Time to Get the Party Started: Rock Hall Nomination Predictions, Class of 2019

Already…almost a half year has passed since that dismally cold, rainy April day in Cleveland and that nomination season is upon us again (and also that I haven’t posted since June). Let’s get this party started!

This was tough this year. Not only is the Hall poised to move beyond my modest wheelhouse, but it also didn’t let slip any overt name-check hints as they sometimes do. I feel pretty confident about my first 10 and fell back on the “gut feeling” method for the other nine.

Continue reading “Time to Get the Party Started: Rock Hall Nomination Predictions, Class of 2019”


Unbroken Circles and Glass Houses, Part 2: Reading the Operator’s Manual

Now for the post I’d meant to write.

Thanks to Future Rock Legends and the Wayback Machine, the somewhat-long-lost Country Music Hall of Fame bylaws have been recovered, so it’s possible now to read them over and see what the takeaway is—if there is one. Other Hall watchers know more about music, more about music writers and more about the Hall, but I can geek out on rules real good. It also lets me use this photo of this gorgeous building again.

Continue reading “Unbroken Circles and Glass Houses, Part 2: Reading the Operator’s Manual”

Unbroken Circles and Glass Houses: Comparing the Country and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame

UPDATE: The site turned out to actually be the CMA’s-go figure. CMHOF election process is outlined here.  (Thanks to Future Rock Legends for the superior research skills).

This is not the post I meant to write.

Maybe a year and a half ago I came across a website with the induction process for the Country Music Hall of Fame®, with all the rules and bylaws spelled out in detail. I was impressed with both how well such a subjective process was organized and the Country Hall’s transparency.  I thought sometime I’d write a post comparing and contrasting the CMHOF and the RRHOF and highlighting the things that the Rock Hall could, in my -oh-so-expert opinion, adopt.


Deciding it was time, I went to find that website. No luck. Reading what I could find about the CMHOF, the word “secret” came up…over and over again. But poking around confirmed what I’d started to suspect: that site, or at least that page, is gone, and it’s possible (read: likely) that it’s because the powers that be want it that way. For those of you who think the RRHOF is opaque, or as Joe Elliot says, “Some guys in tuxedos behind a closed curtain deciding who’s going to be in” (really, Joe, how sexist; there are a few ladies in evening gowns in there), meet the Country Hall. By comparison, the Rock Hall is as clear as the glass it’s built from.

The CMHOF is unique in that it’s run by the first trade organization specifically created to promote a single genre of music–the Country Music Association (CMA),  formed in 1958 in direct response to the rise of rock and roll. (The direct impetus was the mass abandonment of country by radio in the wake of the phenomenon that was Elvis Aron Presley). The CMA is now a global organization with 7500 members and an 82-member board of directors, dedicated to promoting country music to sponsors, the media and the public and to advancing the genre’s legal and economic interests.

With so much power vested in it, it’s not surprising that not everyone’s on board with how the CMA operates. The culture of anonymity has been noted, charges of sexism have been leveled and journalists have charged that the organization is random and retaliatory in granting press credentials for CMA events. Artists including Waylon Jennings, Reba McEntire, LeeAnn Rimes, Ricky Van Shelton and others have had run-ins with them over the CMA award selection process, treatment of artists at press conferences and other issues. Last year, it sparked controversy at the CMA Awards ceremony by decreeing that journalists who attempted to ask about the tragedy in Las Vegas would be ejected and credentials revoked, an order it quickly had to walk back.

The CMA Foundation was chartered in 1964 by the state of Tennessee to preserve artifacts related to country music’s history; the museum opened in 1967 and moved to its current 130K-square-foot home in downtown Nashville in 2001 with several expansions since. It’s the world’s largest repository of country music memorabilia, housing more than 200,000 recordings that include 98% of all pre-WWII commercial recordings, more than half a million photographs, publications, films, and other assets. It’s also accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, a distinction earned by just over 1,000 of the more than 33,000 museums in the country. The Foundation’s charitable arm grants millions of dollars annually in support of more than 40 music education initiatives around the world. Part of the funding for these projects comes from the CMA’s major annual events—the CMA Awards in November, the CMA Country Christmas in early December and the CMA Music Festival (formerly Fan Fest) in the spring.

The actual Country Music Hall of Fame was created in 1961 and has always kept a low profile: it’s not prominent on the CMA website and not even mentioned in its Wikipedia entry. While there’s a press conference to announce the inductees, the actual Medallion Ceremony is a quiet invitation-only affair held at the Museum; inductees aren’t even mentioned on the CMA Awards broadcast.

