I’m going to tell you about a gig I just did. I’m going to refer to the organizer and the venue by pseudonym because my point here is not to shame anyone or try and ruin anyone’s reputation, but a) to illustrate how important communication is in putting on a show and b) to frankly just process this and get it off my chest. I still find myself shaking my head in disbelief at how…weird the whole thing was.
I met this dude on Twitter who was something of a promoter and all-around indie music supporter. He was really great about retweeting links to my music. Whenever someone asked for new music to check out, he would reply with a list of local, unknown musicians like myself. He was probably the most engaged with my music of anyone else I messed with on Twitter. That’s why when he DM’d me in February asking if I wanted to take part in an anti-bullying benefit show at The Middle East, I was all over it. It was a joint effort with Filthybroke Recordings, who’d put out an anti-bullying compilation.
The first hiccup happened about a month after the initial announcement of the show. The Booker contacted me via DM again to let me know that the date and venue had changed. I wasn’t too thrown by that, since the new date wasn’t until July (and it was March at the time). My bandmates confirmed that they could do the new date, and we were on again.
For months nothing much else happened in regards to this event. Then it was 1 week until the show and I decided to start promoting. (I typically wait until at least 1-2 weeks before a show to promote because it’s my personal belief that any earlier and people will get promotion-fatigue, and are more likely to forget.) I went to The Booker’s Facebook page to get the details about the show for my own promo, and was surprised to find that all the anti-bullying language had been removed, and it now said that it was a benefit for The Venue.
It’s A Benefit, Don’t Worry About It
I was not excited to find out that the whole purpose of this show had changed. A change like this warrants reaching out to the bands and letting us know about it. We should have had an opportunity to decide whether or not we wanted to still participate. The Venue is a not-for-profit performance and art space that is apparently in dire need of money, but bands should have been given a say in whether or not they wanted to freely give their time and money for it. I considered pulling out but with 1 week to go I figured it’d be a shitty move so I stayed on the bill.
The Devil’s in the Details
When I book a show with WEMF I know that as soon as the lineup is confirmed I will get an email. The email will have the lineup, set times, set lengths, load-in time, and details about compensation. There was no such communication from The Booker about this show. Lacking that info I finally reached out to The Booker to get this info. He told me there were no set times, but that one band had requested to play at 9pm. A lineup of 6 (it started off as 10) bands, and no lineup? Never have I played a show with multiple bands that did not have the lineup figured out. I just asked to go on at 9:30 since the set length was 30 minutes.
These 2 things started to make me feel a little nervous about the show. I figured what the hell though. Do it anyway, keep an open mind, it’ll be interesting at least. I was a little miffed about the beneficiary being changed without notice, but I was willing to put that aside. Honestly, it’s not like we draw a huge audience and were missing out on hundreds of dollars. It was just the principle. Again, I wasn’t about to pull out 1 week before the show though. That’s just rude.
6pm Saturday night, me and the guys are loading in our stuff as instructed. The Booker isn’t there yet, but one of the other performers (someone else I knew via Twitter; we’ll call him Act 1) was there. Here’s where things get a little messy. My drummer had been mulling all of this over and getting increasingly annoyed by it. I think there are 2 parts to it: 1 is that he had offered to waive his normal performance fee for me because he thought it was a benefit for something that he cared about, and now it wasn’t, and 2) he really objected to how the whole thing was handled.
A few weeks back my company held a big meeting of all the engineers and one of the break-out sessions was about communication, specifically about identifying your style of communication and using that knowledge to more effectively communicate with others. The communication styles were categorized into colors, and mine was blue. One of the traits of “blues” is that we “Avoid issues that might end up in conflict or debate” and are very concerned about how others perceive us.
In the context of this show it meant that I wasn’t willing to make a stink about things because I didn’t want to come across as a bitch, or worse (because I’m Black) have people write me off as An Angry Black Woman. My drummer, however, wanted some answers and asked my permission to get them. I don’t know if I did the right thing here or not. I gave him the go-ahead, because I felt he had the right to inquire about it because it affected his money, and I could tell it was eating at him. I’d offered to pay him after all but he felt like he’d already told me he wouldn’t charge me so he didn’t want to go back on that.
