Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Marina and the Diamonds


AMERICAN VALUES? “It’s really unbalanced and unhealthy. . . . I love American people, I just don’t like the system that’s connected to pop culture and being commercial.”

Marina Diamandis is obsessed with the mess that's America. Or so she sings on "Hollywood," the first single from Marina and the Diamonds' breakthrough album, The Family Jewels (Atlantic). The budding UK indie-pop star kicks off her first full stateside tour on Wednesday at the newly renovated Paradise.

"I don't know why, but I've always been very drawn to the country," she explains on the phone from London. "As soon as I did my first gigs there, I was like, 'Oh my God!' It was exactly as I'd imagined. I've never felt that I connected with an audience like an American audience."

It's not all hearts and giggles for the States, though — the thing that drives buoyant, danceable pop songs like "Hollywood" and "Oh No!" is actually the perversity of the broken American Dream. "What interests me is more on a negative level," she admits.

The half-Welsh, half-Greek, 100 percent captivating artist was born to a modest, hard-working family in southeast Wales. For a young girl like that — particularly one raised on exports like Britney Spears — American values of youth and beauty and success are alienating but compelling. "You have to be happy, you're not allowed to be sad. It's really unbalanced and unhealthy. . . . I love American people, I just don't like the system that's connected to pop culture and being commercial."

It's that type of thoughtful reflection — heard in the lyrics of songs whose sound doesn't necessarily deviate from hit radio's dance-pop template — that sets Diamandis apart from her female pop-star contemporaries. "Mainstream radio plays music that is basically auto-tuned R&B exclusively, I would say, which has lyrics — I don't want to sound mean, but I think they're really meaningless. You need light pop songs, but you also need pop songs that are going to enrich your life. The stuff that I hear in the UK and America doesn't do anything for my heart. I don't want to hear anything about being drunk in the club and sipping bub, like, one more time. That's all there is at the moment. It's good to have a few artists that don't do that."

Artist is the key word here. The music is the focus, of course, and her alternating grand operatic gestures and wavering wounded vocals are the draw, but there's also her allegiance to fashion, her dancing, her canny visual-arts ├Žsthetic, the cinematic nature of her videos, the self-professed psychologizing. Diamandis isn't a musician, she's a variety show. Or maybe a liberal-arts-course load.
Broad, sweeping hooks are only one facet of this diamond, however. On "Numb," she coalesces in multi-part harmony with herself. It's a song she's particularly proud of, she says — one that exemplifies the indie side of the indie-pop marriage she embodies. The Family Jewels is a musical house of mystery that cranks the wheel on an antique jack-in-the-box. On "I Am Not a Robot," she pulls a rainbow of dramatic notes from the air like a theatrical illusionist conjuring up a torrent of musical ribbons.

Diamandis is comfortable straddling that space between pop and "serious" music. Whether America will return the favor of her unrequited obsession remains to be seen. Still, she doesn't want to be forced to say, "I'm a natural musician, or I'm only pop and dumb and I have to look hot and sexy all the time." She can do both.


MARINA & THE DIAMONDS + YOUNG THE GIANT | Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | September 1 at 7 pm | $10.17 | 617.562.8800 or thedise.com

Monday, August 23, 2010

Liquid: Pickle Party


I've been avoiding Gibson martinis most of my drinking life. That's largely because those cocktail onions look like alien fish eggs and taste like my gym towel. But that changed when I had one at Rafiki Bistro (1682 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617.661.7810), where manager Simone Nakhoul insisted I try the onions he's been pickling in house with thyme, rosemary, sage, coriander, and brown sugar. Like many local bartenders, he's looking toward pickling as the next bartending frontier. The folks at Henrietta's Table (One Bennett Street, Cambridge, 617.661.5005) are pickling vegetables from their rooftop garden and using pickled radishes as a martini garnish - and once they're in season, they'll pickle watermelon rinds, too. And spots like Deep Ellum (477 Cambridge Street, Allston, 617.787.2337) and East Coast Grill (1271 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617.491.6568) are using pickled green beans or okra in their Bloody Marys.

Of course, the idea of combining pickles with drinking is nothing new. Just ask the Russians, for whom vodka and pickles are regular conspirators in inebriation. But Boston's creative pickling options have taken off in the last year. It's just an extension of the pervasive infusions movement, says bar chef Ben Brenner of 51 Lincoln (51 Lincoln Street, Newton, 617.965.3100). "It's essentially the same thing, just with salt." The bartenders at 51 Lincoln are pickling everything they can get their hands on, including nectarines, cranberries, honeydew, and ginger. They're even pickling garlic scapes, the slightly less pungent stems of the garlic flower, which feature in the Great Escape ($10), a gin martini made with green chartreuse.

"As of right now, we're doing stuff with midsummer fruits," says Brenner, who employs both hot and cold pickling techniques. "Hot pickling is the same as brining something," he explains. "It depends on how tough the vegetable is. Something like green beans, you can do a hot pickle because they have a tough skin. Something soft like nectarine, it's better to do a longer cold pickle." For the latter, you make the brine with sugar, salt, and whatever other ingredients you want and let it soak, anywhere from days to years.

At Bar 10 (10 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 617.424.7446) and Turner Fisheries (10 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 617.424.7425), Michael DeCanio is pickling red onions in house for their Gibsons. Red onions are pretty strong to begin with, so they retain a bite that you won't get from regular bar onions. "It's nice because it's a fresher product," says DeCanio. "It's not something that's been sitting in a jar for a long time. From a cocktail standpoint, it adds that great pickling flavor that you don't normally get from a Gibson."

We noted an early incarnation of the trend last year, when a cocktail named the Green Mile ($13) appeared on the drink list at Alibi (215 Charles Street, Boston, 857.241.1144). It's made with Hendrick's gin, Sriracha, and pickle juice from Grillo's Pickles, the local pickle vendor helmed by Travis Grillo. He got his foothold in the brine biz selling pickles made with his 100-year-old Italian family recipe (which employs distilled white vinegar and grape leaves) out of a streetside cart. Now they're being sold in Whole Foods and used at bars like the West Side Lounge (1680 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617.441.5566). "A lot of people are starting to experiment with bourbon and drinking pickle juice," he says. "I'm seeing this whole thing where they use my pickles as garnishes; my green tomatoes are going in Bloody Marys. I've even heard of people mixing the juice with seltzer water so you have like a sparkling, pickle-flavored drink." On Saturday, August 28, he'll team up with the West Side for a pickle-themed party at the restaurant.

