I went to see my brother’s band, Wrought Iron Hex, the other day at a local club in Providence Rhode Island called Dusk. I am really glad I did, on multiple levels. Number one, they are really good and really enjoyable to watch. Catchy songs, great tones, tight, and clearly into it. Number two, it is so fun seeing bands up close in small clubs and number three, now more than any time in history, we need to support local bands and local clubs.
OK, this viewpoint is admittedly a little hypocritical on my part. I had not been to a local club in a long time. This was partly deliberate because, after lugging gear in and out of clubs for years, I needed a break from it. But it was also through benign neglect as I have a pretty busy schedule trying to work with more than one company while attempting to maintain a semblance of a personal life. Representing Noble & Cooley involves a decent amount of artist interaction, mostly by providing support and demoing gear. This latter part involves shows but I have not yet had a local artist ask to meet me at a show and try out gear, though I would absolutely do this. So, most of these shows are arenas and sheds, with a fair amount of theater-sized venues. This is a fun experience, but clearly misses a big section of the music world that goes on every day and night of every day of the year all around the world.
When I was growing up, even before I played in bands, it was pretty much an everyday occurrence to see a bumper sticker that said, “Support Local Music”. It was oftentimes mixed in with Fender, Zildjian, Marshall and Shure stickers along with a band logo, so it was pretty obvious it was a self-serving message, but the sentiment was unquestionably genuine. All local musicians believe in local music. Plus, back then, it was a badge of honor among music aficionados to know the local scene and to see up and coming bands as they came through town on their early tours in small clubs. We acted morally superior to anyone who didn’t know the obscure bands we were following, scoffed at the idiots who tried to tell us about a band four albums after we started listening to them and sometimes even ditched good bands once they became too popular because we were just “so over them”. So yes, we could be mercurial, petty and stupid, but we were collectively always on the lookout for new talent and this helped support the music scene and new bands and the clubs that hosted them. I can’t begin to recount the number of one-upmanship conversations I have been a part of with groups of guys and girls talking about bands. It was invariably, “I saw them in front of five people at The Living Room and they totally killed it. I told people about the show and they were like, who?” Or, “They played The Channel with the Ramones. The Ramones. Can you even picture them on this bill?” Or, “Do you remember when they opened for Overkill?” “Dude, everyone opened for Overkill. You are thinking of the show at Salisbury Beach with Nuclear Assault.” On and on like this. Everyone claimed to have seen every band’s first U.S. or Boston show, to have owned their “demo” and to have been following them before they were even a band or even born for that matter. A lot of ego here to be sure but at least the ego supported the scene.
And we were SO in it. The bands we aligned ourselves with represented our life view and the choices at the time seemed absolutely critical. We needed to tell the world - stickers on schoolbooks, jean jackets with patches (remember these???). Concert Ts & posters if the bands were big enough. Cassettes, black and white stickers and leftover show flyers for the up and coming. Regardless, we had fierce loyalty to our bands. Looking back, the behavior among everyone was pretty close to zealotry and I don’t think caring less is the hallmark of maturity, so I remember it fondly.
So, cut to the present here.
For the last 15 years or so, it seems to me like the local music scene has been in substantial decline. As the father of a teenage girl, it seems to me like lot of the music young people listen to is electronic and the live performances aren’t live at all and it’s all about the choreography which doesn’t have the same impact on a small stage. With the advent of the internet and iPhones, kids don’t seem to want to go out in general and when they do it’s to coffee shops and other hangout spots. It seems to me like fewer and fewer people go to clubs to see live bands. I asked my brother about this a while back and he corroborated that was the general trend. So, the net result of all of this is that local musicians are playing for fewer and fewer people and the club owners are trying to stay afloat with a smaller clientele.
Which brings me to my brother’s gig the other day.
It was a Sunday late afternoon, evening show. Like most shows of this type, it was mostly band members and friends of band members at the show. Each one of these bands went to their practice space, packed up their gear, drove to the club, unpacked, played for 30 minutes, packed back up, hung out to support the other bands, then went back to the rehearsal space, unloaded and went home, most likely to a girlfriend who complained they got home way later than they said they would (or worse, living with the guilt associated with having your significant other go with you knowing they took several hours out of their day to watch you play for 30 minutes). At the same time, the club owners hoped to make some money at the door, sell some beer, and in this case some AMAZING gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to pay the electric bill and keep the club going another day.
This is a lot of effort to play for a half hour. There is exactly one reason to do this.
YOU LOVE DOING IT.
Otherwise it is not worth it. Too much effort, too little return. The smaller this world gets the less return there is for anyone doing it which is why I am going to try to get out to more local shows.
I am not trying to be negative here, nor do I think I am pointing out anything new. I am guessing that most of the people reading this are involved in local music in some way and experience this regularly or have experienced it on the way up. In truth, the club world is still thriving around the world and in some spots like Nashville, it’s downright hopping. The musicians that played my brother’s show clearly enjoyed doing it and supporting each other and the club staff seemed happy. I had a great time. I got to hang, have a few pops, watch my brother rip it up on stage and get out of the house on a rainy New England evening. I guess what I am trying to say is that despite the rigors of the road and the difficulty of the music business, national touring artists have it pretty good in comparison to local artists. The local bands are either doing it hoping to be the future of music or simply because of the love of the game. Sometimes, love isn’t enough. Every artist wants their music heard and we all enjoy playing to a packed house and the clubs appreciate it when they can do a good business while supporting the music they love. So, if you get a chance to check out some local shows, you will have a great time and contribute in some small way to the incubation of new music somewhere. I know I intend to get out to way more often.
BTW, one thing hasn’t changed. Most drummers still own crappy kits with broken cymbals and never change their heads and don’t tune. I am not worried about dissing them because if you have found your way all the way to my obscure blog, it’s guaranteed you are a gear head.