30 December, 2010

reading rainbow- 2010 wrap up edition

it's been too long since i took the time to write a blog. i am always so full of ideas, and less full of execution. who out there in the tubes can relate?

i do want to remind regular readers that i spent a substantial portion of my fall blogging over here as part of my "distillation 10th anniversary tour". if you missed it, you can still catch up and grab lots of free music downloads.

i usually try to do some kind of year end wrap-up on the blog. 2010 was a highly varied year for me... i began it with a grueling super DIY european tour (read: lots of trains, dragging around lots of stuff), and i ended it with the "distillation" anniversary project. in between i acted in a play for the first time, joined a softball team (though i had never played before), and went on tour to alaska. for a "down" year in an album cycle, i was incredibly busy.

2011 looks to be more of the same. i wonder if this is the new shape of "making" it in the music industry? we put even more irons in the fire, more pots on the stove, start more and more income streams. however, you want to put it, creative people in 2011 are going to be doing many more little things to add up to what the one big thing used to be. that suits my restless nature just fine.
more on that as we get into 2011.

meanwhile, i thought the 2010 wrap up would be some thoughts on my favorite books i read this year. i've included links to more info about them, but please consider asking your local bookseller first before you buy online.

15 December, 2010

the fight for net neutrality

if you've been following the news lately (or me for awhile), you'll know that on 21st DEC the FCC will be ruling on "net neutrality" (the ability to access legal, online content without interference, gate-keeping, or tolls from your internet service provider). i've worked on this issue for some time, from my cabin fever series to my latest "distillation anniversary webcast" this fall from chicago.

my friends at future of music coalition have posted this clear wishlist for the homestretch of this fight. check it out here.

and i thought i would take a sec and post the comments i submitted last spring to the FCC in support of clear net neutrality rules:

Comments submitted to Federal Communications Commission in support of Net Neutrality. Spring 2010.

Hello, FCC! My name is Erin McKeown, and I have been a professional musician, writer and producer for the last 14 years. I'm 32 and currently live in rural western Massachusetts, but my career has taken me all over the world, playing an estimated 200 gigs per year.

In those 14 years, I have recorded ten albums and 3 EPs for a variety of labels. I began on my own, releasing my music via the internet and touring while I was still an undergrad at Brown University. From there, I signed to a small independent label, Signature Sounds in 1999, a mini-major, Nettwerk, in 2002, and I am currently with the indie label Righteous Babe Records. Along the way, I have performed on "Late Night with Conan O’ Brien,” "Later with Jools Holland” and have been featured in theLondon Times, the New York Times, People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, on NPR and many other fine radio stations at home and abroad.

23 November, 2010

the final inning + last free download

the last download of this project is a live version of “the little cowboy” from our show on 8 OCT in Portland ME. it features the awesome slide playing of “distillation” producer dave chalfant. thanks to everyone who came out to the shows, watched the webcast, and took home some anniversary schwag!

as i wrap up the anniversary project, i’ve been thinking that being a musician is a little like being a professional athelete. if you’re in a band, you’re like a baseball team; if you’re me, you’re like a tennis player. but check this out:

in many of the same ways, the business of sports and the music industry reward youth. travel and performance are physically demanding, especially over a long period of time. you ride an emotional rollercoaster, getting yourself up every night for a game or a gig, and riding your adreneline until you crash- in victory or defeat. only to do it again the next day, in the next town. from the outside, the life appears glamorous, but behind the scenes the work of practice is hard and the down time is often incredibly boring. both demand endless self-promotion and an ego of a certain size and toughness to weather the grueling work and inevitable rejections.

