The Roots Report: Expensive Dues: Making it in music is about more than talent

MusicianOkee dokee folks… For some reason, the saying “you’ve got to pay your dues” has been bouncing around in my head. The late Richard Walton of Stone Soup Coffeehouse used to utter that phrase often when he was introducing musicians who had signed up for the “hoot” at the coffeehouse. I remember the first time that I played at Stone Soup. It was about 30 years ago and Mary Ann Rossoni and I had just formed the Fuzek-Rossoni duo. We signed up to “hoot” and heard the “got to pay your dues” mantra. As the years passed, we understood it more and more. Being a musician is a constant learning process and paying your dues is part of that education.

People like instant gratification, but it rarely happens in the music business and if it does, it’s usually fleeting. This is one of the main issues that I have with shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice.” Besides recognizing only a one-dimensional view of talent, these shows feed the instant celebrity craze. People ultimately have to understand that musicians are entertainers, and having the talent to endure AND entertain is above and beyond musical talent. Would Bob Dylan or Neil Young have survived the initial auditions for “Idol” or “The Voice”? Probably not, but they, like so many others, did one thing: They went out and played, played, played music anywhere and everywhere. They probably played lots of shithole bars, dances, coffeehouses, open mics or wherever anyone would let them play. They probably performed for barely existing audiences that talked over the music. They surely, initially, worked for “pass the hat” cash or sang for their supper. Maybe they slept in their cars, couch surfed or stayed in fleabag motels. It’s not unusual for this to be the norm when trying to “make it” in the music biz, and this is what “you’ve got to pay your dues” is all about. Paying your dues truly makes you appreciate being a musician/performer and makes you better at it because you have earned it! It’s not for the weak. Read on…

One artist/band that has been out there playing, playing, playing is Ward Hayden & The Outliers. Formerly known as Girls, Guns and Glory, they have spiraled out far beyond their Boston hometown, playing honky-tonks, beer joints and concert venues throughout the country and amassing a loyal legion of fans along the way. Rolling Stone describes them as a “modern-day Buddy Holly plus Dwight Yoakam divided by the Mavericks.” If you want to hop on the Outliers bandwagon, then check them out at the Zeiterion in New Bedford for a performance on May 2 that is part of The Z’s Stage Door Live series where The Z stage is transformed into an intimate concert club. Also coming to the Z is Viva Portugal! Festa, Camané with Ana Sofia Varela, Arlo Guthrie and more. For info, wxyzzzzzzzzzz to


Sandywoods Center for the Arts in Tiverton is picking back up again. On April 27, October Road, a James Taylor Tribute, celebrates the music of James Taylor and his All Star Band.  On Sunday, April 28, Sandywood features Dueling Duos. Three duos will perform: Redfish, Bliss Point and Back Porch starting at 3pm. Melville Grill will be serving dinner for a separate fee. On May 4, daughter of Arlo Guthrie and granddaughter of Woody, Annie Guthrie, will bring her own blend of funny, heart-wrenching and poignant songs to Sandywoods. The show starts at 6:30. For more about these and other shows, one potato, two potato to

And now just a few more for your listening pleasure. The Rhode Island Songwriters Association, now in its 26th year, has returned to the Brooklyn Coffee Tea & Guest House on Douglas Ave in PVD to present Saturday Songwriter Showcases every THIRD Saturday of the month. The past few shows have sold out, so it is best to get tix in advance for these intimate performances. This month features Kala Farnham and Steve Allain on April 20 (

Acclaimed singer-songwriters Chris Pureka and Lisa Bastoni play rare acoustic sets at Askew in PVD on Sunday, April 28 at 7pm. Chris Pureka has been compared to Gillian Welch, Bruce Springsteen and Patty Griffin and shared the stage with notables such as Dar Williams, Lumineers, The Cowboy Junkies, Martin Sexton and Ani DiFranco. Chris has remained an independent artist and has sold 50,000 albums through her own record label!

Following a 10-year break from music, a career change and two children, Massachusetts songwriter Lisa Bastoni recorded The Wishing Hour, which wound up at #1 on Boston’s WUMB. In the past year, Lisa has been selected to showcase at the New England Regional Folk Alliance, as well as the Falcon Ridge and New Song Music/LEAF Festivals. Her song “Rabbit Hole” was grand prize winner of the Great American Song Contest. She has opened for artists such as Lori McKenna, Regina Spektor and Arlo Guthrie (

Music in the Gallery concert series brings in singer-songwriter Grace Morrison for a special CD release concert to promote her newest album, Reasons, on Friday, May 3. Grace is a regular on the national festival circuit and has won a number of prestigious awards, including the Eventide Arts Songwriting Competition. The concert series is held in the James Arnold Mansion/Wamsutta Club on 427 County Street in New Bedford and is presented by the music directors of the New Bedford Folk Festival. For more, get the folk over to

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.