how to behave with live music 2006

how to behave with live music
Originally published 10/23/2006

I played at a restaurant last night. There were a couple tables of people already there before I started. I played a song, then a second one, and got no reaction at all from any of them. They didn’t applaud, didn’t even look over to see what this person was doing, onstage singing and playing amplified music. They had certainly seen me carry all my gear and instruments, in multiple trips, into the place and set it up, so it’s not like they thought it was a recording. Usually I would just keep playing, figuring “well, I’m getting paid to practice” or something like that. But this time I decided to set them straight. “Hey folks,” I said. “It’s OK to look at the performer, smile maybe, even clap. I’m playing for you, you know. This is part of the environment in this place.” They all looked over and applauded. I thanked them and they continued to pay attention, at least halfway (I mean, I don’t mind if they pay attention to their meals and companions too, I just expect to be included somewhat in their fields of attention) and applauded regularly. The house turned over and an hour later I made a similar speech to a new group of diners. This time one man apologized, said he was eating with his daughter, whom he hadn’t seen in a week, and was so into the conversation that he hadn’t had a chance to get into the music. But then he commented on the last song to show he had been listening a little, and I engaged him in conversation from the stage, and he became very attentive from then on, tipped me well. I think most of the people who I “set straight” did leave tips! I guess this is part of being a live performer in this age — educating people how to behave, people who are used to recorded music only.

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