Author: Campbell, Bruce

Impossible To Ignore

If youíre in a band that regularly submits for festival gigs, you have some ambition. Youíve most likely been having regular band rehearsals, and you have enough gigs under your belt that you feel your band can handle the particular demands of a festival set.

What demands, you ask? A festival set is usually under an hour, while the typical bar gig runs 3-4 hours, so if you can do regular bar gigs, youíre ready for festivals, right? Well, not necessarily.

Longer gigs have a different pace to them, and while the bands play much longer, they are paced differently. Also, the audience will have more turnover than at a festival gig. The band is entertainment, yes, but itís just part of a fun night out for most of the patrons, and they often do a considerable amount of talking amongst their friends during the performance. So, as a result, the bar bandís set will feature more songs that donít require rapt attention to be enjoyed. Thereís an ebb and flow in the energy over the 3-4 hours, and within each set.

A festival set, while considerably shorter, places much more demands on the band, because you have to be able to impress an audience immediately, and within the relatively short space of the set, win them over and provide a memorable experience. And the audience is out there, facing YOU in their chairs. Theyíre daring you to entertain them. You donít get to ďdial inĒ your harmonies or get your licks going during the set Ė that has to be done backstage, before the set.

During a 3+ hour set at a bar, an occasional clunker of a note or a missed cue is just a passing concern. If one song comes off as a stinker, thereís always the next 4 to make up for it. Heck, nobody was really listening anyway.
At a festival, if you crash and burn on stage, youíll not only create a lasting negative impression for your audience, the promoter will notice too, and trust me, as stated in Hitchhikerís Guide to the Universe, nothing in the universe travels faster than bad news. You lay a big egg at a festival, it takes a long time before the talent decision-makers will overlook it.

Itís not fair, really. Even a good band can have something go awry during a set. If youíve proven yourself, this would likely be forgiven. But if itís your bandís first performance in a certain town, at a certain festival or for a certain promoter, youíll find that first impressions can be persistent, and the chances to make a second impression hard to come by. Itís also not fair that there are more good bands than there are festival slots to accommodate them. This means at that level, you are competing with your friends in other bands.

So, with ambition comes pressure, and while the rewards are great (although theyíre more spiritually gratifying than financial), the disappointments and letdowns are galling. For some, they can take the fun right out of playing music. If your band is passed over for a festivalís lineup, and you really felt you belonged on that festivalís stage, it hurts. But if you really belong on the big stage, you just have to push back the hurt, and try even harder to make your band impossible to ignore.
Posted:  1/11/2012

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