published Friday, February 17th, 2012

Phillips: Rediscovering magic in the green room at Track 29

Growing up, I used to dream about playing music for a living.

Admittedly, it wasn't a very original dream. After all, what young musician doesn't long for the freedom, adoring fans, wheelbarrows full of cash and posh accommodations promised by a life on tour?

After talking to touring artists over the years, however, I discovered long ago that being a professional musician usually doesn't live up to the hype.

This is especially true of independent artists, who make the lifestyle sound shockingly similar to actual work and have horror stories about being stranded during brutal Norwegian winters or barely making enough to cover gas to drive to the next gig.

The way many of them tell it, music is two hours of excitement wrapped in 22 hours of tedium and poverty. "No thanks," say I.

That's why it was all the more surprising last Sunday to see how amiable Jonathan Coulton was when we chatted backstage at Track 29 before he opened for They Might Be Giants.

In 2005, Coulton quit his job as a software programmer to be a singer/songwriter. He built a fan base almost entirely through blogs, social media and word-of-keyboard testimonies, a grassroots approach that's becoming increasingly common as label support dwindles.

For all its freedom, however, this makes the lifestyle seem even less glamorous than it used to be.

When we talked on the phone the week before, Coulton was in the midst of a grueling drive to Tulsa, Okla., during which he told me he would happily have conversed with a rock to break up the monotony.

Nevertheless, he was all smiles Sunday, laughing easily and cracking wise while answering idiotic questions about his favorite kind of nut (wasabi almond) and how he once got away with burping during a lyric. Despite having arrived six hours earlier after driving up from Atlanta, he didn't look road-weary or crushed by the monotony of his chosen life. He looked ... happy.

Why? Who knows?

Maybe the humus was especially good. Maybe it was the green room's sleek, black leather club chairs and bright green accent wall, which gave off a modern, homey and -- according to Coulton -- "decidedly nondisgusting" vibe.

Or maybe, just maybe, the horror stories about being a touring musician are just that -- stories.

After all, Coulton was touring with his idols, The Giants, whom he will freely gush about, which makes him sound more like a giddy fan swept up by fate than a respected musician in his own right.

Regardless, I found his enthusiasm both surprising and heartening. I might never be destined to be a professional musician, but it's uplifting to know that, even if it's not all it's cracked up to be, there's still a bit of magic to the lifestyle.

* Speaking of Track 29, the venue scored a major coup earlier this week by booking a March 10 show by former White Stripes lead singer and guitarist Jack White. Tickets are $33 and go on sale via the venue's website and Facebook profile Saturday at 1 p.m.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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