I absolutely loved my evening show last year on Friday night at Bob's Keg and Cork.
First off, I should say that I've performed more times than I can count at Grant's Brew Pub across the street from Bob's place, and was a little disappointed that the festival folks couldn't get me a set to play there. I guess they were hosting bigger bands there. Grant's has a more upscale look and feel. It's bigger room too, that can hold about three times the audience that Bob's place can in their front room and that many more again in their back room. I thought the fact that I had played so many shows at Grant's would have guaranteed me a chance to play a set there but no such luck. Well, I guess it had been a while since my last show there.
When I first entered Bob's place the environment didn't actually look like it was going to be the best. There was no stage, just a corner of the room set up with a PA. There wasn't an actual stage at Grant's either so that didn't bother much. Bob's place was small as bars go and packed with folks who only seemed to applaud after each song automatically while not really listening to the entertainment. I was there early enough to hear a number of performers get this sort of uninterested treatment. The audience was talking all through each of the performers sets and it didn't seem to matter how talented the ability of the act. Even my long time friend, who played just before I did, and who I consider at the top of his ability with many more years of experience than I, was drowned out and treated like sonic wallpaper. Seeing that reaction by the folks there kind of set me on edge. My success as an entertainer seems to rely heavily on whether the folks I perform for are willing to listen to what I have to say. It's not very fullfilling to be reduced to sonic wallpaper by either the venue's/owner's directive or the audience's disinterest.
Of course, I knew that Grant's was no piece of cake either. I think the design/shape of the room there always made capturing the audience's attention a huge challenge. The room was "L" shaped and therefore placed a good number of folks out of easy viewing and listening contact with my performances there. So, about half the room was very easily distracted by other activities, and to top it off there was an entire back room that could house a completely different agenda. The combination of those two factors many times left me wondering whether I had indeed made an impact at all but it was the only gig in town that was willing to pay enough to to make the 8 hour round trip trek.
I had to lug my gear through the almost impenetrable throng around and behind the far side of the bar, and wind my way down a long, crowded, narrow hallway to the room in back that they used as a green room and then, when ready, I had to repeat this trek in order to get to the performer's corner. My instruments were bumping and bouncing off bodies, furniture, and miscellany all the way.
I really didn't expect the reaction I received from the folks there. I began my set by just talking and vamping an intro to my first song as I always do. Now that I think about it, most of the other folks I heard that evening didn't really try to communicate with the audience much. They simply played their songs. It wasn't long before everyone in the room was silent and listening, really listening. Having that kind of attention makes what I do when performing work the best. The only thing I wasn't able to do, because of the time it took me to tear down and make way for the next act in line, was to sell my CDs. By the time I got my gear hauled back to the green room and made my way out to the bar again, another act was playing and I didn't want to interrupt their set. I noticed that it didn't take long for the audience to fall into their previous pattern of chatter and polite applause.
I thought perhaps the reception I received from the folks at Bob's would have granted me a return invitation so I left a CD and some info with Bob, or who it was busy behind the bar that evening, but no such phone call poured in. I'm still waiting on pins and needles. ;)
Contrast that with what happened the following day, when I played to a handful of listeners who sat way too way far away. They had set up tarps to sit under to shade the audience from the sun but postioned the tarps so far back that it made it hard to feel connected. I was under a tarp as well. It must have been in the 90s. The cement slab that I played on was the perfect recepticle for storing all that morning sun's heat energy. I felt like a loaf of bread baking in a convection oven. To top it off, the organizers positioned the main stage with the largest sound system just behind my little venue so it's speakers were pointing at my back and scheduled a slick rock band during the same time slot as my performance. So I had what sounded like muzac playing right behind me during my set. Finally, I mentioned it from stage and someone told me it was live band playing.
The bleed over was a mistake that the organizers could have avoided by simply either moving the smaller venues farther away from the big main stage, or by turning the main stage so it's speakers didn't point in the direction of the rest of the smaller venues. After 21 years of organizing an event, I would have thought this sort of stage postioning would have been a no-brainer, but I guess not. My little venue was the closest to the main stage and so suffered the greatest impact by the sound bleed. Further, all of this could have been avoided had the organizers simply allowed the smaller more intimate performances to take place at the one indoor venue that was available on the grounds. They had set up that performance location with plenty of seating and it was cool inside and quiet enough that one could easily be heard without PA. I would have loved to have had a chance to play there rather than where they placed me, outside in all that heat and disruption. I don't think there'll be a next time for me there either.
I spent the rest of the weekend haunting what rummage sales and junk stores I could find in the area. I stumbled across one store on the way out of town and found a nice 60's black suit for $10.00. The clerk, a woman who looked like someone's grandmother, saw me trying it on and said I looked good enough to be buried. What a sales pitch, I thought. With that chilling thought still ringing in my ears I made my way back home, leaving behind the wretched heat and endless desert of eastern Washington. It makes me really appreciate the clouds and cool climate here on the western slopes of the Cascades.
That's my two Abes.