Band……. Can’t live with it and can’t live without it

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(Editor’s Note–Seven years ago this is how Dave Williams felt about playing in a band.)

As I have mentioned a couple of hundred times this past year our band has been together for about seven years. There are five of us and we have been doing it faithfully for that entire time.

Seven years is a long time for a group to stay together in an endeavor like this without major changes. I know there are bands with longer runs but I would guess that they’ve had some personnel changes along the way or some extended hiatuses.

Keeping the experience fresh without changes is hard. It is supposed to be fun and when rehearsals and even gigs begin to become a chore we need to look at what we are doing.

We have been doing the farmer’s market gigs for most of our time together and they are getting pretty old (as in not fresh). The schedule is from 9:00 to 1:00 on Saturday or Sunday mornings, 12-15 times a year. About a third of these market gigs have been in less than ideal weather. So we have begun to question why we are playing these gigs. It is true that we have gotten a few good gigs from the market exposure but is that really enough to keep doing as many as we do. We don’t have a CD to sell (although we could have sold a few). There is a bagel shop owner in Palo Alto that chastises us every time we play that market, because we have promised him a CD for 3 years now and we still don’t have one.These long gigs also have the effect of killing most other weekend plans on those dates and as things like this go (some would say Murphy’s Law or some corollary of Murphy’s Law i.e. Finagle’s Law or Hanlon’s razor??) there is always something scheduled for the same weekend that one or more of the band would rather attend and in some cases this other event could even be a better gig.

As an example, Linda and I were looking forward to attending the CBA Fall Campout for the first time, in our new (to us) motorhome, but you guessed it, we have a market gig that weekend. So it goes.

I bring all this up because the band is having some discussions about our future. The questions we are asking ourselves are: “why does the band activity sometimes seem like a chore?” and “what can we do to keep this experience fresh?”

A big part of why I do this is that I enjoy performing in front of people. Interacting with an audience as a member of an ensemble is a large part of what this is about for me. I enjoy playing with the audience between songs and “people watching” the crowd watching the band is very fun for me. I believe the rest of the band feels the same way about playing with each other and also enjoys the experience of playing for an audience.

If this is the case, then our concerns listed above about making it fun and fresh would seem to be about what kind of gigs do we want to play and, sure enough, our band discussions have gotten around to this topic.

Many times on these CBA web pages and message boards there have been discussions regarding good gigs, bad gigs, good venues, bad venues, how do you find good gigs or venues and also the subject of tequila comes up occasionally (had to throw that in to see if you are paying attention). We were playing Farmer’s markets because we liked to play and they would have us many times a year. As a new semi amateur band back then, we were delighted to play them and used them as an opportunity to develop as a band. Now, not so much, perhaps we got all the mileage we could from them and is now time to move on.

This freshness thing, though, is not just about gigs and farmer’s markets. It is also about our material and rehearsal time. Rehearsals can become work. Working in rehearsals should be a good thing but it has to be rewarding as well. How fresh can it be rehearsing the same songs for all these years? The truth is if we don’t rehearse them, we don’t perform them that well but the second truth is that we are getting tired of playing some of them. The dynamic is that we need to rehearse these songs if we want to perform them but then rehearsals tend to become a chore. Usually, there is a deadline of a gig looming that drives the rehearsal agenda.

We go through spurts of trying to bring in new material but very few make it past a couple of rough run throughs as we are currently only willing to spend a short amount of time on them in any one rehearsal and in the next rehearsal we find ourselves playing the old stuff again in preparation for a gig.

So it seems that we are talking about some sort of hiatus, at least from playing a lot of gigs, so that we can freshen up our material. This would include doing some recording to produce a good quality demo and maybe finally get that CD (that Izzy in Palo Alto is waiting for) done. The good news, from my perspective, is that it seems that everyone is still interested in playing together and working on finding the right formula to keep our band going

How do we go forward? Going into 2013 we are telling the farmer’s market people that we only want 3 or 4 markets in the summer next year. They are probably looking for more commitment than that from bands so we will see where that goes. As for other gigs, we are looking for nirvana….. one or two set gigs in great little venues hopefully developing into a steady gig.

It turns out that we have one of those great gigs this weekend. You can catch us this Sunday afternoon as the featured performer at the Santa Clara Valley Fiddlers Association Jam. We will be playing a set around 3:30 just after the Kid Fiddle Workshop performance taught by Luke Abbott. Stop by if you can. There will lots of music all day.

For reference only:
Murphy’s Law – anything bad that can happen will happen
Finagle’s Law – same as above but that it will happen at the worse possible time
Hanlon’s Razor – the bad stuff that happens is not random but the result of some stupidity on your part, i.e. you booked two gigs for the same day

I didn’t use this one but it still may apply.
Sturgeons Law – 90 % of everything is crap.

And on that somewhat sour note, I’ll leave you until next month. Did someone mention tequila?

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