Create Your Woodstock: It’s not polite to take more than you give
This is the third installment to the five-part series that helps you create an intentional mindset to experience the vibrancy of live events. Missed the intro to the series? Check it out before you continue.
We are part of a consumer-centric society. Every day we are consuming something new from a delectable goodie to media content. There is a price for all we consume. We pay in monetary value and in abstract currencies. We pay some spare change for a goodie at the local bakery and our body pays too, in calories. We pay a monthly subscription fee for the shows we binge on Netflix just as much as we pay with our time and attention.
We too have the power to pay it forward to the sources of our little indulgence to assure they are there when we want them most. We can write a review for the bakery online and refer a friend to Netflix.
When you buy a ticket to a live event, in what ways do you pay beyond monetary value? Do we simply show up to consume? How do you pay the experience forward?
This week’s installment follows the story of a college band inspired by The Blues Brothers. From the local bar to a national tour, the band offers an exchange of energy. The currency in the live event world is energy.
Enjoy the story from Live LIVE! Creating Community in Music Experiences:
“College: a place to learn from the textbooks,” said the guy who did college all wrong.
Sure, the focus of college is an academic education that prepares adults as they transition to the “real world.” Textbooks, lectures, and tangents of tenured professors talking about their dissertation from 15 years ago have their place in the learning process. There is power and purpose in the knowledge and wisdom they provide.
However, peer to peer learning is often some of the most unique, fruitful learning and growth in one’s college, a rite of passage, experience. With these experiences and friendships, students walk away with a lot more than a piece of paper, a diploma, to represent their time spent on college campuses and in university halls. That’s the kind of stuff that people talk about their whole life — the crazy adventures with friends, the late-night talks as they make sense of the world, and the shenanigans one simply does not put on a resume.
At 18 years old Andy Holtgreive packed up for Aquinas College with his new guitar strapped to his back, a gift from his parents. Fate would have it that the resident advisor, Christian, an older student that lived in the dorms with Andy and other freshman serving as a “big brother” in their transition to college, was a musician and Andy’s new neighbor. Andy found a friend and teacher in his Christian. Their jam sessions quickly evolved into writing lessons. Andy learned to write his first song, and between freshman and sophomore year had written a handful of songs to add to his repertoire.
Returning for sophomore year, Andy and his resident assistant formed a band they called Plumber Butt with another buddy, Vince. Vince lived off-campus in community with some students working on a year-long service project and proposed Plumber Butt play a show in their living room, no amplification, and no-frills.
“It was insane and it was fun,” Andy recalls. They did blues riffs, covers, and originals. It was then that Andy “got the bug” — being in front of people, acting silly, and playing music. They packed 100 students into the room like sardines and played 5 shows over that year.
The Blues Brothers was Plumber Butt’s 101 class in performance. They were obsessed, Andy says, “We watched that movie 10 times a week.”
Queue “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” by The Blues Brothers
Their favorite scene was in the Soul Food Cafe after Elwood and Jake, The Blues Brothers, returned from a show in the not so glamorous, Joliet, Illinois. They reminisce on shows past with Matt Murphy, the cook at the cafe and an old band member.
Jake turns to Matt and says, “Matt, me and Elwood, we’re putting the band back together. We need you and Blue Lou.”
While Matt’s wife shoots him the stink eye, he responds to Jake saying, “Oh man, don’t talk that way around here. My old lady, she’d kill me.”
Elwood turns to Mrs. Murphy in hopes to knock some sense into her, “Ma’am, you have to understand. This is bigger than any domestic problems you might be experiencing.”
Inspired by The Blues Brothers in more ways than one, the band formerly known as “Plumber Butt,” hit center stage Junior year on homecoming weekend in front of 600 people under their new name, “Bigger Than Any Domestic Problem You May Be Experiencing.” In true Blues Brothers fashion, their homecoming set was all about the drama and the presentation. With briefcases and handcuffs, they walked on stage and performed their own kind of Blues Brothers spoof.
They started to create a name for themselves on Aquinas’s campus opening for buddies at the local bar, Martini’s. They shortened their name to “Domestic Problems” and pulled together a set mainly of covers and about a third of which were originals that Andy had written. With no formal experience and training outside of The Blue Brothers crash course, Andy shares, “it wasn’t really about the music, it was just about the exchange, the interaction, people just having fun, not taking anything too seriously and having a good time.”