Induction into the CMHOF is solely the prerogative of the CMA and is a two-step process. The CMA board of directors selects anonymous inductors from among its members, who are required to have “participated actively” in country music for at least 10 years and who must “merit respect and recognition for their accomplishments and/or knowledge of one or more aspects of Country Music.”

Historically, the number of CMHOF inductees has varied between one and 12. Since 2010, there has been a potential for three new members to be inducted annually, each from a different category:

Veterans Era (voted annually): Nominees become eligible beginning 45 years after achieving national prominence;

Modern Era (voted annually): Nominees become eligible 20 years after achieving national prominence;

Rotating Category: Recording and/or Touring Musician, Nonperformer, Songwriter (Each division is voted on once every third year).

The Veterans Era and Modern Era categories each have separate nominating committees, each made up of 12 industry leaders serving three-year terms. The Modern Era nominating committee also oversees the rotating categories. Two anonymous panels of electors are established, with one panel voting for the modern era and rotating categories and the second voting for the Veterans Era category. Among all voters, there are two rounds of ballots: In the first, each voter chooses five candidates from the slate of 10-20; in the second, voters pick one nominee from the top five. If candidates don’t receive a minimum number of votes, the category goes unfilled that year. To prevent “sympathy votes,” there’s a one-year moratorium on nominations for deceased artists. The museum does not participate in the election but provides the exhibition space for the bronze plaques representing each inductee through a licensing agreement with the CMF.

That’s what we’re given to know about the process. The identities of the electors and the rules governing their actual votes are kept meticulously secret. The only bylaw that I remember from that lost website is that electors are required to vote; failure to do so results in the forfeiture of voting rights and the delinquent elector having to apply for reinstatement (I seem to recall that there’s a three-strike rule in effect here, but don’t quote me on that).

Clearly, the Country Hall is highly exclusive; it seems the CMA Awards are the accolade most country artists are intended to aspire to. As of this year, the CMHOF has only 136 inductees inducted over 56 years (first class in 1962), compared to 323 inducted over 32 years (first class in 1986) for the RRHOF. Among the luminaries yet to attend their Medallion Ceremony: Hank Williams Jr., Lynn Anderson, the Judds, Johnny Paycheck and Dwight Yoakam.

For hall of fame purposes, country’s got some distinct advantages over rock. It’s beyond the scope of my knowledge and this post to go into its history and culture, but it’s safe to say that while it’s not homogenous, and putting “old country” versus “new country” arguments aside, it has a more cohesive identity and a unique sense of community, so the endless battle over genre that plagues the Rock Hall. Also, for good or bad, it has a decision-making body that is generally accepted as “the boss,” which decided early on that everything was going to be kept separate from filthy lucre, while the RRHOF’s induction is its biggest fundraiser.  The name “Hall of Fame” no doubt gives some allure to the museum, which has no trouble keeping the turnstiles turning; it’s been posting tremendous growth over the past few years and attracts close to one million visitors per year. (Of course, it’s also located in a city that’s a hot tourist draw).

There are a lot of things I like about the Country Hall. My inner policy wonk loves the fact that it has a carefully thought-out process aimed at making a subjective undertaking as logical and consistent as it can be. It’s handled by people who understand the history of the music as a whole and can evaluate an artist’s position in it—experts, in other words. “They’ve sold a lot of records and they’re still around” isn’t the criterium. Neither is “Will they sell tickets to the dinner?” Nominating committee members are rotated, bringing in fresh viewpoints and shaking up the groupthink. Performers from earlier eras stay in the mix, voted on by people who know their careers. Nonperformers get their due. And at the risk of sounding maudlin, I think there’s a genuine sense of service to something important, of preserving something meaningful for future generations that goes beyond sponsors and TV specials and ticket sales.

But there are a couple of things that don’t make as much sense. It’s clear the CMA wants to preserve the exclusivity and dignity of the institution, but why is are the Hall of Famers virtually completely uncelebrated? Why isn’t there a tribute concert or a TV special with artists who’ve been influenced by and have respect for the inductees—“Will the Circle Be Unbroken” made real? Why not at least a bigger mention on the website? It’s been pointed out that the inductees tend to be older artists that are less visible and commercially viable, but if an artist deserves to be in a hall of fame, there’s a valid story there and a creative way can be found to tell it, especially when the museum has such vast resources at its disposal. Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s heyday was in the 1930s/1940s and her last performance was 45 years ago, but her induction with Brittany Howard’s performance was a high point of this year’s Rock Hall ceremony and brought her music to thousands of people who’d never heard of her before.

