will be a real live music mecca, and there will be a songwriter on every street corner, and musicians will come from far away in beat-up vans to be here.