But wait: what's that he said about drinking pickle juice with bourbon? "Pickle chasers are amazing; it kills the burn," Grillo says. This boozy, briny one-two punch - a shot of booze (often bourbon) chased by a shot of pickle juice - is known as a pickle back. I had my first taste a couple of months ago at Great Scott (1222 Commonwealth Avenue, Allston, 617.566.9014). Jesse Sherman, a bartender there, is such an acolyte that he sometimes brings his own juice with him when he goes out. At Deep Ellum, he says, they've had to cut him off because they didn't want to run out of juice and have their pickles dry up. 

And you thought your liver was the only thing getting pickled at the bar.

Feed your head: Kick-ass adult-ed classes put the cool in back-to-school



For a lot of you, the idea of going back to school probably induces all sorts of PTSD flashbacks. Admittedly, it's been quite a while since I was in school myself - I'm not going to say how long exactly, though the word "cassingle" comes to mind - but I never minded it so much. That's mostly because I was a big nerd who liked the fancy book learnin'. Also, there are a ton of chicks at school, dude. But just because most of us are on the wrong side of 22 doesn't mean we should leave all the learning (and flirting) to the kids. It's back-to-school time for you, too, although you might not remember pole dancing being on the syllabus. In the immortal words of professor David Lee Roth, "My homework was never quite like this." So here's your class schedule for the upcoming fall season. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go shopping with my mom for some new Champion sweatshirts and turtlenecks.

SUBJECT: Music
COURSE: Ukulele for the Almost Musical
PREREQUISITES: Basic musical talent, hands, and really forgiving roommates who'll tolerate your jam sessions
INSTRUCTOR: Ukulele enthusiast Danno Sullivan
CLASS IS IN SESSION: At 5:45-7:15 p.m. on Tuesdays starting on September 28 at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (42 Brattle Street, Cambridge, 617.547.6789, ccae.org)
TUITION: $172

The guitar and bass boast badass rock-and-roll appeal; the violin and cello bring virtuoso performance to mind. But the ukulele? Once strummed by everyone from Tin Pan Alley acts to Elvis to Tiny Tim, it seriously fell out of fashion, spending decades as the awkward and unloved stepchild of the string family. But skip ahead to the current music scene, and ukuleles are everywhere. You can't avoid that Israel Kamakawiwo'ole version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" when it's time to soundtrack a poignant moment, and indie artists like Amanda Palmer and Noah and the Whale have championed the instrument. There's even a ukulele cover band for one of the coolest records of all time, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, called Neutral Uke Hotel.

"It's very interactive," says Michael Cicone, director of education at the CCAE, of their ukulele 101 class. (There's also a more advanced offering for uke lovers, Showing Off on the Ukulele.) "We try for all of our classes to have sort of a teaching paradigm that isn't lecture, but involves a lot of participation and interaction among students and teachers." Okay, but is it going to take us back to our nerdy band class days? "It's sort of like when the music teacher came to school and taught everyone to play recorder, but it's way cooler than what we remember," says Cicone. "There's this real resurgence and interest. I was just down in Central Square, and there was a band playing in the street. And the lead guy had a ukelele. I don't know what the name of the band was, but I thought to myself, ‘Well, there's another one.' " That could be you, man.

SUBJECT: Home Economics
COURSES: The Sushi School's Introduction and Making Maki Roll, Making Nigiri and Temaki, and Making Designer Roll
PREREQUISITES: A love of raw sea meat, patience, and a desire to show off in front of your foodie friends
INSTRUCTOR: Bon Koo, owner of Sea to You Sushi and Asian Foods
CLASS IS IN SESSION: At 7-9 p.m. on weekdays and 2-4 p.m., 4:30-6:30 p.m., and 7-9 p.m. on Saturdays at the Sushi School at Sea to You (5 Kendall Street, Brookline, 617.738.0131, seatoyouboston.com)
TUITION: $60

A lot of us think we can cook, but there are certain culinary endeavors that may seem just a little bit out of reach - like using one of those horrifying sushi knives without turning the kitchen into a CSI set. Bon Koo of Sea to You Sushi will have even those of us who don't know toro from tobiko ready to roll in no time. And he's not some exacting sushi taskmaster who's going to turn your life into tuna boot camp either: Koo has been teaching sushi students of all skill levels for 12 years, but he jokes that he mostly started teaching to get to know the ladies.

So why learn how to make your own sushi when someone like him can just do it for you better? "One of the primary reasons is that it gets expensive if people go out to eat sushi, so they want to make it themselves, like with other foods," Koo says. He teaches three different Sushi School classes, Introduction and Making Maki Roll, Making Nigiri and Temaki, and Making Designer Roll - and if you know what even a few of those words mean, you're already ahead of the game.

"Basically, everybody comes in hungry; they want to eat lots of sushi," Koo says. "Secondly, they want to have fun together with friends." It's a great class for couples, too. "Seventy percent of the time, they come here dating, eating together, having fun together." (The folks at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts have likewise picked up on sushi-making's aphrodisiac appeal - they've got a class specifically aimed at couples.) It's a good option for bachelorette and birthday parties as well. "It's not too serious," says Koo. "It's meant more to be [about] having fun together." Or you can be like him and use your sushi skills to impress women. At the end of the day, isn't that what learning anything is all about anyway? Oh wait, that's just me.

SUBJECT:
English
COURSE: Catch a Riff: The Basics of Writing Music Reviews
PREREQUISITES: Basic writing ability, assurance that your musical taste is much better than everyone else's, and a Pitchfork.com bookmark on your computer
INSTRUCTOR: Jed Gottlieb, music writer for the Boston HeraldCLASS IS IN SESSION: At 6-9 p.m. on Tuesday, September 28, and Tuesday, October 5, at the Boston Center for Adult Education (122 Arlington Street, Boston, 617.267.4430, bcae.org)
TUITION: $75-$85

They used to say "everyone's a critic." But now that every single person you know has a blog, that's finally literally true. The only problem is, this shit isn't as easy as the pros make it look. Just ask me. I spent years doing my dissertation on abstract compound-adjective implementation and aural analogy sciences before I got to write my first 25-word blurb about a local band showcase on a Monday night.

Jed Gottlieb, my esteemed colleague in the field of dancing about architecture, wants to share some of his expertise with you. "Rock and roll is fun, right? Hell, yeah," says Gottlieb, though he admits, "The course will actually be a little bit of work for the students - writing concert reviews, album reviews, single reviews (some on deadline). But it will also be an exploration of the importance of rock and an exercise in learning how to explain and to articulate that importance."

Being really, really into music doesn't hurt, he says. "Not to get too heavy, but I'm a huge champion of the [rock] genre, and that partly comes from learning to think critically about it. I'm not going to have people decoding the sociological importance of ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,' but I kind of am."

Over the two-week period, students will have to go to a show, listen to songs and albums, and then write about them. They'll also read and discuss the work of notable critics. Sounds fun, but as I asked Gottlieb, why would anyone want to end up like one of us? "Why would anyone not want to be a music critic?" he says. "Oh, yeah - no jobs and low pay. But it's still a little bit glorious, right? Free shows and CDs, no tie, very little getting up early." All true. Where do I sign up?