A favorite jab of Rock Hall critics is that it’s irrelevant because it’s too inclusive. As Chet Flippo put it, “An animal shelter, with numerous strays being brought in every year. It’s true–the RRHOF has some questionable inductees. Recently It’s taken a pronounced turn for the populist, and I think more than one Hall monitor is keeping a watchful eye on the “Voice Your Choice” balloting at the museum, wondering which of the names we’re seeing there show up in October and if we’ll see something like Styx replacing Link Wray. But most of us who watch it still spend more time decrying who’s still left out. Taking in the potential artist pool, 323 is still a small club.

All the points cited above in praise of the Country Hall make up what for me is a bigger factor in relevance, and one that drives me crazy about the Rock Hall: professionalism, or the lack of it. Professionalism means that the Musical Excellence category is awarded consistently, instead of being allowed to look like a consolation prize. It means that the lineup for nominated bands is correct at the time of nomination so members aren’t added later and find out about it from their wives. It means artists don’t induct themselves. It means the criteria for a new category are officially explained instead of it being sprung as a strange afterthought that reeks of an end run around the process.

Actually, there are a couple of things that fall under the heading of professionalism that neither institution does that I’d like to see: Whatever rules govern the game, they should be published. And personally, I don’t feel a need to see the actual voting results, but certification would be a good step towards establishing that they’re legit.

Clearly, we’re looking at two different animals here. The CMHOF and the RRHOF are the products of two disparate cultures and could never be run the same way. But maybe they could show each other a thing or two.

Random note: It’s a while yet until October, but we’ve all been thinking about our predictions for the Class of 2018 ballot. Last year’s ballot was notably UK-centric, and several of the names on it—Judas Priest, the Zombies, the Eurythmics—made strong showings in the fan vote and could be serious contenders to return. There’s a fair amount of buzz for Def Leppard making its first appearance this year, and if they do, can they co-exist with Judas Priest? How about Duran Duran? How British could the ballot be?

“I Died in Cleveland?,”* or, Thoughts On the Induction Ceremony, Class of 2018

-* Watchers of “The Good Place” will recognize the reference – without giving too much away for the uninitiated, the series thus far has taken place in the afterlife of its main characters; this past season it was revealed that one of those characters met his/her earthly demise during an RRHOF induction ceremony. (Extra points to the show for knowing the 25-year rule). If you’re not watching “The Good Place,” you should be. (Ahem, Alex Voltaire). You can’t just jump in, so definitely – find a way to get to the beginning and get started already. 

Anyway, back to the subject at hand: this year’s Rock Week Inductions, complete with the middle-aged fangirling you won’t get anywhere else. These are just impressions; for commentary see Future Rock Legends or   Northumbrian Countdown. Spoiler alert for those waiting for May 5 and HBO.

This year gave me a new perspective on things, as I was privileged to actually attend Rock Week for the first time ever and watch the simulcast of the ceremony at the museum (thank you, Donna). After contributing to the Hall’s $199 million-plus economic boost to the Cleveland economy over Thursday and Friday (highly recommend the Porco Lounge and Tiki Room), RRHOF festivities got underway with a top-secret summit of Hall watchers at an undisclosed location, at which a perfect agenda for the Hall was mapped out during an intense brainstorming session. Beer may or may not have been involved.

Saturday was all Hall, all day. It’d been 18 years since I’d been to the Museum, so it was intriguing to see all the new developments. The “Power of Rock” film lived up to its advance billing, and I second the advice we got to see it first thing. A lot of effort has clearly gone into the  overall presentation, and a lot more of the collection has been brought into play (with crowds, it took us two hours to get through the floor alone) although my partner was disappointed at the relative lack of items from previous inductees. The display that really resonated with me was Jimi Hendrix’ sketches and paintings, done when he was a tween and teen. The brand-new inductee section and signature plaque area is light years away from the tiny, dark and silent sanctum I remember from before, tucked away and forgotten at the top of the pyramid.

Two things happened at the Museum that impressed me in particular. The first was something I’d actually told everyone the night before would flip me out were it to happen: I met Greg Harris. I probably shouldn’t have bothered him, but before I thought about it I’d called out, “Mr. Harris” and he graciously stopped and chatted about the day for a moment without a hint of being impatient or rushed.

