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Yer all talk
Local podcast Stage Banter is a heaven for music obsessives
By Jim Fester
Fort Wayne Reader
The words on the Stage Banter homepage say it all: “God gave us the music to rock, not to talk about. But here we go…”
Stage Banter is a locally-based podcast about… well, music. Every couple weeks, Matt Kelley (a Legendary Trainhopper and owner of design company One Lucky Guitar), gets together with music journalists Greg Locke and Sean Smith (of WhatzUp and The Fort Wayne Reader, respectively) to record an episode. The three hosts — all knowledgeable, opinionated music fans with a wide range of tastes — gather in the offices of One Lucky Guitar to discuss, debate, and argue about music.
Though Stage Banter is produced locally and sometimes features local guests, anything is fair game. They’ve done 19 episodes so far, with topics ranging from a detailed breakdown of Bob Dylan’s Desire (with help from local Dylan expert John Minton) to a massive review session of recent CD releases.
Kelley, Locke, and Smith have known each other for a while, and the chemistry between them is evident. “Matt’s very solid, but I just kind of say whatever comes to mind,” Smith says. “Greg’s really quiet. He’s that guy on the mountain top. He doesn’t say much but when he does, there’s a lot behind it. He really balances us out.”
And though all of them are passionate about music, their tastes don’t overlap too much. “Greg is definitely the indie guy, into Guided By Voices and Pavement. And Sean has this encyclopedic knowledge of obscure music that sells 500 copies,” Kelley says. “My roots are more in older singer-songwriters and then current artists I like tend to be influenced by them.”
The idea for the podcast began when Kelley’s co-worker Paige Thurston overheard Smith and Kelley arguing about a recent album and said they should have their own radio show. “I thought ‘it’s not a radio thing, but it could be a podcast thing,’ says Kelley. “It was something we could do ourselves, and we could do it grass roots, which is how I prefer to do things anyways.”
Kelley’s basic model for Stage Banter is Sound Opinions, the Chicago Public Radio-based podcast hosted by well-known music journalists Greg Kott (Chicago Tribune) and Jim DeRogatis (Chicago Sun-Times). “This is the same kind of thing, where you have passionate music fans who want to talk about things that might be considered obscure, but really aren’t that obscure,” Kelley says. “The people who are in to it are really in to it. That’s our appeal to people who are in to niche and ‘cult’ styles of music.”
Actually, Stage Banter’s topics aren’t always “niche” or “cult” — not even most of the time. A recurring series called “Life and Times” has an episode spotlighting Jeff Tweedy and Wilco, with commentary from local Wilco expert Jen Reinking; John Minton dropped by to talk about Bob Dylan on the first of two Dylan-centric episodes; the Stage Banter team has even talked about the latest Dixie Chicks album…
In fact, a casual music fans might recognize many of the bands and artists that are regularly name checked on Stage Banter. The “niche” factor is the level of thought and insight the three hosts and their guests bring to the subjects. In other words, while a Bruce Springsteen fan might get into what Stage Banter has to say about Bruce (they haven’t done a Springsteen-centric show yet, but Kelley is a huge fan), the guy who checked out Born In the USA 20 years ago might find himself in over his head.
On the other hand, Stage Banter sometimes delves deep in to the personal musical obsessions of the hosts. Smith lead a show featuring indie band mewithoutyou; two earlier episodes focused on the Elephant 6 bands, a loose collective of groups influenced by 60s psycadelic pop. “Half the reason we do Stage Banter is to expose other people to music we think they might like that they may not have heard,” Locke says.
Still, the hosts seem pretty conscious that people are listening, and they can’t “geek out” too much. A detailed rundown of the history of Australian rockers You Am I is one thing; harping on about the finer points of a b-side found on a limited edition Japanese vinyl import single by Brit-pop also-rans Menswear… not so good. “Matt’s really good about that,” Smith says. “He’s like the hall monitor, and I mean that in the best way. He’s really good at reigning us back in.”
Locke adds that he’s always wondering at what point he’s going to lose listeners. “I probably worry about that too much, but I want to keep from being indulgent. It’s a ‘fetish’ thing, so being indulgent is part of it. I love that stuff, I love talking about it, but I know that not everybody does.”
At the same time, Smith says he thinks that might be part of the appeal “I think that’s one of the pleasures of the show. Some people may feel like it’s over their head, but…”
Locke says: “Listening to a podcast, you can sit there alone with your headphones on and not say a word, but when it’s over, you feel you just had a conversation. I think that’s the appeal of a podcast to really hard core music people.”
At least one listener seems to agree with Smith and Locke. “The internet is, among other things, a forum for obsessions,” says R. Michael Horan. “Music has always been my sole obsession, and Stage-Banter is a great local obsession venue. I have also had the pleasure of meeting these people in the real world, and they are just as obsessive in 3D.”
And apparently, Horan is not the only one. Ehrmann, Stage Banter’s webmaster, said there were so many downloads of the podcast last month they needed more bandwidth for the site. “We have a lot of Fort Wayne listeners, but then we also get listeners from all over the U.S.,” Kelley adds. “With the Dylan episode and the Wilco episode, those got listed on a couple of fan sites for those artists. We were getting e-mails from Sweden about something Sean Smith said about Bob Dylan.”
Kelley says ultimately he would like to see Stage Banter make the leap to radio, though right now the podcast format is serving them just fine. The list of possible topics the hosts came up with over six months ago when they first hatched the idea of the podcast still has quite a few items left on it, so they’re not afraid of running out of things to talk about — or opinions.
You can check out Stage Banter at www.stagebanter.com