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Brad Yoder: Dreamer-American
By Ben Ohmart
(more articles from this author)
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What's the good life? A busy life. One in which you don't kick about your day job, but you actually applaud the sustenance it gives you to carry on writing songs and loving the sound acoustic guitars make. Let's take an example.

Suppose your name is Brad Yoder, for example. And let's say you supplement your musical earnings by giving the occasional private German lesson or coordinating an after-school tutoring program for kids. But most of the time you Live For Music and just stay happy by keeping the local coffee house full of interested listeners. That's a good way to live.

Even through the complex pops and acoustic guitar rhythms of 'Looking Down', it is that smooth, velvet-covered voice that fizzes like the best medicine.

Brad currently plays to a faithful crowd in all kinds of Pittsburgh coffee shops, bookstores, and colleges, as well as wandering as far as Vermont, New York, Ohio, and anyplace they're hankering for solid, strong vocal- guitar folk music.

In the words of Brad's own song: 'I'm here for love and life, one desire / it's not like I'm settin' the world on fire, the world on fire...' But you are, my boy, a little bit of audience at a time.

RealAudio: "Looking Down"

It's the voice that does it. Even through the complex pops and acoustic guitar rhythms of 'Looking Down', it is that smooth, velvet-covered voice that fizzes like the best medicine. We are all conditioned to know that when we hear certain sounds, our stomachs will settle, our throbbing, Excedrin-proof headaches will know a release valve.

His is the James Taylor voice of calm and soothing influence. When 'Watching You Sleep' first envelopes the earlobes, Tranquility Base is set up in your mind, only broken into by the applause at the end of the song. Until then, all is peaceful and beautiful beyond words. He sings like a folkish old friend in a movie musical, if they were still being made today. The sun will set, the birds will yawn, your dog will silently chase fireflies in the night as Brad weaves his skillful way through these unstated nuances. Ah, the power of mere voice and unplugged guitar!

And let's not forget the power of the compact disc. Even if you don't want to go far from home, you can still conquer the world with a release, as long as it's of Yoder quality and sound, and subtleties.

MP3: "Watching You Sleep"

Sample the faultless combo yourself via some flawless mp3s on his site where even the misc. tracks, still in raw, demo form, show the man off in simplistic language: music.

But language is a part of this man's life. Forgetting for a minute his college background, he also gives freely of his time to a few good causes. "For the last seven summers," says Brad, "I have worked for Concordia Language Villages, a network of summer camps for kids where they learn world languages and about the cultures where they are spoken, for 10 summers, from 1991-2000, at the German and French camps. Lots of 'villagers' heard him play there, bought cassettes or CDs, and took his music home with them. Of course, at camp, he was known as 'Tilo' (at German) or as 'Thibault' or 'Xavier' (at French)."

When he's playing clubs and open-air parks, he'll set up a few CDs to sell. Luckily for everyone involved, he has more than a couple choice wares to chose from. There's 1999's Talk to Total Strangers (live recording), and 1997's Best Sunday Heart which have both received rave reviews from the Pittsburgh press. For his new CD release, Brad took loans and donations from supporters and fans; loan him $100 and if he hasn't paid it back within a year, he adds on 7%, compounded monthly. Brad raised $9475 for "Used," his folk-pop production. The angels helping out are listed on his site, and fall in from Germany to California, and a lot of stops in between.

MP3: "Used"

That's how you win your dream. Not with talk or pure hope, but with action, and giving the audience something they can't do without. And I tend to doubt your cash will be in much jeopardy. Talk to Total Strangers sold over 300 copies in its first year of release, and sales have now reached 1250 for "Strangers," 1300 for Best Sunday Heart, and 300+ for "Used" in the first 6 months. Not bad for a side business, eh?

Still, it never was meant to be a business. It's about the music. Being influenced and influential. Brad: "I really admire Ani DiFranco, Elliot Smith, Bruce Cockburn, Victoria Williams, Dar Williams, Michelle Shocked, Lyle Lovett, Mark Eitzel, Elvis Costello, Ron Sexsmith, James McMurtry, Sam Phillips, Gillian Welch, etc., etc., etc... The list could go on and on. I'd love to open for some of them, or try writing a song together, or just be considered a 'peer' by some of the artists I admire who have influenced me."

"I really admire Ani DiFranco, Elliot Smith, Bruce Cockburn, Victoria Williams, Dar Williams, Michelle Shocked, Lyle Lovett, Mark Eitzel, Elvis Costello, etc., etc., etc... I'd love to open for some of them, or try writing a song together, or just be considered a 'peer' by some of the artists I admire who have influenced me."

He's obviously lying when he says he hasn't many fans now, calling them "a strong group of friends." But it's refreshing to hear someone with so much talent take an honest stab at a short ego for a change. It'll be a cold day in California before this guy is kicked off of any coffee house stages.

"I get up, and start playing my songs. Last Sunday night I played 27 during my 2 1/2 hours (minus a couple breaks). I like to do newer stuff, and I have enough songs that I don't really need to make a set list, which is nice. People often request songs they like, and I like to try out a new song to get feedback, or pull out an old obscure song of mine, just to see if I can still play it. I'm lucky to have some great supporters who come out frequently, and know my body of work."

Let's hear it for the seldom-lauded, often-abused minority, the Dreamer-American. They fill the world with music. The good kind.

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