Ashland musician Gene Burnett is finding the harmony between softness and firmness in his writing and singing.
Ashland musician Gene Burnett is finding the harmony between softness and firmness in his writing and singing. Instead of pursuing a career in the music business, Burnett has found a way to focus on the creative joy of writing and the fun of performing.
A t'ai chi teacher for 26 years, Burnett views his music as an expression of his t'ai chi practice, which is the search for unforced balance.
"I want to show softness and firmness in my voice, my writing, my t'ai chi teaching, and in my relationships," says Burnett. "T'ai chi is my main livelihood but music is a close second these days, I just want to perform everywhere I can."
Make no mistake, Burnett isn't a typical Ashland hippy into his music and spiritual martial art practice. He hosts a themed open mic on the first Wednesday of every month at the Wild Goose. This month the theme is songs about drugs and alcohol, of which Burnett has plenty.
"We're really loose about the theme, they can be pro-drugs or anti-drugs," says Burnett. "The main thing is that it just provides a limitation for the artist to think about: 'Do I have any poems or do I want to write one about this subject?' We have good turnouts and everyone has a really good time."
Past themed open mics have been on the topics of road songs, weather, animals and weird and unusual covers. Burnett's songs are funny, honest and true to life. He's written more than 500 songs since he started in 1975.
"I'm especially into lyrics. I write funny songs, serious songs, love songs, songs that contradict each other, songs with adult language, topical songs, and personal songs," he says. "I love to put the right words and music together that express how I'm feeling and thinking. I call it 'releasing a charge' and it's a big part of finding that unforced balance in my life."
One of Burnett's songs has even gone viral on the Internet. Written about the financial meltdown, the song was filmed at the Ashland Cemetary by a friend of Burnett, and posted to Burnett's YouTube channel. The video was then ripped off the Internet by a man in Holland who edited some political commentary during the instrumental break into Burnett's music video.
In three hours the newly edited version had 600 views on YouTube. Now it has more than 132,000 views. "It was on Mother Jones for awhile. People post it on websites," says Burnett. "It's not typical of my work but it's gotten me more exposure to my work in two years than there was in 30."
Another one of Burnett's quirky songs caught the attention of an automatic chicken coop company that contacted Burnett and got his permission to use his song about free range chickens for their website. The company used Burnett's "Free-Range Chicken" song to make a video for their website and now has more than 30,000 views.
Burnett's internet popularity can be attributed to his prolific songwriting and his extensive YouTube channel with more than 100 uploads of his performances. A peak in his career happened recently when he opened for America on the Britt stage this year.
"Opening for America was wonderful," says Burnett, "I sold, like, 66 CDs at the show which was thrilling. It was just a really good really fun gig. I'm not that into traveling, so I'd like to stay here."
A big supporter of the Ashland music scene, Burnett also hosts an open mic every Tuesday night with Robbie Lindauer at Tabu, in addition to his regular gigs every third Wednesday at the Wild Goose, and First Fridays at Geppetto's. All of Burnett's performances and music videos can be found at his website www.geneburnett.com.
Also available on his website are all 25 of his self-recorded albums available for free to download. "Actually I've made more money from the site in a sense, than I did when I was giving away song samples and charging $10 an album," says Burnett. "On my site they can download as much as they want and tip as much as they want."
On Burnett's site he's put up a digital tip jar that is connected through paypal so fans can contribute what they can to support him.
"This latest version of just doing it all for free, doing it all for love, that's been by far the most satisfying way of doing music," says Burnett. "Like that America gig, it was me on the stage by myself in front of 1,500 people, but the next day I was at the coffee shop doing my normal gig. I just keep showing up and hopefully more good comes from bad."
Burnett will play a few short sets as he hosts the drug-and-alcohol-themed open mic at 8 p.m., tonight at the Wild Goose, 2365 Ashland St.
Mandy Valencia is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4486 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.