BONUS TRACKS: Robert Earl Keen Stands Out as CEO, Delbert McClinton Retires, and More
Robert Earl Keen
Robert Earl Keen is known for his good-time songs and raucous shows, but there’s always been a lot of heart behind all that. You can hear it right there in his songs (the lovely waltz “No Kinda Dancer,” not exactly made for shouting along, has always been a personal favorite), and here it is again in the way he’s been treating his team — actually his employees — during the pandemic. He kept all 10 paid, insured, and on a retirement plan. But it wasn’t easy: He had to refinance his house to do it. Read his interview with Forbes for more on how he’s kept his team afloat, and why he’s created his own working model in the music business.
In other business news (that’s actually interesting), Variety reported that the Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) website received more than 17,000 applications within 24 hours of it being up and running Monday (after a months-long delay and then a botched launch attempt earlier in the month). The SVOG portal allows independent venues and theaters to apply for grants created by the Save Our Stages Act that was part of a federal pandemic relief package passed in December. The portal is still up and running here.
Delbert McClinton’s life and career have been filled with ups and downs — enough to fill a biography (ND review) a couple of years ago. Heart bypass surgeries, divorces, and evaporated record deals didn’t stop him from making music, but now, in a quiet period brought on by the pandemic, he’s applying the brakes on his own. McClinton, now 80, announced in a Facebook post this week that he’s retiring. “I had been considering finishing this year with a modest number of shows. But the more I thought about it, and the more obstacles that have been placed in front of me, the less my heart was in it,” he was quoted as saying in the post. He continued: “I have had a decent career, and I have accomplished more than I ever dreamed I would. With that in mind, this is a good time to retire.” Read ND’s review of McClinton’s most recent album, 2019’s Tall, Dark & Handsome, here.
A musician’s job is to examine our world, think critically about it, and help us make sense of it through song. It’s a bit a magic that has the power to bring people together. Being that they’re human, though, musicians may sometimes come up with opinions and worldviews not all of their fans agree with, and that should — to a point — be okay. The point at which it becomes not okay is when the opinion is hateful or harmful, and that’s a line many feel bluegrass icon Ricky Skaggs crossed earlier this month during an appearance on YouTube with Steve Shultz, founder of an evangelical website. On the video, Skaggs repeated a bogus claim that the 2020 election was “stolen” and hit a few QAnon talking points that don’t bear repeating here because they are, of course, false and ridiculous. And they’re also harmful, as we saw in the Jan. 6 raid on the U.S. Capitol. Skaggs might play the fire out of some bluegrass, but his words dishonor his bluegrass community, which has struggled to show the wider world the diversity of opinions and players within its ranks today. So he’s harmed bluegrass fans, too, according to this essay from music journalist Craig Havighurst. To borrow a phrase from Bill Monroe (who once called a 6-year-old Skaggs up on stage to play with him), that ain’t no part of nothin’, and it’s distinctly out of harmony with fans and fellow musicians who deserve better.
WHAT WE’RE LISTENING TO
Here’s a sampling of the songs, albums, bands, and sounds No Depression staffers have been into this week:
Justin Hiltner (feat. Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer) – “Wildflowers”
No-No Boy – “The Best God Damn Band in Wyoming”
Christian Lee Hutson – Beginners
Molly Burch – “Control”
The Brother Brothers – Calla Lily
Trixie Mattel and Orville Peck – “Jackson”