Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Sorry, this post is not about sex or politics – it’s about communication.

Twice weekly a small restaurant in my hometown hosts live music. Wednesdays a 4-piece all-acoustic group performs Classic Rock and Americana, Thursdays I play Piano-bar style Blues and covers. One weekend a year several Jazz duos or trios play there during a local festival. We’ve each been playing there since the restaurant opened about 4 years ago. Nice place, good food, good owners to work for.

So I was a bit surprised when the pub manager announced “Hey, we have two bands from Philadelphia coming up to play here next Tuesday. Be sure and tell everybody so they have a good turnout.” Bands? Ok, that’ll be different, but I’m all for live music, so bring ’em on.

Tuesday arrived and I was out doing errands – walking the dogs, delivering a piano to the Beatlemania show, going to the bank, etc. For the evening I planned on stopping in to see the Philly groups a bit, then going to hear Carlos as John Lennon play my piano.

Then the call came. “JT, the bands are here, but they don’t have any mics.” I knew right away it was more than microphones they didn’t have. No mics = no mic stands = no mic cables = no mic mixer = no PA speakers. The bands showed up expecting a PA system to be at the club.

Nobody asked, and nobody told there was no house PA.

So I threw some equipment into my car, drove down to the club, and proceeded to set up my PA system. In the process, the band requested a keyboard stand and amplifier. Yes, I have them, so I drove home and brought those back.

But there was a bigger problem here from the start. As soon as the bands walked into the restaurant, they said “Oh no…” They realized it was the wrong venue for the music they play – hard-driving college party rock. As the manager watched them carry in guitar amplifiers and drums she said “Oh no…” Did they have to use amps? The regular Wednesday band uses no PA, no mics, no amps. Thursdays I bring one speaker for my vocals.

Nobody asked, and nobody told that the venue was primarily acoustic music.

But the show must go on, however, so the bands set up, and trying to be quiet, started to play. As several couples got up and moved their dinner outside to the deck, the first band finished their first song, and the manager, apologizing, told them it was way too loud for the room (which it was). So the drummer stepped out, the guitarists turned down, and they proceeded to play uncomfortably for only a few more songs before taking a break.

After setting up the keyboard amp and stand, the second group took the stage (sans drummer). Having had time to assess the sound of the room, they played a little quieter than the first band, and delivered a longer more enjoyable set. They finished their set, the five of us listening applauded and gave a few dollars in tips. The bands loaded out their gear, everybody thanked and apologized to each other, then the musicians hit the highway to continue their tour.

Nobody asked, nobody told what to do except show up and play.

So how did this happen, how did a pair of rock bands get booked into an acoustic venue? Ari Herstand, who blogs about the music business, mentions this in one of his posts, Book Your Own Tour. When looking for gigs, “get a feel for how your project could (or could not) fit in the venue.” Clearly, this was not done.

Nobody asked, nobody told whether the bands were right for the venue.

So there’s a little blame to go around here. First the booking agent, who cold-called the club and set up the show. A gig is a gig, any chance to perform, right? Second, the club manager who agreed to the deal without knowing anything about the bands. Two bands for the price of one? What a deal!

No, it was a bad deal for all parties. The bands didn’t get to play for the crowd they hoped for, the club didn’t have a crowd to make any money from. There was no relationship established for future bookings, no recommendation for the venue as a good room to play. The only good is a little education was shared, the bands and the venue each got a horror story, and I got a blog post.

So – Do Ask, Do Tell. You may lose a good story, but you’ll have fewer of those “Oh no…” moments.