Live Wire

Through her Schedule of Cool Music Stuff, Becky Stillwell helps live music fans keep up with their favorite bands

by Lee Abraham

Becky Stillwell didnít plan on being a cyberspace pioneer. Things just worked out that way. First and foremost, sheís a fan of live music. "I try to go out and see as many shows as I can," says Stillwell. An avid proponent of "bands that jam, regardless of their style," she gravitated toward music built on improvisation and experimentation. Not surprisingly, her explorations lead to the jamband scene and also the world of jazz. Two musical doorways that once opened, flooded Stillwell with sounds and rhythms she had never heard before.

The more she learned about the music and the people behind it, the more she wanted to know. Located in the greater Philadelphia, PA area, Stillwell began traveling regularly to New York, Washington DC and all points in between "to catch the best live music." With every new group she discovered, the task of keeping up with who was playing where grew increasingly difficult. Along with a friend, Stillwell began tracking the tour schedules of her favorite bands in an attempt to figure out which shows she would attend. "We made a little calendar for ourselves and a friend of mine saw it and was like, "Hey send it to me so I can keep up with all the shows too.í" That friend passed along the calendar to their friends. Soon Stillwellís e-mail was loaded with people who also wanted the info.

"We had no intention of doing this when we started keeping the calendar, but so many people were into it, that we just kept doing it." The requests from new subscribers continued to pour in. "Beckyís Schedule of Cool Music Stuff" made its official debut in May of Ď97. These days, BSCMS goes out monthly by way of e-mail to over 3,000 people and the website gets over 1,000 hits a month. "Itís growing pretty fast," says Stillwell.

One of the reasons BSCMS is so popular is Stillwellís reputation as an excellent judge of quality music. Subscribers to BSCMS have learned to count on her discerning ear as a trusted source of new, emerging bands worthy of checking out. "Iím a big fan of the Greyboy Allstars, and stuff like Gordon Stone, Charlie Hunter, MMW and John Scofield," says Stillwell. "But I also love bands that people in other parts of the country may not have heard of, like The Recipe, Viperhouse or the Disco Biscuits."

Stillwellís insight into the music is in a large part due to her commitment to getting out to the clubs to experience the music first hand. "I have to see the band live in order for them to be listed because I am promoting these bands. Iím essentially saying, ĎThese are great bands, go see them live.í So I have to see them live first." BSCMS currently lists over 40 bands that get the Beckmeisterís unqualified thumbs up. Those bands are included free of charge.

Because of BSCMSís popularity though, other bands Stillwell hasnít seen are willing to pay for exposure.To accommodate those bands, a "Paid Listings" section was added. Sometimes, bands that start out in the paid listings move up the ladder. "If I dig what theyíre doing, Iíll add them on for free."

For Stillwell the music is an extension of a greater community. "I think the musicians themselves are excellent. Iím into the scene... the friendly, caring, hippie genre scene. I like the people." Consistent with the "hippie genre scene," the BSCMS website is accessed by clicking a hemp ribbon at the siteís main menu. "The hemp ribbon is there just to remind people to think about the uses of industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana," explains Stillwell.

Since sheís been running BSCMS, Stillwell has noticed a subtle shift toward more active participation among music fans toward live music. "A lot more people are, at least from what Iíve noticed on the Internet and some of the discussions I read, people are getting more involved in not only going to see live music themselves, but theyíre trying to get other people to go. People are into spreading the vibe around."

Seems like those people are doing a pretty good job. BSCMS now has subscribers overseas and lists international concert dates for their roster of artists. As some of the now local or regional bands expand their sphere of influence and play abroad, BSCMS will continue to be an effective way to keep track of whoís going where. "Even if you canít be at the show, itís interesting to see where the bands are going," says Stillwell. Obviously, a lot of people agree. ###

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