On the Town

Back to Its Roots

No Depression celebrates Americana music online and in concert.

By Brian J. Barr June 22, 2009 Published in the July 2009 issue of Seattle Met


WHEN IT WAS ANNOUNCED last year that No Depression magazine would cease publication, many chalked it up as yet another casualty of the Internet era. But to Kyla Fairchild, now sole publisher, the notion seemed absurd. After all, the bimonthly journal launched in 1995 because its founders, Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock, noticed rabid interest in Americana music—a loose category of roots music that includes folk, country, blues, and rock and roll—on an AOL message board devoted to the genre. “I knew there had to be a way to make it work online,” says Fairchild. To celebrate this new digitized life, she’s helped organize the first ever No Depression Festival for July 11 at Marymoor Park in Redmond.

By her own admission Fairchild knew next to nothing about online publishing. But she did know that No Depression was too strong a brand name to be swept into the dustbin. Since last October she’s been working to keep it going on the Web and learning more about the medium. At first she tried to maintain the magazine model, paying freelancers for features and reviews, but eventually scrapped the editorial budget because there weren’t enough funds from advertising.

“Everyone kept saying there is no business model to support online content providers…and that’s definitely the case,” she says.

With that false start behind her, Fairchild feels confident about the direction she’s finally chosen: Since the more popular features of the original Web site had been the blogs, in which people could weigh in on the comments thread and connect with other music fans, NoDepression.com relaunched in February of this year as an online community with its founding editors as flagship bloggers. Last month the site added a digital archive of all 7,000 articles and reviews printed in the magazine’s history. Fairchild hopes to keep the spirit of the publication’s past alive while fostering online discussions between its founders and its broad base of readers.

“The goal with the festival was to pay tribute to No Depression’s past,” says Fairchild, “while being mindful of the younger audience that’s into this type of music.”

She couldn’t have picked a better lineup to bridge that generation gap. The one-day music festival boasts the Appalachian-chic stylings of Gillian Welch; the indie pastoralia of Iron and Wine; the gothic twang of local Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter; and a “Seattle roots music all-star revue,” featuring, among others, former Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel and recent Sub Pop signee Sera Cahoone.

While many longtime readers bemoan the lack of a physical magazine to flip through, Fairchild says it’s more important that No Depression simply continue to exist in any form. Over its 15 years, the magazine took shape as a radio show, two well-received books, and a handful of compilation CDs. And, lest we forget, it was an Internet discussion group before it was a magazine—which makes its new online life all the more poetic.

The festival, meanwhile, could be an annual event. Fairchild’s already received offers to take it to a national level. “But,” she says, “I can’t think that far ahead just yet.”

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