Blue Sky Riders: Rockin’ the Stage and the Social Network
by Holley Dey, photography by Louise Uznanski ©2013 OnTapBlog, all rights reserved
The discussion didn’t last long. I insisted earnestly that permission had been given; the usher ultimately relented. Photography was allowed for the band’s first few songs, then the cap covered the lens. It was only after Kenny Loggins addressed the crowd that the camera came out to stay. “I don’t know what they told you here,” said Kenny to the audience, “but we want you to take pictures.” “Take lots of pictures,” he encouraged. “Do you tweet? Tweet one now!” Hundreds of us did; held our cell phones in the air to share a digital, rock star memory of the Blue Sky Riders with our network of family and friends.
The Riders understand fan based promotion, the potential nestled inside every tweet, Facebook post and YouTube video. It’s word of mouth gone wild, the whisper heard ’round the world, the echo that reflects and refreshes the sound of their music for future fans everywhere. Their debut album says it best; track #10 is titled “I Get It”, and they do. The Blue Sky Riders are keenly aware that fan interaction and communication are key to the success of their new indie band.
The quality of the music and the depth of talent are a given. All three band members carry hefty resumes. Grammy winner Kenny Loggins has recorded hit songs in four consecutive decades. Songs like “House at Pooh Corner” are so well known and loved that audiences sing along uninvited. Hall of Fame songwriter Gary Burr has written fourteen #1 hits, toured as a lead vocalist, toured as guitarist/vocalist for Ringo Starr and Carole King. Georgia Middleman is an immensely talented singer-songwriter whose resume includes Keith Urban’s 2010 hit “I’m In”; Georgia has recorded three solo albums of her own.
Individually their tone is distinctive; together they share a warm vocal blend that fuses Kenny’s rock sensibility with Gary and Georgia’s country/pop know-how to create a sound and an energy that belong uniquely to Blue Sky Riders; the “fourth voice”, Kenny calls it. Of the fifteen original songs on debut album Finally Home, twelve were written ensemble by the three band members. All of those co-writes speak in a clear voice. Georgia says that the message is one of hope; Kenny calls it the truth. Hope and truth, that may explain why it is so easy to feel a kinship with this music and these musicians. The songs describe feelings and emotions true to us all, framed in optimism and melody, delivered with heart and with empathy. The Riders’ song “Dream”, for example, defiantly asserts the right to reinvention. Who are you to tell me what I can’t do; well, that ain’t right. As if all I’ve done’s all I’m ever gonna do for the rest of my life. You take the glory days; I’ll take what’s on its way. The songs are about taking risks, feeling brave, deciding upon love, and starting again with gusto.
As might be expected, three hit songwriters have created music that is easily radio ready, and yet those warm harmonies have gone largely unrecognized by commercial radio where hope and truth often give way to songs about trucks, tattoos and the next drink at the bar. The Blue Sky Riders remain unfazed; radio play is not their focus. Says Gary, “We’re not going to drive the band in a direction and use our resources trying to kick down a door that has ‘twenty years only’ on it.” Instead, this band is focused on making original music they love, and sharing that music organically with an audience homegrown through direct and social media contacts. Kenny is convinced that a generation of adults neglected by the music industry is looking for and willing to buy music. It’s not easy for that generation to find music, says Kenny, “…because radio’s not playing it, and the record companies aren’t making it.” Loggins explains that the only sure way to find the kind of music that satisfies the soul is to turn each other onto it. “So that takes us to the social network. We have to be each other’s radio.”
It’s working, this grassroots campaign. Every night after the show the band is greeted by fans who insist “You sang my song tonight.” Over the summer, Blue Sky Riders toured with Kenny Loggins; the trio played an opening set of eight songs before Loggins metaphorically entered the phone booth, only to return as the evening’s headlining superhero. Kenny received an equally warm welcome dressed as Clark Kent as he did as Superman. The Blue Sky Riders were a big hit with the audience who would have gladly enjoyed a longer performance. This was particularly true in Atlantic City where a casino shortened set allowed only six songs rather than the usual eight, eliminating intermission and a fan meet-and-greet. My gut feeling is that only a 2014 BSR headlining tour will assuage the disappointment!
During the lead up to the release of Finally Home, the three Riders wrote in turn for the Huffington Post, sharing with readers the process and excitement of producing an independent album. This summer, the band has continued to connect with fans through social media, responding generously to comments and questions left on Facebook and twitter, encouraging interaction. The Riders also connect through their official website where Gary Burr chronicles the band’s experience on the road and in the concert hall. Gary writes freely (and for free). He is bright, genuine, charming and downright funny. And yes, he is occasionally demanding. I’m done blogging for now, says he, but keep checking back daily because ‘ya never know. So I did, check back, that is, and that’s how I know that Blue Sky Riders will release a holiday EP this November, Finally Home for Christmas. I want it, NOW. (I can be demanding, too.)
It’s interesting that a band with the collective experience and maturity of Blue Sky Riders is among the most youthful in their approach to growing their business, recognizing the weight that fans place upon communication not only through song, but through the personal interaction allowed by social media. Yep, found them on the internet, was amazed by their talent, charmed by their message and its honesty. I’ve got my internal radio tuned in, turned on and I’m ready to “Dream”.