03 November, 2010

go west, young man + free download

as i head to the west coast, this week’s download is “love in 2 parts”, which ends the album “distillation” and opens the anniversary shows. it is most definitely one song and describes a relationship i was in that was… shall we say, manic. it also mentions the incredible burden of rent in the bay area!


looking back on the early years of my career, i’m surprised at the kind of travel craziness i used to sign up for. i routinely hopped planes, cars, and buses in the same day- early in the morning, long after gigs, and often carrying obscene amounts of gear by my lonesome.

from the very beginning of my career, it’s been important to me to play as far and wide as possible. so even before it was financially feasible or responsible, i was trooping off to the west coast or overseas. i have always just wanted to be out there, beyond the friendly confines (and perceptions) of the northeast US.

so, in this dire economic climate, and even more dire music industry epoch, i’m heading out to the west coast to bring the “distillation anniversary tour” to Oregon, Washington, and California. my shoestring budget and creative travel decisions are reminding me of the first tour i ever did on the west coast, in the summer of 1998.

at the time, i had just finished my second year of college, and i was on my way to that rite of passage known as “time off”. but before i settled in for a fall of finding myself, i decided to play on the west coast. i had a few friends in LA who helped me get my first gig- at a place called “fais dodo”. i made calls and sent packages and eventually hooked up enough gigs to get me to seattle.

even though i was 21, i somehow was able to rent a car, which i gigged out of all the way up the coast. i remember stopping for a few days in san luis obispo, where the gig came with a night at the local hostel. then it was on to san francisco (first gigs: a berkelely house concert, then the bearded lady). from san francisco, i ditched my rental and got on a greyhound bus heading north. i stopped for a gig in redding, before hitting eugene and portland. i stuck around for a few days with friends in portland then headed up to olympia, seattle, and bellingham, again by bus.

18 October, 2010

philly works!

philly works. it’s that simple. my experience as a musician playing in the city of brotherly love has been the model of what’s supposed to happen, when it’s supposed to happen, how it’s supposed to happen.

early on, i got hooked up with my friend jesse lundy, who was promoting with the awesome rich kardon at the point. they believed in me when i was still a wee pup figuring out my show. they set me up in little coffeehouses and opening for bigger acts in places like the TLA, until i graduated to my own shows at the point.

one of my favorite stories ever as a musician began one night at the point. i had heard susan werner at a folk festival in the summer of 1998. she blew my mind. i began to study her records and shows like a med student cramming for boards. i found out that she lived near the point, and through friends, had contacted her to invite her to a show i was playing there that fall. i put her name on the guest list that night, and after the show, i scanned the buzzing crowd hopefully, looking for her. i didnt see her, and felt disappointed that she had somehow missed the show.

11 October, 2010

WFUV and Making It in the Cit-tay

this week’s download is “la petite mort” (or “the oh estelle” song), from the original versionof Distillation. it tells the story of a wedding day gone wrong!


i went to school in providence RI, a medium-sized city with a gritty arts scene and a surrealist bent to its public art. living in a city was a new experience for me. i had grown up in a small town in virginia, and, at the time, it was far enough away from DC to feel like its own entity. today, with the swell of cookie cutter housing developments, it’s harder to make that argument.

i started my career in high school, and by the fall of my freshman year in providence, i was in full swing. i didnt have a car, but i could “tour” by taking the bus to boston, or northampton, philly, or… new york. i’d been to the City a few times as a kid, and then later to visit some older high school friends. but starting to play there seemed daunting.

28 September, 2010

light up the series of tubes + be a virtual audience member + free download of “queen of quiet”

this week’s download is “queen of quiet (fancy radio mix)” – a remix from an EP of the same title. the original song appeared as the first track on “distillation”

last summer, i had an idea: why not broadcast over the internet a series of concerts from my rural cabin and use them as a fundraiser for my next album? cabin fever seemed like a pretty simple and clever way to raise money and give listeners a unique experience.
turns out i loved webcasting. i got to interact with listeners in a new and intimate way. i got to act like a TV presenter or old-fashioned master of ceremonies. i got to bring in amazing friends as special guests. i got to create a visual style to match my music. i also got to solve audio and other technical problems. i love figuring out how to make things work!

i’ve been wanting to do another webcast and the “distillation anniversary tour” is an awesome opportunity to continue exploring how we can all use the internet for new creative purposes.