SUBJECT: Physical Education
COURSE: Flying Trapeze
PREREQUISITES: An adrenaline addiction and a lack of fear of heights, speed, or circus folk
INSTRUCTORS: Staff of the Trapeze School of New York - Beantown
CLASS IS IN SESSION: Daily at various times at TSNY Beantown's home in Jordan's Furniture (50 Walkers Brook Drive, Reading, 781.942.7800, boston.trapezeschool.com)
TUITION: $45-$55

Those of you who had trouble climbing that bastard rope in high school gym class may want to sit this one out. Actually, on second thought, this might be the perfect class for you, says Trapeze School marketing coordinator Amanda Spittle, who also serves as an instructor. The classes, which range from trapeze swinging to static trapeze to silks (think Cirque du Soleil, minus the goofy costumes), are for anyone who's up for a challenge, no matter what age or fitness level. The school holds two-hour flying trapeze classes at least six days of the week, as well as 10-week intensive flying workshops. Did you get that? It's called "flying." I'll keep that in mind while I'm cowering in the corner.

"It definitely has caught on," Spittle says. "So many people come; they do their regular jobs, and they're here once a week. You feel like you're flying when you're on the trapeze. Everything else in your mind and life goes out the window while you're in class. You're completely focused on the moment."

Paradoxically, hurtling through the air at great speeds has a sort of grounding effect. "It's weird: you're flying, but it grounds you as a person," Spittle explains. "Especially your first few classes, you're on this straight adrenaline trip. My first class, I had a rush the whole night after. When we ask our students how they describe it, the consensus is that you forget about life for those two hours. You leave here feeling like you can handle life now. It teaches people to have faith in themselves." Faith in yourself is great. Faith in the ropes is even better.

SUBJECT: Chemistry
COURSES: Craft Cocktail Techniques, Bitters Tasting, and occasional special themed classes
PREREQUISITES: Basic home-bar materials so you can wow your friends at parties and a drinking palate that's progressed beyond the Bud Light and vodka-tonic stage
INSTRUCTORS: The Boston Shaker proprietor Adam Lantheaume and rotating bartender guests
CLASS IS IN SESSION: The fall schedule has yet to be announced, but classes meet at The Boston Shaker (69 Holland Street, Somerville, 617.718.2999, thebostonshaker.com)
TUITION: $50

In high school and college, drinking tends to be more of a sporting event or an emergency-room prologue than the refined, mature experience we've come to appreciate now. So now that you've moved past the age where a power hour can seem like a good idea, you might want to step up your game a little when it comes to cocktailing. Adam Lantheaume and his specialty bar-wares and ingredients shop, The Boston Shaker, will usher you into adulthood. Classes like Craft Cocktail Techniques are hands-on learning experiences, he says, and it doesn't matter if you just fell off the back of a Coors Light truck either. "You'll learn all the terminology and techniques to make craft cocktails at home. It's a 101-level class; you don't need any experience to come in." He does, however, say he's had plenty of bartenders who've worked in high-speed bars come in to refine their craft a bit more.

Other class options here include bitters tastings, where mixologists in the making learn how a few drops can have a big impact on flavor. "We taste four different kinds of bitters, note the differences, what they're used for," says Lantheaume. "Then we make one drink and all we vary is the bitters, just to indicate how much they really make a difference. People think they can make a drink without them, but they can't."

Cocktails are fun to make (and drink) - that much is obvious. "But they seem to be intimidating for many people," Lantheaume says. "They see a recipe and they try to throw it together, but they don't know why it came out wrong, and they give up. This is a way to learn in an environment where you're doing it hands-on. So when you get home, you can actually do it." And of course, when cocktailing at your home bar, you never have to worry about last call. 

SUBJECT: Art
COURSES: Introduction to Comic Art, Graphic Novel as Literature, Writing the Graphic Novel, and other offerings in Emerson's Graphic Novel Writing and Illustration program
PREREQUISITES: At least a GED, some semblance of drawing or writing skills, an awareness of who Alan Moore is, and the experience of having been called a giant nerd at least a half-dozen times
INSTRUCTORS: Notable New England comics writers and illustrators like Andy Fish and Michael Brennan
CLASS IS IN SESSION: Courses meet at varying times over the semester at Emerson College (120 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.824.8280, emerson.edu)
TUITION: $390-$650

Finally, something that reminds me of how I spent most of my time as a kid: drawing pictures of superheroines with anatomically impossible breasts. Okay, so that's not the whole story here. These certificate-program classes offered by Emerson's Department of Professional Studies and Special Programs are designed for devotees who want to go from fanboy/girl to comic creator. 

"It's a course in which people can actually learn how to do graphic novels," says Emerson marketing director Trent Bagley after spending a few minutes geeking out with me over going to comic book conventions. "It's set up so learners can build skills writing the story or illustrating the story, or both. We have courses that are just illustrating the graphic novel; those are pretty popular with people who are already confident in their writing skills and want to figure out how to illustrate it. On the other side, we have people writing the graphic novel, people who are graphic artists or something like that. They can come and learn how to tell a story." Among the noted instructors are the award-winning Andy Fish, who is working on the next installment of the Batman series right now, and Michael Brennan, who is known for his series Electric Girl. "We have people coming and going who are rather prominent in the field, and they're all locals doing some really great things," says Bagley.

"The beauty of the program is you don't have to quit your job to do it," he says. That isn't exactly the same thing as saying, "Don't quit your day job just yet." Bagley continues, "All of our classes are evening classes. You can keep whatever it is you do during the day and add the course and do whatever you like. Hopefully you build up the skills you need to go on in the field." Any by "field" he means outside of the basement.

SUBJECT: Sex Education
COURSES: For Your Man Only, Pole Fitness, and One Hit Wonder, to name a few
PREREQUISITES: Ovaries, a moderate exhibitionist streak, and fierceness
INSTRUCTORS: Wendy Reardon, owner of Gypsy Rose Exotic and Pole Dancing, and others
CLASS IS IN SESSION: On various days and times at Gypsy Rose (364 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.421.0000, gypsyrosedancing.com)
TUITION: $40-$378

Back in my day, we didn't have this hyper-sexualized culture we have now. The idea of seeing one of my classmates in a bikini on the Internet would have effectively ground the school day to a halt. Now you can't graduate college without having put out your own sex tape. That's called progress . . . I think? Wendy Reardon, a former exotic dancer and the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Exotic and Pole Dancing (and, randomly, an academic tome called The Deaths of the Popes - she has a master's in medieval history) says that no matter where you fall on the spectrum of contemporary sexuality, the power of pole dancing can be liberating. She uses her years of experience in the field, so to speak, as a jumping-off point for women who want to learn how to express themselves through movement.

