Its not easy, but the trick is to pick from your playlist what is appropriate for the crowd. We do Western music. Not Nashville coountry-rock. Western. We do old Sons of the Pioneers, Gene Autry, Stan Jones, 19th century trail songs, Stephen Foster. Most of our material is from 1850 to 1950. We do a pretty standard set that includes some poetry, and introductions about where and when the pieces come from. We do some work for the resorts around Sedona. Most of the time they are fine and fun. We are background while people gather and then try to talk more directly to the crowd after dinner. Usually it works . Once in a while we are faced with an audience of alpha type salesfolk who have made their quota and are rewarded with a trip to Sedona. They spend the evening networking like mad and drinking heavily. There is no point in reciting poetry to them as by the time you get to the end of the story they can't remember how it started. A clever finish is greeted with blank stares.
They just want head-banger stuff so we stick with swing tunes which are at least lively. There is always someone out there listening and enjoying, though. We have often gotten to the end of an evening of "paid practice" and had someone thank us profusely for playing some old tune their parents or grandparents sang. We love stirring up memories like that. Put your head down and give them your best effort.
I played in a rock and roll band in high school. We weren't very good but we were cheap and so we would get jobs in smokey bars out in the boonies. Once I had an old man tell me, "Everyone in this bar is here for one of two reasons. Neither one of those two reasons is to hear you make music."
Sometimes you are the show. Sometimes you are the soundtrack. We try to be good at both.