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DittyTV: A Global Music Network on South Main
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I want my MTV! The sentiment may seem dated, but many of us feel the same tug: to regain that sense of discovery we had when new music cascaded out of the screen, all day. Yet the network's concept, which seemed so revolutionary at lift-off in the 1980s, had difficulty profiting from its innovation, and phased out most of its music-only content more than a decade ago. And honestly, by then we were tired of all the hair metal anyway.

Still, the desire for that viewing-as-discovery experience has remained, and that's what the Memphis-based DittyTV network is targeting. Since 2014, the storefront studio on South Main has been plying the web-waves with new music, slowly amassing a global reach that most Memphians are oblivious to. And to top it all off, there's not a trace of hair metal.

I first met Ronnie and Amy Wright soon after they relocated here from Washington, D.C., in 2010, looking for something beyond the Beltway life. Within a couple of years, they had fashioned the studio space that's still their headquarters, and were shooting professional live performance videos of bands. And they let bands keep the footage and the multitrack audio masters to use however they saw fit. It seemed too good to be true.

But their labor of love, DittyTV, had legs, especially when they refined their operation with a stronger identity. Being roots music buffs, framing DittyTV as an Americana network was a natural fit. For one thing, the term is increasingly inclusive. "Americana is a wide net, but you're not going to extremes like EDM or metal," Ronnie says. "It's not really a genre, it's a collection of genres that people seem to love from their 20s into their 60s and 70s. And our viewership bears that out. People write in and say, 'I put it on for hours and hours.' That's what I did in the MTV days. You just let it roll and use it as a soundtrack."

A major turning point was being invited to broadcast the last Folk Alliance conference held in Memphis before that organization's move to Kansas City. Ronnie recalls, "The first Folk Alliance we did was in 2012. We slowly grew, and now we're up to more than five million viewers every month."

"One of the things we're trying to do is expand onto other platforms," Amy adds. "Like streaming apps with their own channel lineups, or 'skinny bundles.' We're at an advantage, because we're already a digital network. A lot of the traditional channels have to convert their signal to a digital stream, and that's caused problems. But we're already digital."

And they've smoothed out the wrinkles of their operation into 12 programs of music videos, ranging from the earthy R&B of Soul Side to the solo songwriters of Campfire. Their 12-hour cycle is further peppered with music news and interviews, and at the heart of it are the live in-studio concerts that DittyTV started with. The live coverage of music festivals has only grown, now including Nashville's Americana Fest and Memphis' own Ameripolitan Music Awards, coming up next week.

Soon they'll be opening the space next door as a retail shop, Vibe and Dime, featuring LPs, musical instruments, and Ditty bling. "We'll have live music on the weekends," says Ronnie. "It's sort of a Swiss Army Knife. We can shoot interviews in the window." The Wrights hope the shop raises their local profile, which has not matched their exponential growth in other markets.

"Thirty percent of our audience watches from outside the United States. The network definitely has an international feel to it, but most people love the fact that it's in Memphis, including artists that aren't from here." And DittyTV has emulated the same independent spirit that animated other Memphis operations like Sun or Stax. "We can change and adapt," says Ronnie." Our programming is more fresh and organic. We're open to anybody that wants to submit a video."

This Year's Beale Street Music Festival Lineup Announced
(image) The lineup of the 2019 Beale Street Music Festival, scheduled for May 3rd-5th at Tom Lee Park, has been announced, featuring headliners from the worlds of rock, alternative, R&B, hip hop, indie, pop, and blues.That includes some old favorites like the Dave Matthews Band, The Killers, G-Eazy, Charlie Wilson, Shinedown, and Gary Clark Jr. But some relatively new names also top the bill, including Khalid (nominated for five Grammys, but shut out of a win) and OneRepublic. And if you know Cardi B mostly from viral videos, now's your chance to see her prove her mettle as a performer, as she did at Sunday night's Grammy performance (where she was the first female to receive Best Rap Album).

“The Beale Street Music Festival saw more than 102,000 in Tom Lee Park last year...We wanted to offer an even bigger lineup in 2019 as our city celebrates its bicentennial,” said Memphis in May President and CEO James L. Holt.

