Author: Daniel, Bert


You've all seen it happen. You're at that event you've been looking forward to for months. The music has been so magical this night that nobody in the audience wants it to end. You can just feel it. The applause has been thundering after every piece and you can tell that the musicians are enjoying it every bit as much as the audience is. If you have a program that describes the performers and lists the music they will be playing, you may be all too aware of the moment when all this great music has to end.

Now the finishing piece is being played. As you listen greedily to the last strains of that special music, your heart sinks at the same time that it is soaring. The crowd stands and cheers. You and everyone else in the audience struggles to let the musicians know just how much you appreciated their effort. Everyone's spirit has been elevated on this wonderful evening. Your hands are so sore from clapping that you have to make a switch and pound the left hand against the right for a while just to keep on clapping. The cheering seems to die down ever so slightly but you don't want to stop clapping. Maybe if you just stand there and continue to clap you can retain a tiny bit of that joy that comes from being a part of such a gathering. You feel a connection, not just to the musicians, but to every fellow member of the audience. You are all of like mind and nobody wants to get in their car for the boring drive home.
Then it happens. The applause gets louder and you see people walking back onto the stage. More music is coming! The musicians pick up their instruments and play music that delights the soul even more than before because you realize that this music is just for you, just because you are a part of an audience that is truly one with the music. Even if you can't play any instrument at all, even if you can't sing in tune to save your soul, you really love this music and the performers know that. Your audience energy was critical to the quality of the music itself and you are proud. You pity any poor soul who left early to avoid the parking lot traffic jam after the concert. What fools!

The musicians didn't have to give you an extra number. They chose to do it because they really enjoyed playing for you. It was a freebie and everybody likes a freebie. In New Orleans they call it a laniap. Free food because you're a good customer. If you eat sushi, maybe you'll recall getting a free house special after you've wolfed down fifty bucks worth of hamachi. Freebies are a sure way to win someone's heart.

But to win someone's heart, you have to be genuine. Nobody likes a phony compliment or other devious means of ingratiation do they? If you go to a festival and four bands are playing for the morning set, you can be pretty sure that every band has about an hour to play their music. There's a clock on stage and they know exactly how long they have before they have to make room for the next band. Even my ten year old knows when it's ten minutes to the hour and the band on stage has to wrap it up. When they walk off the stage he often turns to me and says in a sarcastic tone "I bet they play an encore". And he knows he's right because it's a staged encore. Every band has done it so far. After all, this is the big stage and the bands want exposure. It's good that a good band is getting an extra round of applause, but who's kidding whom? Maybe they could have played longer if they had simply stayed on stage until their time to finish was truly up and still saved enough time for a sound check by the next band.

Of course, the staged encore is a staple of CBA concerts and don't get me wrong it's not all bad. These concerts are exceptionally well run. The music is great and that should be all that really matters. After a while you can see the staged encore for what it is and just accept it. At Grass Valley this year I saw one band just mail in their "encore" and another (Doyle Lawson) pass on it completely! I would have loved a little more music but hey, if it's not in their contract why should they have to do it? At least remaining backstage after your set is finished preserves the integrity of what an encore should, in my opinion, actually be.

Some of the encores at Grass Valley this year were of a different sort. I call them transitional encores. The departing band brings out a star and has that star perform with their group. Often the guest star is next up in the lineup. What a crowd pleaser that can be! At Grass Valley I remember one of these transitions with the inimitable Dale Ann Bradley. We need more spontaneity and that sort of surprise gives it. A true encore is a pleasant surprise by its nature, but a staged encore can also give the audience a nice surprise if it's done right. More innovation and exuberance, that's what our music needs. We don't want bands smugly going over their set lists and saying "…and for our encore we'll do …", like it's a birthright.

What do you think out there in CBA land? How do we preserve the integrity of the encore? Should an encore only come from the last group to play? Should we have more space between groups or run a little late if we have to? Let's enjoy the music at any rate. And long live the encore!
Posted:  8/14/2011

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email