A music parable that dates as far back as five minutes ago, when I dreamt it up, begins with a large dinner party that arrives at a steakhouse for supper and orders a full-course meal. The patrons are excited as they heartily consume the appetizers, raving at the delightfulness of the presentation and the taste. Then they pay the bill in full and vacate the restaurant just as their salads, sides and highly-marbled, cooked-to-perfection ribeyes arrive.
Before you condemn these dummies, consider if you’ve ever been one of them. This is essentially what you do when you come to a show, watch the one band you specifically came to see and then leave before the other bands play. Not only is this poor showgoing etiquette, it’s fiscally irresponsible and speaks to the inadventurous nature of some quote-unquote music lovers.
Because you have free will, you are able to come and go as you wish and yes, you paid your money and since it is your money...yada yada yada. Why does everything always have to be about you? This one is about how musicians feel, the ones I’ve heard speak to this very subject, sometimes with abject disgust or just resigned dismay. So try to set your personal sovereignty aside for just the length of this short public service announcement on behalf of artists who might like for you to hear their music.
Musicians work hard to play gigs. Consider them the chefs in the parable, the ones who went to school to learn how to sizzle up what you might enjoy. They’ve practiced, endured mistakes and grown from them. It’s their moment to dazzle you with a hearty helping of their best efforts. Imagine their disdain when you fold your napkin and leave without even a taste.
Not every band claims to care about this as much as I do. When asked, at least one musician told me it didn’t matter if the crowd was “3 or 300,” they were going to get his best effort. But the Internet is awash with stories from the other end of the spectrum. One of the more famous ones was from Shrapnel, an Illinois metal act who posted a viral rant about fans vacating before their set or dwindling out during the show. To be clear, I have no problem with the latter of these – it’s a band’s responsibility to give listeners reasons to want to stay in the room. And, sadly, Shrapnel did itself no favors by lashing out at those who called them “crybabies,” attacking, in particular, women who criticized them. That was sexist and dumb.
Still, to their point, some people left without seeing whether they sucked, the sort of audience action that weakens a city’s music scene. For instance, a couple of years ago, I went to a show and a local act opened up a bill that was crammed with bands swinging through town for SXSW. I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived to see the room packed. The headliner was an amazing rock trio that deserved such a turnout, I felt. I enjoyed the opening act quite a bit. I’d never seen them before, but they’re now one of the bands I follow with regularity in town. They too deserved a full room. But when they were done, the crowd that had come to see them dispersed, leaving only a handful of listeners for the show-closer. That headlining band was Screaming Females. The friends, family and music followers who’d come to see one specific act walked out on Marissa Paternoster, an incredible musician whom SPIN magazine has named one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. Maybe a few dozen of us stuck around to witness her brilliance that night.
As an acquaintance of many local musicians, I’ll always condone supporting them, but as a music lover and a proud Houstonian, it’s disheartening when local audiences thin out after seeing their favorites before touring acts can play. I’m not saying this is the reason some traveling bands skip playing Houston or why Austin has a reputation as a town that’s musically adventurous in ways Houston isn’t. It’s not the reason…but it’s probably one of them.
When the bill is filled with local acts, these issues are no less problematic. If your band’s followers are likely to show for your early set and leave before the other acts play, what’s the incentive for those remaining acts to play with your band in the future? If you have closing spot on the bill, will your crowd show for the early sets, or just yours at the end of the night? As a band, you’ve done nothing wrong. Or is it part of your job to educate your act’s followers and encourage them to try everything on the menu on show night?
I don’ know, but I do know that if I pay for a meal, I’m gonna stay until the plate is clean. If you ponied up for the prix fixe, shouldn’t you want to taste it all?