Monday, October 1, 2012

New thing #48: Thursday Night Live

Click here to listen to the Cold City Cowboys
Cold City Cowboys is a local country band that has only been playing together a short while but is already making a big noise in the local music scene. They were recently invited to perform live at the 99.5 WYCD studios in Ferndale. DJ Rob Stone hosts a program called "Thursday Night Live" that showcases local talent, and listeners are invited to come into the studio to watch the show, eat free food and win prizes. I've never been to a radio studio broadcast, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

We had a little trouble finding the studio, a non-descript building set apart from the other cracker box offices by the radio tower looming overhead. There were a handful of fans gathered in the parking lot, waiting for the doors to open. We chatted with a few, some of whom had never heard of the night's featured musicians. They're VIP club members, regulars to the show who stop by every Thursday for free entertainment and food, which seems like a pretty sweet deal to me. One of the regulars was a tiny old man who was decked out in a fancy purple cowboy shirt, black leather pants, cowboy hat and boots. He was awesome. Another was a friendly and slightly scary guy chugging a Coke, or at least something brown in a Coke bottle.

The doors opened promptly at 8PM. We filed in, signed a release form, and were pointed towards a conference room where hot food from Qdoba Mexican Grill was waiting. Unfortunately we were reading the release form when they pointed this out, and didn't see which way to go. We wandered aimlessly down a hall lined with movie posters from the 70s and 80s, which seemed really out of place until Senior figured out that the sister station sharing space at WYCD is an oldies station. There were only a few people working at the station that evening, most young and all very nice. We could see through a window into the booth where the Cold City Cowboys were going through a sound check with Rob Stone, who bears a strong resemblance to the blond kid in Saved by the Bell.  After a few minutes they opened the door to the studio and invited us in to the booth.

I've seen enough pictures and live feed of on-air radio programs to know to expect a small room with desks, computer screens and big microphones. But I was wondering how they would accommodate a studio audience of up to 40 people. In my mind I pictured myself on a bleacher straight from the set of Jimmy Kimmel. Actually it was more like being in Wayne and Garth's basement. It was an average-sized room with low drop ceilings and plain carpet taped to the floor. The center of the room was filled with a circle of tables and office chairs, and loaded with the computer monitors and microphones that I was expecting. A group of padded stacking chairs upholstered in a nice 80's dusty rose-colored pattern (from the oldies station maybe?) occupied a small area near the door, and the rest of the room was ringed with neon orange couches dotted with coordinating geometric throw pillows. Lots of posters and banners covered the walls and an autographed cardboard cutout of Taylor Swift in a tall silk hat stood nearby. Rob told us to grab a seat anywhere. We did so, lounging on an orange couch in the corner while others sat on chairs or sprawled on the floor or leaned up against the door. The broadcast wasn't starting for another half hour, so he pointed out where the hot food was set up (ohhhhh THAT conference room!) and went out to fix himself a plate. When he returned he briefly explained the format - he would introduce the Cowboys and chat with them for a minute or two, and then they would play two songs, and then there would be a break, and repeat the whole sequence until they'd played 8 songs. We audience members had a job too, to make noise whenever Rob held up a ratty handmade "Applause" sign. We practiced this several times, watching the sound wave display on the computer monitors pulse in response, then settled in as the show started.

It was the first time that the Cold City Cowboys had been interviewed by a major market radio station, and nerves were setting in. The usually-ebullient Levi Bootcut seemed subdued. Although he bantered deftly during the interview portion, he didn't really come to life until later in the set, visibly relaxing as he looked into his girlfriend's eyes. Frank Bash left his bass home for this acoustic set, instead plucking away on a banjo that he had picked up for the first time the previous week. Like Sampson, his energy kicked in when his hair was freed from the Rastacap he wore. Silent Joe Bash let his fingers speak volumes as he kept the beat on a snare box, a cool contraption that looked like a crate but was an ergonomic challenge to play. Trevor, however, looked like he was right where he belonged. He was relaxed, in his element, and sounded better than ever.

When the mics were on the show was a lot of fun. The breaks were kind of weird, with most of us sitting in that uncomfortable silence you encounter on an elevator full of strangers. I think we were all afraid to say much in a room full of recording devices. In no time at all the show was over. The crew has the whole TNL experience down to a science, and did a nice job herding people from the studio to the lobby for prize drawings and pictures after the show, then out the door without anyone feeling rushed. I still don't know how much the internet audience heard while listening to the show being streamed on the Web, but I enjoyed this glimpse inside the radio business.

We listened to the station as we were driving home, and heard the broadcast debut of the Cold City Cowboy's latest release, "Back Home". It's pretty cool that WYCD supports the local music scene like that. If you want to check out the band, visit their Facebook page here, and maybe give them a "Like". It's not just their talent that draws me in, it's their brotherhood. These guys genuinely love and respect their music and each other, and it shows. They support each other, insult each other, and take turns calling the shots. And in case you were wondering, there is one more reason this is my favorite band. The Boy is a Cold City Cowboy. 

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