Column: Why live music’s important — what you can do

Tahoe Onstage
The good news for Tahoe music lovers and musicians is that there is a great venue: Crystal Bay Casino.
Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

I operate in an interesting corner of the music landscape – I’m a guitar player and songwriter in a touring rock band (Hunter & The Dirty Jacks), I review albums for Tahoe Onstage, and I see 100+ shows per year in person. Between all of that, I’ve been able to observe the music scene from multiple angles – working musician, concertgoer, and consumer with a critical ear.

The overarching “pro” of the music scene right now is that there are a lot of indie artists and indie music. You can write, record, and put out a record from your own home, and it can sound awesome, if the proper attention to detail is taken with it.

The “negative” is that these talented songwriters and musicians can be hard to find for the consumer, and the scene  — sorry to say — is way too fractured. You’re kind of on your own, and that can be liberating. But there’s not a lot of money to go around on the ground level, and things can flame out pretty fast if the going gets tough. That’s why “we” need to all stick together and support each other. In this case, “we” refers to musicians, talent buyers, venue owners and the fans, as the consumers.

What can the musicians do? There can be a feeling of jockeying for position within what’s going on in a musical circle. Why is THAT band getting better gigs than us? Why are those guys/gals getting signed, and we’re not? We have something that nobody else has (a coveted gig/contact/festival/label interest/friend in the press/support from a band/musicians on a higher level), let’s not share, they wouldn’t do it for us. Why are those guys getting more attention on social media?

None of that stuff actually matters. What are you doing to put out the best musical experience that you can? Are you working on your craft? Are you trying to write the best songs you can? Are you trying to put forth the best show you can? Are you working to make great albums? That’s what matters. Also, what’s really cool is having a rad bill for a show with three (or so) bands that all fit together, maybe even in slightly different genres. Everybody promotes. Everybody works for it. Everybody shares. The musicians will end up playing bigger venues that way — I guarantee it, I’ve seen it.

There’s a reason Bill Graham was so successful. He’d have Fillmore concerts with three or four  radically different acts playing together — The Grateful Dead, Miles Davis, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, you name it — and it would be packed. They all shared. They all bonded together. They supported each other. That creates a huge show, an event, a spectacle, and that’s a lot of value for the consumer.

Larry Sabo

Think about the music fans. What do they want? They don’t care if you are jockeying for position with another band. A big music fan can be a die-hard enthusiast of 10 bands. This isn’t sports. It’s not like a band wins the Super Bowl and everybody else loses. Everybody can win. Create value and visibility. Team up.

What can the rest of the industry do – agents/producers/talent buyers/venue owners? They can take make sure they take pride in the artists they are working with, and promote them as hard as possible. Don’t get me wrong, some already do it. There are a lot of good guys out there. Some don’t, though. As a musician, all we ask is that if you want to work with us and stand to make money from our music, that you care as much as we do. If we’re working our tails off to write good songs, play them well, and pack your venue, you should be promoting it that hard too. The best gigs I’ve ever played are when the band takes pride in the show, promotes hard consistently, and the venue does the same. It can never be a one-way street, that puts too much on the other party. That said, the musicians need to hold up their end of the deal, too, and work just as hard. If everybody puts their heart and soul into it, the rewards will be flourishing.

The good news for Lake Tahoe is that there is a great venue – Crystal Bay Casino – that does a lot of these things right. They have good music, carefully curated. They advertise the shows. People know they are getting high quality blues/rock/soul/Americana/jam bands/reggae/folk when they go to Crystal Bay. There are free after-party bands that pair with the headliner. We need more venues like this.

What can the fans do as consumers? Honestly, I believe in free will and having the right to vote with your dollar. If the show isn’t good, or it’s overpriced, don’t go. If the new album by your favorite band is a letdown, don’t buy it. If the show is bad, you are free to leave any time you want.  However, if you really dig what’s happening, there are a few things you can do to help the band and your local venue out.

