Traffic Jam

The folks at Tapir Productions are trying to keep jam bands from skipping over Houston

Bluegrass is guarded by zealous purists who believe that the music should be played by only the traditional banjo-fiddle-guitar-mandolin-bass lineup -- and that solos should be short. The success of Old And In The Way, and the subsequent rise of the Newgrass movement and the jazz-inflected, extended solo-playing Bela Fleck are abominations to them.

"A bunch of hippies in their spare time made the biggest album in history," laughs Friedman. "A lot of us deadheads or retired deadheads or whatever you want to call us, we got our first taste of bluegrass through that album and we got hooked, and we started going out to hear a lot of the other stuff, and as we got older, we got enough money to start buying the albums and kind of made the natural transition through Grisman and the New Grass Revival, and we started to get this more jamming kind of bluegrass, and then we worked our way backwards to Monroe and the Stanley Brothers and the Osborne Brothers."

And that's where about four million sets of ears are now, as evidenced by the success of O Brother, Where Art Thou? Nevertheless, Tapir shows have yet to fully tap into the phenomenon. "We have this core of 200 people who do know our brand name, but it seems to have ossified at that number," says Hartman. "It's been very hard to reach a broader audience. It's been easier to get noticed by bands and band management than it has been to get noticed locally."

Given the "laid-back" vibe of the jam band world, one might expect that Hartman and Friedman are slackers: clerks at Smoke-n-Toke by day, jam band promoters by night or some such. Little could be further from the truth. Hartman, a lawyer and a librarian, runs the computer system at the UH Law Library, and Friedman, a rheumatologist, teaches and practices medicine at the UT-Houston Medical School on Fannin.

And since they both have such lucrative day jobs, neither has much interest in opening their own club. "Well, maybe we might like to do that, but I know our wives wouldn't like it," jokes Friedman.

But for those who don't feel well served by Houston's existing club infrastructure, for those who wonder why their favorite bands never come to town, Hartman suggests you quit your bitching and just go get the acts you want to hear. "It's a low entry-barrier business," he says. "If you have the enthusiasm and a little bit of time to devote to the business, it doesn't take very long to get a name out there. Pretty soon the band's pursuing you rather than the other way around."

Scuttlebutt Caboose

The newly founded Houston Academy of Radio, Television, and Music Artists (HARTMA) is working on the establishment of a Houston media hall of fame. ZZ Top, Mickey Gilley, B.J. Thomas and the recently trampled Lyle Lovett will be the first four musicians to be inducted, while Skipper Lee Frazier, John Lander and Hudson & Harrigan head up the radio enshrinees. HARTMA, which hopes to function as a scholarship-granting charity for media aspirants, is still seeking a location for the museum…If you need an excuse to guzzle a little whiskey this weekend, Racket is happy to oblige. Jim Beam recently announced that it furnished Clandestine singer/guitarist Jen Hamel with a $3,000 grant to promote her solo CD Fine Small Storm. If you wake next morning with a little tempest betwixt your temples, take comfort in the thought that maybe a fraction of the money you blew on Kentucky popskull will help Hamel send her press kit to somebody who will give her a hand.

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