"I used to be an exotic dancer in Los Angeles and London," explains Reardon. "All of our instructions are current or former dancers, so we're the real thing. We don't just watch a video and decide we can teach. My whole goal is to teach women what I did when I was a dancer."
Lest you confuse this for some cheesy class for aspiring porno broads, it's not. "I'm not some big blonde-haired, big-boobed schmuck. If I can do it, anyone could," says Reardon. "I put myself through grad school doing this. Very few of my clients want to be dancers, and if they do, I say, ‘No you don't.' "

You just want to move like one. To that end, she teaches sexy floor routines, pole dancing, chair routines, lap dancing, stripping, wall dancing, and strutting. Strutting means learning how to walk. Doesn't everyone already know that? Not like this, Reardon says. "The most important thing we teach is attitude. A lot of women come for self-confidence, or they're not very confident when they show up. You will be confident. When I was a dancer, I couldn't look weak on stage. We basically teach you to own it, to like the way you are. Even if you don't, think it."
If you need a little extra inspiration, they have costumes and platform boots you can use to get into the mood to move. "I get a lot of moms and college students," says Reardon. "A lot of women come here because they want to do exercise with an edge to it where it's safe. There are no men allowed." Ultimately, she says, it's a good workout. "You're working out without even realizing it, but you'll feel it the next day." So will your S.O., if all goes well.


SUBJECT: Math
COURSE: Texas Hold 'em for Beginners
PREREQUISITES: A love of the action, a love of money too (but mostly the action), the ability to count to 10, and knowledge of what that guy on the J card means
INSTRUCTOR: John Berube, owner of Mountain View Games
CLASS IS IN SESSION: At 6-9 p.m. on September 22 at the Boston Center for Adult Education (122 Arlington Street, Boston, 617.267.4430, bcae.org)
TUITION: $40-$45

Poker, as many experts will tell you, is all about math and probability, which explains why my smart friends always end up taking my money when we play. John Berube, a gambling instructor who has taught classes in black jack and craps and just did a popular class on poker playing and whiskey tasting, says anyone can learn to hang at the table. Maybe even me. "The class is intended for players who have never played before and want to learn the game, and for players who are just getting started and want to learn a little strategy," he says.

"Texas hold 'em poker is an exciting game that is easy to learn and appeals to many different types of people: competitive people who enjoy matching wits against others will enjoy hold 'em, and intellectuals who enjoy the mathematics of probability theory and game theory," Berube says. Hold 'em also appeals to "adrenaline junkies who simply enjoy riding the roller coaster of Lady Luck," which is a pretty accurate description of my awful game.

At this session, you'll be sitting around a poker table playing cards, not studying charts and figures. You'll learn the basic rules but then move on quickly to basic strategy, "such as taking advantage of your position, reading your opponent, and calculating outs and pot odds."

Berube's goal is to get the students to a point where they feel comfortable joining a game and have the skills to play it well and to have fun. Or, in my case, to take that uppity math nerd's milk money.

Everything Corporate: How “Selling Out” Has Turned Into Survivalism (Part 1)


Notice all the advertisements at the last show you went to? Maybe you didn’t; they've become so ubiquitous in recent years that it's possible you don’t even realize they’re there. Yet there they are: on the brand-sponsored stages, on the ticket itself, tucked in amid the concession stands and dangling over the stage on imposing banners. To say that this type of corporate sponsorship of punk and indie concerts is a departure from the old way of doing things is an understatement, but perhaps the most interesting part is how little anyone cares about it. In fact, partnering with brand sponsors isn't just a new wrinkle in the music business model—it’s now the entire business model itself. Corporate backing can often make different aspects of a successful career possible for bands. Touring bands wrap their buses and vans in brand logos; clothing and beverage companies bring artists into their own studios to record viral content for their marketing outlets; smaller labels team up with brands to beef up promotional push for an album; and chain restaurants and hotels adopt bands into the fold, offering free meals and places to stay while there are on the road.


Of course, this isn’t an entirely new practice. The granddaddy of all touring festivals, the Vans Warped Tour, has become synonymous with the sneaker company that shares its name, and there's nothing particularly egregious about it either. It’s simply necessary for tours to bring in corporate sponsors to help offset the cost of paying the bands, the booking agencies, the venues and more. In fact, AP has teamed up in the past with Rockstar Energy Drink and Wonka to bring you the AP Tour. It would actually be more difficult to find national tours or bands that
aren’t somehow connected to a brand than those that are. Some of the more notable recent examples include the Denny's Allnighter “Adopt-A-Band” program through which bands like Emery, the Chariot, Set Your Goals and Atreyu eat for free in exchange for hosting after-parties at the dining spot. Taco Bell's “Feed The Beat” series has similar deals with bands like Boys Like Girls, Hey Monday, Haste The Day and VersaEmerge. Clothing companies like Glamour Kills have partnered with tons of bands including All Time Low and Cobra Starship, with whom they've developed clothing lines, while surf and skate clothing company Hurley brings the likes of Saosin and the Maine into their company’s recording studio. New Found Glory recently funded a video through variety of product placements.

DEVIN LASKER 
of music publishing company PRIMARY WAVE MUSIC helped set up a promotion with Motel 6 called “Rock Yourself To Sleep” giving the hotel chain exposure and a much-needed break on costs for touring bands. “Knowing it's expensive for bands to be on the road, we thought it would be a great idea to have a hotel chain offer well-deserving bands a chance to offset costs,” he says. That meant a free place to stay for the likes of This Providence, Sparks The Rescue and Hit The Lights. The promotion, which will start up again this fall, also turned into this past summer’s Rock Yourself To Sleep Tour with Every Avenue, Sing It Loud, There For Tomorrow and Secret Handshake. So what was the catch for the bands? Not much, says Lasker. “We ask that the band put the Motel 6 Rock Yourself To Sleep logo on their social networking pages,” he says. “We don't tell them to tweet or how many times, but we say, 'If you enjoyed your hot shower and bed, please feel free [to post about it].' That's pretty much it. We honestly do it to help these bands out.”

THE CHARIOT 
frontman JOSH SCOGIN says his band were happy to take advantage of the Denny's opportunity. “It was pretty sweet,” he says. “We got free Denny's [food] for a couple of tours, and in return we had a mandatory, 'Invite all the people from the show to Denny's afterwards’ for two of the shows.” Since it was essentially something the band would have done on their own, the deal was hard to pass up. “We loved it because we are just trying to hang with folks anyway, so we ended up just inviting the show to come hang with us every single night of the tour,” says Scogin. “We would have, like, 50-some kids trying to pile into Denny's. It was amazing.” The Chariot also took part in the Taco Bell program on another tour.

