And now a word from the critics

Hitless Wonder picked up a nice review from Publishers Weekly.

This insightful and entertaining story of a band that almost-but-didn’t-quite make it big in the 1990s is equal parts fascinating autobiography and a hilarious and savvy look at the harsh realities of the music industry. Oestreich, a professor and writer, is also a singer, songwriter, and bass player for the rock band Watershed. Formed in high school with his longtime friend guitarist Colin Gawel, Watershed grows from its home base in Columbus, Ohio, to Midwestern regional favorite, and finally gets a recording deal with Epic Records. Unfortunately it’s a brutally quick ride from almost having a hit single to being dumped by Epic—although it is the most fascinating part of the book. But this is not a story of failure, just a different kind of success. Oestreich basically agrees with his drummer that “by most quantifiable standards, playing in a rock band is stupid”—low pay, bad food, and sleeping in a van on “straight nine-hour” drives to gigs—but he just flat-out loves playing his music, and Watershed still makes the occasional and always well-regarded performances.

And here’s the review from Kirkus:

From obscurity to music’s majors and back again with the Ohio band Watershed.

Oestreich (Creative Writing/Coastal Carolina Univ.) looks back on the long, checkered career of his power-pop group, which he founded in Columbus, Ohio, in his early teens after attending a Cheap Trick concert with pal Colin Gawel. The narrative seesaws between the band’s salad days—local gigs, indie releases and, finally, a major-label contract with Epic Records—and city-by-city details of a grind-it-out 2007-08 U.S. tour. Watershed never hit it big: Despite a devoted local following and growing airplay, the band was dropped by Epic after a live EP and an expensively produced album. The book follows the band’s fortunes as they regrouped to cut independent releases on shoestring budgets and drive their van from town to far-flung town. The narrative climaxes with a kind of Pyrrhic victory: a rapturously received hometown show in a less-than-half-filled hall. Oestreich has an eye for telling nuance, and his knowing recounting of life in an ascendant band in “the Pros” is juicy stuff. He’s equally adept at depicting day-to-day humiliations in music’s minors, like a pay-to-play gig with a bunch of no-name Baltimore acts. He’s candid about the toll the rock life takes on relationships; his long-suffering mate Kate emerges as the most sympathetic figure in the book. But the author fails to supply a compelling answer to the question almost certainly on every reader’s mind: Why would a bunch of men pushing 40, with families, day jobs and mortgages, continue to haul their gear in and out of run-down rock clubs, often playing for a loss, long after success has eluded them?

Good question, Kirkus. I’ve been trying to answer that one for twenty-five years.

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