By day, Community Action Council financial fitness coordinator Derek Feldman counsels low-income, working class families; Mark Rush, a high school science teacher, coaches his students through the often confounding world of physics. And as producers of the online music video series Shaker Steps – which will soon become a television series on the local network KET – the duo dedicates much of their free time to helping uplift another sector of the population that often struggles to make ends meet: independent musicians.
“In the age of digital downloads, people don’t actually think about paying artists, or the money that it takes to support an artist,” explained Feldman. A songwriter who performs under the moniker Doc Feldman, Feldman has an intimate knowledge of the challenges often faced by working musicians, from building a following to paying the bills. It was with these factors in mind that he approached his friend Mark Rush, a fellow musician and hobby photographer, with the idea of creating a series of unique music videos that could serve to both bolster the regional music scene and help promote individual artists and bands. Rush received the idea warmly, and last fall the duo began filming and publishing videos under the umbrella of Shaker Steps, named in honor of a series of Shaker “spirit” drawings discovered on the steps of Rush’s historic Garrard County house.
“The beginning thought was just to interact with artists and do these intimate sessions that show the artists’ humanity – this sort of behind-the-scenes footage,” said Feldman, who said he was inspired by a similar video project based in his hometown, St. Louis, called “Show Me Shows.”
Shaker Steps videos, which typically range from three to six minutes in length, each feature a song performed by the artist in an unusual setting – be it a local boutique, a historic site, a park or an abandoned building. The videos often feature additional footage of the artist interacting with the filmmakers as well, highlighting raw and personal qualities that fans might not typically have the chance to witness in a typical concert setting.
The primary goal of the videos, which the duo began filming and publishing in the fall of 2012, was to give artists a tool they can use to promote their music, while at the same time encouraging fans to “spend money, to buy the album, to see them live, to buy a t-shirt – to go support the artist that you love,” Feldman said.
During the early process of creating the videos, however, Feldman and Rush soon noticed another important layer to the project: its ability to showcase venues and locations that are unique to Lexington and the surrounding area.
“I lived here, but I didn’t really know all the great places – the cool local businesses and the really neat old buildings,” said Feldman, who moved to Lexington around six years ago after living in Nashville; Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Austin and St. Louis.
“We’re always looking for unique places to film,” he added
The locations utilized for the 50 or so videos the duo has produced so far are a mixture of pre-meditated, organized-in-advanced local businesses (local vintage shops Street Scene and Fox House, Manchester Street distillery Barrel House and Longwood Antique Woodshop, to name a few) and more spontaneous “found” locations such as the catwalk of downtown’s “big blue” 5/3 building, or an abandoned warehouse beside some train tracks near downtown Lexington. With a laugh, Feldman recalls an anecdote about the time they filmed a video of up-and-coming Alabama band St. Paul & The Broken Bones in the back of Rupp Arena.
“Right as we were ending, the security guard came up to us, and we were like ‘Oh, here we go, we’re about to get kicked out,’” Feldman said. “Instead, the security guard was like ‘Hey, there’s this great room back here behind this locked door, do you want me to open it up for you?’ He opened it up, turned on the lights, and it was an even better view of downtown. … It was one of those meant-to-be moments.”
While most of the artists featured in Shaker Steps videos are based in Lexington (Paul K., Willie Eames, Coralee and the Townies, Wooden Wand, Warren Byrom and others), Feldman and Rush have taken the opportunity to feature various touring artists as they stop through Lexington, including Browan Lollar (a member of Jason Isbell’s band the 400 Unit), Nashville guitarist William Tyler, and regional acts such as The Seedy Seeds and Elephant Micah. Feldman says he hopes to increase the range and variety of artists and invite some more of his favorites to come to town with the purpose of recording with them, as the KET deal will exponentially increase the exposure offered to featured artists. (The promo videos are free for the artists to use at their disposal, and Feldman and Rush hope to be able to eventually be able to compensate them, if the KET show brings in enough income from underwriters.)
“Obviously we have to do a little bit of quality control, but just because some music might not be my personal favorite kind of music, that doesn’t mean I don’t respect it,” he said. “I have respect for all musicians who put themselves out there, who do something creative – we want to showcase that as best we can. If there’s an artists who’s playing gigs, recording, doing their craft in a professional manner, we’d love to highlight them.”
Music On the Air
KET is slated to begin airing “Music Anywhere,” a television series filmed, directed and produced by Shaker Steps crew Derek Feldman and Mark Rush, in September 2013. Each 30-minute episode will feature several shorter segments of local, regional and touring musicians performing their material in a unique setting in or around Lexington.
The producers are currently seeking underwriters for the show, and are always looking for interesting and unique locations in which to film. Click here for the full archive of Shaker Steps videos.