So how did last night’s website release party for DrBobSongs.com go at Your Big Picture Café in Davie? Well, as anticipated, by 10:00 pm there were over 90 people waiting in line to get in. However, they were waiting to get into the bar down the road, not the café. And, as anticipated, there were hundreds upon hundreds of people inside who were swinging and swaying to the music. But they were at the Hard Rock, not the café. So what did happen at the café last night?
Well, depending on who you asked, there were anywhere from 65-75 people attending the evening of funloving friends, free drinks, and good music. Not quite the turnout we had for Raiford Starke’s concert last week, but what I would have called a really good turnout for the cafe’s weekly open mic on Saturday with Len and Lance Perry (still the best open mic in town). All the same, it was a really nice crowd, with energetic performers and enthusiastic listeners.
As a small time promoter, I learned early on that no matter what the venue – from large arenas and auditoriums to small cafe’s and house concerts – that the best shows happen when the performer, venue and audience are all a perfect fit for one another. Otherwise, if any one of the three is too big or too small for the others, your likely to have problems. And even though it didn’t happened, I was worried about having one of those problems last night.
Given it was arranged on short notice, I promoted Raiford’s show at the café for only two weeks prior and over 100 people attended all or part of the show: really a fantastic turnout for so little lead time. In terms of my website release party, I had been promoting it for over two months by the time last night rolled around. A few days before last night, it suddenly occurred to me that while free music events are not uncommon, free music events with an open bar are a true rarity at any size venue, large or small. I panicked. What if so many people turned out that we couldn’t fit everyone in? Would they be mad if they got turned away? Would they organize a protest? Would they put us on their do not call lists? If so, what would we do?
In the end, what we did was this. The café loaded up on a bunch of extra wine, I bought about 200 dixie cups, and a few café regulars volunteered to serve free wine to anyone who was outside during the show waiting to get in. Needless to say, the wine’s still in the bottles, the dixie cups are still sealed in their packages, and the café did not get put on any do not call lists. What then really did happen last night at the café? Something quite unexpected, at least for me, and I didn’t even realize it until I got into bed last night.
Today, there are over seven billion song writers in the world, because even though not everyone writes their music down, every one of us knows how to hum, whistle, or silently sing a song to ourselves while sitting on the floor in the corner of a crowded bus station. And while we all compose the individual music of our lives on a daily basis, in our life times very few of us will ever attain any degree of true fame or fortune from the unique music we create. I realized this early on when I won the Syracuse, New York, Stand Up Band Champ award in 1979.
Now, unlike some of my other ones, this is a true story, and just so you know I’m serious, I swear to God it’s true on the beer I’m drinking while writing this (now that’s serious). When I was nineteen and going to undergrad at Syracuse University, I decided to hit the road to stardom after having written just a half dozen songs. So, I did what every fledgling music star does: I grabbed a few of my inebriated friends, convinced them we were a band, and, given Syracuse has only two seasons – winter and f*cking winter – we headed off through the snow to the nearest bar with an open mic. And that’s when it happened.
After just my first go at singing a few songs in public, the owner of the bar came up to me and said, “Hey kid, that was great. You just won the Stand Up Band Champ Award for 1979.” Given I was dumb as a rock back then (now I am much wiser and dumb as two rocks), I said, “Wow that’s great. What do I get?” So he told me.
As the Stand Up Band Champ, I could come to his bar any night of the week and drink as much as I wanted of anything (except top shelf) for free. I could also bring any friends I wanted to who would play with me, and they could drink for free, also. And, in addition to the free drinks, we would each get paid $5 every time we showed up. Not bad for a bunch of inebriated teenagers, huh? But wait, there was a catch.
In order to get this award, we had to do one thing: we had to get up and play at 2:00 a.m. in the morning. No sooner. No later. T-W-O A-M. Now I’m sure if Neil Liebowitz had been with me back then, he would have immediately clued me into what was going on. But he wasn’t, and as this sounded to me like the beginning of something big, I said, “Hell, yeah!” and rocketed off into Stand Up Band Champ stardom.
