What Went Wrong At The Big Gig

Sometimes a show will really kick your butt.

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The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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Do this type of work long enough, and there will come a certain day. On that day, you will think, “If just about half of this audience goes home being totally pissed at me, I’ll call that a win.”

For me, that day came last weekend.

I was handling a show out at the Gallivan Center, a large, outdoor event space in the heart of Salt Lake. The day started well (I didn’t have to fight for parking, and I had both a volunteer crew and my ultra-smart assistant to help me out), and actually ended on a pretty okay note (dancing and cheering), but I would like to have skipped over the middle part.

It all basically boils down to disappointing a large portion of an audience.

I’ve come to terms with the reality that I’m always going to disappoint someone. There will always be “THAT guy” in the crowd who wants the show to have one kind of sound, a sound that you’ve never prioritized (or a sound that you simply don’t want). That person is just going to have to deal – and interestingly, they are often NOT the person writing the checks, so there’s a certain safety in being unruffled by their kerfuffle. However, when a good number of people are in agreement that things just aren’t right, well, that can turn a gig into “40 miles of bad road.”

Disappointment is a case of mismatched expectations. The thing with a show is that a mismatch can happen very early…and then proceed to snowball.

For instance, someone might say to me: “You didn’t seriously expect to do The Gallivan with your mini-concert rig, did you?”

No, I did not expect that, and therein lies a major contributing factor. “Doing The Gallivan” means covering a spread-out crowd of 1500+ people with rock-n-roll volume. I am under no illusions as to my capability in that space (which is no capability at all). What I thought I was going to do was to hit a couple hundred merry-makers with acoustic folk, Bluegrass, and “Newgrass” tunes. I thought they’d be packed pretty closely together near the stage, with maybe the far end of the crowd being up on the second tier of lawn.

I suppose you can guess that’s not what happened.

For most of the night, the area in front of the stage was barely populated at all. I remembered that particular piece of the venue as being turf (back in the day), but now it’s a dancefloor. That meant that the patrons who wanted to sit – and that was the vast majority – basically started where I was at FOH. Effectively, this created a condition like what you would see at a larger festival, where the barricade might be 40 – 50 feet from the stage.

Now add to this that we had a pretty ample crowd, and that they ended about 150 feet away from the deck.

Also add in that a lot of what we were doing was “traditional,” or in other words, acoustic instruments that were miced. Folk and Bluegrass really are not that loud in the final analysis, which means that making them unnaturally loud in order to get “throw” from a single source is a difficult proposition.

Fifty feet out, there were points where I was lucky to make about 85 dB SPL C-weighted. After that, gain-before-feedback started to become a real conundrum. Now, imagine that you’re three times that distance, at where the lawn ends. That meant that all you got was about 75 dB C, which isn’t much to compete against traffic noise and conversations.

Things got louder later. The closing acts were acoustic-electric “Newgrass,” which meant I could make as much noise as the rig would give me. That would have gotten us music lovers to about 94 – 97 dB C at FOH (by my guess). The folks in the back, then, were just starting to hear home-stereo level noise.

In any case, I was complained at quite a bit (by my standards). I think I spent at least 50% of the show wanting to crawl into a hole and hide. That we had some feedback issues didn’t help…when you’re riding the ragged edge trying to make more volume, you sometimes fall off the surfboard. We also had some connectivity problems with the middle act that put us behind, and further aggravated my sense of not delivering a standout performance.

Like I said, there was some good news by the time we shut the power off. Even before then, too. The people who were getting the volume they wanted appeared to be enjoying themselves. Most of the bands seemed happy with how the sound worked out on the stage itself, and the audience as a whole was joyous enough at the end that I no longer felt the oppressive weight of imagining the crowd as a disgruntled gestalt entity. Still, I wasn’t going to win any awards for how everything turned out. I was smarting pretty badly during the strike and van pack.

But, you know, some of the most effective learning in life happens when you fall over and tear up your knees. I can certainly tell you what I think could be done to make the next go-around a bit more comfortable.

That will have to wait for the next installment, though.