The second is that early in the day, on the first floor, I saw a green dress worn by Yvonne Staples, who’d just passed away two days prior. By the time I got up to the third floor, that dress had been moved to the memorial section and installed in the glass case up front alongside the display for Tom Petty, with an updated description screen. That they took the time to do this on such a hectic day is something, and I imagine that under normal circumstances it would have been done sooner. We went to a listening session in the Foster Theater just after that with John Goehrke, the Hall’s director of visitor engagement and education, and he confirmed that they’d been playing her music in the building the day before as is standard upon the passing of an inductee.

That listening session was fun not only because it was nice to plop down and listen to “Heartbeat City” on a killer sound system, but also because it was a chance to talk with a staff member and really see how much pride and enthusiasm the staff has for the museum and its mission. Every interaction we had with a staff member, from ticket takers to the CEO, was positive. (A huge thank you for letting us back into the building and out of the cold earlier than scheduled). And you know these people don’t necessarily agree with what the Foundation does, but they’re the ones who hear about those decisions every single day. It’s not something most visitors pay attention to, but I think it would be a good step with additional cachet for sponsors and donors for the museum to  follow the CMHOF’s example and get  American Alliance of Museums accreditation.

The fan vote section of the exhibit was getting plenty of use, and has been noted, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Stevie Nicks were at the front of the pack. (I opted for Link Wray, but right up until I voted I was thinking of going with Todd Rundgren, Big Mama Thornton, The Tragically Hip or even Ted McCarty just to make people look twice). It’ll be interesting to see how the ballot looks in October in relation to this, in particular if Judas Priest is shelved in favor of either Leppard or Maiden–and also how fans respond either way.

The ceremony itself has already been dissected here and there, so just some random thoughts:

  • I actually enjoyed the comments by the Bon Jovi band members. I found myself wondering if the “opening” slot was the Hall’s response to Jon’s attitude, which is well played if true, but who can say if it is. The majority of the simulcast crowd  seemed to be there for the Moody Blues, who deserved the headliner spot. I didn’t think the sound mix was very good for either Bon Jovi or the Moodies, with muddy vocals, and without attempting to throw shade here, I heard someone ask if Bon Jovi was lip-synching. Not sure why this would be, because the mix was better for everything in the middle, although the audio/video sync was slightly off from where we were sitting outside the Connor Theater.
  • I can only imagine how thrilled Sister Rosetta would have been by Brittany Howard and Felicia Collins’ performances – Howard especially didn’t so much pay tribute to Tharpe as channel her.
  • Mary J. Blige did a superlative job inducting Nina Simone, and it’s too bad she had  to do the dirty work of finally cutting Sam Waymon off. Allotting him three minutes was stingy, but if he’d ended with, “If you want to be a queen you are a queen… If you want to be like my sister and you have a dream, don’t let anything stop you from your quest,” what power it would have had. Andra Day was simply transcendent, and Lauryn Hill excellent, although to be honest the segment was starting to feel long at this point.
  • What else can be said about the Dire Straits debacle? Until it unfolded, I wouldn’t have believed the Hall could be this tone deaf…not like this. Kudos to Illsley, Clark and Fletcher.
  • Benjamin Orr’s memorial service was held at the museum in the Foster Theater, and I’m glad this is now the postscript on the story. Brandon Flowers’ speech was perfect, and the band was surprisingly and charmingly nervous except for Greg Hawkes, who advocated for some still excluded: Todd Rundgren, Flo and Eddie, Kraftwerk and Devo. The band got the crowd up and dancing–including the Bongiovi kids–and although I’d have liked a small nonverbal nod to  Orr besides the recognition in the speeches, as the Moodies did for Ray Thomas, it was a satisfying end, if it’s to be the end. And yeah, when it was over, I had a moment.
  • I didn’t know what to make of the new induction plan for singles, and frankly still don’t. Future Rock Legends has done an excellent job summing it up, and I’m nervous for what it portends for Link Wray in particular, although Steve Van Zandt hasn’t personally given up on him.
  • The Moody Blues were gracious and charming and although the vocal mix again could’ve been better, they showed everyone how a headlining act gets it done. We thought “I’m Just A Singer…” (or “Good Times Roll”) would’ve made a great jam tune, but what can you do. Happy for all the fans.

When I wrote a letter advocating for the Cars to the Foundation almost four years ago, I never thought I’d actually witness the final result. It was a thrill and a lifetime memory, and while there’s plenty of entertainment still to be had in Hall watching, it’s never going to be quite like this again. And I’m a shameless booster for Cleveland–even as a native Midwesterner, I think the city has some of the world’s nicest people. It’s been a pleasure every time I’ve visited. Although one thing crossed my mind while we waited in line that never occurred to me before: who decided this should happen here and New York in April?