Other artists featured this year include India.Arie, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, Lord Huron, Flogging Molly, 6lack, Trippie Redd, Chvrches, Lil Dicky, Good Charlotte, Big Boi, Dirty Heads, In This Moment, Simple Plan, Rodrigo y Gabriella, Moon Taxi, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, Coin and more. St. Paul and the Broken Bones, with local City Champ Al Gamble on keys, will be a highlight for many.

As always, one standout feature of the festival is its commitment to local talent, with a full forty percent of the performers coming from Memphis and the surrounding area. Rappers MoneyBagg Yo, Blocboy JB and NLE Choppa will make an appearance, as will Healy, Saving Abel, and Muck Sticky. Local talent will range from rising star Liz Brasher to veteran songwriter John Kilzer and the Scars
Yet some fans may just want to stay planted in the Coca-Cola Blues Tent. Any appearance from Stax legend William Bell is a must-see, but the unique takes on local roots brought by acts as diverse as Southern Avenue, Super Chikan, and Barbara Blue are also a delight. Ghost Town Blues Band, Will Tucker, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Terry “Harmonica” BeanBrandon Santini, Gracie Curran and the High Falutin’ Band, Fuzzy Jeffries, Deak Harp & Quicksand, Sam Joyner, and Linear Smith will further round out the blues tent, and the greatest may be the soul-jarring delta vibes of Blind Mississippi Morris
Tickets can be purchased through eventbrite.com and are sold now through April 19 as three-day passes for just $135, or single-day tickets for $55. A limited number of VIP passes are also available at eventbrite.com for $649, providing access to exclusive viewing platforms, private “comfort station” restrooms, and light snacks and drinks (including limited alcoholic beverages) for all three days.
Hunt Sales Rules & Rocks With Memphis-Tinged New Album
(image) Memphis music fans vividly recall a spate of shows by drummer Hunt Sales in 2017-18. With a work resume as long as your arm, including stints with Todd Rundgren, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie, the powerhouse drummer was nevertheless relatively obscure, and his Bluff City appearances seemed to come out of the blue. Even more surprising, for fans of Iggy Pop's “Lust for Life,” or the Tin Machine, was the groovy R&B Sales ended up playing in those sets. You half expected an emcee to announce “It's showtime!” as the band laid down classic sounds right out of the playbook of James Brown and the Famous Flames. And Sales' voice, weathered by years of heroin addiction, was so well suited to the blues  that when he and the band laid into Tin Machine's rock ballad “Sorry,” sung by Sales with gravelly abandon as on the original recording, it was all of a piece.

Now, the fruit of those sporadic Memphis gigs has arrived. Austin native Will Sexton, now a happily married Memphian, helped bring Sales to Memphis in the first place, and went so far as to introduce him to Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum's Bruce Watson. That in turn led to Sales' debut album as a solo artist, the Hunt Sales Memorial's Get Your Shit Together, released two weeks ago. Recruiting some fine Memphis- and Austin-based players, he's tossed out the R&B chestnuts that peppered his live sets, and cooked up a platter of originals.

Those chestnuts are missed, in a way. Sales' live sets were perfect showcases of his early influences. As the son of celebrity Soupy Sales, he was exposed to, or taught by, such masters as Earl Palmer, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones and Buddy Rich. Such points of reference, combined with the sheer power of his attack, made for some mighty swinging music at those Memphis gigs. The new album is bleaker than that, and angrier. It rocks mightily. As always, he hammers the drums, yet they are heavily compressed, blended with gritty guitar tones like some literal tin machine in his garage.

Which is not to deny the power of the songs. Though Sales is not a conventional “good singer,” his wail perfectly suits the tales of regret, frustration and hedonism that he's crafted. Heavy, down and dirty guitar riffs ground the proceedings, courtesy Dutch Austinite Tjarko Jeen. But there are some stylistic detours as well. “I'm sorry, baby, I put that needle in my neck!” he sings on “Sorry Baby,” the album's nearest thing to good time R&B. Another track, “Magik,” is a second cousin to the Eddie Floyd classic “Big Bird,” rocking all the harder with it's heavy horns. “When life gets tragic, you bring out the magic.” 

