Letter from the Editor: Stage Management

Published  March 2014

I’ ve been lucky enough to attend a lot of shows in 2014 so far, and some not even in the city. A crew of us went down to Houma a few weeks ago to catch Sebadoh (with Dummy Dumpster and Bill Mountain) at the Boxer and the Barrel. It was really inspiring to see a band of Sebadoh’s stature playing on a mini stage, to a respectable but small crowd in a town even more out of the way than New Orleans. They rocked it out nonetheless and everyone had a blast. And we’re pretty sure Lou Barlow liked Dummy Dumpster a lot. Who doesn’t?

I even made it to Florida for a weekend, with the Lovey Dovies (I’m back on drums, for anyone who cares). Our first night, we played in St. Pete at a spot called the Venture Compound. When we first landed it had all the trappings of a punk/art space: cinderblock walls spray painted up, couches sprawled about, video installations, and a bathroom with a creepy animatronic doll in it—all situated around light industry. They never even had to close the doors when the bands played.

It would be easy to think a place like this wouldn’t really have its shit together when it comes to pulling off a show. How many punk house/art spaces have we all been at, where everything ran late and the lineup was chaos?

Well, not at the Venture Compound. They run that place tight. There were actually specific slots allotted for the bands to set up and play, and a sound guy who took his job seriously. It made for a really fun and efficient show.

What is this crazy concept, you say? Aren’t bands just supposed to figure it out for themselves, with the understanding that when someone finally does play, it’s two hours later  and everyone’s miserable because they didn’t get the spot they wanted?

So let’s talk about this for a second. Stage management. Legit venues and DIY spaces alike suffer from a severe shortage of this in New Orleans. I see it happen all the time, where a half-interested or absentee promoter leaves it up to the bands to figure everything out. And we all know how that goes: “Well, our drummer gets off work at 11 so we have to go on after that… yeah, well, we don’t really want to play first because none of our friends are here  yet… yeah, well, I don’t care, whatever y’all want to do…” Everyone—audience and bands alike—can feel the vibe slip away.

I know that “stage management” sounds about as punk rock as the Super Bowl, but let’s not shy away from this concept just because it reeks of responsibility. In the end, we’re all responsible to each other (and each other’s time) and at some point we have to break the cycle of poor show management. One day I envision a great correction of NOLA show law, where shows start within 30 minutes of the posted time.

Before then, here are a few simple guidelines we can all work on:

  • If you’re the band that has to play first, rejoice. The first slot has its advantages and shouldn’t be shirked off too quickly. Your band usually gets more time to set up and soundcheck. The crowd is completely yours and you get to set the tone. Also, it’s harder for everyone to get fucked up too early if you’re first up.
  • Second and/or third slot (if there are more than four bands on the bill then you know the show’s fucked anyway so why bother?): You’re the meat in this show sandwich. Hurray! If you’re the touring band—these are your spots and that is scene code. Abide by it.
  • If you’re in the middle, move your shit out of the way when your set is done. Drummers, take whole pieces of your kit away and then break it down. Same for pedal boards and anything that can be whisked off the stage. Once your set is over, you are the wrong band on stage. Correct this as fast as you can.
  • The last slot is usually reserved for the most popular band and/or the loudest band. If you’re the band who brought everyone to the show, it’s important for you to play last, so your obedient followers don’t leave after you play. Spread the love. Conversely, if you’re the weirdo noise band that’s going to blow out everyone’s ear drums, best to be last.
  • Be happy to play a show at all. If Sebadoh can play the Boxer and the Barrel in Houma, Louisiana, then your band (which is probably not as good or successful) can play whatever venue, at whatever time is necessary, for whoever’s there. It’s a gift, after all.

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