While we were all celebrating geezer rock in a glass pyramid, it came out that veterans Dave Marsh and Craig Werner are off the NomCom and Amanda Petrusich is on. And in other news, Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize for “Damn.”

And where do we go from here?


Past Glory: Ted McCarty and Gibson’s Golden Age

In February, it was reported that Gibson Brands, parent company of the iconic guitar maker, is facing bankruptcy despite an estimated $1 billion in yearly revenues, with $375 million in senior secured notes maturing and $145 million in loans due by this July. CFO Bill Lawrence has left the company, which has also abandoned the Nashville warehouse it’s held for the past 30 years.

The news didn’t surprise me, I don’t play, but I’ve done some research on the topic of basses and guitars. Spending time on player chat boards and blogs gave me some insight into the industry, and it’s clear that Gibson’s morale and perception by its audience have been in the proverbial crapper for some time. But reading up on the history of Gibson’s fabled lineup gave me immense interest in and respect for the man who presided over the company’s “golden age,” when it gave the world the Les Paul, the Flying V, the Firebird, the Explorer and more: Ted McCarty. The news of Gibson’s current misfortune seems a good time to look back at the man—also a non-player–who made the company and in the process made history.


Continue reading “Past Glory: Ted McCarty and Gibson’s Golden Age”

The RRHOF Class of 2018, Part 2: Turnstiles and Target Demos

“Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Pumps Brakes on Progressiveness,” was the headline from Billboard.com. “A Dad Rock Spectacle for the Ages,” is how Cleveland.com put it. Both, of course, were referring to the Hall’s Class of 2018 (The Moody Blues, Dire Straits, The Cars, Bon Jovi, Nina Simone and Early Influence inductee Sister Rosetta Tharpe).

There’s been a lot of criticism of the Hall’s “Boomer bias” of the past couple of years, and it’s absolutely not without justification. To fulfill its mission, the Hall needs to broaden its range, and there’s evidence that it’s taking steps to force the older-white-male-dominated voting committee out of its comfort zone and at least catch up a little bit to the more progressive NomCom, including recruiting members as young as their 20s. And even if it adds to the overall complexity, it may very well take some procedural changes as well, something like the change suggested (by a Millennial) here.

But just to play devil’s advocate, the Hall may not actually be rushing to bring this about, at least on a scale that will satisfy everyone tired of classic rock’s dominance, and here’s why: The fact is, Boomers and early Gen X’ers aren’t dead. Yet.  While the oldest ones are out of that coveted 25-54 demographic, they have disposable income and are deeply invested in their music and the experience built around it.  Seven of the top 20 tours worldwide in 2017 according to Pollstar were classic rock acts – McCartney, the Stones, GnR, Roger Waters, Billy Joel, U2, and Tom Petty (nine if you count Depeche Mode and Metallica; Springsteen’s Broadway shows weren’t even counted). Yes, the ticket prices are higher, but again, old folks are shelling out. They pony up in droves for events like 80s in the Sand, and cruise ships full of inebriated Boomers are criss-crossing the world’s oceans as you read this, reliving the glory days on the Kiss cruise, the 80s cruise, the Moody Blues cruise, et al, et al.

Now, here I get into conjecture territory: without wanting to draw broad stereotypes, clearly, Millennials experience their music differently from previous generations; they tend to value ownership of music (and most things) far less and experience live music in a festival setting as opposed to single headliners far more. Big conjecture on my part, but I’m not sure that fandom of any particular artist or band plays the same role in self-definition that it did for their parents. Please note-this is a value-neutral statement. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; in a lot of respects it may be a healthier thing. Culture is more participatory for much of this generation than it was for us, and they don’t engage in the hero worship that we did, for lack of a better term.

And while a lot was made about Radiohead’s exclusion, the band doesn’t care, and I’m not sure how much their fan base does. I’ve said it before, but I was taken aback by their poor showing in the fan vote, dragging along in 11th place even before the announcement that they’d be in another hemisphere during the induction ceremony, finally finishing in 12th.