CHELSEA COFFEY 
of ROCKSTAR ENERGY DRINK's marketing and music relations program says the expectations on the band and what they receive from the company depends on the circumstance. In addition to the AP Tour, Rockstar has sponsored Taste Of Chaos, Mayhem and Uproar festivals. This past year, the company started working directly with bands, co-branding tour merch. “I go to bands and say, ‘If you're going out on tour or you're doing a video, what do you need from us?’ We've formed kind of a friendship, where they support us on MySpace and their websites, and while they're on tour they can co-brand. We have a presence on anything they do, and in return we do anything we can to help them out in financial ways or just by involving them in our family.”
Rockstar also helped sponsor videos for New Found Glory and A Day To Remember. Branding on a poster is one thing, but using product placement in music videos sponsored by companies seems like a tricky marketing tactic to pull off. Coffey says brands are aware of that, and she says the key is for the product placement to seem natural in the video narrative. “My goal has been to not cheese up a video,” she says. “I always want the bands to be pleased with the placement.” In A Day To Remember’s video for “I’m Made Of Wax, Larry, What Are You Made Of?,” the band are playing kickball against a group of kids.

Rockstar placed banners in the dugouts in the background and used models in Rockstar cheerleading uniforms to cheer them on. Coffey says, “You definitely noticed it, but it wasn't, 'Hey! In your face! This is a Rockstar video!'’”


New Found Glory’s “Truck Stop Blues” clip is set at a gas station—a location where it would be logical to see Rockstar products in the background. “It worked because [the products] were in the scene where you would see them [normally],” she says.


Just a few years ago, bands might have been reluctant to make such accommodations for corporations. But the reasons for the change are threefold: First, the collapse of the music industry as everyone knew it has taken away a lot of once reliable revenue streams like record sales. Secondly, a faltering economy has made music fans even more discretionary with money they don’t have to spend on concerts, albums and merchandise. Third, the fractured media landscape means that bands have to grab as many opportunities to be noticed as they can in an overcrowded and supersaturated deluge of information. “I totally understand [the potential reservations] but at the end of the day, music is a business,” says Coffey. “With the ways the industry has changed, bands need help.” Lasker agrees. “I definitely think there was a shift in the way people think,” he says. “The industry changed as a whole, and the money isn't there like it was even five or 10 years ago. Bands have to be on the road gaining a fan base, and it's very expensive. If there's a way for them to get money to support their touring, I don't see anything wrong with that. I don't think it's being looked at as selling out.”

It's pretty hard to be labeled a sellout when nearly everyone is selling out. “I think it started a few years ago when even the bands with the biggest 'cred' had outside brands attached to them,” says AMY BUCK of GOOD FIGHT ENTERTAINMENT, the management company behind August Burns Red, Chiodos and Blessthefall. “I think it's one of those things where bands feel like they shouldn't be sponsored because it's had a bad rep in the past, but no one is turning down free guitars or products being handed to them. I also think there are a lot more creative opportunities through technology happening now that allows corporations and bands to work together which don't scream ‘sellout.’”
Buck works with her bands to set up endorsements and to partner them with appropriate media and corporate sponsors. The endorsements are typically music gear, merchandise and energy drinks—all of which have become commonplace for bands. Some of the artists even develop signature lines with these companies, like Alexi Laiho from Children Of Bodom, who has a signature guitar with ESP. In addition to that, Buck says she's worked out deals with the likes of nonprofit organization Peta2 and managed deals with EMG, IndieMerch, Facedown Records, Affliction, Hot Topic, Scion and several other companies. “In these deals, the tour or the band received monetary funds which were used to help make ticket prices lower or to cover the expenses the band incur on the road. All of the sponsors we work with make sense for the bands they're branded with. Sponsors help keep bands on the road in a time when ticket and album sales are down.”

It's up to the band, then, to decide which brand they think aligns with their aesthetic. “We definitely think about it,” says 
NICK MILLHISER of Brooklyn, New York-based indie dance group HOLY GHOST!, who recently partnered with Green Label Sound, the music label of Mountain Dew. “I would never say that we would do any corporate sponsored event or deal known to man. We sort of deal with them on a case-by-case basis.” His band were about to release a single on the tastemaking label DFA—primarily a vinyl and digital label—but Holy Ghost! wanted full artwork and to make a video, things that weren't in the label's budget. Green Label Sound approached the band at exactly the right time. “They came onboard and gave us budgets for all these things we wanted to do,” says Millhiser. “They basically allowed us to do this big public relations push for a standalone single that I think we'd be lucky to get on the release of a full record.”

So what does it mean exactly to be on Mountain Dew's record label? Nothing much, according to Millhiser. “They were unintrusive and basically let us do whatever we want,” says Millhiser. “It didn't feel like selling out because they weren't asking us to do anything. They were like, 'We want to help you guys out.' In that situation, I think they really are providing a valuable service to bands like us who are on small labels that don't have these sorts of budgets.”


However, Mountain Dew 
does get something in return. They've aligned themselves with some of the coolest rising bands in the indie/dance genre including Matt And Kim and Chromeo. It's impossible for some of the praise those bands receive not to rub off on the company. RICK GADD, founder of the LAUNCH MUSIC CONFERENCE (sponsored by Coca-Cola and Heineken) says the appeal is there for both the corporations and the artists and event planners. “I think the corporate sponsorship helps to balance that out a little bit,” he says. “In exchange [for their support, the brands] get a target demographic. We need sponsors [for the festival]. If we didn't have that, we couldn't function.” Turning up your nose at sponsorship just isn't a workable model anymore, he says. Besides, old ideas about selling out and punk values just don't mean what they used to. At the club Gadd also runs, he sees this sort of hypocrisy in action all the time. “The same bands that come in and talk about being punk rock and living the lifestyle and not giving into the man and not being corporate also drive away with corporate logos on their trailer. I'm 35, so when I was in a band, [if we had done that] we would have had no one at our shows. They would've crushed us in the punk scene if we had a McDonald’s logo on our trailer.” But he says that’s not the case anymore. “You probably bank at a corporate bank, eat at a corporate fast food chain and fill up at corporate gas station,” he says. “There's no way to escape it.”

IAN HARRISON
, director of marketing for HOPELESS RECORDS, says that along with the inevitability of corporate crossover, most fans don’t seem to mind the way they would have years earlier. “When I first started five-and-a-half years ago, it was still in the era of [sponsorship] is not cool to do,” he says. “But kids don’t seem to care anymore. Some fans, especially fans of our poppier stuff, see a band in a commercial or an ad that features the band and their perception changes for the positive. That’s weird to me because that’s not where I came from.” WE ARE THE IN CROWD vocalist TAY JARDINE says sponsorship is just a given among the new generation. Now when the band are on tours like this past summer’s Warped Tour, they trade industry stories the way bands might formerly have talked about local promoters. “People are always asking, 'Who do you guys work with, who are your sponsors?'” she says. “Every other band is asking every other band. It seems like a natural step in the process of things.”


