Musings of a rock mom rebel


Happy in the Crowd

In addition to singing a lot lately, I've been going to lots of shows. I've already been to Ravinia three times, and I can be found lurking in the back of many a Chicago club (or theatre), checking out the bands, the singers, the acts. I love live performance!

But I get the feeling that some performers feel uncomfortable when fellow artists show up. Being a performer watching performers isn't any different than being a "person" watching performers, other than a performer might have more understanding of what went into the performance and rehearsal, technique-wise, and what's going on technically on stage. 

I do know that seeing performing colleagues in your audience can sort of ramp up the show a bunch when you're on stage. You feel you have to bring your game a bit more, and you know that all your "tricks" are pretty transparent. It might make you a little more self-conscious too, but there is something titillating about singing in front of fellow singers.

Often it just feels cool and communal, and if I'm "on," I know onlooking performers can really appreciate the work, maybe more so than the average audience member. Most of us performers are easily entranced and swayed by live works, which is why we have chosen to do it ourselves! Therefore, I believe mostly we love hearing each other and seeing each other. I think we also learn from watching others do their thing. Would you agree?

When I was a kid, my parents used to take us to New York City every year to see what was happening on Broadway (I know, how lucky, right?). I was mesmerized by the people on stage - Who were they? Where did they live? What did they do in "real life?" I thought they were special and fascinating and I still think performers are incredibly unique and interesting. I look upon all performers, even the ones I've known for years, as amazing
creatures when they're up there performing. Sure, if the show I'm seeing stinks, my mind can start to wander and I can imagine all the ways I would like to see it improved, but for the most part, I am in awe and think it's a blast to get out and see artists do their thing. 

And, sometimes I'm a little jealous that I'm not up there too! 


Read Your Crowd

Conversely, the other night's gig was sorta sad. The band leader, a formidable jazz singer and earnest-enough drummer, also served as the sound guy, emcee, event planner and music director (doh!). He also didn't really gauge the crowd. This is very key at any party: Read your crowd!. 

He started out the night playing the usual mellow dinner music standards and instrumentals, and after the dinner ended, he kept playing the same kinda mellow dinner music standards and instrumentals (doh again!). They are ready to rock now, dude! Time to play something UP. Thrill the crowd. Even dare to play something upbeat during the dinner set! Just know when to back off the slow-tempo and mid-swing thing (classic mistake of playing what you love versus what they want to hear).

Of course, there were two older couples on the floor this whole time, but the young peeps (the majority of the guests) were at the bar...

That is, until we played DANCING QUEEN three hours into the night. I know, this is a cliche and so pre-fab, but guys, it works. The familiarity of it, the recent ABBA revival, and the just...girliness...of the tune gets people going. And, when the chicks wanna dance, guess what the guys wanna do?

So, I said to the band leader: "Hey Leader, they seem to really like pop, disco and uptempo rock!" So, what does he play? He plays Fly Me To The Friggin' Moon! Now, Fly Me is a great song, a classic. But, this crowd wanted to PARTY, to blow off steam from a stressful day that wasn't going well (we were told the wedding was wrought with problems). So, give these 20-somethings some r&b, some rock, some pop, give them their "Let's Get Loud," their "Crazy For You," their "I Will Survive" (another sure thing). Give them whatever they need to bring some energy to this partalia!

So finally! All of us in the band are insisting he call some current hits and thankfully he listens. Okay! We're rocking it on some groovy Pink number, and all the kids come racing to the floor, and I'm all - Yes! Now, we're cooking! And then what happens? The bandmaster-sound-guy-drummer-crooner's PA system goes wonky and suddenly, shoooooooo...we blow a fuse.

20 minutes of silence...

At this point, we have a bride in tears. She's already had a stressful day and just when her wedding started becoming modestly enjoyable for her, the music dies! Seeing this, I frantically get into the crowd, start clapping my hands in time like a wild hyena and scream: "LINE DANCE!!!!" 

Ay yi yi.

Thank GOD the sound eventually came back and we ended the night, five hours later, with the dance floor full. But, ugh, such an odyssey and what a great example of why it's important to read your crowd and play what they want to hear. In the clubs, when we're playing originals, artistic liberties are all ours in my opinion, but at a party where you are hired, please just make 'em happy!