180924_life_trailswest1

A crowd watches performers at the 2018 Trails West! festival. Allied Arts Council announced on Sept. 21 that it would suspend the festival.

As we prepare for the last year of the decade, we should take one last look back at the previous year to see advances forward, backward and stalemates of the past year in St. Joseph’s music scene. As usual, we’ll be using the Homer Simpsons metric of “That’s bad!” and “That’s good!”

Local recordings were abundant: 2017 did not seem like a great year for music in St. Joseph. As it turns out, it was merely a quiet year where seeds were being planted for an explosion of releases in 2018. Among the highlights were bands like Dreamgirl releasing a self-titled debut album, Scruffy & The Janitors coming through with its sprawling, raucous “Modeling is Hard,” Under The Big Oak Tree continuing to explore different sounds with “The Ark” and the hip-hop collective Joe Mizzery reunited for the energetic “2503 Faraon (The Quarter Block).” All that doesn’t even include other fantastic releases from The Center State, HGHRMNDS, A Light Within, Here’s To The Life and Radkey, among others. Verdict: That’s Good!

St. Joseph needs more new bands: Most of the numerous new releases from the St. Joseph music scene were from seasoned veterans, which is great. While some new artists popped up, like the rock band Johnny & The Riff Raff, and hip-hop groups like HGHRMNDS, there is not much to speak of for new blood in the scene. Newer performers who showed up in 2017 like Hurt Russell and Act Naturally called it quits. The scene is still hurting for bands that feature women and people of color. These are not new problems to the scene, but new acts are something that should be encouraged. Verdict: That’s Bad!

Musicians have more avenues to record: On the third floor of the Power & Light Building you’ll find producer Mark Elting’s new recording studio. Like Elting, it’s warm, inviting and exactly what the scene needs. Joining other local producers like Kiley Bodenhamer, he’s helping artists in the area commit their art to recording and get their names out there. It’s the type of encouragement and help the scene needs. Verdict: That’s Good!

Another big venue closes: In August, I was invited to tour The Outskirts Nightclub by its owner. It was big, colorful and lively. I thought it had potential to be the next big venue in the area. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, it closed three months later. It follows in the footsteps of No Place, another giant bar and dance venue that’s been vacant for the past couple of years. Verdict: That’s Bad!

Venues continue to support the scene: Besides The Outskirts, the only new places to hear live music are TNT’s Tavern, formerly Wiley’s, and River Bluff Brewing Co.. Their owners join other venues like Magoon’s, Cafe Acoustic and The Rendezvous as establishments that consistently support local music. Verdict: That’s Good!

Trails West! goes on a break: Numerous factors played into the decision of putting the annual Trails West! festival on hold. To those who attended the past couple of years, this didn’t come as a huge surprise. Numbers dwindled, the star power of its headliners dimmed (even though I’ll still vouch for the 2018 lineup) and the Allied Arts Council took a huge hit. This was sad to see, but also necessary. The festival will be missed this coming summer. Verdict: That’s Bad!

Some closing thoughts: 2018 beat the pants off of 2017 in almost every regard when it came to music and entertainment in St. Joseph. The support seen for the arts in St. Joseph continues to amaze me, and I hope this momentum can continue through the new year.

— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live

Andrew Gaug can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowGaug.