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Our Native Daughters on Their Smithsonian Channel Special and the Making of a Black Roots Supergroup

Our Native Daughters on Their Smithsonian Channel Special and the Making of a Black Roots Supergroup

To be young, gifted and banjo-playing … and, yes, Black: these were the requirements for inclusion in the group Our Native Daughters, which was assembled by Rhiannon Giddens to make an album for the Smithsonian Folkways label that started as a one-off collective project and turned into a real band. It also turned into a Smithsonian Channel documentary that’s premiering for Black History Month, with the initial airing of “Reclaiming History: Our Native Daughters” Monday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Giddens and the three other members — Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell and Amythyst Kiah — all have solo albums coming up this year. In fact, as a preview for hers, Kiah just last week released a solo version of the Our Native Daughters track “Black Myself,” which is currently nominated for a Grammy for best American roots song. But they do promise they’ll be reassembling, likely for a second album and tour, after pandemics and individual projects pass. In the meantime, they were delighted to be reassembling in what Russell called the “Hollywood squares” of a Zoom call to talk about the hour-long Smithsonian doc… and how Black History Month is, in a way, a recounting of everybody’s history.

VARIETY: I have to admit that, when I first saw that the “Songs of Our Native Daughters” album was coming out in early 2019, given that you’re all banjo players and pictured that way in the album art, I thought maybe all four of you would be playing nothing but banjo for the entire album. Clearly that wasn’t the end game. But the four of you have a lot in common without that — Black women who are singer/songwriters and multi-instrumentalists with a roots orientation and deep social consciousness. Could this collaboration have happened even without that instrument as an even more specific point of commonality?

GIDDENS: I wanted to use the banjo to tell these stories. That was there first. And I knew all of these amazing women and that idea came at some point in the process. And then when we got together and started making songs, I realized pretty quickly [that the musical palette would expand]. And I was like, ‘Can we just have the banjo on most of the tracks, in there somewhere?’ [Laughter.] Because I recognized that the project was taking on a life of its own, which is what every good project does. You have to get out of the way and let it fulfill its destiny. So it turned into the amazing recording that I couldn’t have even imagined. We have to always get out of the ways of the limits of our imaginations. So I think there is banjo on most of the tracks, but the banjo is where it started, and there are still really important pieces of the story being told through the banjo. But yeah, the banjo quartet thing — I don’t think I ever had that in mind. Although there is a track that did not make it onto the record that all is all of us playing our banjos. Do you remember?

McCALLA: Yeah, I have that memory. And there’s footage of it in the doc.

GIDDENS: Yeah, there’s footage of us all playing banjo together. A powerful image! Not as strong of a song. [Laughter.]

KIAH: It was literally like we were in a 25-minute banjo trance. Maybe we’ll release it someday as a B-side.

Banjo consciousness really feels like a thing right now, with the racial conversations that have been happening around country music and other music that has deep roots. It got a strong focus in the Ken Burns “Country Music” documentary that you were featured in, Rhiannon. And just last week there was a discussion about race at Country Radio Seminar where Maren Morris was talking about how she grew up not knowing the banjo came out of West Africa before it was adopted by whites. Did you originally have it as the starting focus for Our Native Daughters for the pure sound of it, or is it safe to say you were looking to bring out the historical nature of it?

GIDDENS: Well, it’s not just the historical nature of it. It’s the way that it represents America. You know, what happened in America is what happened in the banjo. So it is an absolute perfect representation for the story of America… Sorry, Leyla, you wanted to say something?.

McCALLA: I was just going to add to what you’re saying, that, yeah, the banjo is the concept that we’re exploring, and then what does it feel like to explore that in our bodies in this day and age, processing this history that is sloooowly being uncovered? And how many other histories are slowly being uncovered at the same time, both internally and in our society? I think it’s always been a perfect jumping-off point. And I remember, even way back in the day when Rhi and I were touring with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, all the research you (Rhiannon) were doing, and all the learning of all of those minstrel tunes, and then you had one minstrel banjo, and then you bought another one and got another one made… It was this rabbit hole, you know? So yeah, we love the sound of the banjo, but it’s always been a very mission-based project, and we are individually pretty mission-based artists. And I don’t think that (mission) is just because we’re Black women and what we represent to other people, but I think it’s just what motivates us to make music.

RUSSELL: The banjo embodies the fact that we are one family (in America). It might be a broken, dysfunctional, abusive family sometimes, but it’s a family — that’s the deal. The banjo is America’s African instrument. And of course, it’s not just West Africa, because people were being kidnapped from all over the continent. There’s this problem with marginalization and specifically with racism in this country, where Black people are just lumped together as one indistinguishable, monolithic color of Blackness, and there’s so much individuality — including within the population of the folks who were enslaved, There would have been all these different languages, cultures, religions represented in the ships, and people literally chained together, maybe, who couldn’t speak the same language. But what is the universal language? It’s music. And these gourde  instruments that came across that evolve into the modern banjo here in America… Rhiannon’s right. It’s like the whole story of America in the same way that Black history is American history is world history. It’s not this compartmentalized thing that we celebrate for the shortest month of the year. It’s ongoing — a greater story, a more integrated story.

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Our Native Daughters: Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Amythyst Kiah and Allison Russell

Having seen some of you play individually and then all of you perform together collectively when you briefly toured… there are several components go into one of your performances. Of course you want a concert to provide some fun or joy at some point, and then there are tears as you are doing the song that is most overtly, wrenchingly about slavery…

GIDDENS: Which one is that one? [Laughter.] I’m like, wait a minute, which song…

McCALLA: “Mama’s Cryin’ Long,” probably.

That’s the one. But good point — you go there a lot with this repertoire, but that is the song that might be the one that most leaves everyone shaken. And then, with the joy and tears, there is an academic aspect, too, where you speak with the audience and put these songs in context, whether they’re historically rooted songs or those completely of your own invention… there’s an educational aspect to the show. Which is why the Smithsonian connection is apropos.

McCALLA: Much in the same way that the music came together very spontaneously and in the moment, those (elements) were spontaneous. We weren’t like, “We’re going to get on stage and make people cry and laugh and have this cathartic experience.” I mean, every time I’m on stage; I want to have that cathartic experience. But I don’t think we had a specific conception of what it was going to be like when we were on stage. … For me in those emotional moments on stage, it was  reflecting on what even brought those songs to life. I still cry every single time Ally sings cause “Quasheba.” I don’t always know why I’m crying, but it’s like, there’s just so much there emotionally.

And most of us have been pretty tokenized our whole lives. You know, we’re like one of two or three Black people in the room, or people of color in general. So there’s real power and vulnerability in us being on stage together. And I think that blew people away. And then to say, “Well, this is what we’ve been processing, and this is why you should care,.. And this is your history, too. It isn’t just Black history.” Like Ally said: “This is about you, too. This is about you and your grandfather and your grandfather’s grandfather. And don’t think that you’re immune from any of this just because you’re not a person of color or an African-American person.”

RUSSELL: That is so insightful. I agree with what Leyla said about how usually we are sort of having to explain ourselves in the predominantly white spaces of the roots music world. That is shifting slowly, as people (of color) feel their experiences and their voices welcomed a little bit more. But you referred to what’s happening in country music and how intensely purposeful the whitewashing has been, and how much pushback there is against opening up the door to let everyone in, and also to remember the real history of country music, which was just as Black as the blues, just as black as jazz, just as black as rock ‘n’ roll. I mean, obviously, I’m not detracting from white creators in any way. I’m a mixed-heritage person. But I walk through the world in my Black body. And it’s a false dichotomy, right? That’s what it comes down to, to me. “It’s black and white” — no, it’s not. It’s a big, huge, mixed family, and it’s indigenous and it’s Asian and it’s Black and it’s white and Latinx and it’s all of these things mixed together that creates the power of the modern music that was born in the crucible of America. That’s huge. And again, Black history is our history. It’s not compartmentalized.

Being together…  the fact that people are like, “Oh, there’s four of you.” How many times have each of us been mistaken for the other at festivals when we’re not all present? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been called Rhiannon or Amythyst or Leyla — or Yola, our sister, who’s not in this project, but is very important. Or Kaya Kater and I, who are both Grenadian- Canadians who play banjo from Montreal. We get mistaken for each other constantly, and we’re all incredibly individual, very different singers, writers, musicians, artists, people. And there was such power in just being on stage together. Yes, there are four of us! Like, recognize that, see us. We are different people. And we love each other.

That’s the other thing that happens, not just with Black women, but women in general in the music industry. We get pitted against one another all the time, because of this false scarcity lie that’s been pushed on people to make us feel disenfranchised and disempowered. It’s the notorious ‘tomato in the salad’ for women artists within the country or rock industries, too, like “We can only play a few women, so so you’ll have to fight it out.” We’re not competing against one another, and there’s not scarcity.

And plenty of people clearly want to hear our voices. We had no idea what would happen with this record. When we put it out, we were thinking, “Well, it’s a project for Smithsonian. Who knows how many people will hear it?” We had no idea that there would be this groundswell of response, of people embracing it and taking it in with such open hearts. And that says to me that people are, in fact, very interested in what four Black women have to say.

Are there moments in the documentary that you’re particularly glad made it in?

RUSSELL: I’m really happy some of the Newport (Folk Festival) footage made it in. Because that was the culmination of our tour, and I think we were really just kind of telepathic with each other by that point. It was a really emotional day. All our children were watching for the first time — or I should say, Rhiannon’s and Leyla’s and my children, and Amythyst just being the incredibly patient auntie on the road. And of course the history of that festival, and its importance in the civil rights movement and integration of all the families of America made that Newport time a really special thing. I’m glad it’s in there.

KIAH: I have to agree. And I love that the creation of some of those recordings is also on film. I really feel like the documentary captured that very essence of really being in the moment. I know the term “organic” can be a little bit overused to talk about something like that, but it was really living in the moment. I think before going into this process of recording this record, I had writers’ block, like I had run into a wall with writing. It was my first time co-writing with other people, and so it was this thing where you really can’t overthink. You have to get out of your head and write a song — just let it happen. And the minute you just let stuff happen and don’t overthink it, then you create something that you didn’t even think you could do. That was a really powerful moment for me.

McCALLA: I was just thinking how it captured the time when we didn’t know that we were a band, which was also a pretty magical time — just full-on spontaneity. Rhiannon and I had toured together in the Carolina Chocolate Drops and have been friends for years, and I knew Ally a little bit from being on tour and crossing paths. But I didn’t know Amythyst at all. So to just have it feel so easy and natural was such a revelation. And I’m in my early second trimester, pregnant with my twins, in a lot of the footage. So it’s just a very interesting time to think about the fact that we didn’t really know what we were making — and apparently we were making a movie!

RUSSELL: I have to give it to Charlie, one of the main videographers, that he managed to kind of disappear and be the fly on the wall after the first day Because it’s really vulnerable, that creative process, and as Amythyst and Leyla referenced, the three of us didn’t know each other that well. Rhiannon is the center of the wheel; we’re all connected to her, but we really just getting connected to each other while we were writing this record and making the movie we didn’t know we were making. And it was magical. I love that there’s some of that footage of us putting songs together, like (Kiah and Russell) writing “Polly Ann’s Hammer” at the last second, when we thought we were done with the record; it was like, “Oh no, there’s one more story to tell here.” Leyla sang it, and having that creative energy that we all had while actually making two humans, more pregnant than any of us has ever been, was amazing. I was like, “Can I rub your feet or get you a massage? I want this to feel good.” Some of the best parts weren’t captured because it was late at night at the AirBnB, with the four of us having a glass of wine and just communing in this really open, fearless, beautiful way.

McCALLA: Just feeling really supported feels like a thread throughout the film. The doubtlessness that existed in some of those spaces is really beautiful and rare and special.


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Wu-Tang Clan to Release Limited Edition 400-Pound Photography Book

Wu-Tang Clan to Release Limited Edition 400-Pound Photography Book

The Wu-Tang Clan is gearing up to release, what they call, “the rarest book in hip-hop history.”

