The last few years have been nothing if not strange. We typically look forward to celebrating the new year with a rundown of the year’s “strangest sagas“, the storylines that kept us amused and perplexed throughout the last twelve months.
After taking a year off—for 2020 strangeness, kindly refer to our COVID-19 Concert Cancellation Tracker, which is now so long that our computers freeze when we update it—we’re back with a list of the strangest music sagas of 2021. [Note: We did our best to leave the overall category of “COVID bummers” off this list. You get enough of that already. No need to rehash it here.]
Everyone Sells Their Publishing
In the last year and change, tons of superstar artists have sold their publishing rights to their catalogs to various firms and funds for billions of dollars. While the buying and selling of publishing catalogs is nothing new, the cascade of high-profile sales in the last few years—often for many millions of dollars—has been staggering. From legends of past eras to the highest-earning artists of today, cashing in on up-front millions for the rights to your tunes seemed like the thing to do this year.
The deluge seemed to start in late 2020 when Bob Dylan sold his legendary songbook to Universal Music Publishing Group for an estimated $300 million. Then came Neil Young offloading 50% of his to Hipgnosis Songs Fund for an estimated $150 million. Stevie Nicks then took her tunes to Primary Wave for a cool $100 million. Even more current groups like Imagine Dragons and The Killers and the estates of late musicians like Whitney Houston, Prince, and David Bowie have started selling some or all of their songwriting creds for cash.
Similar headlines remained a regular occurrence throughout 2021. The list of bands and artists who recently sold their catalogs for big bucks now includes [takes big breath]: David Crosby, Disturbed, Lindsey Buckingham, Barry Manilow, Richie Sambora, Blondie, Chrissie Hynde, Air Supply, Culture Club, Devo, Shakira, KT Tunstall, Mick Fleetwood, Massive Attack, Beach Boys, Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, David Guetta, Tina Turner, Bing Crosby, Luther Vandross, ZZ Top, Bruce Springsteen… you get the idea.
The trade-off is a relatively simple one to understand: You get a big lump sum now and forego the potential money you could have made from licensing these songs in the future. It’s anyone’s guess how the handful of companies snatching up all of these catalogs will fare on their big bets, but judging by the “basically everyone is doing it” nature of this strange saga, it seems most artists are happy to make the call. Make that money, gang. It’s a seller’s market out there.
By the way, if anyone at Hipgnosis, Primary Wave, or Sony Music Publishing is reading this, my catalog of concert ticket stubs is extensive and currently available for purchase.
For over a quarter of a century, Dave Grohl has made the job of every music journalist a little easier by consistently engaging in headline-worthy activities. This past year was no different, as the Foo Fighters frontman remained consistently busy with various shenanigans and “Grohlposting” remained a favorite pastime for the team at Live For Live Music.
A continued storyline from 2020 was Dave’s faux feud with viral drumming sensation Nandi Bushell. It all began in August 2020 when the then 10-year-old English multi-instrumentalist challenged Grohl to a drum battle on Foo Fighters’ 1997 smash hit, “Everlong”. Grohl, having nothing to gain and everything to lose, accepted. After a few rounds of back and forth challenges, Grohl ultimately relented, declaring Nandi the winner and even writing her a theme song.
Somewhere along the storyline, Grohl had promised to share the stage with Bushell should the lockdown on live music ever lift. The storm clouds of the pandemic did part, however briefly, during 2021. When Foo Fighters re-opened The Forum in Los Angeles, CA on August 27th, 2021—after postponing the show once due to a positive COVID-19 case within the organization—Grohl made good on his promise, welcoming the young Nandi Bushell to the stage to play drums on “Everlong” as drummer Taylor Hawkins presumably seethed in the wings.
Foo Fighters w/ Nandi Bushell – “Everlong” – Los Angeles, CA – 8/26/21
Meanwhile, in a parallel storyline, Dave Grohl was hard at work bringing disco back to life. In the twisted game of 2021 Bingo, it’s tough to say whether anyone had “Foo Fighters Make A Bee Gees Cover Album” on their board, but that’s what happened.
In June 2021, Foo Fighters announced that they would release a Bee Gees cover album—Hail Satin—under the pseudonym Dee Gees. What had seemingly started as a joke one-off cover of “You Should Be Dancing” on BBC Radio 2 eventually evolved into a full-fledged tribute album. The LP hosted such Bee Gees classics as “Night Fever”, “Tragedy”, “Shadow Dancing”, “More Than A Woman”, and “You Should Be Dancing”, with the band noting, “For optimal results, listen with exposed chest hair and little gold spoon necklace (If you know, you know…).”
