MEMPHIS NON-PROFIT CROSSTOWN ARTS HELPED PROJECT GET OFF THE GROUND, PROVIDING VENUE, FILM, GRANT WRITING, SPACE IN REFURBISHED DISTRIBUTION BUILDING
CROSSTOWN ARTS APPLICATIONS FOR 2020 RESIDENCIES OPEN NOW, OFFERING, LODGING, FOOD, REHEARSAL SPACE, RECORDING, OTHER SUPPORT TO MUSICIANS & ARTISTS WORKING IN ALL GENRES
MELLOTRON VARIATIONS TO PERFORM AT WILCO’S SOLID SOUND FESTIVAL JUNE 29 & NASHVILLE’S OZ ARTS DECEMBER 7
“This was one of best shows I’ve ever seen!” – Jody Stephens (Big Star)
The four-Mellotron collaboration between Patrick Sansone (of Wilco), John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin & Wood), Jonathan Kirkscey (Memphis Symphony Orchestra, composer of Won’t You Be My Neighbor documentary soundtrack) and Robby Grant will be released July 26 by Spaceflight Records. It comes from the recording of a live concert by contemporary art non-profit Crosstown Arts in Memphis, TN on April 21, 2018. The foursome will perform on June 29 at Wilco’s festival Solid Sound in North Adams, MA and at OZ Arts in Nashville, TN on December 7. The Mellotron Variations album is sonically varied, from classic pop sounds to more experimental fare.
(A Mellotron is a keyboard that pre-dates the synth, with audio tape samples of different sounds, used heavily in the ’60s and early ’70s, including by the Beatles on “Strawberry Fields Forever.”)
The album and forthcoming concert film would not exist without Crosstown Arts. When Grant approached Crosstown Arts’ Managing Director Christopher Miner, Grant was planning a concert with himself and Kirkscey playing new compositions on Mellotrons at Crosstown Arts’ 430 N. Cleveland space (a smaller venue for community-organized shows) in Memphis.
Upcoming concert film trailer: https://vimeo.com/282400112
Recognizing the originality of Grant’s concept, Miner offered Crosstown Art’s main gallery as a rehearsal and performance site. Grant and Kirkscey’s performance, which incorporated an accompanying video art component, resulted in a sold-out show and yielded a prior vinyl release (Duets for Mellorton) and video documentation that Crosstown Arts used to garner a National Endowment for the Arts grant. The NEA grant funded a much larger performance with Sansone and Medeski on April 21, 2019 in Crosstown Arts’ new space inside Crosstown Concourse. That performance produced the Mellotron Variations album and film.
The 2019 performance was the first large-scale concert at Crosstown Concourse, a previously abandoned 1.5 million-square-foot Sears warehouse that has been fully renovated into a multi-use space by Crosstown Arts. Miner says, “Our original vision for the building was to repurpose it for Memphis’ thriving and authentic (but often disconnected and under-supported) music and arts culture.
“The mellotron project was a perfect example of what we wanted to happen here — an original Memphis-born creative concept work that pushed conventions across musical genres by Memphis-based musicians with other nationally renowned performing artists. The show was free and open to the public and reflected our core value of inclusivity, with both the audience and a wide range of other Memphis-based musicians and performers, who participated thanks to the NEA grant support of the multidisciplinary event.
“Providing opportunities for Memphis-based musicians to work with visiting musicians is at the center of our mission,” Miner said. As an example, Grant was an early participant in Crosstown Arts’ residency program where these opportunities naturally take place. The residency program offers private lodging, meals from Crosstown Arts’ in-house plant-focused cafe, private rehearsal spaces, access to a recording studio, and regular interaction among the other residents. Applications for the 2020 calendar year are accepted through July 15, 2019 from artists working in any creative discipline, including music, visual and performing arts, film, and writing in all genres.
In addition to the residency program, Crosstown Arts also operates: a 5,000-square-foot exhibition space with a mix of ten solo and group shows per year; an intimate listening room (The Green Room) with five live music shows a week; a 400-seat black box theater for large-scale touring and Memphis-based music shows and art house film screenings; a community-programmed event/performance space; shared art production facilities (a recording studio, Mac-based design lab, woodshop); an afterschool program; a café and bar.
“All of Crosstown Arts’ departments are intentionally set up to be flexible and adaptive to accommodate the idiosyncratic ideas that come from Memphis’ creative community.” The Mellotron project was a great example of this and included a significant collaboration with Memphis Symphony Orchestra musicians through a Crosstown Arts’ grant. Even students in the after-school spoken word workshop participated by contributing their recorded voices to create a new sound cassette for the mellotrons used in the performance.
John Medeski is an American jazz keyboard player and composer. Medeski is a veteran of New York’s 1990s avant-garde jazz scene and is a member of Medeski Martin & Wood. His most recent project, Mad Skillet, released its debut album in November 2018.
Pat Sansone is a producer and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, keyboard, percussion, harpsichord) from the bands Wilco and The Autumn Defense.
Robby Grant is a songwriter, performer, and producer who has recorded and released records for the past 15 years under both his name and the moniker Vending Machine. In the 1990s, he co-fronted and toured the country with Big Ass Truck. He’s a past member of the experimental group >mancontrol< and currently plays with the garage-pop group Mouserocket. Jonathan Kirkscey is a composer, cellist, and producer who performs with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and Mouserocket, and is a co-founder of Blueshift Ensemble, a contemporary classical chamber ensemble. As a film composer, Jonathan has scored several award-winning documentaries, including Best of Enemies, directed by Morgan Neville, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2018. Stay tuned for information on the Continuum Festival, Crosstown Arts’ annual festival of collaborations among musicians and artists of diverse genres from Memphis and beyond.