Bonnie Wright, creator of the Fresh Sounds series, says back off to cover bands. She prizes originality.
If you ever meet Bonnie Wright, here are a few things to expect: (1) She will quickly put any music knowledge you think you harness to immediate shame; (2) her neverending quest to seek out original musical voices will not only make you feel like a lazy pop connoisseur, it will also drown you in a sea of musicians who “you should check out”; and (3) she might borrow you to help her move some mic stands and rugs into a storage space.
Wright lives and breathes music, original music in particular. She “hates cover bands.” After her children had grown, Wright re-examined her career path. “I asked myself, ‘What do you do when nobody’s looking — when you don’t have to be interesting or charming?” Wright said. “I was sitting in on a class at the UCSD Music Department where they had these Thursday noon seminars, and I heard this woman speak named Susan McClary who’s a professor. She’s a musicologist, and I didn’t know anything about musicology. I thought, Man, that’s it. I quit my job.”
Since she started Spruce Street Forum in 1995, Wright has been at the forefront of bringing original, experimental music to San Diego with her Fresh Sounds series. She often scouts bands and artists during visits to New York City. For example, Wright selected solo percussionist Ian David Rosenbaum for this fall’s series after she heard him playing a piece in the Lower East Side on flower pots.
A big switch is underway for Fresh Sounds. Nestled next to a bright pink Baptist church is the 40,000-square-foot Bread & Salt building in Barrio Logan. The series is moving to this new artist enclave, which will host special events, art galleries, work studios, and more. The space is still in the midst of heavy renovations, but Wright is crossing her fingers that everything will be good to go by the time her fall series starts in mid-September.
While bringing concert supplies over to her new space in the Bread & Salt building, Wright was kind enough to answer some questions for the Reader.
Reader: How do you choose your performers? Do they solicit you, or do you track them down?
Wright: I tend to track them down. I have no specific criteria, but since my goal is to bring music to San Diegans that they wouldn’t hear otherwise, I tend to have out-of-towners. I started this when I was at UCSD. I was working with George Lewis. He was a member of the AACM, which is the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. So, he knew all the members of that — Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, and a bunch of great musicians. So, a lot of them came. I had traveled with him...I was sort of his “off-the-campus” manager. I met a lot of musicians, and because everybody loved George, I had credibility when I started my own series.
R: How do you determine what will work for the series?
W: I don’t care if it’s been done, as long as it’s not usual here. It doesn’t have to be brand new, it just has to be unusual and genre-stretching. Not what we usually hear here. And since I get to make all the decisions, I choose what I want to hear again. On the less selfish side, I want to give the musicians a chance to perform their music. There are different ways to present music. One way is to try to please your audience. In order to please your audience, for the most part, they want something that is comforting. In order to be comforting, it has to be familiar. And that is exactly NOT what I do. I do it the other way...to try and say, “Okay, here is something adventurous that you may not have heard before. Let’s give the musicians a chance to show you what they can do, and maybe you will like it. But how are you gonna know unless you hear it?” I don’t like everything I go to in New York, but how am I gonna hear the stuff I do like, if I don’t go?
R; How would you describe the crowds that show up for Fresh Sounds?
W: Totally different. It depends on the concert. Three of the four concerts next season are contemporary classical. I may get contemporary classical people, but I have no idea. Sometimes they are young noise guys. Sometimes they are people who are just, overall, interested in music. Some are old, some are young. I have no idea.
R: Over the years, what has been the most challenging aspect of keeping Fresh Sounds going?
W: The easy answer is money because I don’t spend a lot of time fundraising. I send out a fundraising letter. I have a few people who help me out. I keep it really small on purpose, so I don’t have debt. If I had more money, I would bring in bigger groups, but other than that, it’s trying to get an audience. I can’t pay for advertising. I Facebook, I Twitter, I do interviews and hopefully get coverage from the press. I love to have an audience mainly because it’s embarrassing when someone comes here from New York and there’s not many people in the audience. But then I realize... I had a trio here from New York and there were, like, 30 or 35 people, and I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry we don’t have more.” And they said, “Bonnie, it happens in New York, too.” It’s the nature of what I do.