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Great Expectations, and the Unforgivable Sin

By Bill Graham - Special for the Mandolin Cafe
March 6, 2008 - 9:30 pm

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Bill Graham
Bill Graham is a freelance outdoor writer, photographer, bluegrass musician and singer-songwriter.

Acoustic music fans and performing artists are both spoiled.

Fans are used to close contact with the artists after the show, the performers enjoy life on a pedestal without the intensity of public scrutiny that pop, rock and country music stars endure.

It's generally a good life.

But since festival season is almost upon us, I'd like to point out a few puddles that both sides could step in.

Fans may need to ratchet their expectations back a notch.

I say that because I've noticed several threads in the past year on online forums here at the Cafe and at a guitar forum I frequent, where performers are judged by how much jamming and hobnobbing they do in the campground. Or they're criticized for the lack thereof, or for not being overly chummy at the CD sales table.

That's unfair.

The pros should only be judged by the entertainment they provide onstage. They're paid to perform, that's why they're there.

They've tread a long road of hassle, low pay, being away from home, missing loved ones, poor sleep, bad food and repetitive conversations with the public.

Just be happy to hear them play and sing on stage and consider anything else a lucky bonus.

Now, I've thrilled to have a star or two stroll through camp and maybe even play a little. It's fine to appreciate and enjoy catching a pro hanging out by a fire or jamming by a bus.

Real deal contact is one of the coolest things in our musical world.

But I don't think it's fair to chalk up a strike against them for heading back to the bus or the motel to get some sleep and quiet.

Fans are both their life support system and a difficulty.

Each human only has so much sincere energy inside their psyche, only so much genuine surprise at a situation.

After awhile, we become a blur to those on tour, sometimes pleasant, at times trying.

You can only be asked so many times about your mandolin's top wood, what kind of strings are on it and how you hold the pick before the personality shifts to auto pilot.

I can't resist those questions either at times. But I harbor no ill will if their answer is short and not too enthusiastic. They're at work, and who of us hasn't had a bad day at work?

Most performers are gracious about meeting the public. One of my favorite memories is a young boy talking to Ronnie McCoury after a show where the Mac family was stupendous. The boy said he played a little. Ronnie opened his case and placed a Gilchrist mandolin in the boy's hands.

"Try this one," he said.

Pure magic and personal grace, the reason so many of us are so passionate about the music and those who play it.

On the other hand, there's a terrible mud puddle the performer can step in offstage, too. The unforgivable sin in my reckoning.

A bluegrass or folk star can be detached, grumpy, quiet, drunk, weary, sad and inarticulate and still be accepted by the fans. That's as long as they maintain a decent level of politeness.

But the one thing they cannot do is be snobby or condescending.

We the fans may not play or sing as well as those who are stage worthy, but we're good people and proud to be part of the same tribe as those selling CDs and t-shirts.

There are a couple of performers that I enjoyed on recordings and absolutely adored live. Until I went up and bought a CD from them after a show.

Sometimes you can look in the eyes and at their grins and sarcastic remarks and tell they clearly think you're a naive goofball unworthy of standing on the same fairgrounds dirt.

Well, I've bought my last CD and concert ticket from them.

No other music has such close personal contact between performers and listeners.

But a little tact and understanding goes a long way towards keeping the party going.

© Mandolin Cafe

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