Thursday, February 9, 2012

Do Unto Your Opener...

As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.

Note to performers: Thank your opening acts, on the mike, especially when they play for free. I once opened for a semi-famous guy here in Ashland, and he thanked everyone in the room but me. I didn't think it was meanness or forgetfulness...I thought it was unconscious narcissism, but it still bugged me. I've passed up many opportunities to support his gigs ever since. I just don't feel like it.

It's not really a festering or lingering resentment, it's just a less than pleasant memory that doesn't incline me to support the guy. And it wasn’t just this single incident that rubbed me the wrong way. I watched his sound check, I watched his relationship with his girlfriend, I watched his set, I watched him play, I watched him sing and I watched him relate to his audience and his material, all from a very short distance. While I surely don't know what was in his heart, I think I have a pretty good idea of what wasn't.

At the time it didn't feel like a momentary lapse. It felt more like his general attitude, like so many performers who give lip service to "community" but are mainly just into themselves...I have similar feelings about other musicians.

I could be wrong of course, but I’m mainly using this as an example that when you don't treat people well they tend to at least remember it, if not hold a grudge, so treat them well, if you want their support. I hardly ever think about this guy or this incident. It's usually just a momentary memory that pops up when I see his name somewhere. It's a less than pleasant memory but it comes and goes on its own. Not a big deal.

I had another similar incident happen once at an Open Mike. I walked up to a musician to tell him I liked his set and he shook my hand while talking to someone else, like I'd be happy just to touch him. It struck me as pretty arrogant and again narcissistic, but I didn't know him at all and had no sense of his overall character, so I while it rubbed me the wrong way, I didn't put too much stock in it. He turned out to be a decent guy who can get a little full of himself sometimes. No hard feelings and we've become friends. Still it was not the best first impression.

And I've been there too. When I was younger, other performers were often threats on some level or another and I didn't really see or appreciate them as whole people. But this guy was a bit older and so I couldn’t chalk it up to youthful selfishness.

In the unlikely event I happen to meet the guy who didn’t thank me again, I'll be looking to see if his MO has changed. If so, and we connect, I might bring it up in a friendly way, but this will probably not happen.

I mostly bring it up here to point out that actions towards fellow musicians have effects. Even if you're not feeling that genuinely grateful, it's still nice form to give your opener a "thank you". It was actually kind of funny because while this guy was thanking the person who booked the gig for him, the staff, the town, the audience, the person taking money at the door, I was sitting 6 feet from him in the front row.

Over the years I've heard many musicians talking about how they were snubbed by some other musician, sometimes years before, and they still had feelings about it. Likewise, I've heard musicians talking about how some famous musician was really cool and generous, again, sometimes years later. One person I've never heard an unkind word about is Bonnie Raitt. I was in the bike store the other day and apparently the owner sold a bike to Willie Nelson when he was in town recently. The guy was effusive about what a cool and friendly guy Willie was.

When I opened for America, they thanked me, on the mike, called me their "new buddy Gene Burnett". When they introduced the band they even introduced their guitar tech, tour manager and sound man. I still feel warmly towards them and I’ve told many, many people about how well they treated me and their fans.

I know it’s the oldest cliché in the book, but it’s true: What goes around comes around…

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