“Kids don't care anymore. It's weird,” says Harris. “Some fans, especially fans of our poppier stuff, if they see a band on a commercial or an ad of the band, their perception changes for the positive rather than the negative, which is weird to me because thats not where I came from. I remember when they licensed a Dead Kennedy's song for a Doc Marten's ad, and it was the hugest thing in the world. Now it's like congratulations! They're in this commercial, so I better pay attention. When I was a kid, bands wouldn't even allow themselves to be played on KROQ and that was a badge of honor. I think the economy changed quite a bit and the music industry changed where there wasn't funds anymore to do these types of thing.”

“I think the overall principle of corporate sponsors being part of your tour or release, people aren't as suspicious or look negatively at that as much anymore,” says Matt Dufour, co-founder of En Prise Entertainment, a Chicago-based boutique marketing firm and artist management company that works with young upstart acts like Moneypenny and Team Bayside High. “That's a reflection of the music industry in general. Bands aren't getting money for selling music anymore. The vast majority of artists need to expand their revenue streams. Brand sponsorships help artists offset some of those expenses they have, where typically they'd be selling a cd or merchandise at the show, now they have to give their music away and assume everyone is gonna steal it anyway. We just assume going in that no one's going to pay for music, so we need to come up with cool creative ways that they'll make money and survive as an act.”

JB Brubaker of August Burns Red agrees. “Everything, as far as this world of music, is for the most part commercialized already. Bands are doing whatever they need to do to keep growing. I don't think it's terribly “punk rock” anymore and if it is it's because the band has to do punk rock things to have money to stay out on the road. Generally I think most bands that are trying to make it aren't so much concerned with doing things the punk way and will do what they need to do to get the leg up on the competition.” His band has done some minor deals with Red Bull and Aticus Clothing. There was no money exchanged, but Red Bull keeps them supplied with their product and in return the band puts the Red Bull logo on the band Myspace page. With Atticus, in exchange for wearing their clothes and taking photos in their products from time to time they've helped the band out with marketing and magazine ads. They also worked on a t-shirt together with the company.

“I think taking corporate sponsorships is becoming very important for bands, especially with the economy,” he says. “ You have to take all the help you can. But, he adds, “There are varying degrees of what's acceptable before you get termed a sell out. Companies that would go against our morals or values... there are certain companies we would never work with based on what they stand for.”

He declines to give specifics of the cheesier stuff he's seen bands working with, but they do exist. The Chariot's Scogin says the same. “I have definitely done some cringing over certain bands' sponsorship duties though. I won't mention any names but it is a reality for sure.”

For his part, his band has a line they wont cross. “We only do sponsors that benefit our art. Like the Denny's thing for example, free food always helps us out, and in return they just wanted us to invite all the people from the show. That is what we would do anyway. So that worked out easy. We would never agree to anything at the expense of our art.”

“I've seen some pretty silly wraps on trailers and stuff for companies,” Brubaker says. “I can understand stuff like Red Bull and Rockstar and stuff like that, who are always involved with bands and stuff. But maybe that doesn't strike me as strange because I've seen it so much. Everyone is used to that at this point. As more and more companies get involved there might be some stranger things coming out.”

That's just the point though, it isn't strange right now. Red Bull, or whomever, makes sense as a rock and roll sponsor because they are already rock and roll sponsors. Puma and Diesel and Levi's -- which runs it's own Pinoeer Recording series where bands like The Shins and Passion Pit and She & Him record cover versions of classic songs which are then released as singles (something Doc Marten's has done in the past as well) – make sense because kids, the indie audience, already like sneakers and jeans and energy drinks. Isn't part of the reason they like them because they learned about products like these from musicians that are influential in their lives? It's hard to pinpoint exactly where the cycle begins, but as Dufour says, “as long as the brands are aligned with the lifestyle of the target audience,” it's a partnership that works. “Someone like Diesel or Puma, those are cool brands for the target demo that are likely to like these brands and acts.”

Dufour works with brands to connect them with the target demographic they are trying to reach, mostly the young, urban Chicago party crowd. “My business does lots of events marketing for people like Adidas, Diesel... connecting them with cool up and coming artists, or the cool hip kids in Chicago that are into music and fashion.”

With his business model, (he also publishes an online zine called UR Chicago) “the vast majority of our income comes from dealing with corporate sponsors and helping them hit this niche market.” He throws a series of monthly and weekly parties, and when brands contact him to team up, “we'll take a budget for that and be able to book bigger and better talent than we might normally have. As a promoter it allows you to limit your risk. It allows me to spend Diesels' $2000 on bringing in a cool DJ, as opposed to my own.”

He's currently working on a deal with a popular soft drink company known for working with multiple music outlets to send Moneypenny and Team Bayside High on the road. “It's basically trying to take the cool party vibe they've established here in Chicago and spread it [around the country]. It's something that these acts would do anyway, but the way that we're positioning it is, look [brand x] we're gonna do this anyway, provide us with a wrapped vehicle, we'll drive that to the shows, we'll set up drink specials at the venue that have your product in them... just teaming up with local hipster promoters in each of these markets, giving them a bigger and better event where there's no risk for them.”

For the band it allows them to do an all expenses paid tour. For acts in the earlier developing end of things, a thirteen day tour like this would maybe break even if there were lucky, he says, and that's with sleeping on couches. “Whereas if we can provide all this value to a brand, specifically targeting this market, it will allow us to travel in a more leisurely way, have a nice vehicle, hotel rooms, have a photographer along and produce cool web content.”

A lot of the brands are focused on building Facebook pages and Twitter lists, he says. When a tour takes on a sponsor, often one of the requirements is that the artists in question will film or record content for those pages, thereby drawing the bands' fans to look at the brand online.

The clothing company Hurley is an example of this, inviting bands into their studios to record. “We do a lot of creative content for our website,' says Greg Teal of the brand. “And we always have some musicians and bands coming through town. So we have been doing these studio sessions for about almost two years now. They are a lot of fun. And the hurley.com viewers love them. Just another way music is intertwined with our brand.”

Another way to connect a brand with a band is by financing elaborate marketing concepts that the label or band wouldn't be able to afford. When it came time to put out the most recent All Time Low record, Hopeless Records availed themselves of corporate largess to to do just that, says Harrison.

