HELLO STRANGER: A Walk Through No Depression’s Spring 2022 ‘General Admission’ Journal + Playlist
EDITOR’S NOTE: Managing Editor Hilary Saunders’ letter, below, opens our current quarterly journal, reflecting on the issue’s theme of “General Admission” and celebrating the places and spaces where roots music happens. Buy the Spring 2022 issue in print or digitally here. Better yet, start a subscription with this issue and help support No Depression’s music journalism all year long.
I’ve been fascinated with the relationship between music and place for more than a decade. No matter where I am in the world, I’m always looking at the streets, the landscape, the concentric circles of concentrated humanity and how they all interact.
In particular, I’m endlessly fascinated by how people interact with the structures around them. I love learning about how people can revitalize a space, taking an outdated structure and transforming its usage while preserving its architecture. In graduate school, I took a course called “Music and the City,” which culminated in a term paper I wrote about music and urban renewal in Miami, Florida. In fact, one of my favorite stories I’ve written for No Depression was about similar issues and successes with such city planning in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the Spring 2017 “Heartland” issue.
In music, of course, these spaces often come in the form of venues, theaters, or bars. They also encompass recording studios, radio stations, record stores, and festivals. But music also happens outside of such established settings all the time. It happens in basements, on rooftops (shoutout to all eight hours of The Beatles: Get Back), and in dirty houses without permits.
There’s a special kind of camaraderie and magic that happens inside these spaces. And when that energy, that music, drifts outside and brings more people to them, real change can happen in our communities: Bands play venues in underserved parts of town. Fans support local businesses in the area. Jobs are created. It’s a synergistic relationship, an endless feedback loop of inspiration and action with our favorite artform at the root of it all.
When we came up with the theme of “General Admission,” the No Depression team had just covered the return of the FreshGrass Festival at MASS MoCA, presented by our nonprofit publisher, the FreshGrass Foundation. For most of us, it was the first music festival we’d seen in two summers. Invigorated by the performances and reunions, we wanted to dedicate an entire issue to celebrating this range of places where roots music happens.
Assistant Editor Stacy Chandler came up with the idea of titling this theme “General Admission.” Of course, it’s a nod to concert seating assignments (or a lack thereof), but it’s also a bold statement: All people and all places are welcome here.
Stories in this issue highlight locales across multiple states and countries. There are recording studios in Mexico City, burgeoning scenes in South London, and dispatches from rural parts of Kansas and Arkansas. We tried to include a mix of legacy events like MerleFest and established venues like the Brooklyn Bowl franchise, as well as little-known and local haunts — like Sarah Shook’s favorite bar, The Cave in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the Dial Back Sound studio and record label deep in northern Mississippi.
We also tried to invert the theme and explore the untraditional places where roots music happens. Andy Crump wrote about how artists like Brandy Zdan, Lilly Hiatt, and Lowland Hum recorded their most recent albums at home because the pandemic thwarted the more traditional studio experience. And Will Hodge looked to the city streets, exploring how busking continues to influence Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova 15 years after the release of their award-winning indie film, Once.
When we were putting this issue together, we realized that “General Admission” also ought to serve as tribute to all our favorite places that have survived the pandemic and explore what the future of musical spaces might look like. But at the time of this writing, the Omicron variant is canceling gigs and rescheduling tours all over again. Even with the uncertainty of it all — the question marks of what might happen between now and when this issue arrives in your hands — it feels more important than ever to honor every place that enables roots music to happen.
Here is a playlist of songs from bands featured in Spring 2022 “General Admission” issue: