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Updated on December 18, 2008

In this day of megacorporations and the bigger-is-better attitude, you gotta love it when the small guy pulls off a win. In this case, it's more like two small guys and what they're doing defies today's business paradigm, or maybe it is today's business paradigm. Whatever it is, it is an example of one creative way to go in today's chaotic world of business.

The constant in the two-guy equation is tiny Oskar Blues Brewery out of Lyons, Colorado, a craft brewer gaining reputation on an international scale. Why are they special? For one thing, they can their ale. That's right. Can. It may sound strange, but they are only the first of a string of small brewers to kick the bottle to the curbside. Thus far, a handful have taken the aluminum highway and all have their reasons, from refrigeration to shipping to recycling to locking good things in and bad things out. While this article is not about the brew, allow me to point to an enlightening article by Kurt Wolff should you so desire. But this is about the brewer.  The people who put Oskar Blues together, and more specifically, the one thing they do which sets them apart: they periodically include music in their 12-packs.

Not just any music, mind you. Independent music. Real independent music and not that presented by major labels in independent clothing. In their own words, "We put our music support where our beer is with our patented Singing 12-Pack series. Our 12ers of Dale's Pale Ale and Old Chub frequently feature free CDs of great indie music. The CDs are our way of helping small-batch music-makers, who face the same hurdles small-batch brewers do in a world too eager to swallow bland, corporate beer and music." Promotional, true, but how much promotion do you get out of CDs containing the music of 18 Wheeler, Zebra Junction, Drag the River, Th' Legendary Shack Shakers, Great American Taxi, Polytoxic, Dolorean, Chatham County Line, or Yonder Mountain String Band? Count up how many you've heard of, let alone heard, and if you've counted more than the fingers of one hand, chances are you're an employee of Oskar Blues or in the music business or a music junkie of no little magnitude. That is indie, Oskar Blues' style. That, my friends, is the definition of cool.

Vol. 7, Rockin' Roots Sampler
Vol. 7, Rockin' Roots Sampler

Beer Sings Again

A short time ago, though light-years in terms of micro-brewing, Oskar Blues suspended the Singing 12-Pack series because demand was outstripping output (i.e., if you got no 12-packs, you got no place to put them there CDs).  They recently lifted the suspension with the opening of a new canning operation at Longmont. Under the adage that when the beer flows so does the music, the brewery contacted prominent indie music manager Steve Garvan about selecting twelve independent acts for a new CD, this one oriented towards roots music. Garvan contacted friends and colleagues and came up with some beauts for what they call their "Rockin' Roots Sampler."

Cindy Bullens is probably the biggest name here, mostly due to her association with Elton John, but you can't hold that against her. She's as indie as you can get, though not necessarily by design. She's good enough to have recorded for a few major labels and to have some heavyweights ready to play alongside her at the drop of a hat, including bassist Garry W. Tallent (E-Street Band) and guitarist George Marinelli (Bonnie Raitt), among others. "Box of Broken Hearts" is straight-on rock taken from her self-released 2005 album, "Dream #29" and, yes, one of those amped-up guitars is her.

"Step Out of the Shade" is the lead-off track from Amy Speace and the Tearjerks' critically-acclaimed album, "Songs For Bright Street." A pop-song-made-country with infusion of banjo and a touch of twang, it shows how really good indie music can be, and it is not even the most impressive track on that album! That award goes to the eery and hauntingly beautiful "Water Landing," my pick (hands down) for best song of 2006.

I knew Chris Berardo & the DesBerardos before this compilation was even a twinkle in Oskar Blues' eyes, having reviewed their fine "Ignoring All the Warning Signs" album for the FAME website. What most impressed me was their ability to equal the Eagles during their Bernie Leadon days when the country rock flowed. "So Good, So Far" captures it well.

The above three are the only ones I know--- er, knew. I had heard of most of the others, though I could not tell you where. Corinne West has that pop/bluegrass sound (superb picking and great harmonies). Rodeo Pony may be Nashville, but they're really good Nashville and "Moonshine" has a hook that's hard to get out of your head. Chris Daniels and the Kings funk it up as good as anyone (I love those horns). The rest are as good in their own genres and I will review the CD, top to bottom, when time permits.  Perhaps right after I sample each of their albums. 

While it is true that the Singing 12-Pack is another cross-promotion, it is not just another cross-promotion. Oskar Blues and each of the artists included in the compilation fight an uphill battle every day and Oskar Blues knows it. There are no media blitzes without the deep pockets or big names, but to them it does not matter. Selling brew is not the point. Selling great brew is. And including independent music is a big plus. Buy a 12-pack, get a free CD. It's the kind of idea that made this country great. You won't find InBev doing anything this cool.  They'd never get it past their Board of Directors.


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