Music Issue: Raising The Ruckus

Melanie Parker-Levi, music blogger and intrepid fan.

click to enlarge "PURE CONNECTION": Melanie Parker-Levi shares her musical passions on The Ruckus. - Todd Bates
Todd Bates
"PURE CONNECTION": Melanie Parker-Levi shares her musical passions on The Ruckus.

If you're looking for hard-hitting music reviews online, pitchfork.com might be your first choice. The Ruckus (whatstheruckus.com) is different, featuring coverage of punk and indie acts by fans who are thrilled to write about the bands that move them. Its co-founder, St. Petersburg resident Melanie Parker-Levi, is an unabashed fan herself, and her enthusiasm has helped the blog win a national audience.

Parker-Levi edits and publishes the blog with Denver-based Tiffiny Kallina; they met through mutual friends who, like them, blogged about music and read the same forums. As Parker-Levi began researching and planning The Ruckus, Tiffiny offered to write reviews.

"It was completely out of the blue," Melanie says of how their alliance evolved. The site also uses content from contributors across the country and in England.

Both women have full-time day jobs. Melanie works as a Web designer and provides technical support for bloggers at TypePad in San Francisco, which enables her to create her own hours at her St. Pete home and still hit lots of local shows.

Originally from Hendersonville, N.C., the 35-year-old grew up in a musical family. Her father, a guitarist, was always in a band, and her mother's hotel job included greeting bands and acting as their local guide.

The family moved to St. Pete when she was 8, and by the time she was 14 Parker-Levi was already seeing punk shows at the State Theatre.

Josh Ritter, Aunt Martha, Mumford & Sons and White Wives are among the artists who've been featured in recent interviews and videos on The Ruckus.

And then, of course, there's Frank Turner.

If you're like me and have never heard of him, The Ruckus's FAQ list won't exactly help. To the question, "What about Frank Turner?", the response is, "If you have to ask, you're never going to understand."

But Parker-Levi is more forthcoming during our interview in downtown St. Pete. Her face lights up as she describes why she loves the UK-based singer-songwriter, who became popular in England a few years ago and is now making inroads in the States (he played Crowbar in Ybor City in September).

She's effusive in describing why he's special, saying he has the best stage presence she's ever seen. "His music is always right on point," she says. "I've never heard anything from him that was less than amazing." She says she's seen him probably 10 times in the past couple of years, many of those shows outside of Tampa Bay.

Turner has always been a friend to the blog. When it was just beginning in 2009, with virtually no content, the English punk-folk artist sat down with Melanie and Tiffiny for close to an hour for an interview. "There will always be this gratitude to him for giving us that chance," Melanie says.

But Turner isn't her favorite artist. That would be indie rockers Death Cab For Cutie. She's always been split between punk and indie, but growing up in Florida she was exposed to punk more than other genres.

Melanie's passion for music is one of her blog's distinguishing factors, say local fans.

Nicole Kibert, a Tampa attorney and avid music photographer, says she appreciates that the content on the blog is "very positive and makes a point to support bands coming up." Kibert adds that the writing on The Ruckus isn't as "pretentious" as a lot of similar blogs.

Local music blogger Ray Roa agrees, saying that The Ruckus doesn't "buy into hype" that often surrounds buzzworthy bands, "So when you read about something on their blog, you almost always know there has been some kind of very real, pure connection with the music on their end."

Currently the site attracts around 125,000 hits a month. It doesn't run any advertising.

"We just love music and we want to tell everybody," she says. "And the whole basis about the blog is that we're super excited about the music that we love, and we just want everybody else to be excited, too."

Editor's Note: It's important to remember that the URL for The Ruckus is whatstheruckus.com, not theruckus.com. The latter takes you to a blog called The Ruckus co-founded by comic JB Smoove

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