17 September, 2010

download of “easy baby” + remembering my first gig at passim

this week’s download is “easy baby”- recorded from the stage of club passim, cambridge MA on 7 december, 1997 and broadcast live on boston’s WERS. it’s part of “small deviant things, vol.1 1997-99″, my handmade archival series.


in exactly a week, i’ll be heading over to boston to do a radio appearance on WERS and play a gig at club passim as part of the Anniversary tour. i feel incredibly lucky that my first time on the famous passim stage was broadcast live and documented for posterity. i can guarantee that on that cold sunday afternoon in 1997 i was not imagining what it would be like to play at passim 12 years later, i was just thrilled for the gig.

at the time, i was in my sophomore year of college in providence. i’d been seriously playing out for about 2 years. i’d made my first demo cassette (anybody out there have a copy?), and i was running my career myself. i spent a lot of time sending out packages and calling folks asking for gigs. passim was like the promised land; it was a real venue in a real city. i’d just played my first real new york gig at the postcrypt, was a regular already at northampton’s fire and water, but i hadn’t cracked boston or the venerable passim. i couldn’t even get my calls returned.

07 September, 2010

Asheville NC + the story of the dress

it’s finally here! today i head to asheville NC to start the “distillation” anniversary tour. i’ll be performing the record in sequence for the first time, solo, for an intimate audience in a tiny theater. pressure? i’ll let you know.

i don’t remember the first time i played asheville, but i know i’ve been going there regularly since “distillation” came out, and it’s a town i have always felt at home in. i wanted the anniversary tour to stop in towns where i’ve built my best and biggest audiences, so asheville is a great place to kick off.

a couple weeks ago, an odd question popped into my mind. when was the last time i put on the dress i wore on the cover of my first record? hmmm, not since the photo shoot, 10 years ago. and then i wondered, does it still fit? i rummaged around my house until i found it again, in a box under a box at the bottom of a pile of sartorial bits saved from all points in my 32 years.

i’ve been planning the “distillation 10th anniversary” for a couple months now, but it wasnt until i tried putting on the dress that the anniversary became real. looking at myself in the mirror, wearing what had been so 2-dimensionally familiar for so many years, i suddenly felt like i stepped right back into the record cover.

06 September, 2010

Rachel Maddow and I Write a Song Via Text

yes, it's true. maddow, an old friend from the 413, made time in her busy schedule and corresponded with me via text on the subjects of the gulf, oil, iraq, and the ways everything is all connected. i took our conversation, wrapped it up in a slow second line, and called it a song. my new friends barkuna backed me up, and we debuted it in the low-pressure confines of The Town Hall, NYC. all of this to benefit the American Bird Conservancy. watch how it turned out below. the lyrics as they were written (but maybe not sung) are below that:

01 September, 2010

"Distillation" 10th Anniversary Project + Tour

this week, i'm kicking off my "Distillation" 10th Anniversary Project + Tour. i have plenty o fun things planned (including a tour where i will recreate the album). watch the trailer and visit the "Distillation" Micro-Site for a free download of the original version of "Blackbirds". PASS IT ON!!

02 June, 2010


all photos by kristin angel. copywrite 2010 the august company.

i've been keeping a secret these last three months.

no, i'm not pregnant.
no, i'm not ill.

no, my secret is, i've become an actor. like a baby found in a cave and then raised by wolves as one of their own, i joined the august company, a local theater ensemble, and acted in their latest show.

ever since i was a kid, i've dreamt about being in plays. i never dreamt about being a musician; it was just something that happened along the way. growing up, i suffered paralyzing stage fright that kept me from performance camp or community theater. it was ordeal enough to play a concert in the middle school band or the smallest piece in my yearly piano recital.

