Arts on the Square Spotlight: Meet Mike Lello of Highway 81 Revisited

Sunday, July 21, 2013
Mike Lello is certainly passionate about music and writing.  Together with a host of creative collaborators, Lello's Highway 81 Revisited truly gives the local music scene their due.  Check out some of what Lello and the H81R team are currently up to and definitely stop by and meet them at Arts on the Square. 

Hi Mike!

We’re stoked that Highway 81 Revisited is a part of Arts on the Square and can’t wait to hear what you have in store!

First, tell us a little about your music blog Highway 81 Revisited … why the name?
Highway 81 Revisited was launched in 2011.  The name is a localized take on the classic Bob Dylan album and song “Highway 61 Revisited.”

What can people expect to read, see and hear on the blog?
We cover various genres of music through artist interviews and concert and album reviews.  Primarily, we focus on artists that are based in our area, have a connection to our area, or will be performing here, but that’s not a hard and fast rule.  We also have a series called My Back Pages (also named after a Dylan song), in which our contributors and guest writers share the personal connections they have with certain artists or genres.

We have just launched a re-designed version of our site, and one of the new things, for now, is a song player.  We’ll be featuring some tracks that we like, then changing them out for newer songs.

Photo: Jim Gavenus (pictured And The Moneynotes from Old Farmer's Ball)

Do you feel like music blogs give writers an influential cultural voice?
Absolutely.  People started relying on the Internet years ago to actually get their music, starting with things like Napster, and I think that, tied in with the consolidation of radio as well as MTV shifting its focus away from music, created a void.  People began turning to sites like Pitchfork to be turned onto new music.  Now artists like Arcade Fire and Bon Iver are winning Grammys and playing to huge crowds with zero mainstream radio play, and coverage from online outlets is one of the primary ways people found out about artists like that.

What do you love most about your work?
I love music and I love writing, so it’s natural that I’d want to combine those two things I guess.  I also have enjoyed working with some friends and colleagues who have helped me out with the site, whether as contributing writers and photographers, web designers, etc.  I really enjoy conducting interviews, and I still feel a little nervous before I do one, but it’s a good nervousness.

Have you’ve partnered with other venues and promoters in the music industry to sponsor events. Tell us a little about that.
We worked with The Bog, which hosted our launch party two years ago; we sponsored Record Store Day at Gallery of Sound; we worked with the local show promoter Get Cryptic to sponsor some of their shows; and we sponsored the Panked! dance party series, also at The Bog.  We hope to expand on those types of things.

We have also worked with some great musicians to exclusively debut songs and videos, such as Mike Quinn and The Great Party.  We plan to do more of that soon.

Where’s the most interesting place your blog has taken you.
One of the most fulfilling things was being at the Old Farmer's Ball festival this spring, which was at ToyotaPavilion at Montage Mountain.  I was really happy and proud for the organizers, who are friends of mine, as well as the bands, in which I have several friends, in that they got to play on that big stage and they killed it.  I think it really was a statement moment to see a lot of talented people getting their due, and hopefully a sign of things to come.  It was cool to watch it all go down, and a lot of fun to write about.

How did you get into writing about music?
In my freshman English class at Penn State, we had to write a criticism paper, so I wrote about a Phil Collins concert I had been to in high school.  I was a sportswriter at my college paper, but I did one music story on a State College performer named John Cunningham just to help out, and I really enjoyed it.  Since then, music journalism has alternately been either a focus of my career or something I’ve done on the side, but I have never let it go.

How many shows do you go to a year?  Do you review them all?
Great question.  Let’s just say “a lot,” but I’m not obsessed.  This spring and summer, I’ve been to about seven so far and I’ll be going to at least five more.  I make it a point not to review every show I go to.  As much fun as writing about a show is, it’s nice to take a break sometimes and just be a fan and not have to worry about taking notes.

What’s your dream for H81R?
Short term, I’m really excited about some of the things we have in the works, like our Peach Festival coverage and, of course, being a small part of Arts on The Square.  Long term, I would like to expand from a multimedia standpoint, whether that means adding video performances, a podcast or partnering with a radio station.  Most of these things take money, so I would love to have a budget, which would likely require selling ads or having sponsors, which would be great.

What do you have planned for Arts on The Square? 
We will be giving away some pins and stickers that feature our logo.  Also, if you sign up for our mailing list, you’ll have a chance to win a pair of tickets to see Jason Isbell at the Kirby Center, and you’ll automatically qualify to save $5 if you buy a ticket from the Kirby.  There might be some other things we’ll be doing at the event, but nothing that’s confirmed just yet.

Do you think events like this are good for our area?  Why?
I think they are not only good, I think they are crucial.  They put a spotlight on some really talented people in our area that maybe we would not otherwise know about.  They help bring together many creative people who can bounce ideas off one another and maybe collaborate in the future.  We’re not Brooklyn, Portland, Seattle or Philadelphia, but we have some amazing people here, and events like this are great not only for the public and the area but also the arts community.

Also, this isn’t an answer to any of your questions, but I wanted to add that this is not my personal website or a solo project by any means.  Although I’m the founder and editor, I have had a lot of help from folks like Bill Orner (who designed the initial site, helped plan the launch party and designed the launch party poster), Brian Langan (who designed our logo), contributing photographers Jason Riedmiller and Jim Gavenus, several contributing writers, currently Michael Lester and Nikki Mascali, and Matt Morgis, who did the new design.

Follow Highway 81 Revisited
Twitter:  @highway81Rvstd

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