We did a ton of [sponsored] stuff on the last All Time Low record. For our company, it's a potential additional revenue stream, which can be good for us and our bands. Step one is can we use this money to do something cool for the fans and the bands that we couldn't have done otherwise, that we wouldn't have been able to fund from record sales.” For the All Time Low Myspace Triptacular, the band played three shows across the country within 24 hours, one in Chicago, one in Baltimore and one in Los Angeles. “We worked with Ford and Myspace to underwrite the whole thing,” Harris says. “That's the kind of intangible awesome thing that kids love that's so had to put money towards.”

Other sponsorships for his label have included Trojan condoms working with We Are the In Crowd. Trojan paid for a crew to film video content of the band talking about safe sex. “It was funny, tongue and cheek stuff that related to their message, and resonates with kids. It's all still small numbers, and cleared some cash, but for a younger band thats the type of stuff that can get you new guitars or road cases. Plus we get the visibility.”

With no reliable old media channels to lean on for exposure anymore, that sort of visibility can be invaluable, he says. “All the traditional forms of media are becoming so fragmented – there's not that one story or placement on TV that's going to make a band blow up. We're just looking for anything where we can increase the reach.”

Jardine says things like the Trojan deal are beneficial for a band like her's. “It just draws attention to the band. A band our size isn't really that known, being on Warped Tour just trying to get out there. The days that we would would sign [in the Trojan tent on Warped] they would put out a sign saying we'd be there at 3:30. Even kids that didn't know us would be like, 'Oh Trojan, they're gonna hand out free condoms.”

Like most of the other bands and labels who spoke about this, Harris was quick to point out that the partnership simply has to click. It's an ideal situation when the brand is one “kids are already stoked on.” Brands like Etnies, Fox Racing, Hurley and Glamour kills. “Kids already love this stuff. To get our bands involved in those things, well now kids are stoked on two things. It's not these brands that try to crowbar themselves into the scene. Those are tougher to take.”

For a promotion the label did with Glamour Kills in which an exclusive All Time Low t-shirt was bundled in the with the record, it resulted in one of the biggest pre-order's in the label's history, he says, “and it wasn't even through us. It made sense though, the brand resonated with the band.”

There are no media kingmakers anymore, like MTV or a big radio stations, or publications. Brands, instead, have become the next best thing.“Everyone needs to find a way to get paid for this desire to be involved with the artist. These are the people that are paying right now,” says Harris.

They're likely to keep paying well into future as well. Things have definitely changed, but it's hard to say exactly how much further this relationship between bands in sponsors is going to go. It may get to a point, says Gadd, where bands become “no different than a Nascar car driving around the track,” covered from stem to stern in logos. Perhaps instead of underwriting a band's tour, a corporation will decide they want to work their way into the music or the album cover. Instead of listening to the new record from Story of the Year (or whomever,) we'll be listening to the new T-Mobile Presents Story of the Year's 'Burger King'.

Maybe not to that extent, says Jardine, but she understands the worry. “I can see that [sort of thing] happening, only because the excitement of getting sponsored like that is increasing. I hope not, I don't think it's a bad thing, I think being sponsored helps out, but if it gets to a crazy level, I might get little upset.”

It's not that farfetched actually. Weezer recently announced a promotion called “Rocks You Back to School” with Hurley, a collection of limited edition Weezer-inspired clothing available at PacSun stores. The band's new album, titled “Hurley” will be available exclusively at PacSun stores upon its release.

This sort of thing was inevitable says Scogin. “I think as the world we live in,musically speaking, gets more and more mainstream, corporations will search out these bands in hopes to keep their brands relevant and in the publics eye. In the defense of the bands, free is free. I mean we make little money most of the time, doing what we do, so any little bit helps.”

Coffey hopes it won't get too much more intense than it already is, and she's on the brand side. “It's hard to say if that's gonna happen. We're seeing weird things with music with tours going on sale then being pulled down three days later with the numbers not being there, and bands not making money on record sales. It's just a different beast than it was five or ten years ago. I'm hoping it doesn't turn into that, but you never know. Some bands will stick to their roots, but other bands may look for a huge sponsor and brand themselves for the money.”

Whether or not that's a problem to be up in arms about is up to your own personal sense of ethics. “There are some things you want to be aligned with and some you don't,” says Lasker. “The bands have that choice. It's up to them, if they feel comfortable with it, then everyone else should be. And if they're not, that's their problem.”


!!!

!!!
Strange Weather, Isn't It?
Warp

It’s easy to forget how fresh the disco punk of !!! sounded coming out of the indie world around the turn of the millennium. The sound popularized by the California band and like-minded label DFA (stuttering snares and high-hats, honking saxophone, cowbell and wood block percussion, disco guitar licks) would soon become synonymous with the decade’s urban club zeitgeist. Ten-plus years and four records later, their raw, post-punk-colored-funk attack still sounds as compelling as it did at the start. Tracks here like “Wannagain Wannagain’’ push and heave with dirty, bouncing basslines and cymbal crashes pushed up high in the mix. “The Most Certain Sure’’ builds off a hypnotically repetitive house-style hook, then shifts focus from sprawling electronic grandeur to trad disco. The introduction of vocalist Shannon Funchess into the fold, who colors in the cracks of the grimy, throbbing “AM/FM’’ and the epically transforming, dance-floor romance “Even Judas Gave Jesus a Kiss’’ adds a welcome, feminizing touch to the sweaty boys club approach. As in many of the five-minute-plus jams here, the latter builds like a DJ pacing out a club set toward a moment of climax. Makes you want to say “!!!’’
ESSENTIAL “AM/FM’’
!!! perform at Royale Boston on Sept. 23. 

 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gang of forty

Eight groups make impromptu debuts for the second annual ‘One Night Band’

Wrangling more than three dozen musicians together to even show up in one place on time — never mind asking them to perform an impromptu concert of music written that day — seems like one major local rock headache. But Ashley Willard, cofounder and publisher of the blog Boston Band Crush, says last year’s inaugural edition of “One Night Band’’ went off so seamlessly, she didn’t need to tinker with the formula at all. The second performance of what she hopes will become an annual tradition takes place tomorrow at the Middle East.

“There’s very little that I have changed because it was such a success.’’ she says. “If it ain’t broke . . .’’
The event takes 40 musicians from the Boston music world and mixes them together into eight brand-new bands drawn at random. The new groups then have to perform a four-song set of material they write together that day, including one cover song. The result is something between speed dating for rockers and a very loud iPod set to shuffle. Last year it produced such inspired, if unlikely, pairings as electronic producer Michael Potvin performing with singer-songwriter Ad Frank, pop-punk singer and guitarist Joel Reader of the Fatal Flaw, power-pop bassist Jen de la Osa of Aloud, and drummer Abe Lateiner of Hands and Knees.

Frank, who won’t be performing again — once you’ve played you can never return — helped with fund-raising and production for this year’s event.