The Martini’s bar owner saw the energy they brought to the stage and the following they cultivated, he did not care how they sounded. The bar owner had a proposition, “why don’t you guys come back next week? You keep playing on Wednesday nights, I’ll pay you in beer.”
At the new Martini’s residence, they started playing more shows, learning more songs, and Andy started writing more music. As time passed, they took their talents from their college hang out to local venues as headliners.
They happened to be in the right place at the right time. In 1997 there was a swell around local music in Western Michigan with songs like “The Freshman” by Verve Pipe at the pinnacle of this musical buzz. Many thought Grand Rapids was on the fast track to being the next music hot spot.
“There was a real live, legitimate music scene of original music that the community came out and supported because, I think, the Verve Pipe was getting all this national attention,” Andy recalls. “Once they got signed by RCA, it brought more attention to the local music scene.” RCA is a major American electronics company, which was founded as the Radio Corporation of America that signed talent from Elvis Presley to the Backstreet Boys.
In the wave of this momentum, in 1997, Domestic Problems released their second album “Play.” Two years out of college, Andy made music his full-time gig. Domestic Problems got hooked up with the National Association of Campus Activities (NACA), which set them on a tour to 30 cities. In Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma they played college campuses and local dive bars. College campuses had budgets that were lucrative enough to cover the band’s expenses on the road while dive bars gave them the space to get in front of more people reaching about 200 shows a year.
Domestic Problems entered a contest to play HORDE Tour, Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere, a traveling summer rock music festival that started in 1992. In 1997, Domestic Problems won a spot to play three shows in Detroit, Michigan, Scranton and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Primus, Big Head Todd, and The Monsters and Toad The Wet Sprocket were among a few of the names that Domestic Problems shared the festival grounds with. Playing the first set of the day on the second stage, Andy and Domestic Problems had the same access pass to the festival as Neil Young. A major win to be in the presence of incredible star power, Andy said, “We felt like this is it, we’re making our way.”
Not every show was as noteworthy as the HORDE tour. The underbelly of the excitement of sold-out shows and big-name lineups was playing a show at Q Bar in Iowa City for 10 people or the stadium at Miami of Ohio for crowds that barely filled the first couple of rows. Andy always said in these situations, “we have got to play like there are 5,000 people here. Whether there’s 5 or 5,000, it should make no difference. We got to bring it on.”
Sometimes these more “intimate shows,” as Andy jokingly called them, gave Domestic Problems the time to hone their craft. The experience bears the lesson to be “committed to what you’re doing and not reliant upon who you were doing it for necessarily,” Andy remarks.
Andy would open to the crowd by saying, “We promise whatever energy you give back to us, we’ll kick it back to you 10 times. It’s an exchange.”
Math and science lend us to believe that the more people in the room = more energy.
Andy’s experience defies logic saying, “you can be in front of 1,500 people and they could care less about you and that sucks. But, it’s the amount of attention and intention that’s being exchanged that makes a difference in the quality of that live show.” A room of 10 giving an artist undivided attention is more powerful and rewarding than an arena full of disinterested fans talking louder than the band is playing over booming speaker systems.
Attention is an invaluable currency to an artist, one that can not be forced or bought. Whether it is nostalgic reunion tours with college friends and family filling the crowd or opening for Rustic Root at the Fox Theatre and winning the crowd and the band over, mutually engaging in the experience with the crowd is what Andy aspires to do.
In an exchange of energy, it is not polite to give more than you take. It’s a give and take. Give a little, get a little. So give a little energy. You don’t have to rage like a crazy person or sing on the top of your lungs, but if the mood calls for it, by all means, go for it. Be mindful of your intentions for going to the show and be attentive to the experience. Buy in with your intention.
So I ask you again, when you buy a ticket to a live event, in what ways do you pay beyond monetary value? Do we simply show up to consume? How do you pay the experience forward? This post is from a series of experts come from Live LIVE! Creating Community in Music Experiences. Over 5 installments, a guide to the way you experience live events emerges, putting the focus back on the people in the room. Missed the intro and first few installments? Check it out. If you like what you read and want to join me in this discussion, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking for more ways to “Create Your Woodstock,” grab a copy of my book on Amazon.