Titled Wu-Tang Clan: Legacy, the massive photography book consists of more than 300 pages of unreleased photos that highlight the rap group’s decades-long history. The curated images were shot by revered photographers including Danny Hastings, PROTIM PHOTO, Kyle Christie, Andy Cantillon, as well as friends and family of Wu-Tang.


“We’re excited to share the Wu-Tang Clan’s history through rare and never-before-seen photos,” Wu-Tang Management CEO John “Mook” Gibbons said in a statement. “It’s been fun rediscovering moments from the past while creating this limited piece of art … From conception to the present day, this is the story of the undisputed greatest Hip Hop group of all time being unveiled through rare and never before seen photos.”

Legacy will be limited to just 36 copies that were handmade in Italy from top-tier leather and other materials. Each book will be signed, numbered, and issued a certificate of authenticity, and will be cased in a massive, 400-pound case designed by sculptor Gethin Jones. The steel structure will feature 36 bronze encrusted chambers—a nod to the group’s 1993 debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The design was inspired by the ancient bronze ritual bowls used in the Zhou Dynasty, which was first ruled by King Wu-Wang.

You can check out photos from the limited edition release below. You can learn more about Legacy, including how to cop one for yourself, at the book’s official website.





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Doug Smiley, New York Music Marketing Exec, Dies at 42

Doug Smiley, New York Music Marketing Exec, Dies at 42

Doug Smiley, the marketing director for Verve Music Group, died Saturday, February 27. He had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer less than a month before dying at home in Maplewood, NJ, surrounded by family. He was 42.

Smiley joined Universal Music Group’s Verve division last year as its marketing director. He was the founder and CEO of Intergalactic Outreach, which he started in 2019 as a strategy and marketing firm. He previously held marketing posts at Brilliant Corners Artist Management, Cornerstone/The Fader, Songs Music Publishing, MeanRed Productions, and Downtown Music.

Artists he worked with on marketing or digital campaigns included St. Vincent, Cold War Kids, Major Lazer, Sleater-Kinney, Death Cab For Cutie, Mos Def, Gnarls Barkley, Phantogram, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Vince Staples, Santigold, Miike Snow, Flatbush Zombies, Nelly, Justice and Cyndi Lauper.

He also released music of his own under the aliases Shakeyface and Subdisco.

“Verve Label Group was lucky to have Doug and we will miss him greatly,” said Dickon Stainer, Verve’s president and CEO for global classics and jazz. “Though he began working with us after many interactions were limited to Zoom, he made such a lasting impression. I first spoke to Doug on a Zoom call from Abbey Road Studios, and as a true music man he was beside himself with excitement. We will miss him greatly, and we are proud to have known him.”

A funeral was held Wednesday, with a public celebration of life to come at a later date.

As obituary published by the funeral home spoke to his goofier side as well as his loving nature with an anecdote about his wedding. “He married Amy Butterworth Smiley, a childhood friend turned love-of-his-life, in her parents backyard in 2001,” it read. “At their wedding, the wedding party wore FUBU Tuxedos and hot pink dresses. Boy Scouts served appetizers, guests bounced on a trampoline and the happy couple emerged to the hilarious track by Handsome Boy Modeling School in which Chris Elliot exclaims ‘Oh my G-d, they’re gorgeous’ repeatedly.”

Besides Amy, his wife of nearly 20 years, Smiley is survived by their two children, Daisy, 9, and Miles, 7, his mother, Sara Jane, and brother Dave Smiley.

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Doug and Miles Smiley
Courtesy the Smiley family

Friends and colleagues from throughout the music industry provided testimonials about their appreciation of Smiley, and shock at his sudden passing, to Variety.

“In an industry known for jaded figures, Doug was a constant bright spot and a true music fan,” said Jen Lyon of MeanRed. “Working with Doug felt like we were on the best adult playdate ever.”

