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Tips On Playing A High-Profile Music Festival

Last weekend my hometown of Troy, Ohio was host to Mumford & Son’s Gentleman of the Road (GOTR) tour. Needless to say, city planners and officials were thrilled with the opportunity, as were many residents, but the musicians in the region were probably among most excited — me included. It just so happened that two of the bands I play drums in were invited to play at the event, not on the main stage but as part of the downtown street festival. These were no typical, dilapidated tractor-trailer, tossed-off caboose type stages with chincy sound systems that one might find at a typical weekend music festival. These were top notch outfits run by professionals; the same production company that brought GOTR to town.
Seventh Street, the good-time party band I helped form a little over a year ago, book-ended the event by playing on opening night (Thursday) and closing night (Saturday). Electrobek, the original-based jam band led by one of my oldest musical cronies, John Jakubek, performed on Friday morning on one of the downtown stages, and then moved our show into a pub that evening (a venue also sanctioned by the production company).
In a little more than 48 hours, I played seven sets of music, setup and tore down my DWs three times, and setup and tore down my Yamaha cocktail kit once. I probably spent close to 20 of those hours on drumming and drumming-related activities. I met several musicians before and after each set, made several new viable connections and basically got to play until my little heart was content. When all was drummed, said and done, a few things really stood out for me: call them learnings or observations.

  1. This is not the time for whining. Stage access sucked. Traffic was bad. Parking was non-existent. Set up time was short. I saw many musicians get derailed by some (or all) of these factors. The fact is, whining wasn’t going to change a thing, except make your performances worse. How quickly people forget the essentials: you were paid to be here; this is an awesome opportunity; you only have one chance to make the most of it. Really, the only viable choice is to seize the moment.
  2. Cooperation wins the day. With so much hustle and bustle, the last thing stage managers, soundmen and event coordinators want to deal with are more problems. I made it a point to approach everyone with respect and a spirit of cooperation. As a result, gates opened that were normally shut, extra attention was paid to getting the perfect drum sound, and by the end of the weekend, I had even made a couple of new friends.
  3. Never underestimate (and under-appreciate) the importance of a helping hand. Getting a drumset on-stage, mic’d and playing in less than 30 minutes is no small task. I can’t count the number of people that stepped in to carry stands, drums and gear on and off stage, but I made sure to personally thank each and every one of them. Life savers, I tell ya.
  4. Get your rest and eat your Wheaties. Performers know how hard it is to calm down and decompress after a great show. This can be a problem if you have to get up and do it all over again (or five times) the next day. And the temptation to party even later in the wee hours can be strong as well. It’s very important to conserve your energy, get your rest and make sure you’re fueled up for the work ahead. Being in decent physical shape is also beneficial here too, and was glad for all the time I’d put in getting fit this year, because it definitely paid off.
  5. Showtime is go time. When the stage lights come up, it’s time to rock. This is when you have to tune out any distractions, day’s events, band dramas and other trivialities and focus on the task at hand. Zen practitioners call it “being in the moment”. It’s a balance of being fully aware and focused and not overthinking (too much thinking is not your friend on stage). Let it all go and let it all out. Leave nothing behind on that stage except some splintered sticks.