Since the 1920s when American youth embraced jazz music and its associated culture, social revolution has been mirrored time and time again by a revolution in the music industry. Such an occurrence is happening now as a result of a burgeoning movement of independent musicians, according to Chuck White, who, as part of the Route One Project, has been collecting recordings from musicians along the eastern seaboard for the past few months. White described his recent arrival in northeastern Maine and his subsequent realization of the musical connections of the region as "unbelievable" -- a perception that will place the region front and center at an upcoming interactive musical exhibit in Boston that White is coordinating.
"My head is still spinning," says White as he was preparing to depart Calais to conclude his tour in Portsmouth, N.H. "This was a huge discovery for me."
While the history and music scene of northern Maine were a surprise to White, he is not a newcomer to the music industry in any sense. White coordinated bands to play in nightclubs for years when he was based in Boston, and he was a key player in promoting the grunge music movement. He is a trained musicologist and wrote a 20‑article series on the history of New England music for a national magazine. White has been actively assisting for decades with the amassing and cataloguing of the one-million‑piece David Bieber Archives. In 2002 he saw the entire first season of "American Idol" behind the scenes in Santa Monica, Calif. -- an experience that led to his current work with the Route One Project.
"I was like, 'this is karaoke,'" White recalls of the pop music show. "Meanwhile, all the bands like the ones I've found, they're never going to leave Bristol or Virginia to go to Los Angeles -- and the next Bob Dylan might never be found." White felt strongly that rather than requiring aspiring singers to travel, someone needed to actively search out such bands to find "the people that are laughed at but did great things, the people that slip through the cracks of history, but who resonate forever." The idea led a proposal that was left dormant for years before a pilot was filmed. Three years ago, White filmed the pilot in Portland, but those he had partnered with began to change the original idea too drastically, and he dropped out of the production before seeing it through.
The desire to find independent musicians remained strong for White, and earlier this year he was prepared to set off on his own from Key West, Fla., to travel north on a shoestring budget. Just before White left Boston, Ernie Boch Jr. and his Music Drives Us organization connected with White and saw the previously filmed pilot. Boch is an avid supporter of music and immediately agreed to fund the project and provide White with a van and any necessary equipment. The Route
One Project, and its associated concept of <Motherlode.tv>, was soon fully under way.
White set a goal of spending a few nights in 16 cities over eight weeks. Every night he would listen to and record local bands with high quality equipment, interview key figures in the music scene and film footage for future use.
By the time White arrived in Machias, he knew he was at the near conclusion of the tour. With his energy low from the long trip, he felt the final leg up to Fort Kent would be little more than symbolic. When he arrived, though, his mind was quickly changed. "It turned the whole trip upside down!" White exclaims. Learning about the expulsion of the Acadians and their journey to become the Cajuns of Louisiana and the imposed subsequent immigration of the Celtic people to northern Maine by the British thrilled him, only in part because one of his grandparents is from Ireland and the other is from Moncton. "They were here before the pilgrims. It's the history of American music."
While in Fort Kent, White received a call from Tom MacDonald, advising him that Barrule, a band from the Isle of Man, would be playing a concert in Calais. White readily agreed to come to Calais and soon found himself at the Wabanaki Cultural Center. Vicki Farrell put him in touch with Petak Lola, and White learned of the first field recordings ever made of the Passamaquoddys.
White likened the experience to when he began working the clubs in Boston. "I thought I knew everything about music, but when I went into the clubs I found out I didn't know anything. Just like when I got here to Calais, I found out that I know nothing. I had thought 'oh, there's no reason for me to make that run from Machias to Fort Kent,' and it turned out to be the most important part of the project." White considers his current tour to have been a reconnaissance run and aims to return to Maine with a film crew to spotlight independent musicians. This time, he said, he'll be starting in Maine. "I'm just scratching the surface here. It was the biggest surprise of the whole trip."
The recordings that White made while here will be integrated into an interactive music exhibit at the Boch Center in Boston, with an anticipated unveiling date of April 2018. Prior to that, they will be compiled into a podcast detailing White's journey on <www.motherlode.tv>.
Regarding the independent music scene in general, White says, "There's a music revolution going on right now. I've only been excited like three times in my life, and I'm excited right now." White cited the punk rock movement in the 1980s, the grunge movement in the 1990s and the alt‑country movement that emerged briefly in 2003 as the previous instances of when he felt that music was helping to channel the energy of the masses. "What's neat is that it's not any particular type of music," White says, referring to how the Internet has enabled a new way for all independent musicians to reach potential fans. "It's happening everywhere. ... It feels like this is coming from a place where people are sick of corporate everything -- corporate politics, the Kardashians, everything. It feels like there's real people looking for truth."