Went to a music festival here in town yesterday, a big celebration of area musicians. It was one of those things where you have to sit directly in front of whoever you’re listening to, in order to avoid hearing 8 other bands at the same time. About a hundred performers ranging from crazy impressive to “Somebody’s got to tell them. It’s just cruel to let them perform in public.” Mostly the former, though. There was one intro, though, that went, “Thanks, everybody. You’ve been great. Coming up in a couple minutes is, uh, hey, what are you guys called?”
“We don’t have a name.”
“Well, think of one.”
“Gosling. The Something Jazz Trio. Wanderers. We don’t know.”
Part of the reason for going was just to go, but also a friend ours’ daughter was going to perform with a friend on one of the side stages where there was a procession of new musicians playing just three songs. Obviously, it was tense. I mean for me – because seeing someone else’s child perform something generally requires warm-ups and rehearsals in order to look appreciative and sincere as you say, “Wow, right? That was just… you must be just so… you know? How about that?” I was ready, though.
Now, when you’re performing anything, you’re watching the audience but you’re really, really watching who goes up before you. The wants for an opener are super specific. You don’t want them to be awful, but it would be worse for them to be great. They need to be juuuuust good enough to get people in the spirit, but bad enough to make them want more. It’s a pretty thin “zone of opener”. If they flat out stink people think the show’s going to be bad overall, and get mad. If they’re amazing, then after a few minutes they realize you aren’t going to top it and they’ll turn on you.
When we got there, there was a girl performing with who I would assume is her guitar teacher. Good, but still learning. A near perfect opener. I thought our friend’s daughter was next and was quietly pumped for her. Score. But I was wrong.
There was one more act first.
A family. Let’s call them Ma & Pa Sincerity and Their Gaggle of Adorable Moppets. They have six or seven kids – it’s hard to tell, because it’s just a wash of big eyes and home-done haircuts with instruments and matching outfits. Dad’s on the stand-up bass, mom on guitar, everyone else has at least one instrument, including the toddler, who has a little, teeny fiddle.
It is almost unbearably cute.
They sing, they change instruments, the toddler dances… the sweetness factor in the room rises to the point that diabetics must leave the area, and sodas super-saturate in to pure crystal. Then, the 7-year-old girl, who is adorable like only a 7-year-old girl with pigtails can be, puts on a little cowboy hat and vest (she’s already wearing a sack dress and red boots), and plays the fiddle and sings “I’m An Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande” complete with a little “yee-ha” at the end that could have made Dick Cheney smile. Well, okay, maybe not that, but it was pretty cute.
So things are looking rough for the next act who is, hm, let’s see, oh, right – our friend’s daughter.
BUT THEN for their last number, a little boy who’s maybe 3 or 4, and has just been standing there with a fiddle, steps up and plays “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain.” Part way through, the little toddler is dancing around, stops, sees her brother and wobbles over to him, giving him a big hug. He breaks out in a smile, but keeps playing. Including a key-change! What. The hell.
This, my friends, is just about as bad as it gets for an opener. I’m a little surprised their instruments didn’t burst in a flash of light at the end, suddenly turning into puppies and jelly beans. Just really complete things.
Then they finished and went off stage, where mom gave everyone their sandwich, and they politely watched the next act while eating their matching sandwiches.
Aaaand, hey, let’s welcome our next act! Which is… oh… just a couple girls playing guitars and doing something. Probably singing or whatever. No, I don’t think they have little hats. So, clap for them, I guess.
It was a less than ideal set up for one’s debut. It’d have been understandable if they’d introduced her and she’d just said, “What, are you kidding? Screw that.” She persevered, though, and even kept the room. She had a genuinely terrific voice (no, really – I don’t think the mom is a reader here at The Byronic Man, so I have no reason to lie), so that was a relief on a couple of fronts – for her, because she was good, and for me. I’d done my warm ups – she could have sounded like copper wire dragged across glass and I’d have been ready, but instead had to try not to sound gob-smacked (“That was actually good! Like, I did in fact find that to be well done!”) Also, she sang “Sea of Love” which is a far better song than it has any right to be.
So, maybe it wasn’t the ideal set up, but she was able to provide contrast, at least – she wasn’t having to ride on goodwill, but could hold her own on her merits. Which I suppose is the most any of us can realistically hope for.