In earlier posts - here and here, I've talked about the Cambridge Drive Concert Series. We have our second show coming up next week, Novemeber 5, with a wonderful performer named Anna Coogan for our headliner and Christina Grimm opening. More about that in a post to come...
Last week I was able to attend most of FAR-West, the western regional convention of the Folk Alliance International. The Folk Alliance is a professional organization dedicated to improving the ecology of folk music, building stronger artists, presenters, and audiences. How that plays out at the conventions is that there are workshops aimed at helping artists and presenters do what they do better and lots and lots and lots of performances.
I went as a presenter and so was there to learn things that would help us improve our concert series and to hear some acts for possible bookings. Both things happened.
The biggest learning for me was one which had to do with which artists I should book. Some of the more experienced presenters said that it is clear that the best concerts happen when the presenter truly likes the performer but that the audience should be the primary consideration. The performer must fit with the audience the venue has cultivated. So... a performer who fits the audience and whom the presenter likes is the best case scenario. Second comes a performer who fits the audience but isn't a favorite of the presenter. Last is an act that is a fav of the presenter but doesn't fit the audience. Given this, the mantra for presenters is, "know your audience."
We aren't there yet at the Cambridge Drive Concerts. We haven't yet developed our audience. Still, I need to be careful and book performers who I think will fit... and as I make these early booking decisions, I will likely shape the audience we will have in the future.
To the performers, the lesson here was that when a presenter does or does not book you, you know little about whether they like your music. It may be that you are their favorite among everything they've heard, but for some reason you don't work for their audience. Or - and this piece was a surprise to me - they may love you but just don't have a slot for you. Most of the presenters were booked at least a year out and some were booked multiple years out. One festival presenter said he sometimes is thinking 3 or 4 years down the road. That is astounding to me. I can't wrap my head around planning that far in advance. Who knows what wonderful new performers will appear between now and then... or whether some favorite will decide to give up the life of a traveling musician... My gut tells me not to book any more than a year out - ever - but I wonder whether that will preclude me from booking some acts that I would really like to present. Time will tell. For what it's worth, right now we're booked about 5 months out for the headliners and I'm waiting to hear back from one or two others so within a few days I could have my headline acts booked through May of 2011.
The performances are mind boggling. There are official "Premier Showcases," each giving half hour slots to 7 performers on Friday and 6 on Saturday in three rooms, chosen by a panel... so 21 Premiere Showcase performances took place on Friday and 18 on Saturday. Then there were two "Featured Performers" who also performed at the same time in two different rooms on Friday evening and one on Saturday. So, you listen for a song or two and then off to the next room to hear another performer for a song or two... Beside this, there is serious craziness - Guerrilla Showcases. A performer rents a hotel room, pushes the beds up against the wall and adds a few chairs and maybe some mood lighting and snacks and then books performers, usually in half hour slots, sometimes from late afternoon but certainly after the Premiere showcases ave ended at 10:00 until the wee hours of the morning. There were 25 Guerrilla Showcase rooms all on one floor of the hotel. Imagine the cacophony... and the difficulty when an acapella Celtic singer is performing in a room across the hall from a bluegrass band. Still, it was a great way to get little tastes of a LOT of music in a short time. The currency of the conference are 3X5 cards with a photo of the performer and name on one side and their schedule of Guerrilla Showcases on the other side.
I heard some wonderful music that I am working to book... and some wonderful music that may not work for our series. We've already booked James Hurley for January and Cindy Kalmenson for March and I'm talking with a number of other possibilities.