Music journalist Nisha Gopalan first met Smiley when she was an editor at Nylon and needed his help getting clearance for Downtown Music artists for a branded mixtape. “We became friends from there, and it was impossible not to love his genuinely goofy sense of humor,” she said. “In fact, I can’t recall a single encounter with him that did not end up with me giggling. Over the years, I’d learn, personally, that his wit was matched by a sincere sense of empathy and loyalty. To that end, he had two great loves in his life, which we discussed often: his family and music. One of our last discussions involved Al B. Sure’s eyebrows. To be honest, I don’t hate that. And I don’t think Doug would, either.”

“Doug was a music industry gem and rapscallion of the highest order,” said independent publicist Leslie Hermelin. “When we met 18 years ago as colleagues at Studio Distribution, we were young, bright-eyed music industry newbies who couldn’t wait to share our favorite songs with the world. That passion for sharing music stayed with Doug to the end. A consummate professional, he went out of his way to break his artists, make work fun, and to lift his colleagues up as they grew in their careers. I’m pretty sure Doug was a reference for every job I’ve interviewed for since we worked together. The only thing he loved more than music was his family. I will miss him more than words can convey.”

Said David T. Viecelli, a former founding partner at Brilliant Corners: “The shock of Doug’s loss doesn’t stem solely from its suddenness. It is magnified by his very nature as the guy who was always there — reliable, even-keeled, ready to help. Sure, he did his job well, with enthusiasm and commitment, but that’s not what made him such an asset to his co-workers and friends. He was a trusted and honest teammate, never one to drop a ball or let you down.”

Many of Smiley’s colleagues at UMG and Verve lamented the brevity of his presence after his 2020 hiring there.

“Doug was a such an important part of the team, embraced by colleagues, artists and partners alike,” said Graham Parker, president of Decca Records US. “I will especially miss his straight face on a Zoom call, accompanied by a wickedly funny private chat conversation that would leave me struggling to not laugh.  We are sorry we didn’t have longer with him.”

Agreed Jamie Krents, EVP of Verve/Impulse! Records, “Doug made a huge impression on all of us during his time at VLG.  His quick wit and passion for music will be so missed and we were lucky to have him as a friend and colleague.”

Colleagues from further back were glad to have a larger trove of memories.

“The two things that always stood out to me about Doug as a person was his great sense of humor, and his love of his family and community,” said Eric Chen, a manager at Salty Artist Management, who worked under Smiley’s tutelage at Brilliant Corners. “Doug was someone you could always trust to brighten the mood of a room. And with that charm, he made it very easy to seek out guidance and reassurance when dealing with the many workplace and life stresses. You could always count on Doug to keep the ship intact and going.”

Said publicist Aleix Martinez, “Doug and I worked on the first Santigold album together, which defied genre categorization and was a radical proposition. Doug understood everything that was exciting and different about it immediately and was a passionate champion that could articulate that to others. His intelligence, kindness, and his enthusiasm were contagious and deeply inspiring. He was the kind of person an artist dreams about having on their team.”

“Clearing the samples on the first Gnarls Barkley was a wonderful discovery of obscure (to me, at least) track after track,” recalled Leslie Melincoff of Ogilvy & Mather. “British psych-folk, Keith Mansfield’s prolific library… Doug and I shared a real joy in exploring all the references.”

“Doug always brought positivity and a fresh perspective to our artists’ campaigns and careers,” said Red Light Management’s Alex Kadvan. “He brought innovative ideas to the table while making sure all the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed. He was a great colleague.”

Giant Step president Ester Yoon met Smiley when she was an agent for a number of artists he also worked with. “He was hilarious and always cracked me up; at the same time, he was reliable and steadfast, and a real source of light. Doug’s love and devotion for Amy was so inspiring! And although we weren’t in touch as much recently, I got a lot of joy seeing photos of his family as they grew. My heart goes out to Amy, Daisy, Miles and the vast community grieving his loss.”

“He was thoughtful, organized and always passionate about the music he worked with,” said Pamela Nashtel of Sirens Call PR.What stood out to me most was that he approached everything with kindness. This past April when I started my new business, Doug was the first industry friend to reach out to congratulate me. Such a devastating loss to the music industry.”

