Jamie from South Carolina writes:
So we have this pretty cool jam every Thursday, sans spoons and washboards. (Well, its not cool every Thursday. Sometimes its just a little sad because nobody with a mandolin or fiddle shows up and these guitar people want to sing their original compositions. If there is some talent in the house on any given Thursday, I am going to get a pledge from newcomers with guitars that want to lead a song that they will sing easy bluegrass songs, of which there are 10,000 to chose from, instead of dragging us through their 15 verse original with barre chords and unpredictable tempo changes and four-letter expletives.)
But, here is the reason I write to you today, oh master of the bluegrass jam:
Lately, we have “full-house” audience that will cheer and whoop and holler after each little number we do. What these people are excited about, I know not, because they can’t possible hear our music over their incessant yack, yack, yakking.
We aren’t getting paid for this rudeness. I’m not doing this for money. I like the quirkiness of having this bluegrass jam at a beach bar where you see Dead Heads twirl and sing along with old-timers playing Uncle Pen and where men in cowboy hats play their mandolins to I Know You Rider and really seem to enjoy the new tune they just learned. Everybody seems to be really excited about is happening with the popularity of this jam but it is bound to implode very soon unless we get the crowd (including musicians sitting out) to behave properly.
I’ve spoken with people about this. They say its a lost cause to get an audience in a bar to actually listen to music.
I say there is no other choice than to let it be known that if you come to The Pelican on Thursday nights during the bluegrass jam, you had better do most of your loud talking outside. I don’t want it to become like a funeral parlor in there but something has to be done or the whole thing just won’t work.
The bar owner Cathy is pretty cool and will most likely go along with any sort of intelligent, polite plan to keep the audience from talking too much during songs given the fact that her business was nil on Thursday nights before we started playing at her bar.
Rather than a verbal approach to crowd control, I’m seriously thinking about little table cards that explain that the musicians playing are playing for free (I don’t want to be paid, we don’t have a tip jar)…and in order for The Folly Beach Bluegrass Society to exist, everybody has to do their part. Maybe put in a few tidbits about what bluegrass music is, the history, something, I don’t know. Call me a control-freak, a bluegrass jam dominatrix, if you will. I’m just trying to keep it special so I can play music every Thursday night, have a few beers, meet some new faces, learn new songs, etc. all 1 mile from my house.
What do you do when the audience is rude? If you are getting paid, you just play. If you’re not getting paid, why would you put up with it?
Dear Jammin’ Jamie, or Jam Dominatrix if you will,
Glad to help with your latest jam problem. It’s a typical one and not so easy to deal with, unfortunately. Before I get into answering, I’d like to say how enjoy your writing. You have a nice flair and sense of humor that brings the situation alive.
1. Signs. You mentioned this, and it’s been done successfully in some places. A famous club in the D.C. area, the Birchmere, had cards on every table saying “Please respect artists by keeping noise level to a minimum.” It only works if a friendly but firm person actually shows up at a loud table and addresses the loud people while referring to their table card. Sort of a “sound bouncer”. The message could be, “Do ALL loud talking OUTSIDE.” I doubt the cards alone or even wall posters would work without the sound bouncer, but maybe. See if Cathy can hire someone to do this. She’s selling so many drinks now, she could afford it.
Make up a funny song about not being able to hear yourself. Teach to all, let people add their own funny touches. Sing at every jam, at an appointed time when the noise typically starts getting loud. Also sing whenever appropriate, and if appropriate, have everyone get up and sing facing right at the loud people. Of course, confrontational behavior with drunks is not always a great idea.
How about if you jammers go outside? Less containment of all the loud noise, plus you could find a corner which naturally blocks the close access of the loud people.
Last trick, something that’s been done successfully many times: Start a new, more private jam somewhere else. I know you like the Pelican and it’s right near your house, so that’s a tough choice. You may remember my saying how I do most of my jamming really late after most folks have gone to bed. Same idea.
However, this is the nature of the beast. At a bar, people drink and talk. They will even talk over great musicians, but especially over a non-pro jam. Even at the Sistine Chapel in Rome, which is supposed to be quiet, and people are sober, they have to shush the crowd every 15 or 20 minutes.
Next time, try a coffee house? Laundromat?
Good luck trying to make it work!