As if Grohl and company interpreting the words of the Gibb brothers wasn’t enough, the band took the Bee Gees’ message to the people outside a show in Bonner Springs, KS. On August 5th, Foo Fighters were due to perform at Azura Amphitheater outside Kansas City, but the group’s appearance attracted more than doting fans: Calvinist hate group the Westboro Baptist Church showed up prior to the show, as they do from time to time at Foo Fighters concerts dating back to 2011.
Foo Fighters, ever the philanthropists, decided that just because members of the Westboro Baptist Church showed up without tickets, that shouldn’t mean they don’t get to see the show. As the congregants hoisted signs reading “God sent the Coronavirus in Fury” and “God Hates Pride,” the band rolled by on a flatbed truck, fully decked out in their finest disco duds.
“Alright now, ladies and gentlemen, I got something to say. Because you know what, I love you,” Grohl said as he rolled past the hatemongers. “I do! The way I look at it is that I love everybody. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Can’t you just love everybody? Cause I think it’s about love! That’s what I think, we’re all about love. And you shouldn’t be hating, you know what you should be doing? You should be dancing!”
That was the band’s cue as they dropped into a rendition of Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing”. And if there’s anywhere that could use a shot of disco dust-fueled ’70s nostalgia, it’s a gathering by a homophobic, antisemitic, anti-American, and, well, anti-everything hate group. Another gem for Grohl’s famously long list of stories—which, by the way, he also published in a new book in October.
Dave Grohl & The Foo Fighters trolled the Westboro Baptist Church outside their concert in Kansas tonight. PLAYING DISCO. pic.twitter.com/Ci2yh1M7QR
— talkie (@Talkie86) August 6, 2021
Foo Fighters troll Westboro Baptist Church – Bonner Springs, KS – 8/5/21
[Video: Michael day]
Trey Anastasio Band’s Revolving Door Tour
If you’re looking for a strange saga to encapsulate the ups and downs of touring in 2021, look no further than the Trey Anastasio Band fall outing.
Even after the passing of founding bassist Tony Markellis in April and the addition of new bassist Dezron Douglas in July, the Phish guitarist’s solo outfit endured a string of last-minute lineup changes throughout its lone 2021 tour.
First, prior to the tour, saxophonist James Casey revealed that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer and would miss the TAB tour as he underwent treatment. In that announcement, he also revealed that saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Cochemea “Cheme” Gastelum would serve as his substitute.
After starting the tour with Cheme on sax, the band brought in trombonist Natalie Cressman‘s father, Jeff Cressman, to fill out the horn section in Boston while Gastelum played a previously scheduled gig. Then, after trumpeter/vocalist Jennifer Hartswick tested positive for COVID-19 in North Carolina, Trey made the call to nix the horn section for the rest of the tour and perform as a stripped-down quintet featuring himself on guitar, Douglas on bass, Ray Paczkowski on keys, Cyro Baptista on percussion, and Russ Lawton on drums.
That lineup lasted a couple shows before Lawton, too, tested positive ahead of a show in Columbus, prompting Anastasio to perform a last-minute solo acoustic set that evening. Trey then made a call to the bullpen and activated Phish drummer Jon Fishman from off-tour rest in Maine, throwing him straight into the action for the tour’s remaining shows in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
To cap off the revolving-door run, on Trey Anastasio Band’s tour-closing second night at Radio City Music Hall, James Casey made a surprise appearance during the encore. Following an intense few weeks of pivots, Casey’s return to the stage with Trey Anastasio Band for the tour’s final three songs was a coup—not another reconfiguration born of bad tidings but a reunion born of promising news.
For those keeping score, Trey Anastasio Band wound up appearing in a total of six different lineup configurations during the twelve-date tour (eight-piece with Cochemea Gastelum on sax; eight-piece with Jeff Cressman on trombone; five-piece sans horns; solo acoustic; five-piece with Fishman; six-piece with Fishman and James). Here’s to a much less strange touring year for TAB in 2022.
Coachella vs. Coachella
A late entrant to 2021’s Strange Sagas is the case of Coachella v. Coachella. In this corner [gestures right], we have AEG subsidiary Goldenvoice and its Mecca for Instagram influencers, Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. In this corner, The Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians and their event formerly known as Coachella Day One 22, along with concert giant Live Nation.
The saga began in mid-December when AEG brought a suit against Live Nation for promoting an event called Coachella Day One 22 on grounds of alleged copyright infringement. The New Year’s Eve concert was set to take place at a new venue known as Coachella Crossroads in Coachella, CA. Organizers of the Coachella festival alleged that the name Coachella Day One 22 causes implicit confusion with the event held every spring over two weekends at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, CA.
Not named in the suit, however, is The Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians, the Indigenous tribe promoting the event whose sovereign immunity protects it from copyright laws. In the still-developing saga, a federal judge ordered Live Nation’s ticketing arm, Ticketmaster, to halt advertising the event as Coachella Day One 22 and instead brand it as Day One 22. This restriction only applies to Live Nation/Ticketmaster as Twenty-Nine Palms was not named in the suit.
