Any concert featuring guitarist and former Saturday Night Live musical director G.E. Smith — with an all-star band of former Johnny Winter vocalist Jay Stollman, British blues guitar and vocal icon Matt Schofield, Boynton Beach-based Mark Telesca on bass, and Jeff Beck bandmate Jonathan Joseph on drums — is a benefit for attendees. Throw in an opening act like singer/guitarist Taylor Barton, whose influences span blues to rock; folk to pop, and the ante is upped.
But the Feb. 18 benefit show at the Funky Biscuit (www.funkybiscuit.com) in Boca Raton has a deeper mission statement than just entertainment, just as it did when the same all-star lineup appeared for the cause at the same venue a year ago.
Smith, Barton (his wife) and the all-star collective will perform in a benefit for FarePlay (fareplay.org), the nonprofit organization founded in 2011 by West Palm Beach resident Will Buckley to work on behalf of musicians, songwriters, visual artists, writers and photographers in collecting fair compensation for their works in an era in which internet piracy has drastically cut into their profits.
FarePlay’s founder and president isn’t a musician, but the New York native once started his own San Francisco-based independent recording label, Cold Water Records. He’s also worked in band management and as a deejay, and was until recently a blogger for the Huffington Post (until that online publication suspended its blogs). And he’s decidedly old-school about the arts in general; recorded music in particular.
“I’ve been in the musical trenches with the jobs I’ve had,” Buckley says, “so I understand what it’s like to try to be a working musician and have a successful career. I see music as an art form, and I’m a record collector, so I own vinyl, cassettes and CDs. I prefer physical products and complete works, not just songs, and I’m not a fan of streaming. Relating to artists by just listening to a streamed single is like reading Cliff’s Notes instead of the book. The mythology of music is dead. If you don’t know who wrote the song, sang the song, or played in the band, what’s there to talk about?”
The results, he adds, include not only a less-educated listening public, but also one that has to shell out more money for concert tickets — the prices of which have increased exponentially.
“Growing up in the Northeast meant I practically lived at places like the Fillmore East in New York City and the Tea Party in Boston,” Buckley says. “That’s where I saw the very first nightclub show Led Zeppelin ever played in the United States, and it was amazing. But tickets to shows now are ridiculously expensive. And why? Because artists don’t make money from selling their recordings anymore.
“So the generation that supported piracy ended up paying more and getting less for their money,” he said. “If artists still sold music, concert prices would be half what they are today. Fans could buy more music, support more artists, and we’d have more great music and spend less money in the process.”
Buckley says FarePlay has experienced steady growth, picking up spokespersons along the way like country singer Rosanne Cash and Talking Heads front man and solo recording artist David Byrne, and has gained support from political allies such as U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, the Democratic member of the House of Representatives for Florida’s 22nd Congressional District.
“He represents the district that includes Boca Raton south through Fort Lauderdale and other areas of Broward County,” Buckley says, “and he’s been incredibly supportive as a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He’s been instrumental in the Music Modernization Act recently being approved by the U.S. Senate and House. It has bipartisan support, and support from major music organizations. There’s also a bill called ‘Fair Play, Fair Pay,’ which is about paying performers when their music gets played. And there’s a new ‘Classics Act,’ which will erase a loophole that forbids artists getting paid for recordings before 1972.”
All of which echoes the mission statement of FarePlay, which is essentially to gain recording artists more than the current fraction of profits — literally cents in comparison to the dollars they receive from selling a recorded hard copy — from a streaming Internet sale.
“It’s become worse than ever in musicians either being rich superstars or having to work a day job and struggle,” says Buckley. “The whole musical middle class, people who could sell thousands of CDs and therefore make a decent living, is practically erased because music is expected to be free or low-cost online. Recording labels have collapsed, and those labels used to pay artists to go out on tour. Now they have to play live, and try to sell recordings and merchandise, to make ends meet. The business model or music, as we knew it, is upside-down now.”
As are the business models within all internet-related creative arts.
“We represent authors, filmmakers, photographers and visual artists,” Buckley says. “They’ve all suffered within that business model. But the impetus, for me, was musical. America has created many of the styles of music, including blues, jazz, bluegrass and country. The whole world looks to us as a leader in that regard, but the creative community got punished so the internet could essentially offer free entertainment and thrive. And all the tech giants fought against having any laws passed to protect artists’ work. But with the bills that could be passed, 2018 could be a turnaround year for music and the arts in general.”
Bassist, guitarist, vocalist and cancer survivor Telesca, who hosts the Funky Biscuit’s popular weekly Biscuit Jam on Monday nights, has also recently performed solo for veterans at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center in a new FarePlay program called “Recovery Blues.” Buckley knew Telesca had the connections to assemble the benefit’s all-star lineup to accompany Smith, who’s worked extensively with the likes of Bob Dylan, Hall & Oates, and Roger Waters as well as being SNL’s music director from 1985-1995.
“I knew all those guys from jamming with them on Monday nights,” Telesca says. “I knew of Matt before, but actually met him at the Biscuit. Jonathan too, who’s a monster drummer. I’m so glad they asked me to put this together again. We’ll do only a couple rehearsals with G.E., and then hit it, because there’s great chemistry between all of us. I’m really excited about it.”
Smith’s career at SNL was preceded by his 1980-1982 marriage to one of the show’s brilliant original cast members, the late Gilda Radner, who also employed him as guitarist for her 1979 solo show, “Gilda Live,” and sang backup on his 1981 solo debut recording In the World.
“I knew Howard Shore, the show’s original musical director,” Smith says on his website, “and producer Lorne Michaels, from my stint with Gilda. In ’85, when Lorne returned to produce the show again, he asked me to be the musical director. And I was thrilled to take it.”
Just as he’s obviously thrilled to take the stage again at the Funky Biscuit, with such talented accompanists, for the FarePlay cause. Vocalist Stillman and bassist Telesca are both stylistically steeped in soul music, and guitarist Schofield is a British Blues Hall of Fame inductee who’s a rising star regionally and across the world.
As one of the world’s technically limitless drummers, Joseph is likely to be the lineup’s wild card. A Miami native who studied at the University of Miami under acclaimed instructor Steve Rucker, he’s a logical successor within Beck’s history of great drummers, including Richard Bailey, Narada Michael Walden, Simon Phillips, Terry Bozzio, and Vinnie Colaiuta. The versatile Joseph’s other touring and recording credits run from pop (Joss Stone, Ricky Martin) to jazz heavyweights like Joe Zawinul, Pat Metheny, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn, Randy Brecker, and Mike Stern.
See A Concert Benefiting FarePlay featuring G.E. Smith & His All-Star Band, with opening act Taylor Barton, at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 18 at the Funky Biscuit, 303 S.E. Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton (561-395-2929, $25-$45; $30 day of show).