Erich Mönius, founder/CEO of Studio Distribution. remembered Smiley “not only as the great colleague or terrific artist he was, but as the loving and caring husband to his wife Amy and father of two lovely Kids. We shared wonderful moments on/off work and I feel truly blessed to have known him.”

David Read was Smiley’s boss at the New York City drum-n-bass label Jungle Sky in the late ’90s, which was the young exec’s first music business job after moving to New York. “Never was there a more positive person than Doug — funny, witty, charming, loving and totally cool, said Read, who also recalled him as “an awesome electronic musician” in his guise as Shakeyface.

Biz3’s Dana Meyerson remembered him as “a friendly face in the many roles he held over the years in music, with reliably great taste about cool artists and funny anecdotes to share. Doug was a true music fan and he brought that energy to everything he worked on. He was more than just a co-worker to many that knew him and above all else, he was most proud about being a dad and husband and never missed a chance to say how much he loved his family.”

Jon Cohen of Fader/Cornerstone said that Smiley “ran a lot of our bigger accounts on the Cornerstone side of our business and always did great work. Doug was an amazing person and a pleasure to work with.”

Girlie Action’s Felice Ecker said, “We were always so grateful to have him in our corner.  Doug even freelanced for us right before he was hired at Verve last year. We will miss collaborating with him and his no-nonsense approach to getting the job done, a rare commodity these days in the music industry. Most of all we will miss his warmth and humor.”

Smiley attended the Berklee College of Music in the late ’90s and graduated from New School University with a degree in politics in 2002.

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15 Films You Need to Watch, Directed by Women of Color

15 Films You Need to Watch, Directed by Women of Color

Regina King made her directorial debut this year with the Golden Globe-nominated film One Night in Miami, starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Leslie Odom Jr., and Aldis Hodge. The film, based on Kemp Powers’ stage play, portrays a fictional meeting of Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Cassius Clay (aka Mohammed Ali), and singer Sam Cooke. One Night in Miami is Regina King’s first feature film, but she has already tried her hand at directing for television with episodes of Being Mary Jane, Shameless, and HBO’s Insecure.

Where to stream: One Night in Miami is available on Prime Video.

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Midland to Release ‘Sonic Ranch’ Doc and Soundtrack Recounting Country Group’s Formation (EXCLUSIVE)

Midland to Release ‘Sonic Ranch’ Doc and Soundtrack Recounting Country Group’s Formation (EXCLUSIVE)

Not many bands have the benefit of having their origin story recorded on film for posterity by a documentarian. Cases are fewer still where said documentarian puts down the camera (or at least sets it on a tripod) midway through the process so he can actually join the band. This was all the case, though, when the country group Midland came together in 2014. That footage has been put together for a forthcoming documentary, “Midland: The Sonic Ranch,” as well as a soundtrack album that compiles the tracks the group laid down in those very first formative sessions.

“Midland: The Sonic Ranch” debuts March 19 on ViacomCBS platforms including CMT Music and MTV Live, with a Big Machine soundtrack due the same day that includes a dozen original tracks laid down by the nascent group back in 2014, only one of which ever got re-recorded for a subsequent Midland album. (See the trailer, below.)

Variety talked with co-directors Cameron Duddy and Brian Loschiavo — the former of whom is the filmmaker who became the band’s bassist; the latter was charged with assembling the footage in 2020 — about making something of the fly-on-the-Texas-wall footage seven years later.

All three members of the critically hailed trio — Duddy, singer/guitarist Mark Wystrach and band leader/lead guitarist Jess Carson — had played together in bands in L.A. previously before settling into a studio near the Texas/Mexico border to woodshed what turned into Midland. They’d gone on to extramusical pursuits, though, with Duddy already on his way to becoming a noted music video director — he’s done many of his pal Bruno Mars’ celebrated videos — before they met back up at a wedding and decided to give music one more shot.

