When cultural products from the UK hop across the pond to the US, an air of authenticity wafts over. Concealed in their charming accents, British musicians have a historically tremendous professionalism embedded in their music which is difficult to find today. With over 10,000 bands in London alone, the struggle to get heard is a frustrating task resulting frequently in hitting your head against the wall after playing to an essentially empty room. At this crucial moment, Ben Lovett of Mumford and Sons
swooped in. Beginning in 2006, getting by with the help from his friends, former bandmate Kevin Jones and producer Ian Grimble, Ben launched the curative concept of Communion
. Communion began as a weekly residency in West London venue Notting Hill Arts Club. Now a full-fledged promotions company and record label, Communion has just embarked on its first US tour, taking Matthew and the Atlas
, The David Mayfield Parade
, and Lauren Shera
to the road in order to convince concertgoers they'll like what they have yet to hear.
Communion's philosophy builds around a humanitarian desire and need to improve the industry, from the inside out. Ben explains its foundations: "The driving factor behind it is an artist-led, artist-friendly approach. We're trying to solve a problem and trying to make the music industry work the right way round." The right way round, an antidote to the hierarchical corporate greed, is honest-to-goodness "traditionally rooted music," as Lauren Shera describes. "Wherever you go, people can relate to it. It's become something that they can participate in and sing along with and play to their kids or play to their parents and everybody likes it." If intentions are pure, audiences cannot help but be transfixed and included. Another mission embedded in Communion's ethos is to tackle the belief of familiarity with music you will be going to see. "It's important to shake people up," Ben illuminates. "Even if I'd never heard of these bands and had an 'Everyman's' taste in music, if I went to these nights, I would have a very special time. It's very hard to get people to say 'I'm gonna go out and I'm not gonna know most of the songs. That's what Communion is challenging and why, in many ways, why I love it. We're really trying to be promoters in the way promoters were in years past. To get people to come out and enjoy things they haven't heard of. That's our job."
From its inception, Ben has urged a 'for-all-by-artists' mentality, DIY at its most humane, carefully treading to promote artists because they deserve credit for their work. The Communion club nights in London were of a special variety, Ben recalls. "The London night has done so many good things for lots of bands. We saw it as a model, paying every band up front, making sure the room was packed and staying up all night to invite every person we know to invite them to Communion. We'd show up and not expect the bands to be as brilliant as they were. And we're not trying to take credit for their talent, we just wanted to fill in the dots for people. So, it just took a natural evolution. We'd been putting on these special headlining shows. We put on 120 shows last year and they all sold out. We're on a roll, right now. America feels like a huge, huge challenge, but the right one."
So far US reception to Communions' monthly residencies and the kickoff shows of the tour has been positively telling. Establishing anchors on opposite sides of the country, Communions' West Coast residency impressed in its first night on October 3 at San Francisco's Cafe du Nord. "I heard it was awesome", Bay Area native Lauren Shera expressed. Ben was also charmed to share. "The San Francisco show sold out and I've gotten so many great emails and responses." Communion in the Redwoods took place over three days (October 21-23) in Big Sur, California, evoking memories of grassy folk traditions. The enthusiasm doesn't look like its slowing down any time soon with "people lining up to buy tickets for the Nashville and Austin shows. We're just going to keep going, as long as it doesn't disappoint," Ben elucidates.
Ben and the artists on the tour are united in straying from a typical concert atmosphere. As consumers of music as a commodity, we are used to a disconnection between creative artists and ourselves. It's really a rather demeaning and strange idea. Communion wants to turn this idea (gently) upside down. Instead of looking at a concert as a space where the artist is superior to the audience, each performance will be an event. The structure for each show will be one of seamless integration and collaboration, of shared gear and pretension-free plugging-in and playing. Lauren will begin to play and effortlessly be joined by members of the David Mayfield Parade, who will in turn mutate into Matthew and the Atlas. Collective songs will be the repertoire, as each band knows a number of their billmates' tunes. The encore will be different every night and David Mayfield in particular, is looking forward to its "big hootenanny" character.
Camaraderie and a sense of family are intrinsic to Communion's nature. Building a community with each audience in their own localized scenes is central. Lauren believes "the driving force behind the idea behind the tour is to pull the audience in and make them feel that they're just a big a part of this collaboration as the artists are." Intimacy is often something that has slipped away in the modern live setting, in favor of flashy guitar-wielding acrobatics, lasers, light shows, the list goes on. Communion celebrates an organic troubadour setting, returning to music's origins, one that is as much necessary to music history as American history.
Just like how controlling a crazy family is impossible, a lot of the Communion tour will be unplanned. "It'll either be great or a catastrophe" answered Matthew of Matthew and the Atlas (a UK band on Communions label, nestled into their efforts from the beginning) when asked how rehearsed the transitions and performances will be. "I'm excited about the challenge of experimentation with the musicians and audiences," Lauren responded similarly. Embarking on entirely new terrain each night puts the audience and the artist in the same position, one of delicate surprise. "The wall between the performer and audience is for breaking down" David Mayfield interjects. In an experience where anything can truly happen, both giver and receiver are reminded of why they like music in the first place: it is a result of human interaction, it doesn't need financial sheen or hyper-high tech management. The purpose of Communion is quite simply, to bring people with a range of talents together and get them to remember what it's like to appreciate real music. I have a feeling they'll have no problem doing just that.
A taste of what you'll see on tour:
Matthew and the Atlas performing The David Mayfield Parade's "I Just Might Pray"
The David Mayfield Parade performing Lauren Shera's "Once I Was a Bird"
Lauren Shera performing Matthew and the Atlas' "Within the Rose"
Join the experience at one of their dates in your hometown.
10/22 The Cellar Door Visalia, CA
10/25 The Tractor Tavern Seattle, WA
10/26 Mississippi Studios Portland, OR
10/28 Soiled Dove Denver, CO
10/30 7th Street Entry Minneapolis, MN
10/31 SPACE Evanston, IL
11/01 Rozz Tox Rock Island, IL
11/03 Blueberry Hill St. Louis, MO
11/04 3rd & Lindsley Nashville, TN
11/05 Smiths Olde Bar Atlanta, GA
11/06 Lincoln Theatre Raleigh, NC
11/08 Jammin Java Vienna, VA
11/09 World Cafe Live (Upstairs) Philadelphia, PA
11/10 Mercury Lounge New York, NY
11/11 Higher Ground Showcase Lounge S. Burlington, VT
11/12 - Cafe 939 Boston, MA