Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Music Wednesday: Small Venue Shows

If you hear the phrase, "I'm going to a concert tonight," and you instantly think, "$250 a ticket," you're doing it all wrong.  There is an absolute wealth of amazing live performances played year round in countless venues not far from you.  Chances are you haven't heard of all the bands that are playing in your local area.  However, if you're thinking, "If I haven't heard of them, they must be local and suck," you'd be sadly mistaken.

First of all, there are amazing entertainers out there who have yet to get their big break.  That's going to be about half of what's playing on any given night.  One quarter are bands that have signed with major labels and simply haven't broken through onto the charts.  The remainder are often bands that are absolutely huge in other countries, but are relatively unknown here in the States.

About a year ago, I took my wife to see Marina and The Diamonds playing live at a lounge up in Portland.  The opening band was one that we had never heard of, but were pleasantly surprised by their sound.  I believe the concert was on a Wednesday or Thursday night and, having arrived early for dinner (it was Bri's birthday celebration) we found ourselves in the general admission show a bit early, standing where the floor met the edge of the very small stage.  A few weeks later, the single, "My Body," by Marina's opening band, Young the Giant, shot up the charts.  When Bri and I heard it on the radio, we turned and silently smiled at each other as we were literally close enough to reach out and touch the band a short time before.

The video for "My Body" currently has 2.7 million views on YouTube.  Marina's has over 3 million.  I believe the tickets were $14 a piece.

A few years back, I forked out $25 a ticket to take my eldest two children to a rock concert featuring four bands.  The show was headlined by a new alternative metal band called Flyleaf who went on to sell more than 1,000,000 copies of their debut album.  We actually went to see one of the supporting bands, Sick Puppies, who had their song "All The Same" associated with the Free Hugs campaign and hail from Sidney, Australia.

The Free Hugs video featuring the song by the Sick Puppies has received over 70 million views.

But small venue shows aren't simply about getting good live music cheap.  Generally speaking, after their set, the artists will come down to meet the fans and sign autographs.  The opening band of the Flyleaf show was an unsigned group by the name of Resident Hero.  My son, Gavin, was shy but thought the lead singer was really cool and wanted to tell him that.  Imagine the impact on a young boy when the lead singer of a rock band smiles and says, "Kid, YOU'RE the one who is REALLY cool."  Our eldest daughter's fascination with the bass (she's learning to play) as well as her personal style were heavily impacted by Emma Anzai, the bass player and back-up vocalist for Sick Puppies.  Not only did the kids get to meet the band, but each member of Sick Puppies talked with them and signed their tour poster.

On the mellower end of the spectrum, cellist Zoe Keating was playing a show one night where the tickets were three figures a piece - and a solo show at a very small venue the next night for $8 a pop.  As we slowly made our way toward our seats (small venue version), Zoe actually stopped by and talked to those in line, thanking them for coming to the show.  The following is one of the pieces that she played.  Using only her cello, a laptop, and recording equipment, she'll lay down tracks and layer new tracks over the top, creating beautiful acoustic soundscapes.

So how do you find great live shows in your area without breaking the bank?

First, you need to do a little research and find a list of venues in your area that host live music.  We generally go to Portland, Oregon for shows - a city about 40 minutes north of us - simply because they tend to draw bigger acts than our local venues do.  In Portland, we keep our eyes primarily on The Doug Fir Lounge (shows there typically range between $5 and $15 per ticket), Mississippi Studios ($5 to $15), and the Hawthorne Theater ($14 to $25 for a show that usually features between four to six bands).  With their site open in one tab of my browser, I'll open up YouTube in a second tab and start searching for artists.  Some will catch my ear, some won't; and some will make me say, "Wow!" From the Wow List, I compare our schedule, finances, and decide who would like to go with me - because I'm the type that prefers to share the concert experience with someone else.

Big venues with household-name bands are a lot of fun.  But if you add up the price of the seven tickets that I purchased for the three concerts listed above, my total cost was $119 - less than the amount of a single ticket to many larger shows.  And we got to meet the bands.  And my son had the lead singer of a rock band boost his confidence.  And my daughter was inspired to play bass.  And an autograph tour poster hands on my daughter's wall.  And my wife had an amazing birthday.  And we have a wealth of amazing memories we shared together.  And we can continually say, "Remember when we saw them and were so close we could touch the band?" when we're listening to the radio.

None of that is something you can put a price tag on.

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