While AEG and Goldenvoice claim that the use of Coachella is an infringement on their copyright, members of the Tribe maintain that this legal spat is just the latest in a centuries-long history of infringements on the rights of Indigenous peoples.
“Our tribe and other nations have been in the region for thousands of years, relocated to reservations not of our choice, where we have had to develop businesses and governments to preserve our communities, culture, and heritage,” tribe Chairman Darrell Mike told Rolling Stone. “Entertainment happens to be a part of our economic diversity for longer than Goldenvoice has produced their Festival. Although we were under no obligation to do so, we have respectfully removed ‘Coachella’ from the title of our event on marketing and sales materials living online. We hope that we can move away from this matter, so Day One 22 taking place at Coachella Crossroads, in Coachella, California, can be celebrated in the spirit for which it was created.”
Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival takes place every spring in Indio, CA, roughly five miles from Coachella Crossroads in Coachella, CA. Attempting to trademark the name of a 30-square mile city with a population of over 45,000 is like Austin City Limits attempting to trademark the name Austin. Further, as The Twenty-Nine Palms fight for the use of their land, this strange saga bears striking resemblance to one from 2020.
As individuals, brands, and bands grappled with the effects of institutional racism in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd‘s murder at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25th, 2020, a number of artists considered the legacies of their names. One such band of white do-gooders was Lady A, formerly known as Lady Antebellum.
In an attempt to wipe away the stains of history from a catchy band name, the group separated itself from the antebellum era of the South by changing to Lady A. The only problem: there already was a Lady A. Anita White has been using the name as a blues, gospel, and soul singer for 20 years in Seattle, WA, and in the midst of Lady A (the band)’s well-meaning overcorrection, found herself embroiled in controversy.
Rather than rectifying the issue, Lady A (the band) has since been locked in a legal dispute with Lady A (the singer) to win legal rights to the name. Anita White even fired back through her music in December 2020 with the single, “My Name Is All I Got“.
Back to the saga at hand, the Coachella v. Coachella legal embroilment rings of similarities of Lady A v. Lady A. One historically marginalized group finds itself as the target of a music industry that claims social justice and equality in its marketing campaigns but practices a different kind of justice in the courtroom. Centuries after losing its land, the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians must fight just to hold onto the name of its relocated home. And to quote Lady A, “my name is all I got.”
The Phish From Vermont vs. The Knicks From New York
This is a saga that will play out more in 2022 than 2021, but it’s strange enough to sneak in under the wire on the 2021 list on spec.
While Phish scrapped its plans for a four-night return to New York’s Madison Square Garden amid a late-2021 COVID-19 surge, all hope was not lost for fans: Instead of forfeiting the run outright, the band simply confirmed a new set of MSG shows in April 2022.
But there’s a catch: As MSG Entertainment noted in its announcement of the rescheduled Phish dates to ticket-holders, “Dates are subject to change if they conflict with a potential New York Knicks playoff game.” A representative from MSG Entertainment declined Live For Live Music‘s request for further comment on the situation, noting that the disclaimer “speaks for itself.”
A quick summary of the scenario: Following a Play-In Tournament, during which the teams seeded 7th through 10th in each NBA conference at the end of the regular season vie for the top eight spots, the first official round of the Playoffs is set to begin on April 16th. During the Playoffs, the two teams in a given matchup take turns hosting the games in the best-of-seven series on a 2-2-1-1-1 rotation (i.e. first two games at one team’s home arena, next two at the other’s, etc). With games typically taking place on alternating days, a first-round Knicks Playoff appearance would theoretically put the New York squad at home in Madison Square Garden during the week of Phish’s new MSG dates, Wednesday, April 20th–Saturday, April 23rd.
There are plenty of variables at play here, but the gist of it is this: The Phish shows are set to go on as currently planned in April—just as long as the Knicks don’t make the Playoffs in 2022.
It’s hard to say exactly how the shows might be impacted by a Knicks Playoff run, but fans were quick to jump on the new sports “rivalry”: With MSG dibs on the line, Phish fans are now rooting en masse for the Knicks to tank this season. Someone even started a @PhishKnicks Twitter account to keep tabs on the saga as the year progresses.
Given the Knickerbockers’ current position as the 11th seed in the East—and their decades-long stretch of disappointing seasons—Phish fans can feel good about their chances for now. But with only a few games separating the Knicks from Playoff contention and more than half a season left to play, anything is possible.
Phish may be the only team in this matchup with a banner in the rafters from this century, but the Garden will always be the Knicks’ house. It’s still anyone’s game. (Clifford, Super, Magna) Ball don’t lie.