“Showing up there in the first place with a camera in hand, and not an instrument in my hand,” Duddy says, “was a demonstration of the fact that I just thought I was going to be filming my buddies getting together for posterity, and using that footage down the road in some sort of documentary form, I come from a video background, so you’re just constantly filming things with the idea that maybe maybe down the road, it’ll be something to use. And before the end of the trip — a couple of days in, in fact — you’ll see there’s a slagging of good footage halfway through that first week that we were there, because I kind of stopped filming.” (He did, as previously mentioned, at least keep the camera rolling on a tripod.) “And I just, through the process of osmosis, got pulled into the project on a musical side.”

There was no certainty about what would come out of the Sonic Ranch laboratory. “It started as exploratory,” Duddy says. “All of us were  living in separate places: Jess was up in Oregon, I was in California and Mark was not far away from me, and we were best buds, but everyone was getting pulled in these separate directions, all of which were non-musical for the most part, living somewhat ordinary lives, having given up on music. Because it just got to a point living in L.A., when we’d all been in bands in our twenties and teens, that it was just like, ‘Oh man, this just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen.’ You gotta keep the lights on. And so showing up was kind of this experiment — three friends getting together and just seeing what would happen. By the time we left, it was like, ‘This is a band. Everything else that we have going on in our lives, business or creative, is just not important. It’s going to have to take a backseat.’ And we all felt that way, flying home from Texas.”

The group’s career took off when Midland released its debut album, “On the Rocks,” via Big Machine in 2017 and immediately had a top 10 country single with “Drinkin’ Problem.” An even better sophomore album, “Let It Roll,” came out two years later (see Variety‘s review here). With the business of career establishment continuing apace, no one thought much about that making-of footage, or the songs that they professionally cut at the time but set aside in favor of fresher material. (Only one song on the new/old “Sonic Ranch” album, “Fourteen Gears,” ended up being re-recorded for a proper Midland project.)

“Once we started going, so many other things became more important — the songwriting, the rehearsing as a band, moving to Texas, getting gigs, playing for beer money on Tuesday afternoon,” Duddy says. “All that stuff we took as serious as we had in our teenage years or our early twenties, but all of a sudden it breathed this new life into us as men, and this time, fortunately, we had  the hindsight of experience to know how to hunker down and do things the right way, as far as a commitment level and staying focused.” Meanwhile, “the footage just sat on a shelf at that point and collected dust,” he notes.

“It wasn’t until we found ourselves in whatever you want to call 2020, not being on the road, really just looking back retrospectively on the things that we had done… which you can’t do when you’re on tour nonstop for four years. You just don’t have the benefit of pausing to look around. Suddenly here we are without tour dates on the books, thinking, wow – what an incredible ride we’ve been on. Why don’t we just take a look at this footage, just for nostalgia’s sake? And then it just became really apparent: this stuff had a magic that was undeniable.”

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Courtesy Big Machine

It was self-evidently magical enough that Duddy “picked up and moved my family from California to Texas in a matter of two months because of these songs. People thought I was absolutely nuts. I’m from Los Angeles, all my life. Friends and family, and they were just flabbergasted that we were moving to Texas to… start a country band? It was science fiction,” he laughs. “But when you revisit those songs and then the footage, it puts you back immediately into this place, where the spirit is tangible and you can see these three guys coalescing into a band before your eyes. What would have taken normally years of forging a relationship and a dynamic happened in 10 days.”

Loschiavo had been commissioned to shoot a mini-doc on the band after the Big Machine signing, and heard about the Sonic Ranch material then but never saw it till the idea arose of revisiting the footage this past year. “I kind of knew what to expect,” says the co-director, “but it wasn’t until we sat with the footage that we were blown away with what they had. It’s just kind of this treasure trove that you don’t normally get to see kind of the big bang moment — the inciting incident of a band. And Cam was there to kind of capture all of it. We at first thought we were going to need to supplement it with interviews or voiceover or reshoots, but the verite feel of everything really worked, and I think it came together really beautifully with just the existing footage.”

Looking at that 2014 material, Loschiavo was struck by “just the honesty of it and the perfect storm of where each of the guys were in their lives when it was happening, and the fact that they were self-aware enough and Cam was self-aware enough to have those moments where they’re reflecting on where they are in their personal lives, and what a risk this would be. It’s kind of undeniable, this magic that’s happening. Just the honesty of it is really what struck me, and almost feeling like you’re seeing something you’re not supposed to.”