The horns do indeed bring out the magic in this record, and its most palpable R&B flavor, thanks to Memphians Jim Spake and Art Edmaiston. (Pat Fusco and Mark Edgar Stuart also make cameos, on piano and bass, respectively). Indeed, the grooviest number here is the horn-driven instrumental, “Cleveland Street Memphis.”

On other tracks, they are in rock horn mode, blending in with the chunky guitar tones seamlessly. And over it all soars the anguish of Sales' voice, carrying the listener through desperate addiction and cathartic release alike. “When I met you, you had a re-purposed life/I had an ex-wife and a kid, yes I did ...You say there's a thin line between love and hate/I cross the line every night and day,” he wails on the head-turning rock steady soul of “Angel of Darkness,” and you know it comes from a life lived on the edge.

“What I really am is my kids’ father and my wife’s husband,” Sales says in his press release. “And I’m a heroin addict. A bad heroin addict for 40 years. I’ve been a crackhead. And I’ve been a criminal. Those are the facts. But I don’t do drugs anymore. I'm sober now. All I do is make music — so let’s not be late for the show.”
Louise Page Organizes Concert for Mariposa Collective
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The Mariposas Collective is a Memphis-based grassroots organization (previously called Migration Is Beautiful) working to help immigrants who have been detained while crossing the southern border. After their indefinite detentions, if they are released, these immigrants and asylum-seekers are bused to other parts of the U.S., where they have family.

"Memphis is their first stop on the Greyhound bus," says Memphis songwriter Louise Page. Volunteers with the Mariposas Collective meet these families with food, water, medicine, and toys. It's a simple mission of human kindness, offering some warmth and comfort to those who have seen only the harshest side of our nation.

"It's really hard on the heart. It's difficult to watch," Page says of the political grandstanding at the border and the immigrants who suffer for it. "I think just being able to try to help is really valuable, not just to them, but to us." To that end, Page has assembled an impressive array of local talent to perform at a benefit concert for the Mariposas Collective this Saturday night at the Hi-Tone.

Page volunteers with the collective, which operates out of the First Congregational Church. "I signed up for a few shifts bagging brown bag lunches." Page remembers listing music among her other skills on a sign-up sheet during a volunteer shift, thinking: "How the heck is this going to help?" But then the collective's Hunter Demster approached her about putting together a benefit concert.

"It's all volunteers. It's all donated stuff," Page says of the Mariposas Collective, noting that creative fund-raising is often required. So the pianist agreed to put her special skills to use, and reached out to an eclectic group of musicians, united more by the night's mission than by any similar style or genre. Marcella Simien, Crown Vox, Faux Killas, Magnolia, the PRVLG, the Ellie Badge, and Rosie will join Page on the bill.

"I was proud of my community," Page says. "There were people who were really interested in making it work with their schedules." And with eight bands on the lineup, that's far from empty praise. "The one genre I didn't get was hip-hop," Page muses. "I need to get some hip-hop on the bill next time."

Even without her volunteer work and the challenge of organizing an eight-band benefit concert, Page has been busy of late. The singer/songwriter released her second EP, Simple Sugar, in 2018, supporting the release with an East Coast tour, a set at the 20th anniversary Lucero Family Block Party, and a music video release. Not one to sleep on success, Page has kept up her momentum this year.

"I'm doing pre-production for my first full-length album," Page says. "We're going to be recording this spring and hopefully releasing the record this summer."

Page wants the new album to be an evolution, rooted in her previous work but aiming for greater heights. "My first album was a little bit more eclectic, because I was looking back over years of music that I've written," Page says. "I studied my first two EPs, listened to them with a critical ear, listened for what I could really hone in on and make intentional."

To record the full-length album, Page plans to return to Young Avenue Sound, where she cut her first two EPs with Calvin Lauber. And she's bringing back her band, including the violin and horn section that have become such a characteristic part of her sound. "I want it to be fun," Page says of the album. "I'm really good at writing a sad song, and there will be some classic Louise Page bummer jams, but there are also a couple of songs I wrote to be fun to dance to. If the EPs are about heartbreak, I want this album to be about mending."

