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Mother of all jams makes music, opens minds

 by Joe Watson
 published on Thursday, January 24, 2002

Earth Mother Mind Jam organizer, Ralo (front, second from right) is featured here along with other artists involved in e 12th annual music and arts extravaganza./issues/ent/168863
Earth Mother Mind Jam organizer, Ralo (front, second from right) is featured here along with other artists involved in e 12th annual music and arts extravaganza.
 

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Welcome to Ralo's world, where every artist gets a fair shake from the music industry. Where folk music is played alongside in-your-face rock and roll, punk, new age, blues, reggae, spoken-word and Native American ambience. Where young, middle-aged and downright ancient musicians don't go to die, but instead bask in the glow of paying customers and standing o's.

Come in and take a load off at the 14-hour music and art festival, and all its utopian whimsy, that is the EarthMother Mind Jam at Nita's Hideaway this Saturday.

Ralo will be your tour guide.

"It's a celebration of life and of music," says Ralo (a.k.a. Lora Heiniemi), the show's organizer, producer and pseudo-mother to all. "We want to bring the whole community together and share with them that there's nothing more important than creativity."

In her earlier days, Ralo (pronounced Rah-low) became famous for her elaborate and frequent costume changes and wigs, as well as her beautifully soulful voice as the lead singer of the Fake McCoys, an indie rock band that rose to Tempe fame during the age of the Gin Blossoms, Dead Hot Workshop and the Refreshments in the early- to mid-90s.

But since the McCoys' breakup in 1996, the Jam has been Ralo's passion. So much so that her own solo work has at times taken a backseat to being what she likens to "a modern-day Bill Graham," the late, iconoclastic promoter responsible for such 60s and 70s music festivals as 1969's Altamont in San Francisco headlined by the Rolling Stones and some deviant Hell's Angels.

"EarthMother is much larger than my own music," says Ralo. "I could sell millions of records, but I would still produce the Jam. It's become so much a part of my life that so many people tell me that if I would just let go of it and concentrate on my own music, I'd already have the (recording) deal that I want.

"I don't know, I might just be fuckin' crazy. But that's how much the Jam means to me."

What started as an annual benefit show for various community projects and charities in 1989, while the McCoys were still in their infancy, the Jam is still the same today, except the benefit is the survival of the show's artists and the preservation of the local music scene. It's also become a national event, as Mind Jams in Minnesota (in March) and Nashville (November) are billing acts every week.

"Eventually, I want it to have the reputation of a Bumbershoot in Seattle, or South by Southwest in Austin. People go to those festivals from everywhere around the world because they know it's music and art they could never find anywhere else."

The Jam is also born out of Ralo's angst with the recording industry, what she calls the "big, corporate conglomerate" of radio and the stifling of true artistic expression. It's the same kind of frustration many dismiss as nothing more than the drivel of a resentful musician who has never gotten a second look from a major label and blames their lack of commercial appeal for their descent into musical obscurity.

"I had a chance to sign a big-money contract. I had it right in front of me, but I knew it wasn't what I wanted to become. I'm not against making money," says Ralo, "and I don't hate the music industry. But, it isn't based on art. It's about sex, it's about superficial things. Now, it has nothing to do with music. So many real artists are falling through the cracks because it's so rare that the industry seeks out someone with vision. It's bullshit.

"This festival tries to give something back to the artists, something they can be proud of no matter where they go from here."

Despite its lack of corporate sponsorship and name recognition, the Jam has an elaborate layout at Nita's between its three stages of performers, a massive video screen, a collection of vendors selling jewelry, pottery and clothing and the presence of HyBurn, who will be on hand to burn and sell live CDs of any of the festival's music.

For performers like Vince Welnick (a founding member of the Tubes who also had a stint with the Grateful Dead), Joe Myers, Hans Olson, Slim Golba and Rena Haus, all acts facing mid-life crises as they persist in attracting the elusive packed houses and interested labels they crave, the structural and technical components of the Jam will be welcome changes. And for young bands like Truckers on Speed and 15 Minutes Fast, the Jam will offer the chance to build upon the local followings they've already established.

"Ralo's done an incredible job of putting this thing together," says Chad Hines of Truckers on Speed, a "dirty, rock and roll band" influenced by the Stones and the Black Crowes. "It's an event that is so good for the music and listening community with so many different acts and styles."

For 15 Minutes Fast, who have built an extensive resume of venues played since relocating to Tempe from Kansas City, Mo., just four months ago, the Mind Jam will give them a chance to get familiar with the local scene they believe is on the rebound.

"This show, and Ralo, is exactly what the music scene here needs," says Rob O'Toole, bassist for 15 Minutes Fast. "A festival like this needs someone like her, someone who's just so enthusiastic about music. She shines with it.

"You've already got enough people talking about their frustration with what's going on with music these days. Once you have people talking about it, then they decide they're going to change it.

They're tired of the way things are and of corporate radio. Any opportunity to play something different and notable like this in any kind of music scene is exciting."

Reach Josef Watson at josef.watson@asu.edu.



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