Before handing things over to our freelancers, who will consider the year's highlights in their particularly genres of expertise, I'll give a shot at summing up the year that was in the local music scene.
The most established music festivals were held, in one form or another, this year. Oranje and the Broad Ripple Music Fest seemed the most successful, in terms of attendance and talent, with the comeback of Johnny Socko filling much of the Vogue for the kickoff night of the BRMC, and Oranje once again drawing crowds to an unlikely spot on the near Northside (although, now that the former warehouse on Illinois St. has become Oranje's regular location, the event has lost just a smidgen of its spontaneous, urban adventurer vibe). The guys behind the Indy Jazz Fest made a valiant effort to retool and present a week-long event last in September, but low attendance and haphazard marketing efforts will likely force a return, once again, to the drawing board for what may become Indy's most ill-fated (though well-intentioned) event. The Lotus World Music and Arts Festival remains the state's premiere weekend of music, presenting music of the world in a lively atmosphere that avoids the flattening, exoticizing tendencies of your average Putamayo collection.
Of course, your year in music is what you make it, and plenty of the best performers of the acoustic stripe were playing before small crowds at house series like Fields of Bluegrass (renamed Redbud in the middle of the year). The appeals of a house concert are many for both the performer, who can make a living wage via the direct donations of the attendees, and the listener, who gets a chance to hear said performer without smoke in her eyes or drunken idiots chattering in the background. The same could be said of basement shows at places like Casa del Kotex and Halloween House, where electrified bands play in a sweaty atmosphere where the fourth wall is broken with every thrust of the mic.
A few local labels continue to do a bang-up job helping bands manufacture a product representative of their talent. Standard Recording Company wasn't quite as active as in years prior, though the low-cost spay/neuter clinic FACE was certainly happy to be the beneficiary of donations from Standard's second Christmas music collection. Joyful Noise Recording's most prominent album was probably Marmoset's Tea Tornado
, the first by the Indy band after departing Secretly Canadian. Asthmatic Kitty, which isn't exclusively local, continued to put out music by two stellar acts: Bloomington sound collagist DM Stith and Indianapolis low-fi rockers Jookabox.
Websites like Musical Family Tree and My Old Kentucky Blog/Laundromatinee remain hugely important resources for the local music scene. Musical Family Tree serves both archival and creative purposes, sometimes both for any one artist - one might find new work by Vess Ruhtenberg alongside what he recorded in the mid-'90s in the website's vast but easy-to-navigate mp3 database. Laundromatinee continues to feature both traveling indie bands and the cream of the local crop in live-in-studio video performances that often also end up featured on My Old Kentucky Blog's Sirius satellite broadcast. Show up for their blowout local music show in January when cameras capture a who's-who of local bands in performance, then look for the fruits of the show on Laundromatinee throughout 2010.
If the phenomenon of house concerts - or rent parties or drum circles - tells us anything, it's that musicians will find a place to play. And there will always be a club or two in town willing to take a chance on anything, as long as that anything is willing to lose his or her shirt. But it's still important to note that clubowners seemed to make it out OK in 2009, with only the financially weakest of the pack closing down early in the recession (Sam's Saloon, The Music Mill, American Cabaret Theater). Of those that closed up, only Sam's Saloon and Spin Nightclub haven't reopened in one form or another.
While we may be heading into a more conservative area in the world of art music with the departure of Mario Venzago and arrival of Michael Feinstein, there are bright spots and bright young things. The string trio Time for Three - led by ISO concertmaster Zach de Pue - is now in residence at the ISO, and delivered a sparkling performance of both a Jennifer Higdon piece and the "Orange Blossom Special" in a fall concert. Time for Three is about all the orchestra has going for it right now in terms of good will - between the front-office squabbles that led to Venzago's departure and a not-so-terrific deal for the musician's union, it's a bit hard to get excited about the direction of the ISO, or more appropriately, lack of direction. But sometimes, there's no need for leaders or conductors. Tonos Triad, Maple Trio and Basilica are untenured groups that offer genuine musicianship and have a willingness to stretch boundaries - the first two in a string setting that can range from contemporary classical to nu-grass, the third with an art-metal that tests both wits and eardrums.