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ISSUE 117 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/5/2004

Growing grassroots sounds: Christianson, Wertz stay true to the music

By Shayna Melgaard
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 5, 2004

At 8 p.m. last Friday night, the Pause was packed. Its unusual to see almost 500 students hanging out together anywhere on campus, let alone at an organized event. But the acoustic melodies of Matt Wertz and former St. Olaf student Paul Christianson brought in one of the biggest turnouts of the year.

Wertz and Christianson met last fall when Wertz played a show at Macalaster College, and the two have played a few shows together in the Midwest during the past couple of months. Wertz said they have been trading off shows because their music draws similar crowds. This arrangement allows Christiansons fan base to experience some of Wertzs music and vice versa. Word-of-mouth promotion has become an essential tool for Wertz and Christianson, as both artists are unsigned.

Both musicians have released albums this past year, through Wertzs sophomore release, Twenty-three Place, came out this fall and Christiansons self-titled debut was released last summer.

Christianson, who would be a junior at St. Olaf this year were he not focusing on his music career, is a 21-year-old singer/songwriter. On Friday he played mellow music with personal, introspective lyrics. Minnesotans, especially St. Olaf students, appreciated his references to the area, specifically songs from Christiansons five-song EP The St. Paul Acoustic Sessions which referenced the Hill.

Wertz has been touring almost nonstop since the release of Twenty-three Places, but, despite his exhaustion, he still made time to sign autographs in the Pauses Green Room for almost 45 minutes after the show.

Wertz, a resident of Nashville, was a poster child for Southern hospitality, and his music reflected his honest, down-to-earth character. His songs were genuine, vivid and emotionally evocative for both artist and listener. Material for Wertzs music came straight out of his life: the death of his grandfather, the chaos of life on the road, the beauty of a Colorado landscape, and everything in-between.

While the music industry is handing out contracts to 20-something males like theres no tomorrow, Wertz is still taking baby steps while expanding his music career and making decisions regarding management. He said that if a major label offered him a contract today, he would be very cautious and attempt to maintain the grassroots approach to promotion, as well as the same degree of personal interaction that he has with fans now.

[The music label] would definitely have to line up with where Im coming from and where Im going, Wertz said. I dont want to sing with a label that intends to just pump it on radio, and if it doesnt work, then Im gone. I want to work with someone who knows what Im about and can get me the right connections.

Those connections lie at the heart of Wertzs music. It kind of happens from the street level, Wertz said, referring to his strong fan base. You have to earn those fans, and it kind of happens by word of mouth and people using the Internet to find out about new music.

Wertz related to fans on Friday with a spontaneous and charismatic approach that was both honest and refreshing. He was entertaining comedically as well as musically, breaking into a moonwalk and telling stories about his cool new sneakers.

Wertzs genuineness may account for some of his appeal  he is consistently himself, whether on the stage, after the show, or on the street.

Wertz himself later said, Theres different degrees of what people are dealing with, but if I can be honest about sharing whats going on personally in my life, I think a lot of people will relate to that.

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