At 8 PM, the Cantab’s performance space was so quiet we could have heard a caterpillar crawling. By 9, with the opening act half way through their set, the me-me-me birds so overpowered the amplified voices and instruments it was a pantomime.
Straining to hear Hoss Power, then accepting defeat, I thought of the sighs, moans and worse of my musician friends who play in bars. I also climbed into the WABAC machine in a flash memory of when I angered a singer in a New York nightclub.
Last evening was the predictable. By 8:30, the scheduled start, the small room filled, almost entirely with 20-something college sorts. Cantab does a good deed on Tuesdays in bringing in two bluegrass bands for only the price of a passed tip hat and your swilled booze. Being cheap and bluegrass being current hipster fodder, the room, then the adjacent standing space were jam-packed.
…but not for the music.
Da utes were there to socialize and toss back $5 beers and wines. They bellowed and brayed. Some never looked up from their smartphones. A small subset in chairs closest to the stage were clearly there for the band. There were smiles and waves; maybe their were all friends of the group — a lot of folk, mostly women, with a fiddle, mandolin, two guitars, banjo and upright bass. As many as there were hip to hip on the small stage and with working mics, they were no match for the increasing chatter.
Management is used to this and surely the bar had no objections to the non-stop hand signals for another round. We drank a couple ourselves.
In the big-kid world of performance halls with pricey tickets, folk who talk endlessly and in increasing volume over performers doesn’t work. Abutters and staff hush them or remove them. My muse-I-can chums assure me that’s not the way in most bars. Customers are all about themselves. The band is coincidental.
It suddenly reminded me of my own issue many years ago. I pissed off Sesame Street’s Olivia, a.k.a. Alaina Reed.
Before her long stint with Big Bird, she was already a singer and actress. Her blues were powerful and convincing.
I was single and brought a female companion for the show. I also brought my new 35mm camera (decades before digital photography). I was considerate and discreet — no flash and only a few shots. I prided myself in being considerate.
Yet in retrospect, I was different only in degree from the clods at the Cantab last night.
After her long set, she stopped by our table on her way out of the room. She looked fiercely into my face and told me how rude I’d been. She said that the several shutter clicks had tested her concentration.
To me, the noises were so few and faint that I hadn’t considered them a problem. I immediately apologized and iterated that several times. She was decidedly not placated. She stood there and kept at it.
Surprisingly, she did accept my invitation to have an I’m-really-sorry drink with us. Cocktail in hand, she relentlessly scolded me. Naively, I had assumed that the double social lubrication of apology and alcohol would ease the anger. …not at all.
She must have told me 15 different slight variations on how difficult it is to maintain focus as the sole singer in a room and how my selfish noises had challenged her focus. My and my date’s praise for her show also had no obvious effect.
Eventually, she finished her drink and seemed to tire of verbally slapping me. She never once smiled nor showed the slightest indication that anything was forgiven.
The testiness of artistes is the stuff of legend. Alaina Reed was at once right and self-righteous.
Last night, Hoss Power’s musicians plugged away as though everyone could hear them and was listening to the music not each other. They left the stage smiling and were pretty good. No one learned any lessons from them about how to behave in public.
Different people, places and times…