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fortwaynemusic.com gets its act together
New content, new focus, and a stunning live CD on the way
By Jim Fester
Fort Wayne Reader
Back in 1999, when Chris Wallace started the Fort Wayne Music web site (www.fortwaynemusic.com), his basic goals were pretty simple — to provide a community-oriented network environment to benefit musicians and fans in the area, a place where bands could post news, fans could hear about upcoming shows, and everyone could exchange information on local artists.
Ask Wallace if he thinks the site has been successful at this, and the answer is ‘yes’… to an extent. The positive side: “I’ve actually been enlightened to a lot more of the local music scene,” Wallace says. “I’ve actually grown to appreciate it that much more from the website.”
The negatives: “There have been several long stretches in its past where there were no changes on the site. No updates, nothing.”
This is hardly news to anyone who has followed the site over the years. Over 3,000 people are registered there (registration is free), hundreds post and read the message boards, and in general it’s proved to be a haven for people searching for original music in a town that likes its cover bands, and likes ‘em note-by-note.
But the long periods of inactivity meant the site never quite fulfilled its promise as the definitive source for all things relating to local music.
Now, the Fort Wayne Music board of directors — Wallace, Matt Jericho, designer Jeff Anderson and programmer Anthony Gaff, along with a few dedicated volunteers — are in the midst of a massive effort to make the site realize its full potential. “We’ve decided to kind of do things a little bit differently and take a more aggressive approach so we can do more to actively promote local music,” says Matt Jericho.
Taking an aggressive approach means registering Fort Wayne Music as a not-for-profit organization that would not only promote shows, but sponsor and facilitate a whole range of special music-related projects.
Just a few of the ideas they’ve been kicking around are a scholarship fund for local high school students pursuing music degree at a local institution, or offering music lessons at places like the Boys and Girls Club or one of the other services in town for underprivileged youth. Jericho cautions that a lot of these ideas are still in the infant stages, of course, but he doesn’t see why with a committed staff and organized structure they can’t become reality.
“I would like to see it generating some sort of revenue that we can actually put back into development,” Wallace adds. “We’re at the point that we’re actually, in a way, selling Fort Wayne Music as a product. We’re booking shows, getting out there and interacting with venues giving the bands further avenues to get in front of larger crowds.”
Besides a regularly updated site, one of the first results of this new effort is the Deer Park Sessions, a really cool twist on the tried-and-true formula of the local artist compilation… but more on that in a moment.
Fortwaynemusic.com originally launched as an online radio station; this was back in 1999, several years before broadcasting over the web became commonplace. “I had roughly a thousand songs from local bands rotating 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Wallace. “We were getting to the point where we were actually doing video webcasts with local music from Legends every Saturday night, getting a few hundred people from all over the world logging in to watch those shows.”
At the time, the technology was immature, and the process required a lot of power. The site also took a lot of effort to maintain, and with the everyday demands of real life eating up his time, Wallace eventually gave up the webcasting aspect. The site sank into one of its less active periods, something that can unfortunately happen to many projects that rely on the spare time and good will of volunteers.
Fortunately, the site’s active/stagnant cycle seems to be over now. “With the writing staff we have, there’s good, new content on the site,” says Jeff Anderson, fwm.com’s “graphics guy” who initially discovered the site several years ago after becoming a huge fan of the Wailhounds. “People come back every day and see something new, and it brings lots of new people to the boards.”
Which brings us to the Deer Park Sessions, a fund-raising CD for fortwaynemusic.com featuring exclusive tracks from acts like Definitely Gary, the Wailhounds, Matthew Sturm and many, many others, set to be released on May 5th.
Just another collection of local acts? Hardly. Deer Park Sessions is a different kind of beast. Matt Jericho played a key role in developing the annual Essentials compilations while he was at X102, and didn’t think there was much interest in another CD like that. Recorded during a series of gigs this past winter at the Deer Park Tavern, the CD combines elements of a raucous, “hot-and-sweaty” old school live album with a bare-bones acoustic performance. It’s like an “unplugged” CD, except exciting… err, I mean less sedate. “The basic idea is you take these bands — some of them are singer/songwriter acoustic artists, some are full bands — and give them this raw, acoustic sound,” Jericho says. “Then we throw them into the smallest club we can find, and we just pack ‘em in. What comes out is a totally different product than what we could have done if we had just said ‘we’ll trade out X amount of studio time and come out with a local music CD.’”
The gigs proved far more successful than any of the organizers imagined. Attendance was so great at one show that people were standing in the parking lot, listening through open windows. Recording for the Deer Park Sessions wrapped up in late March, but Jericho says one of the goals behind the revamped fortwaynemusic.com is to maintain the level of excitement that surrounded some of these shows. “We want to have events. There’s got to be a sense of urgency. It can’t be just another show.”
Wallace adds: “(The Deer Park sessions) have shown that in the proper setting, with proper organization and proper booking, we can take a mix of bands, put them in just about any venue, and pack the place.”
The staff of Fort Wayne Music are brimming over with ideas, and talking up the benefits of the site. “Just hang out on the boards, and you’ll meet some cat that’s going to know what’s going on with a certain show or band,” says Anderson. “I may not be able to tell you anything about a Christian rock band that’s on the board, but there’s someone on there that can.”
Despite the enthusiasm for potential future projects, the key word among the staff and volunteers is “patience.” What they ultimately hope to do with fortwaynemusic.com is change the way local original music is perceived in Fort Wayne. “Local music does have a place in Fort Wayne’s nightlife,” Wallace says. “Everyone goes, ‘oh we gotta go see the local cover band.’ Well, no, you don’t have to, because we can put two or three local bands playing their own original music, which is just as good, and sometimes even better, than what you’d get from a cover band.”
The Deer Park Sessions CD release party happens May 5th. Go to www.fortwaynemusic.com for more details.