Five years ago, I attended a funeral for a friend who'd gone way too soon. At the conclusion of the service, that friend's son and his high school buddies played the Grateful Dead's "Brokedown Palace," and if there was a dry eye in the house, it certainly wasn't one of mine.
Today, that band of friends is known as Intrepid Travelers, and as they launch a five-show weekly residency for the month of May at Nietzsche's, the group serves as the perfect example of the new-model independent band.
A new generation of musicians – born in the mid-'90s, just as my own generation of bands and artists was clinging to the last vestiges of the old-school "music business," and imagining that A&R reps from major labels would be descending on Buffalo, checkbooks in hand, looking to sign the next Goo Goo Dolls – has crafted a new working model of success. It's a model that would never include one of those ridiculous contracts we were so eager to scribble our names on back in the day.
The internet may have ruined an awful lot of things – communication, ironically, and the notion of nuance being only the tip of the putrid iceberg – but for this generation of musicians, it allowed the cutting out of the middleman, underscored the necessity of intelligent marketing, and placed the emphasis on touring and live performance, where it had been in the pre-digital age.
Today, "making it" means building up enough of a fan base through touring to make quitting your day job feasible. While it's true that no one is really going to pay for your recordings anymore, they just might buy your T-shirt.
"Five years ago we were playing for our parents’ friends in backyard BBQs and not very good at all," Intrepid Travelers keyboardist Donny Frauenhofer said. "Now, we’ve been fortunate enough to play national festivals and go on tour consistently. I’d like to think we’re much better now. "
Though the friend whose father's funeral was the impetus for an emotion-soaked early performance is no longer in the band – "As sad as it was to see founding member and dear friend David Neimanis leave, Sam Pavlovich came on board and brought a different sound and personality, as well as some original material to the band, and that’s given us a fresh perspective on our overall sound," Frauenhofer said – the band's desire to continue following their arc of development is undiminished.
The Nietzsche's residency – dubbed "Cinco en Mayo," and kicking off Thursday – was planned as an opportunity for the improvisation-heavy I.T. crew to "go deep."
"As beneficial as being on the road is, residencies at a specific venue can be great for both the bands and the venues themselves," Frauenhofer told me. "For the band, it gives you a place to 'ground yourself' - you get to play the same stage with the same sound equipment in the same room over and over. For a musician, that can be huge.
"Knowing a room, how it sounds, and being comfortable in it completely eliminates any time spent 'getting the engine started' - or, getting comfy on a stage you’ve never played before, something that can be a hurdle when you’re on the road. When you’re completely comfortable as a band on stage, I really do think amazing things can happen, especially for improvisational musicians. I’ve witnessed that both as an artist at a residency and as an audience member."
Frauenhofer has some strong and clear-eyed opinions about the Buffalo music scene – to the point where I've decided to address them at length in a later column. The gist of his view of our music community involves the necessity of "giving back," which might mean simply going out on a night off to support another band on the scene, or reaching out to bands involved in similar scenes in other cities, to engage in the time-honored tradition of the "gig-swap".
Toward that end, the Intrepid gang has enlisted Haewa (Rochester), Cold Lazarus (Jamestown), Cosmic Brownie (Rochester), Mosswalk (Buffalo) and Acid Cats (Akron, Ohio) to share in the May residency – according to Frauenhofer, "a diverse set of acts reflecting our own musical attitude."
Intrepid Travelers' "Cinco en Mayo" Nietzsche's residency shows begin at 9 p.m. on Thursday, then May 10, 17, 24 and 31.