“It’s just a cool way of bringing bands together without pitting them against each other,’’ he says. “It’s the opposite, in fact. By design, everyone is removed from their element and forced to create with people they’ve never worked with, and in some cases have never met. It compels musicians to bring out their best qualities. I had four frontmen, well, one was a frontwoman, in my band, and there was way more humility than ego in that room.’’

Sophia Cacciola of the band Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, and another cofounder of Boston Band Crush, played a role in conceiving the original “One Night Band.’’ This year she will perform onstage.

“I think it was a mixture of fear, anticipation, and excitement, for the participants and the organizers,’’ she says, describing the show. “Once the music started, and the bands were actually really good, everyone settled in and had a great time being surprised by each new band.’’

Cacciola’s husband and bandmate, Michael Epstein (who also plays with the Motion Sick), will make the jump from behind-the-scenes producer to performer this year as well. He says the appeal of the event is twofold: community-building and engendering creativity.

“It’s really about the Boston music community coming together and sharing an experience, and not really about the bands or people involved,’’ he says. “The rapid nature of the songwriting encourages participants to really stretch beyond their normal method of writing and explore collaborative, quick output.’’

Both Epstein and Cacciola say the Peppermint Patties, a group made up of members of the Luxury, Vagiant (now Tijuana Sweetheart), Muy Cansado, Harry and the Potters, and the In Out stood out from the crowd with their thematic approach to this musical pop quiz. “Their approach to the night was glorious,’’ Cacciola says. “Take the standard format of ’50s pop songs and write lyrics about murder.’’ Since the triumphant experiment of their first show, the Peppermint Patties have regrouped to play several shows. A selection of all of the music and a documentary about the event can be found on the website www.onenightbandboston.com.

Willard also cites the spirit of community the night engenders as one of the most inspiring parts about “One Night Band.’’ “There was so much excitement and awe in the air,’’ she says. “I don’t think anyone expected the bands to be as fantastic as they all were. Here were all these local musicians coming together and braving the challenge, and they were all nervous when the day began, but so delighted by night’s end. I couldn’t believe how smoothly it all went. I kept waiting for a disaster to strike but not a single thing went wrong.’’

Tomorrow a new group of brave souls will accept the challenge, including Marc Pinansky of Township, Mikey Holland of Mean Creek, Will Davies and Chris Barrett of Kingsley Flood, Edrie Edrie of Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys, and Tommy Allen of Drug Rug. It’s virtually impossible to predict what any of the music a group like that might make together, and that’s exactly the point.

“I’m excited to see what will happen with a few people in particular,’’ says Willard. “Like Noel Coakley, a lap steel/banjo/mandolin player [from the Autumn Hollow Band]. Someone like Noel could very well end up in a band with a metal guitarist or a synth player, or both — so things could get really interesting.’’

A different draft on their menu

Bars are rallying fans of fantasy football leagues

Summer’s winding down but take heart football fans, it’s finally the most wonderful time of the year. The NFL season doesn’t start for a few weeks, but for the legion of converts around the country, the real action is already heating up as fantasy football leagues plan their annual draft events.

Fantasy football — the game in which friends compete against one another as general managers of imaginary teams selected from real NFL players and accumulate points based on their on-the-field performance — has become one of the most popular pastimes in the country.

Jason Waram, vice president of fantasy games and social media at ESPN, says that companies like his and Yahoo! Sports Fantasy, two of the biggest fantasy sports operations, don’t reveal the number of users they have. But according to a June survey conducted by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, 27.9 million people now play fantasy sports, 74 percent of them, football.

Every August, leading up to the season, is “fantasy Christmas,’’ says Andrew Miller, president of Fantasy Football Champs, a Newton-based online service that provides advice for fantasy football players. Most leagues hold their own drafts during the last two weeks of August. For Miller the draw of fantasy football is self-evident. “What kid, what adult, doesn’t want to be a general manager of a football team and make trades?’’ he asks.

Part of that appeal, of course, is the chance to win money. “Fantasy games are considered games of skill, so it’s legal to have cash prizes,’’ Miller says.

But it’s also a bonding experience for players, says Paul Marnikovic, general manager of Stadium Sports Bar and Grill in Quincy. He has been playing in the same fantasy league since he was a sophomore in college in 1997. His bar, along with many others in the area such as Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar and Grill and McGreevy’s in Boston, offers package deals for fantasy leagues looking for draft-day locations.

Marnikovic says his fantasy draft day is one of the only times of the year all of his friends from throughout the country still make a point of getting together. “For me it’s a great way to catch up with old friends. Everybody gets married and has kids, otherwise you might not see them.’’

Stadium, as well as the Cask’n Flagon and Game On!, have incentives for leagues to come in for their drafts, including food and drink specials, private rooms with wireless Internet access, couches, multiple TVs, and projection screens for laptops. Details and prices vary at each bar, and groups will want to call to reserve accommodations ahead of time.

“We have our back area in the club as a VIP room,’’ says Robbie Ludwig, manager at Cask’n Flagon. They’ll also have a dedicated server available to post the progress of your draft on display boards. Mike Brucklier, director of operations at Game On!, says the popularity of fantasy football drafts and games is tied into the popularity of the NFL itself.

“The NFL is the number one league in the country, obviously, but people have gotten past the point of just watching their team and being excited about just what Tom Brady does,’’ Brucklier says. “Fantasy football gives people a vested interest in following all of the games because one of your guys is playing. It makes it that much more fun to watch the game.’’

Waram says the number of users is up for ESPN Fantasy Football compared to this point last year, a trend he believes is likely to continue. “I still think there’s a bunch of years left of some pretty positive growth.

“I think it’s people’s appetite for information, and the respect of the NFL athlete,’’ he says. “People want to be a part of that, have some stake in the game. And it gets those high school buddies back together, once a year, or the old college gang. The draft is that seminal event that everybody is able to take part in.’’

Now you just have to pick the right place to do it.

Draft sites

Stadium Sports Bar and Grill, 1495 Hancock St., Quincy. 617-328 0076. Also at 232 Old Colony Ave., South Boston. 617-269 5100. www.stadiumbars.com

Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar and Grill, 1265 Boylston St., Boston. 617-236-7369. www.jerryremys.com

Game On!, 82 Lansdowne St., Boston. 617-351-7001. www.gameonboston.com

Cask’n Flagon, 62 Brookline Ave., Boston. 617-536-4840. www.casknflagon.com

McGreevey’s, 911 Boylston St., Boston. 617-262-0911. www.mcgreevysboston.com

Halfway Cafe, 51 Main St., Maynard. 978-823-0002; 200 South Franklin St., Holbrook. 

Scoreboard Sports Bar and Grill, 15 Middlesex Canal Park, Woburn. 781-897-4000. www.tpsscoreboard.com