Creek Don't Rise

"I Won't Stand For It"
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Author:  paulrace [ Mon Sep 08, 2014 8:42 am ]
Post subject:  "I Won't Stand For It"

Here's a question - do you perform sitting down or standing up? Back in the coffeehouse days, we usually had bar stools so we could be somewhere in between and could go back and forth easily. Also if you're doing a 6-hour coffeehouse or restaurant or pub gig, you will need to pace yourself, and having a stool to lean or sit on is understandable.

But in my days in rock bands, we always stood to perform,no matter how long the gig was. How can you urge the audience to get on their feet if YOU won't?

Even outside of rock, there are all kinds of reasons for playing "standing up."

Once when I was leading a semi-acoustic quartet (guitar, bass, percussion, lead singer - not me) that usually played coffeehouses but was going to be playing a couple out-of-door festival-type gigs, I tried to get them in the habit of standing up during practice, so we could get used to the kinds of physical interaction, etc. that would allow. After all, every other group was going to be standing, and many of them had a sort of "stage show."

Our 45-minute set list was pretty well hammered out - we could perform most of the songs flawlessly in most circumstances, and the same program had been well received in a few "indoor" situations. But I knew we needed to be "bigger" on the festival stage. So I said, "From now on, we need to practice standing up."

The lead singer said, "I already know how to stand up." It was funny the first time. But from then on, every time I tried to lose the stools and practice something "bigger" and more immediate than four guys sitting down playing guitars etc., the same silly joke would resurface. And everybody else would act like that settled the discussion.

As it happened, the festivals came and went, and hardly anybody was there because of bad promotion anyway, but that wasn't really the point. That kind of "professionalism" on the part of the other members was one reason I went as a "solo act" for several years.

I'd forgotten that and about a thousand other frustrations with naturally-talented people who thought "good enough" was "good enough," until Dayton Ohio's most recent Celtic festival. Watching an outstanding Irish pub band struggle to make the transition to "festival band" brought back some memories. At the moment, the "headliners" such as Gaelic Storm and Scythian have all played to big crowds many times, and they've adjusted by - yes - always standing, but also by moving in and out, rearranging their staging for nearly every song, stepping back from the microphones when other folks are soloing, etc. In some cases, there's even (gasp) dancing.

Then a wonderful band that obviously plays pubs 95% or more percent of the time, came out and sat, not on stools, but on diaphram-crushing CHAIRS. I can understand the Uilleann piper sitting down, although in other groups, he sits on a stool so at least you can see his head above the crowd, and he can make eye contact with the guitarists who ARE standing. The button accordion, I sort of understand - the young woman was a wizard, and would no doubt have to relearn her instrument somewhat if she couldn't support the thing on her lap during complex passages. But other bands there had button according players who moved around the stage and interacted with other members.

The band was well-received, and one member took "selfies" with the crowd, saying something like, "Bock in Ireland, they'll nivver belayve we plied to crowds this big." But in a festival with three stages going at any given time, it was entirely possible that folks wandering from stage to stage would glance at this performance, and based on visual cues alone say, "There's nothing going on here."

As a musician, I was very pleased with their music. But I have to say that most people there weren't musicians and didn't appreciate a tenth of what was going on, musically. In fact, a good portion of the folks who go to the Dayton Celtic festival go to get drunk and to jump up and down in front of a band playing loud and fast. As a musician, that distresses me a little - I'd rather have folks who came to listen to good music well-played. But here's a circumstance where most folks in the audience won't think the music is exciting unless that musicians look excited. And it's really hard to do that sitting on chairs.

Again, I'm not saying that chairs (or stools, at least) are evil, especially for 6-hour coffeehouse or pub gigs where you're essentially background music, but to me, if you are trying to make the transition from background music to headliner, it's hard to get a big crowd on your feet if you're sitting down.

Just some notions. If you want to respond, click the following link to join the forum. Once I get you signed in, you can post all you want, as long as you're courteous. :-)

Author:  paulrace [ Thu Dec 11, 2014 3:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: "I Won't Stand For It"

Working on some banjo resources, I discovered an interesting phenomenon - a number of the most vocal, self-proclaimed banjo "experts" on the internet - are not entertainers. I can understand being a great musician who is a relatively mediocre performer - if you're T Bone Burnett. But if you spend two-thirds of your time on the internet running down other pickers for frailing too close to the bridge or some other thing that's really a matter of taste (SORRY), and you never play your instruments in front of an audience, you may be the worst kind of wannabee. I'd rather go see a second- or third-rate picker who can entertain a crowd than a first-rate picker who has no intention of relating to the audience. There IS a place for studio musicians and for arrangers like Burnett. But if all you are is a bedroom You-Tuber with really fast fingers, it's time to stop slamming folks who are out there sharing their music and building an audience for their genre.

What does this do with standing up? Everything. Get out of your armchair and start putting together a set list and practicing through it like you were really in front of people. And then get in front of people.

Here's a funny thing - I've been busking for the Salvation Army with my saxophone this winter - no I don't need the money, I have just seen how much more money comes in when there's a musician playing. No sheet music, no band, nothing but me and a cold wind and a kettle. But it has made me even more courageous about performing "out" in general (say, with a banjo) than I was before, and I was pretty gutsy before. Music that isn't shared isn't really doing what it was invented for.

Sadly, I have to sign off and go back to my day job now. :-)

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