Tahoe Onstage
Lake Tahoe’s Kathy Kixmiller sells Todd Snider merch at the Crystal Bay Casino.

If you are really into a band, buy their music, from them. Buy a shirt, hat, or sticker. Especially buy the album. That’s what the musicians really want you to have in the first place. This is why vinyl is so important. It’s completely physical, and at the highest audio and visual quality of what a musician can possibly produce for you. You pick up the jacket. It’s big. You look at it, you see the cover, and the artwork put into it. You put the record on. You set the needle. You read the credits and look at the in lays while you listen. In 18-22 minutes, you have to flip the album and keep going to hear the rest. Not only is the album sequenced, the best tracks are in order of what’s best for each side. Besides getting paid at a gig, the direct sales of albums and merch is where a working musician makes money nowadays to sustain themselves.

Mark Sexton
Mark Sexton hosts record swaps at the Alibi Ale Works – Truckee Public House.

Buy from your neighborhood record store. Support your local music venues that have bands you like. If they have good food, consider having dinner there, or drinks. Again, you are the consumer, you can do whatever you want with your time and money, but the extra knowledge and effort is well-appreciated by the musicians and venues that are working hard to be a part of your community and deliver quality entertainment and experiences to you.

What happens when all of these events occur is that bands start working together — venues start booking like-minded bands throughout their calendar, and together on the same night. People start getting wind that X venue is “the place to go in town” and people start trusting that they are getting a great band and a quality show every time.

There was a place called The Blue Café in Long Beach when I moved out to California about 20 years ago. It was owned by a guy named Vince Jordan. He had GREAT blues/Americana/country bands (but mostly blues) every weekend. Never failed. I always went. It was the place to go. The food was good. The service was good. Parking was good. The bands were awesome, in an intimate atmosphere. I became fans (and friends) of bluesmen there that I listen to, go see play, and jam with, to this day.

That’s all it takes, as well as for the bands to let down their guard and realize that if you have a vision for your band/project, just follow that as devoutly as you can. That will stand for itself. In the meantime, support your friends. If everybody starts doing it, most, if not all will end up following through. Consumers will flock. There will be more sustainability in the music scene. We will all win.

— Jon Siembieda

Tahoe Onstage
Hunter & The Dirty Jacks drove through a blizzard last winter to make this show in the Crystal Bay Casino’s Red Room. Author Jon Siembieda is at far right.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

ABOUT Jon Siembieda

Jon Siembieda
Writer Jon Siembieda plays guitar in the Southern California-based touring rock 'n' roll band Hunter & The Dirty Jacks. He is an avid concertgoer and album collector. His top five favorite bands are The Rolling Stones, Black Crowes, Faces, Mother Hips and Chris Robinson Brotherhood.


3 Responses

  1. Don’t forget the hardworking & dedicated sound, lighting, stagehands and riggers that bust butt for little pay. Nothing can be more of a disservice to these artists than crappy sound and a low budget production.

    1. Yes, the production is very important on the venue side to make sure the best show as possible is being represented for the fan/audience/consumer.

  2. I really, on a personal level, appreciate this article. About two months back, after a tumultuous separation of a long term relationship, I found myself considering how to realign myself and rediscover my own identity, so I sat myself down to have a talk with me. I attempted to figure out what my passions were and how to support them…It was the art and music scene I’d always had a deep respect for. On a whim, I began looking for shows, anything and everything, and I found Crystal Bay Casino. I had never been there nor had I really heard of it. I gathered my wits, gathered my musician friend, and we had an amazing experience that reminded me how wildly important support is. Having that extra personal moment in a small venue to express to the artists directly how amazing we found them to be launched me back into the sole (soul) reason I so deeply love music and all the talented components behind it, the human connection to the sound, emotion, and talent curated from musicians. Crystal Bay is setting an excellent example, and so are you.

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