All this is relevant because the RRHOF has so strongly linked its nomination/induction process to cranking the turnstiles at its museum, possibly more than any other such institution, along with the HBO telecast of the induction, which has of course been cited as the primary source of corruption in the process. (While ESPN telecasts the MLB HOF ceremony, MLB is clearly in the driver’s seat). Whether or not it’s pernicious, once that’s the premise, it’s just business: which group would you cater to, as the Foundation, the Museum, HBO or an advertiser? And once you’ve made that decision, you’re hanging a building-sized banner off the side of a downtown Cleveland building emblazoned with an image of a (young) Jon Bon Jovi, right after he’s pulled off a massive end run (aka dick move) around you  by announcing his personal choice of inductor.

It’s been voiced that people should be patient with the Hall trying to balance all these demands, and I’ve thought that myself. But didn’t it wedge itself firmly between the (proverbial) rock and the hard place? I definitely wouldn’t want to go the three-name-only-per-class route, but the Country Music Hall of Fame has scrupulously kept its induction process separate from its Museum management for 54 years now, and while the actual HOF element has its inevitable detractors, it’s managed to maintain its cachet while going under the radar and coexist with a  successful Museum that’s actually one of the relatively few such institutions accredited within the industry. It can be done.

The CMHOF also maintains a pretty high degree of transparency about their rules and processes. The RRHOF has apparently stated that transparency is a goal, but I don’t think we’re going to see this for a while. Right now, the voting committee is driven by its biases. If the voters choose an all-white, all-male slate and the Hall needs to massage that for better optics, they’ve still got the wiggle room and the ends justify the unseen means. Of course, if a band like Radiohead gets snubbed as punishment for a lack of enthusiasm, or because the Hall wants time to try to sweet-talk them into playing along, or just snubbed period, that doesn’t have to be seen either. Right now, the NomCom by acting according to its mission is doing the work of progressiveness, while the powers that be are catering to the bulk of their official voters even as they quietly work to dilute their influence to achieve a greater goal. Until that’s worked out, “selection by one’s peers” is a good thing to promote and takes the heat off the problem.

(An aside: another thing that undermines the Hall’s credibility maybe as much as bias and lack of transparency is a lack of simple professionalism. When you have to add names to a band’s inducted personnel due to “inadvertent error” after the fact and don’t bother to contact those members yourself so they find out from their wives, and when you can’t contact the acts that aren’t inducted that year, but send them a form letter, it’s pretty cringeworthy. (Note to the NomCom: this book is excellent and has handy charts so you can see who was in a band at any point in time).

On the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast covering the class, Brian Hiatt and Andy Greene acknowledged that “there’s an image problem with (the RRHOF and) young people” and then asked hypothetically, “Does everything always have to be about young people?”

At least for right now, maybe not.









Iconic Rock Talk Show Moment: The Happy Fits

So last week on my segment for the Earth Station One podcast, I introduced what I hope will be a regular feature tipping listeners to music I’ve discovered- new, old, whatever. So I helpfully put the first one out there and tell everyone to check it out, and over the weekend it dawns on me: I HAVE A BLOG where I can post this information. It’s named after the segment. People can go there and read about it because IT’S A BLOG. Sheesh…yeah, I’m bright. I could blame the fact that I’ve been immersed in some intense content creation for the past couple of weeks, but whatever.


My first tip is The Happy Fits, formed in 2016 in Pottstown, NJ, by two college freshmen: Ross Monteith (a former national fencing champion) on guitar and “orchestra nerd” Calvin Langman on cello. They got together in April of that year and by the end of August had written and recorded a four-song EP called “Awfully Apeelin'” (with cover art showing a cartoon banana) that they released on Spotify. Two days after that release, Arizona music writer Tyler Miranda came across it by accident and tipped off a friend at Spotify, who featured the track “While You Fade Away” on the channel’s “Fresh Finds” playlist. In 24 hours, their stream count jumped from 1,000 to 39,000 and now they find themselves as a trio, having added pro gamer Luke Davis on drums in early 2017, playing live sets at places like the Paste Magazine studios, where I found them through Paste’s Twitter feed.

The Happy Fits are hard to categorize; probably the best description comes from Mitch Mosk at Atwood Magazine, who calls it “an infectious mix of catchy melodies, clever lyrics and just the right balance of gritty indie and light alternative rock.” They refer to it as “alternative infused with funky wunky jumbo time,” and more simply as “jiggy music” and gives their major influences as the Killers, the Strokes and the Alabama Shakes. Their Bandcamp bio also references the Lumineers, and at times there’s a hint of world music. Whatever–it’s just fun and insanely catchy, with the interplay of guitar with a surprisingly ballsy low end from the cello, with these simply beautiful and pure vocals on top.

Give them a listen – just be aware that you’ll have “Dirty Imbecile” in your head all day.