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Posts Tagged ‘live shows’

What Have You Done To Lift Somebody Up?

In Music, Travel on August 8, 2009 at 10:15 am

Paul Thorn at the Crystal Bay Club, Lake Tah

I’ve thought a lot lately about the relationship between a performer and the audience. Between musicians and their fans.  I can only imagine the tricky walk that’s necessary to maintain appropriate boundaries between the two. We’ve all heard stories of divas who are completely hands off towards any and all fan interaction, and lovely stories about those who, while mega stars, still take a few moments to acknowledge their die-hards (a little shout out here to Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.) Performers at all levels have the power to either crush or lift up their fans. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve had it happen.

Through the years I’ve gone through periods of loving a certain band or performer more than most. I’ve flown to see them perform out of town. I’ve been a letter-writing fan-club member. I’ve waited outside stage doors after shows to ask for an autograph.  I’ve donated money to their charities, bought every obscure European import CD, poured over lyric books and taped every TV appearance. In short, I’ve been a good fan. I totally get that big names are pulled in a million directions and they are there to perform and under no obligation whatsoever to even say boo to those who support them. Still, I felt a huge slam to my self-respect when after standing in the broiling sun for hours waiting for the tour bus to pull up at the back of a small theater, a certain female singer/songwriter on the rise didn’t even give a glance in the direction of the 4 fans that were patiently waiting to tell her thank you for what she meant to them. I got to pet her dog. Wow. Melodramatic as it sounds, I was more than a little bit crushed.  It was embarrassing to have waited there wasting my LIFE to try and say thank you to her.  But I digress.  Music still affects me deeply. The joy of hearing it, dancing to it and singing along loudly. The message the song brings to the world. The opportunity to see it performed live. I was just so off caring whether or not I ever met another musician.

Fast forward to 2008. Bluesfest. The Oregonian newspaper touts a real-life son of a preacher man from Tupelo, MS named Paul Thorn as a must-see act with a “deep Americana sound. Think barroom showdown with Delbert McClinton, Bruce Springsteen and John Hiatt.” I liked the sound of that and made sure we were there for the performance. We were blown away, not only by the band’s sound, but also by the smart/funny/poignant lyrics, the positive message that life is all about love and people are pretty much the same deep down. It’s about loving your neighbor and the golden rule. A little blues, a little gospel, a little country, a little stand up comedy and a lot of rock and roll along with the clear message that if we didn’t buy his CD we would be going to hell. Not wanting to go to hell right that minute we decide to buy a CD, and stand in line to have our moment with Paul and his Sharpie.

As we moved to the front of the line and started to speak to Paul, a drunk, disheveled man stopped at the table and told Paul how much he loved his music, but that he didn’t have the money to buy a CD. I wish I could say that I took our signed CD from Paul and handed it to him and said God Bless You, but that was not at all my reaction. I was pissed off. I wanted my 15 seconds of Paul Thorn attention and made no secret of it. I was a brat. I still remember the look on Paul’s face, the way he was able to say in few words that THAT was what it was all about. That man. Being kind to THAT man. Not just warming to those who are well groomed and middle class, but the lowest of the low.  Oh yeah. WWJD and all that. Bam, it was a bitchslap to my ego that I needed and haven’t forgotten. It’s the kind of life lesson that you are both humiliated to need and blessed to receive.

Two nights later the family was front and center for the Paul Thorn Band at Sellwood Park. It was a gorgeous summer night, a nice long set, and plenty of dancing by yours truly. After the show as new fans lined up for the meet and greet with Paul,  JJ went off to talk to Jeffrey Perkins, the drummer. It’s always so cool when a drummer kid can talk to a drummer pro. Jeff was so nice to JJ and Bob ended up talking to Jeff about growing up in Chicago and who knows what else. It was a great night. Our “fandom” was cemented and over the course of the last year we’ve slowly accumulated most of the PTB releases. Its music that the whole family enjoys, and great for family singalongs in the car. JJ even got his dad’s family into it.

All summer we checked and re-checked the Paul Thorn website but no shows were coming anywhere near Portland. However, on my birthday there was a free show at the Crystal Bay Club in Lake Tahoe. Yes it was a total splurge, but Bob’s always up for that. Flights, car, hotel and birthday dinner restaurant were booked. We had a beautiful, sunny, relaxing day, an amazing dinner at The Soule Domain and headed over to the Club a little before 9:00. There they were. The guys we remembered from the year before. This time I KNOW the songs and sing and dance and get thanked from the stage for “shaking my groove thing” (as if I could NOT do that!)  During the break we buy merch we don’t really need but do because we love to support this band and we want to tell this to Paul’s face. We get drinks and I turn around to see Bob engrossed in conversation with Jeffrey Perkins. Seriously! He remembered us! Remembered JJ, too. Absolutely incredible that through all their touring he could remember where he met us and what we talked about last year. After the show I got my picture taken with Paul (yeah I know, I’m a big dork.) What a great birthday present the entire night turned out to be.

THIS is how you build a fan base. THIS is how you get people to follow you forever. You give a few minutes of your time, say hello, acknowledge that these are real people with real lives who have taken time out to come and see you. You thank them. You lift them up. Thank you Paul Thorn and band for lifting US up.  You are wonderful people, and we are proud to be among your fans.