Page has mending on her mind, both in her music and in bringing together a community of musicians to assist those being victimized in our name. This Saturday, she hopes you'll come listen and celebrate, healing ourselves through helping others.

Louise Page, Marcella Simien, Crown Vox, Faux Killas, Magnolia, the PRVLG, the Ellie Badge, and Rosie at the Hi-Tone, Saturday, February 9th, 7 p.m. $15 suggested donation.

IMAKEMADBEATS Wows an Inspired TEDx Conference
(image) When the TEDx Memphis team, who work with TED to set up locally-focused TED Conferences, planned this year's roster of speakers, it's no surprise that one of them turned out to be James Dukes, aka IMAKEMADBEATS. For years, we've chronicled the work he and Unapologetic, the collective he founded, have done in and around the city. Creating great music is what they're best known for, though they also have fingers in the worlds of apparel, journalism, and more. With Unapologetic's brand gaining wider attention, purely out of gumption and productivity, it's clear that they're a perfect fit for the TED aesthetic.

And yet, as Dukes himself explained, he never imagined he'd be embraced as a public speaker. Indeed, this observation formed the basis of his talk last Saturday at the Crosstown Theater. "I'm nervous as hell," he began. "But I'm gonna do this anyway. How does a black man wearing a mask, who's spent most of his life stuttering, mumbling, suffering from high levels of social anxiety, end up on a TEDx stage, talking to hundreds of people? Maybe thousands via the internet?"

What followed was his life in a nutshell, a troubled childhood that nonetheless taught him the power of hard work and empathy for others. And ultimately, those roots led him to the epiphany he communicated to the TEDx audience that day: that such empathy can in fact empower one's self to greater achievements.

If empathy is not what listeners are used to hearing from the Memphis trap music that's conquering the world now, it's understandable. But dig deeper into hip hop's diversity, and you'll see the genre is rife with literary character studies, from Schooly D, L.L. Cool J,  De La Soul, and Busta Rhymes, to Kendrick Lamar, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize. All are artists building from their empathy.

Many of Saturday's talks were focused on the power of unique visions and unorthodox approaches (this is TED, after all). The unique insight Dukes offered was how deeply intertwined our individuality is with empathy and the needs of others. It was an observation in which his own collective and the Memphis music scene in general, known for over half a century as oddballs, can take great pride. 

To be sure, Dukes had the support of his crew to make the sense of community palpable. As emcee Eric Barnes introduced Dukes, who should appear onstage but Unapologetic singer Cameron Bethany came instead. Sitting at the back of the stage, he began by singing "No matter what you go through... be you."  Dukes himself appeared a moment later, setting up a sample board that he would use to underscore points in his talk. He might say the word "alienation" and then trigger it as an echoed kernel of meaning that reverberated over the speech that followed.

Such theatricality was a new approach for this longtime fan of TED Talks. Indeed, while TED Talks are often punctuated by visual cues on a slideshow screen, Duke's presentation, though sporting a few visual markers, brought a more sonic orientation to the proceedings, which in turn, through the amorphous, immersive qualities of sound, drove home his points about nurturing individuality in a nest of social interdependence. 
This was further emphasized when Aaron James and A Weirdo From Memphis (AWFM) also joined Dukes onstage, sitting unassumingly on stools, silently dramatizing certain moments from Duke's life, or simply bearing witness to his words. When James removed his shirt, you could say that TEDx had been officially "DisrupTEDx," as Duke's T-shirt proclaimed. At that moment, the audience could viscerally feel the vulnerability that Dukes was speaking of, best expressed in some of his closing thoughts on the how pursuing your uniqueness can feed the needs of others:

"Framing it as for someone else gives me purpose, and I can't let that person down. Secrets don't start movements. Uncovering them does. Someone is waiting on you to be you. Extremely you. Awkwardly you. Effortlessly you. Vulnerably you. Unapologetically you."

Dukes concluded his talk, and the applause was thunderous, the cheers ecstatic. I guarantee that every audience member exited out into the world more ready to be their own bad self, and get on with something big.

Watch this page for a link to TEDx Memphis' video of his entire presentation, when available in the near future. 
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