The first time I started going to see bands was in high school. I was 15 years old and as far as I was concerned the garage bands in my town were the best in the world and their members were who I envied the most.
I grew up in suburban Connecticut which meant a lot of punk rock shows. Most of the bands in my high school were filled with kids like me: dark jeans, chain wallets, t-shirts with band names on them and cheaply dyed hair. I wanted to be these kids so badly.
Then I got my chance in the fall of 2001 when I joined a ska band playing trumpet. My dream came true and I spent the next 5 years playing countless shows across the country while I balanced a lack luster love life and college studying.
Like most former members, I didn’t leave The Flaming Tsunamis on very good terms. In fact I have only kept in touch with one of members since I left. Our music was terrible and our live performances were sloppy but I grew up in those years and I am grateful for that.
The punk and ska scene was a sight to see no matter where you were. From Connecticut to Kansas to California to Canada you always had a friend at a punk rock show. Whether it was at a VFW Hall or a club, the scene was strong with supporters.
Key word: Supporters
I remember being late for a show in Topeka, Kansas by 3 hours. 3 hours!! And when we rolled up the venue was still packed at 11pm. The whole town came out and waited for us to play because they liked our music and knew there was a good chance we would never be back again. For me at least, that was true.
The Punk scene is a music community that works more efficiently than the municipalities they exist within. Bands have a chance to be showcased and the fans are always welcoming to anyone starting out. You always have a second chance in punk. I can’t tell you how many musicians were in multiple bands, trying and retrying new things just to make some music people would enjoy.
Fans bought all your merch! They wore your t-shirts and bought your CDs and helped you find a place to crash. I slept on more couches of strangers between the years 2003-06 than I ever will for the rest of my life. Moms from all 50 states cooked me food because I played her kids’ show and knew it was days since my last real meal.
You were in it for the friends and the music.
So then my question is this: Why is there such little scene support in the Nutmeg State? There are so many great artists and bands playing all kinds of styles in various venues and far too many times the audience is bare boned. (Most of these venues are restaurants where only straight ahead groups can really get their foot in the door. Also a built in audience with diners and patrons on a daily basis.)
And that is where my point leads to. There is just not enough support in the jazz scene. I’ve been to too many shows, primarily at the Outer Space, where there are no more than 3 people in the audience.
I honestly don’t get it and I have been trying to figure out a plan to fight this lack of attendance for 2 years now. I’ve brought in special guests, thrown festivals and booked bands both local and from far and still every week we scrape by with a joke in terms of numbers. The best part is, there are so many great things happening!! So many cats are playing hip original music and I’ve witnessed tons of excellent shows!
Why don’t people come out?
There’s no cover, there’s tons of great beer, good atmosphere and a welcoming staff and still nothing. I understand life gets in the way and I’m not asking for the same people to come every week but come on. (Its also funny that the more demanding musicians are the ones who never come at all.)
I hate to think its the lack of money. I have this conversation/argument with a lot of cats. Believe I AM always going to work to get my band members paid for their work, but I also love to play jazz music. I take a restaurant gig when I want to make some scratch and then I take a venue like the OS and make money off the door. (And if it is about money, then we should be working together to get fair and even wages instead of stabbing each other in back.) The joy of playing is sometimes plenty enough. I mean, I gig in NYC frequently and have never been given a guarantee. I play those gigs because I want people to hear my music and I want to make music with like minded people. The Outer Space doesn’t guarantee money to bands and God Dammit that’s how it works in the rock world! You play for the door cover!! Why is that so hard to accept?? You’re not playing for free. Its not a bar that makes money off of a steady stream of patrons, its an arts space.
And a damn good one if you ask me.
I’m grateful for having a place like the Outer Space to perform in.
..and it sickens me knowing so many take it for granted.