12 February, 2010

the drinking clock

howdy web deizens! i am spending a day in my house for the first time in... well since ireland, uk, italy, france, pennsylvania, ohio, indiana, and michigan. whew!

last night i played a benefit for haiti at UMASS-amherst. i got to sing with the young@heart chorus, hang with my old friend martin sexton, listen to lenelle moise's amazing new poem about michael jackson, and meet an ambitious young acapella group, sonos.

i also saw the following tucked in a corner of the fine arts center prop shop. i stared at it for awhile, wondering exactly how this won-drous machine could possibly work. then i wondered if it was a joke. what do you think???

09 January, 2010

the thaw

i was writing about dancing yesterday. it's been on my mind lately, how i use my body to react to music. sometimes i get frustrated that i have an instrument hanging on my neck so often. my favorite moments on stage are ones where i can put down whatever it is i am holding and move unfettered.

i wrapped up cultureweek2010 last night with a night of dancing to new orleans bands. perhaps because the APAP conference is this week, the musical offerings this weekend were vast. a new friend from new orleans was here in town, so i tagged along while she went around visiting her hometown bands.

after an amazing ethiopian dinner at meskerem, we started at sullivan hall. john ellis, paul sanchez, jason marsalis, and christian scott all took the stage in some form or other. there was tuba, trumpet, harmonica, vibes, and more, all mixing it up. it was early in the evening, and the crowd was moving like they needed more drinks. me too. i hadnt been to a club to just dance in awhile. you have to dance to new orleans music, but it took me a second to get going.

08 January, 2010


every time i set about writing today, i find myself distracted. i was never the kid who put off writing the paper. i was the cranker who turned it out in one sitting two or three days ahead of time and then coasted into the due date. i dont want to think about my blog as homework, but i am starting to feel that way. i felt the same way the other day when i had to write up a set of comments on net neutrality and my internet usage for the FCC. i kept finding reasons not to write. why? am i really that obstinate these days that any whiff of assignment, even self-imposed, results in intractibility? (by the way, you too can file comments with the FCC. instructions here, due on jan14th)

someone either here or on FB recommended the museum of art and design (thank you!), which has an especially attractive pay-what-you-wish thursday option. i went last night with my friend moose, a gifted producer and composer. we each paid $10 and saw a fabulous exhibit of paper sculpture.

07 January, 2010

elevate, escalate, remember

i got home last night from a friend's birthday party in the far away land of the Upper West Side, and was too tired to type. a contributing factor i am sure was the pounds of italian food i ate at gennaro. squid-blackened risotto, kale salad, truffle salad, more gnocchi, octopus salad, fettuchini bolognase, then mousse, flan, and tiramisu. happy birthday jane!

i finished up "zeitoun" the other night, tearing through the 4th segment of the book like a mad-woman. i needed to know what happened more than i needed to sleep. i love books like that, even though they make my head ache from all that reading and leave me short of breath from all that excitement. i am contemplating a move to new orleans, and a book like "zeitoun" mostly makes me want to live there.
i have always wanted to be a part of the type of community that has formed there. although there is a part of me that is consistently horrified by every new story i hear about katrina-related atrocities, i also wonder if an event like the flood has to define a city forever. i suppose like any place, there's gonna be ups and downs, and new orleans just happened to have had a very very famous down. i need to think more on this.

so instead of reading last night, i decided to watch a film. the first one i saw on the shelf was "ladysmith black mambazo: on tip toe". i could do a whole entry on this documentary. maybe i will when i dont have too many other things to get to in this one. like most people, i heard of LBM when i saw them with paul simon on SNL back in 1985. "graceland" had just come out, and paul simon was BIG. i was too young to catch any of the debates swirling around the record (politics, expoitation) and i still havent resolved my feelings on all that (and i have a damn ethnomusicology degree).

05 January, 2010


i spent the day stuck in front of my computer and on the phone dealing with Real Life. no worries, after a day of nose to the digital grindstone, i think i got done almost everything i needed.

i did go out to dinner in manhatten at frankies 17. there is one in brooklyn too. amazing italian food. we had beets and meatballs with raisins and tiramisu and cheesecake.

i was joined by my friend, the irish director jimmy fay. he's got a new sam shepard play opening at the atlantic next week. i'm not going to get to see it until later in its run, but it promises to be, as they say, a corker. jimmy is one of the smartest, deepest guys i know, and that's from only hearing about half of what comes out in his crooked irishman's accent. imagine if i understood everything he said.

