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Happy New Year (I Think)...


Got to watch another band perform on New Year’s Eve. True, I’d rather have been playing on stage, but this was a good opportunity to observe the competition at work (over a decent shrimp dinner)—and these guys are getting paying gigs, and we’re not. I really should do more of this competition-assessing (though my fingers get itchy watching someone else play).

6-piece (I guess) band—lead and rhythm guitars, bass, drums, sound guy (I want one of those) and lighting guy. I don’t know if the lighting guy was being paid as an equal member of the band, but the sound guy should have been—he did a lot of work. One of the guitarists did a set as an Elvis impersonator, and was really good.

They started off really poor, but did get better after Elvis arrived. I think starting off with something slow and jazzy, and following it with more slow and jazzy, was a bad move; long pauses between songs isn’t good, either. A sure signal they’d misjudged the crowd: the first song that got almost everybody out on the dance floor was a Buck Owens tune. (And these guys don’t play country music.)

Could our band have done better? Mostly, yes. “Deathgrass” shows always start out with a good, upbeat dance tune (and it should be recognizable by now), and the Rap between songs ensures the audience never has a chance to get bored (and the band still get to catch its collective breath). We have the crowd’s attention constantly. Songs do not sound alike. A lot of what we play is country music—which apparently appeals to audiences around here. Since we’ve been playing to mostly the same kind of audience, I haven’t worried much about tailoring setlists, though I have done that for solo gigs, and with other bands; one reason for visiting the venue ahead of time is to talk to people there about what the crowd is like and what kind of music they like to hear, so you don’t have to guess (and risk guessing wrong). And I’m always doing post-mortems, reviewing what worked best, what didn’t, and what could be done differently (and better). So we’re doing a lot of this stuff right, I think.

We don’t do covers (at least, not covers of anything famous). That New Year’s Eve band did all covers, of course; I think most bands do. I still don’t consider it necessary (and hope I’m right). At this point, people around here would be surprised if I performed anything that wasn’t original—but that’s because they’ve gotten used to me.

(And maybe it’s improved people’s perceptions a little. I think most folks shy away from original music because they assume somebody who isn’t already famous, and on records and on the radio, can’t be any good. I hope in this little, local area, I’m proving that wrong. I am (or hope to be) proof that you can play your own stuff, and people will come to listen to it even knowing it’s your stuff, and they’ll dance to it, and even leave money behind. But it has taken a few years to get to that point.)

Friday, I go north to Astoria, for the first get-together of the “infant” band Joe Sims has been trying to assemble up there (I talked them into considering me as their rhythm guitarist). All covers, of course—but I don’t mind: I don’t have to sing ‘em. I’ll pass on my Performance Points as best I can: Start off with a bang. Don’t give the audience a chance to get bored. Vary your tempo. And make sure you’re playing what the audience wants.

As I’m looking through the list of 50 songs Joe sent—all rock ‘n’ roll and Modern Country (which is much the same), and no “traditional” country at all among them—I have to ask the question, “How well have you gauged our market? Are we playing these songs just because you want to sing them, or have you figured out these are what people want to hear? And if so, how did you decide that?”

Oh, and it is January First, isn’t it? Happy New Year, everybody. May your Twenty-Ten be better than your Twenty-Nine. On my end, I sure will be working at it.



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