When I was in high school, I got to play a Vivaldi cello concerto with the orchestra. There were several concerts, one of which was mostly families, the other comprised mostly of friends. During the “family” concert, I noticed a kid in the front row with a packet of starburst. Tasty, tasty starburst. They were in a blue wrapper, and as I started the first movement, I thought, “I wonder if they are somehow more tropical than regular tasty, tasty starburst?”
As an aspiring professional, I knew that I should focus on the music and stop noticing what people were up to in the front row. I closed my eyes and played through to the last movement with relative success. Just as the slow movement ended, the kid entered a new phase of his starburst mission: to eat faster and louder. He had the makings of a devoted diabetic. I exchanged looks with the concertmaster, who had this pissed-off smile that violinists have mastered and the occasional harpist attempts. (I say this with reverence. The cello version is a kind of perverse smirk with intolerant eyebrow.) As with many of the simultaneously regrettable yet enjoyable missteps in my career, something came over me and I was moved to act. I put my bow down and said,
me: “Are those starburst good? They look really good from up here!”
kid: big eyes
me: “I’ll wait until you’re done and then we’ll pick up where we left off, ok?”
kid: bigger eyes
me: finishes the concerto, craves starburst.
The idea of concert etiquette gets a lot of play on the blogs. I am generally a fan of a more relaxed environment- I like the Hollywood Bowl, where you show up early, have a meal, and nurse wine or something not crunchy during the performance. You can get up and go to the bathroom without causing a coup d’état. It’s good. In fact, as a performer I hail as much from the jazz tradition as the classical, and I would love to be playing some burning quartet and have an audience member holler when one of us plays a killer lick. I think clapping between movements is fine. I’m pretty earthy.
All of this is preamble to last night’s gig at the Metro Gallery.
We got up there as the sandwich act (between two other bands) and due to a scheduling SNAFU, had no sound check earlier in the evening. The guy working the board thought he was being nice by giving us 10 minutes of noodling and line checking before starting, but I think it may have sucked the air out of the “taking the stage” moment. I say this because the audience talked over the entire set, getting louder after we started, having been rudely interrupted by our musical offerings.
We were a quasi-acoustic outfit last night. No drums, a little banjo, a little bass on a few songs, some cello, acoustic guitar and two vocalists. The tunes are mellow, with fun chord qualities and clever turnarounds. And nobody heard any of them.
I’m not overly precious about this stuff. Talking is to be expected at rock gigs, but within reason and proportionate to the sound coming off of the stage. Just last month at a gig in Charlottesville, some dude stood right in front of us while we were playing, and yelled over to the bar, “Hey: can I get a quesadilla? Like, with chicken? Maybe barbecue?” We were a 3 piece: guitar, keys, and me. Randy called the set short after the guy’s order upstaged us.
There is a contrary point to be made: Show up, play your heart out, and screw everything else. I tend to adhere to this mindset, but I sure feel for the guys whose material is lost on the folks who come out only to ignore the music and shout about quesadillas, social media, and whose show they’re surely going to dampen with their jackass behavior next week.