Meet John Doe: The iPod killed On the Waterfront?

By Paul Gorski

Did the iPod doom Rockford’s long-running On the Waterfront (OTW) festival? Maybe not the iPod itself, but technology has changed how people “consume” music and put pressure on the festival.

There’s no doubt musical tastes change over time. Midwest Ballroom radio host John “Radio” Russell laments the challenge to find good, easy-listening radio on today’s airways (“Investing in entertainment for seniors,” Sept. 12-18, 2012, issue).

The Midwest Ballroom show, heard locally on WTPB-LP 99.3, features ballroom, big-band and easy-listening vocal music, with a focus on regional talent. John also interviews musicians who played the local music venues that have since closed.

I also recently heard Doug McDuff speaking with guest Chuck Sweeny on WNTA about the vanishing music venues for younger residents, caused in part by what they thought was the loss of a thriving “garage band” culture from the ’60s and ’70s that used to fuel these clubs.

By the time OTW started in the early 1980s, music on vinyl was transitioning to CDs. Mixed tapes became mixed CDs, which could be easily duplicated and distributed to friends and family. The trend to listening to your choice of music on demand had started.

Later, as music companies gouged consumers on CD pricing, downloading pirated music as MP3 files on the Internet became popular. A variety of MP3 players were released, but there was no single market leader, many seeing it as a technology subculture.

Apple’s iPod MP3 player changed all that. Apple didn’t have the first MP3 player, but when it released the first iPod in 2001, it offered the first mass-marketed MP3 player linked to a legitimate online music library. The iPod was a hit.

Back in Rockford, OTW seemed to be holding its own in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s. Through the help of the city, volunteers and others, the festival was popular and affordable.

However, ticket prices and the costs of touring increased across the nation. Regional festivals like ours had to withstand these increased costs, the downturn in the economy, and customers now accustomed to music on demand, rain or shine.

Today in 2013, if you don’t want to be tied to the iTunes store, you can stream music online using Pandora Radio or a similar option on your computer, tablet and smartphone — music on demand, wherever you are. Unless you are really in the mood for live music, it is hard to compete with that.

Not only do regional festivals need to compete against price and technology, so do the brick-and-mortar music venues. Sporting events now dominate facilities like our BMO Harris Bank Center and the Sears Centre and Allstate Arena outside Chicago.

Fewer local music venues and fewer concerts at some big facilities clearly indicate a change in our live music tastes. If technology isn’t a cause, I encourage you to share your ideas online or send a letter to editor. Or simply reminisce about your favorite OTW concert.

If you are in the mood for hearing live music, check out the Vibe Calendars section of this paper for a list of upcoming events. Looking for live music for an event? You’ll find a list of local musicians in the Musician Directory at

Paul Gorski ( writes the Meet John Doe (social commentary) and Tech-Friendly (technology trends with a local flair) columns. This article is a fusion of both and he flipped a coin to determine which column title to give it this week.

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