Midland will be giving a live premiere to some of that “Sonic Ranch” material in a mini-tour of Texas coming up… with shows that do involve social distancing, even though the governor has just declared that unnecessary. “We’re playing some minor league stadiums out here in Texas, socially distanced concerts, where everyone has enough room to breathe and enjoy music,” Duddy says. “Then we’re streaming three nights at Billy Bob’s with NoCap, which is a really cool platform for watching shows. We’re going to be playing a lot of these Sonic Ranch songs for the first time since… since before we had children, let’s say that. Since we were cobbling together the beer money for a couple of drinks after our set at Pooties Roadhouse. It’ll be fast and loose and kind of a trip memory lane for a lot of us in the band.” (Information on the Billy Bob’s livestreams happening April 8-10 can be found here.)

A full track list for the “Sonic Ranch” album:

1. Fourteen Gears (Adobe House Version)
2. Cowgirl Blues (Mark Wystrach Vocal)
3. Worn Out Boots
4. Champagne For The Pain
5. Will This Life Be As Grand
6. Fool’s Luck
7. Whiskey
8. She’s A Cowgirl
9. Runnin’ Wild
10. Texas Is The Last Stop
11. Cowgirl Blues (Jess Carson Vocal)
12. This Town

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Use This Website to Predict Potential Turbulence on Your Next Flight

Use This Website to Predict Potential Turbulence on Your Next Flight

Illustration for article titled Use This Website to Predict Potential Turbulence on Your Next Flight

Photo: ThamKC (Shutterstock)

Frequent (or even occasional) flyers tend to fall into one of two different groups when it comes to pre-flight preparations. Some people take the time and effort to get as much information about their upcoming flight as possible—everything from checking the weather forecast at the departure and arrival locations, to peeking at the seating map on an aircraft, to looking up information on the age and history of the plane.

Whether it’s because they’re terrified to fly, are fascinated by aviation, or simply like to know what’s ahead, there’s a decent amount of information out there if you know where (and want) to find it.

And then there are people who fly by the seat of their pants, showing up at the airport and hoping for the best. Maybe they’ve opted in to receive texts or emails about flight delays or cancellations, but other than that, they’re fine with starting their trip on a wing and a prayer.*

If you’re someone who likes to get all the details on your flight ahead of time, you may be interested in a new website that predicts whether an upcoming flight has a decent chance of turbulence. Here’s what to know.

How to use Turbli, the turbulence-predicting website

It’s called Turbli, and we first spotted it on the travel site One Mile at a Time (which isn’t affiliated with Turbli). Using forecasts produced by NOAA/NWS—which are the ones pilots use to plan flights—Turbli provides passengers with turbulence predictions up to 36 hours before their flight.

To use it, enter your origin and destination and indicate whether your flight is today or tomorrow. Turbli will then pull up any flights that fit that description, and once you’ve selected yours, it make predictions for your flight based on the weather and aircraft.

What to keep in mind about this tool

The predictions for your upcoming flight come in the form of a pretty detailed report with charts and a lot of numbers. Not only will it predict which parts of your flight (if any) may be most prone to turbulence, but it also predicts the smoothness of your takeoff and landing.

Though Turbli can be the sources of hours of entertainment for data and/or aviation enthusiasts—or hours of terror and anxiety for those with a fear of turbulence—it’s important to keep in mind that these are predictions, and that there are many other factors that contribute to flight interruptions. 

Having said that, if you’re someone who is prone to getting airsick (or anxiety attacks) on turbulent flights, you can at least board the flight with some sort of idea of what you might be about to experience. Or maybe you’d rather not know, in which case, Turbli might not be the website for you.

*Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. Plus, this type of information has only been accessible to passengers for a tiny portion of the history of commercial air travel. And frankly, based solely on vintage advertisements and pop culture portrayals, people seemed pretty happy on planes around the midcentury mark: smoking cigarettes, sipping on brandy Alexanders, and tucking into their perfectly-cooked steaks using real silverware. In coach.

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