In the town where a live there is a very active and long-standing folk music society that puts on concerts all winter long. Some world-class musicians have played in the concert series over the years. One person is particularly well loved, the singer-songwriter Bill Staines. He has played for the society for better than 30 years and his concert every year is a much anticipated event. Bill is a true troubadour – he has essentially lived on the road, performing all over the U.S. and Canada for about 40 years. His wonderful raw honey baritone voice has only improved with age and his left handed upside-down-and-backwards guitar style is very cool to hear and see. His songs are “old school” in the best way. Ballads, love songs and tales of characters he has met over those long years. Some of them have become true classics of the American folk music genre, including “Roseville Fair”, “All God’s Critters” and “River” – one of my favorites. But herein lies the problem.
Everyone knows and loves his songs, which is great. BUT….at his show here every year, many, many audience members feel it’s perfectly fine to sing along. Loudly. With every song.
OK, call me a curmudgeon. Call me a stick in the mud. But damn it, when I go to a concert, I want to hear the PERFORMER, not some person bellowing out the songs, most likely with shall we say, a somewhat challenged ability to sing in tune. And at this event I’m not kidding when I say that there is almost a macho folkie vibe of, hey, I know the words to EVERY BILL STAINES SONG! It got so bad that I finally stopped going.
I want to say to the grey haired pony tailed flannel shirt guy next to me, pleeeeez, sing all you want at home. But not here! Pleeeeez let me hear Bill!
Another example of audience love or respect or whatever it is that goes too far. It is standard practice at any jazz show to applaud after every solo of every instrument. On paper this shows respect and admiration of the performer’s abilities and interpretation of what can be very complex music. But in reality, for at least some audience members, I am convinced it is more like an ego statement. Hey, check me out – I’m a cool jazz fan who “gets it” when a player testifies.
I am totally in favor of spontaneous applause any time a player offers an outstanding performance, whether at the end of the tune or in the middle. But if you have a band on stage that has six or more members, and all six take solos, and the audience feels they must clap at the end of every solo – is it possible that they are disrupting something larger, that is, the entirety of the complexity of the piece? Not to mention my own desire to get into the music and connect in some way with the player. The absolute extreme of this disruptive intrusion is something I witnessed at a Diana Krall concert a couple years ago. A lady a couple seats down from us felt compelled to exclaim, “Yeah!” “That’s it!”
”I hear you, Diana!” and various other ditties throughout the show. It was distracting to the point that I was almost embarrassed for the pathetic display.
So here’s the bottom line. Love the music! Let it touch you in ways that are yours. If everyone is touched in the same way, even better. Clap if you feel the solo or performance deserves it, not just because you’re “supposed to.” And always consider the enjoyment of the other audience members who may not want to hear you sing. Yes, it can be a wonderful bonding moment but it adds NOTHING to the overall experience and may in fact diminish it.
Peace & good music,