Back to the Devil…
He proceeded to ask Act 1 about the situation. It turned out that Act 1 knew quite a bit about it because he’d been involved to some extent in organizing it. Long story short, there was a personal falling out of some kind between The Label, The Booker, and some 3rd party Promoter. The Booker decided to put on his own show, but felt he couldn’t keep it as an anti-bullying benefit. At that point my drummer is asking questions like, “Why didn’t you guys let people know that?”, “Why didn’t you just change it to a regular show that charges people money?”, “Why didn’t you pick a different charity to donate to?”
He asked the same questions when he finally met The Booker. The answers were about the same with a little more detail, and just getting my drummer more pissed. He told The Booker that he was being disingenuous in not being forthcoming about the changes. He was also upset on behalf of the other performers, especially this band from Nashville that was on tour. They asked for donations for gas, and he ultimately convinced The Venue to give them some money at least.
The feedback that I shared with The Booker was that I thought the communication was poorly handled. He seemed genuinely remorseful about it, like things hadn’t gone the way he’d planned. At the end of talking with him I essentially said, “You know what? It happened, we’re here, it’s about the music, so let’s play and have a good time.” I was ready to move on from it.
It’s a Free-For-All
9pm came and instead of the band we’d been expecting to go on, someone else performed. This made me suspicious, so I found The Booker and said, “We’re still good for 9:30, right?” Glad I checked. He’d told Band A that they could go on next. Luckily, Band A was cool and said sure, you can go on at 9:30. Then Band B showed up, pretty persistent about going on at 9:30 because one of their members was sick. I wanted The Booker to handle this scheduling situation, but he just looked uncomfortable. I didn’t want to look like an asshole, so I gave in and let Band B go on at 9:30. Then they were done, and Band A stepped in and went next. We’d gotten pushed back two times.
The thing is, we seemed to be the only ones annoyed by this. The band with the sick dude was like “Things run behind schedule, it happens.” That made me feel like I was being unreasonable in expecting that they would have gone on at their allotted slot of 9pm. Frankly, I don’t even think this was a case of “things running behind schedule.” I think it was a direct result of there not being a schedule. It also seemed that most of the other acts had worked with The Booker before and were accustomed to things being run this way. One of the performers told us of how he actually didn’t get to go on at all one time because they ran out of time. They were all very “chill” about it.
By the time we went on, all of the other bands had left, save for one guy from the group that played before us. He stayed for our first 3 songs and then also left. Luckily there was this nice couple who stayed through the entire thing and seemed to dig it. If not for them, we’d have been playing to an entirely empty room. We tried to make the best of it and played our hearts out like we were in a packed venue. I still felt disappointed in how things had turned out.
We packed up our stuff and started heading out. I told the doorman (who also happens to run The Venue) that we were the last people inside. He seemed surprised and asked, “Isn’t there another band going on after you?” Nope. Yeah, the flyer says it goes until 1am, but here it was 10:30 or so and everything was over. The Booker? He’d left at least an hour and a half ago. We saw him walking away with the Act 1 while the band with the sick dude was setting up. We thought he was just helping the guy load out, but we never saw him again. Ghost.
I can’t control how someone runs their shows. I can be more involved and ask questions early. I don’t know when the benefit was changed but if I had been periodically checking the event maybe I’d have caught it sooner. If I had asked about the lineup and scheduling sooner I’d have gotten a sense of the way he runs his shows; I could have made a decision about if that was cool or not for me.
I don’t shoulder all of the blame for this though. Having a scheduled lineup, communicating with the performers about changes, any number of small things like that could have made this better. And leaving before the show was over? I played one other show where the promoter ghosted before everything was done. I haven’t tried to book with her since. I’m sure she’s heart-broken. 🙂
I’m trying very hard not to slag The Booker (or The Venue). His heart is in the right place and he truly cares about his music community. Everyone you talk to tells you what a nice guy he is, and my own interactions with him have been nothing but positive. I’m thinking though that he should get someone else to organize his shows. Or maybe not. This was clearly not our scene. We were the odd ducks here. Maybe that’s why no one else stayed.
Either way, it was a learning experience.