SCENE ETIQUETTE: Too Many Bands at Shows

Not pictured above: Tuesday, October 13th. Mark your calendars! And just added to the bill: Embroidered Hate, Flerbie Hancock, Windbreaker, Flexorcist, and Ham Softener!

Phil and I have a fundamental disagreement as to whether or not festivals are awesome. We’ve tried resolving this over beers, by arm wrestling, or with the strength of our words, with the end result always being that we agree to disagree. For Phil the equation is simple: go somewhere, have fun, and get loose. For my money, a festival is a slog, a capitalist circus that attempts to pander to the broadest possible audience without catering to anyone in particular. Even the more streamlined festivals seem like work to me, which is a shame, because the lineup for the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville looks to be culled almost entirely from my iPod. Like in that case though, considering that you have to travel somewhere so that you can abide by an itinerary other than your own is not for me. And I’m the boss of my own vacations, thank you very goddamned much, so that doesn’t especially appeal to me.

What we can both agree on, is that long shows are not our cup of tea. Personally, going to see a smaller bill is always the best, with maybe two or three acts in total for music, and less if it’s comedy, although I can go four if it has to be that way. Anything more than that starts to seem like an endurance test, like you have to wade through a sea of stuff to get to what you want, or to get to the end. The problem is, even if every single band is on fire that night, that is still a lot of bands to sit through, especially since everyone in every band thinks that all of their songs are great; you’re basically at the whim of a thousand Metallicas all playing four hour sets and that is too much Lars.

Beyond just the ego inherent to any performer getting on stage -not a problem in and of itself, only so as compounded by the sheer volume of musicians scheduled to play- is the fact that at some point, your ears just can’t handle it anymore. I’ve spent the last three hours listening to Kurt Vile at work, and despite the fact that his new album is incredibly catchy, that is too much mellow for my yellow. Perhaps you can listen to a fifteen hour playlist of Nelly and all of the St. Lunatics, but at some point you may need something different. In the case of a show overloaded with acts, you may just cease paying attention or wander off from tedium and miss something great. From experience, the best part of a three band bill is playing second, where you’ve got the portion of the crowd who shuffled in casually late, but before any kind of attrition to the crowd has kicked in. You don’t get that if you start stuffing the bill with more than four bands, that sweet spot that is, although you had better believe that you’ll have some crowd attrition.

This problem is even worse when it’s on a weekday. We have gone over and over the first rule of scene etiquette, but let’s say it again for good measure: start on time, dammit! But it doesn’t matter if you hit the ground running at start time if you’ve got a lineup of more than four bands, because logistically that can’t work out. Even if people share equipment, you still have all the shuffling around between bands, the tuning time, and all the stage banter between songs. The end result is a show that runs in the wee hours of the morning, and plenty of folks of all ages have to work somewhere either at night or in the morning, which means you’ve already limited your audience. That extends into the weekend even for anyone lucky enough to be off, since plenty of people can’t just renegotiate their sleep schedule on the fly like that. All of this assumes that the show operates at a mad rush, which doesn’t sound especially thrilling to begin with for the performers, to run on and run off in a mad dash. Who doesn’t want to just chill and have the time to play a solid set and chat with your homies thereafter?

You can make the argument that the end game here is in creating a community, and that as such, the more the merrier. But why not just put on more shows with more diversity? We have such a vibrant scene and we can show people how to do it once or twice a week, maybe at a theme night or a curated event. A good way to get to that is to not create unnecessary barriers to prevent people from wanting to come out. Start that show early, mix it up, and don’t over do it. Yeah, I’m cantankerous enough to write about turning the music down between sets, so that the crowd doesn’t blast their ears out, and this is no different in that it seeks to prevent audience fatigue. Keep things short, simple, and inclusive, and they will come. I mean, magical baseball players will come to your show. Obviously that’s what this post is about. Obviously.