For the next six months I was the reigning Stand Up Band Champ of Syracuse, New York, making regular inebriated appearances five to six nights every week. On one special evening, the boss came up to us just ten minutes into our set and demanded we stop exclaiming, “Hey you guys, quick, pack up your stuff and get over to my friends bar down the road. He wants you to play there right now and he’ll pay you each an additional $5!” Holy sh*t, two paid gigs in one night: well worth the looming DIU charges as we drunkenly barreled through the snow to our next engagement. And so it all happily went on until one evening it all came crashing down around me.
Now, if you haven’t already phoned Neil up to find out what’s been going on, I’ll tell you the little secret it took my liquor addled brain six months to figure out: in Syracuse, New York, by law all the bars close at 2:00 a.m. in the morning. If you’re a bar owner, the last thing you want to do at 2:00 a.m. is hang around getting a bunch of drunks to go home. So what’s an exhausted bar owner to do? Hire a stand up band, of course! Now do you get it? The stand up band is the band you hire to get everyone in your place to stand up and go home. And to be the stand up band, you gotta be real bad. And to be the Stand Up Band Champ, you gotta be really, really bad. I and my revolving door of band members were so bad in fact that we actually had a small but loyal following of listeners who would flee the place once we took the stage, but would then hang outside in the parking lot at a safe distance to hear the strange sounds that would
rampage through the bar’s closed doors.
Okay, so not every fairy tale has a happy ending. But I did learn something: though everyone’s a songwriter, not everyone will be a famous songwriter. And the odds are strongly stacked against any one person every accomplishing this, with many of those who do being very, very, very long shots. Even Mozart himself would never have achieved the fame and longevity he has – had it not been for the change of heart of his sworn enemies – given that in his own lifetime his ultimate and final achievement was to literally become a royal pain in the ass.
But as I said, last night I did have an unexpected an totally magical experience at the café of which, at the time, I was not even aware. Friday’s website release party was comprised mostly of café open micers doing a series of two or three song sets, just like at the open mic. The catch was, one of the songs they played had to have been written by me. That meant that throughout the evening I got to hear a bunch of my friend’s sing some of my songs.
Now, you can go onto Youtube any time, day or night, and spend hours upon hours listening to amazing people sing and play their hearts out fabulously and, sadly, not one of them will ever be heard of beyond you and the 67 other people who viewed their video. I have over 300 vidoes of myself singing my original songs on Youtube, and their cumulative views total in the 20,000’s. Unfortunately, in the voodoo world of Youtube analytics, that rounds off to zero. Yet, getting into bed last night, I had an amazing realization.
What if I had become famous? What if I had traveled the globe and played every major stadium and concert hall in the world? What if I had been the one who was the musical trend setter of the day? I’ll tell you what would have happened. I’d have gone from unknown, to famous, and then back to unknown again. It’s like that for everyone who achieves stardom: fame, fortune, and then forgottendom. If you don’t believe me, just ask any average seven year old today who the Beatles are (“The Beatles?” the little kid replied. “Gee, weren’t they part of the Captain Salt Shakers Lonely Heart Break Band, or sumthin’ like that?”).
Yet, laying in bed last night, I realized that what I had seen at the café that evening was just my musical friends playing some of my songs. It was actually a futuristic vision of what would have happened if I had become famous. Interestingly though, what I had witnessed wasn’t the fame and fortune part at all, but something very special that happens afterwards: I saw my die hard teen and twenty-something fans decades later in their older years, somewhere in a small local café, still playing and singing my songs to their hearts’ content. Now that’s magic.
So that’s it. In the end, you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you really do get what you need. And after all these years of song writing, I needed to know that there was at least some hope that after I’m gone there might be someone else who keeps my music alive. Whether that actually happens, I’ll never know. But at least now that I’ve seen and come back from the future, I got what I need.
And now that that’s over, what’s next? Why the South Florida Folk Festival that’s this coming weekend:
Be sure to look for me there. I won’t be hard to find. I’ll be the one standing in line waiting to get in.
PS – I wanted to thank everyone who played at Friday’s event:
Pam & Randy
The Music Land Band – Pam, Boomer, Seth and Mike
Nicole Noel & Chance Meyer – see them headline at the cafe on Feb 7th!
James W. (funny, you reminded of someone else that night)
And a special thanks to Susan L. who made a monkey out of me… or better yet, made me out of a monkey!
Thank you all.