04 January, 2010

translations from the good book

i woke up today feeling hungover and tired from all the stuff i have been pouring into my days. besides my cultural diet, i am also gorging on old friends and long catch-ups. so i took today easy, kind of.

when my friend c.Love and i had coffee this morning, i asked her if she was doing anything interesting tonight.

"yes, trans, dolly, gospel."

that's really all i heard, because i got so excited by what she was describing.

"stop," i said."i want to be surprised."

so i ended up tonight at joe's pub in manhatten seeing an incredible transwoman perform the gospel-oriented repertoire of dolly parton, complete with 7 piece band and choir.

the spirituality of subtraction

what happens when we take things away? i've been thinking a lot about that recently. perhaps part of it is because of the new year, and many resolutions involve giving something up. but i am thinking of subtraction as something even more fundamental and lasting than a new years diet. what happens when we abstain? what happens when we set limits for ourselves around consumption and accumulation?

i dont drink, smoke, or take drugs anymore. the subtraction of these items from my life has been miraculous. everything has shifted for me- my relationships to people, places, and things especially food, sex, and god. i am closer, clearer, and more present for all three. it's been a beautiful and i hope permanent shift.

03 January, 2010

time waits for no woman

i couldnt sleep last night. not because of being in a new place, or even the clatter of the F tracks outside my window, no, i couldnt sleep because i was reading "zeitoun" until the wee hours. I Could Not Put It Down. a gift, that book is. i mean, we all know whats gonna happen. a hurricane is coming, then a devastating flood. so what could be the hook? real lives painted in hyper color. i wish someone could take my day to day and go beyond reporting to commentating, contextualizing, and in short, elevating to literature, the daily sentences of life.

it made sense then to start my day at the strand in manhatten. as i was wandering about, i spotted a celebrity or two, including gretchen phillips, the punk-rock queere-core legende. after perusing the stacks a little more ( i bought nothing, she art books and the autobiography of helen keller), we decided to get some lunch.

a short hop away was souen, macrobiotic and beautiful asian food. i'd been there before, but didnt realize until i walked in the door and saw the split level layout. i love their grain coffee, a chicory and root combo that lives somewhere between coffee and tea. it reminded me of the tea that the spaceship heart of gold tries to make for arthur dent in the hitchhikers guide. something "very like" coffee, but not quite.

01 January, 2010

culture week 2010

for my vacation this year, i didnt choose to go to an island, someplace sunny, or even someplace warm. i chose instead to come to brooklyn for a week and pack in as much music, theater, art, and food as possible.

i have a friend who lives in carrol gardens. she has a fabulous little apartment not far from the F Train, where i've often stayed when i come to town. she's currently in africa, doing amazing political and activist type things, and she offered me her keys in exchange for watering her plants. i think i got the better end of the deal.

my plan is to be here for 8 nights and to pack every day with as much as i can hear, taste, and see. i regularly spend long stretches in brooklyn, but this time i am consciously setting out to overstimulate myself before i have to get back to work.

so, day one, i drove in and started out easy with an evening showing of guy ritchie's sherlock holmes. it's been awhile since i have been to a rock 'em sock 'em blockbusta. what a pleasure to turn off my mind and watch things explode. there was enough of a plot to hang some great fights on and plenty of eye candy (hello jude, and hello production designer) to satisfy me. sequel please. by the way, i dont know why but i am rooting for guy ritchie. was he done wrong by madge?

ok, how about some restaurant recommendations. i need an interesting dinner spot near BAM and a good sunday morning brunch spot (not too pricey) in midtown. also, what art should i see? anything special going on this week? hook me up!

PS: book for the week is zeitoun by dave eggers