Dutch Holly has been traveling all over creation playing gigs as a duo for about four years now. We’ve played some great shows, some great gigs, (check out my post on Gigs vs. Shows), and we’ve played a couple not-so-great gigs in smaller bar/restaurants. One thing I’ve observed over these last four years is this: If you play in cozy little bar/restaurant type places for long enough, you’re in danger of adapting your sound to the venue. Of course, any good performer will. I mean, what reasonable musician wants to play a humongous face-melting guitar solo to a crowd of people gently forking through their Cobb salads? The cognitive dissonance both on and off the stage (if there is one) would just be too much. Well, a little while back, the cognitive dissonance on my side of the stage reached its apex. To pinpoint that moment: We were playing at a certain “saloon” in Bisbee, AZ when a frumpy middle-aged woman became drunkenly insistent that we “play some Eagles!”
I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask the bartender to pour you an ice-cold pitcher of HELL NO.
Despite efforts to mediate the situation, popular sentiment at this place clearly fell on the Eagles side of the line, and relations didn’t improve. Maybe I should have anticipated this when I arrived at the venue to find an Elvis impersonator crooning The King’s lesser-known ballads to an indifferent assortment of drunk bikers and flabby tourists. And in retrospect, the fact that Honky Tonk Badonkadonk played not once but twice over the house music system while I was setting up should have been a dead giveaway that maybe we’d better watch our step here. Oh well, live and learn.
Up to that point, I had been in kind of an ongoing argument with Jen about booking these kinds of gigs. She saw them as a waste of time and effort. Like many working musicians, I bought into the idea that you have to play where you don’t want now in order to play where you do want later. That’s what they say, right? “Gotta pay your dues,” and to an extent that’s true. The last few years playing those gigs have provided valuable experience and now, I feel like Dutch Holly is the MacGyver of bands. We could play to, and win over, just about any room using just a few paper clips, a rubber band, and a wad of chewing gum.
But for me, that lady was the last straw. On the long, dejected drive home from Bisbee, that argument with Jen came to an end. No more did either of us want to spend endless hours of rehearsal, time away from our son, and herculean effort to haul our gear across the state to play for some tasteless collection of Honky Tonk Badonkadonk enthusiasts who couldn’t care less whether the evening’s musical entertainment was Dutch Holly or The Fast Lane – An Eagles Tribute*.
I expect that booking people for small bars and restaurants, and many working musicians, would say that my attitude sucks. I’ll own that. Perhaps they’d say that adapting your sound to your audience is exactly what a good band will do, and I’m flouncing around like an entitled diva with a sparkly wig by refusing to do it. True enough in principle, but I haven’t refused. On the contrary, we spent the last couple years doing exactly that (to whatever extent it’s possible) and here’s what I learned: Mostly, the folks at those gigs are not our audience. They’re only an audience by circumstance. They actually just came for the wings, tapas, and beer, and they’re merely consenting to being Dutch Holly’s “audience” for the evening because we’re not too loud, we’re pleasant enough to look at and listen to, and to some small degree, we’ve adapted our sound to fit the circumstances. And no one cares. But they’d like it if we could slip in Hotel California while we’re at it.
And we’ve been successful. Whenever we play one of these gigs, there are always two or three tables of people who stay for the whole engagement, taking videos with their phones. (What do they do with these videos? Instagram? YouTube? Tag a brother, will ya?) Many of them dance. A few of these folks have even come up to us between sets while we’re not in the green-room (because there isn’t one) to remark on how fascinating or original we are, and they’re always incredulous that they just happened to catch us here at Cactus Tim’s Too-Intimate Fumpy-Hour (Cobb-salads half off!) To those people, I apologize for my attitude, and I’ll address them directly: For the last couple years, you folks have been my personal Happy Place in a room full of salad munchers. Thank you all for that, I really mean it. But we’re just not going to play at Kokopelli Kate’s Tapas Time any more. Hope you saved the videos.
Please understand, we’re not really doing this for the money. I have managed to support our little family with other employment for years while traveling and playing shows/gigs. So, I’m not there just to do a job, I’m there to make something magical happen. That magic is something I have recently started to refer to as The Big Sound, and it is wildly inappropriate for Jumpin’ Jimmy’s Wing and Taco Bar. The Big Sound requires space to reverberate. It happens in a place where there are lights, and a stage, and a big sound system. It happens in places where anyone shouting a request – for Eagles or otherwise – would be inaudible over the crowd noise. One hears The Big Sound because they purposefully went to a place where The Big Sound can occur. These are places where the mere suggestion of The Eagles is met with blank expressions or ironic derision.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve already had some great shows at places like these (looking at you, Tucson). But for every one of those, we’ve done a few sad/saloon/salad gigs, and that’s all on me. (Sorry, Jen. Really, I am). But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And when it results in Muffin-top Molly sloshing Coors Lite on my shoes as she clamors for the Eagles? That’s a clear sign it’s time to check the hell out of the Hotel California circuit.
*As I was writing this, I made up “The Fast Lane – An Eagles Tribute” for comedic effect. Turns out, that’s really a thing.