Spring With Me

Did “spring ahead” mess you up?  You’re not alone if losing an hour to daylight savings time wrecked you.  And then it snowed on the first day of spring.  Did you cry foul?  I know it’s been a long, cold winter.  Just listen to all those birds outside your window.  Shake it off.  Spring is here.  I’m planting some seeds right now that will bring a fine harvest for bands and fans of live music.

I have a few more showcases scheduled in Lancaster for April and May.  Then the map zooms out.  The Gigspots Spotlight Showcase is going on the road!  I’ll be taking central PA bands out to visit all those fine bands I brought to town over the last two years.  You’ll get a chance to play at some new venues for some new audiences.  They’ll be ready and waiting; they’ve heard all about you since they sent their hometown heroes to Lancaster to open for you.  You will be music ambassadors for central PA.

OneKoast MD's Finest IX mapWhere are we going? “From Pittsburgh to Philly, from the Poconos to the Potomac” isn’t just one of Gigspots’ slogans.  I have built a loop of client venues where you can play nearly every night of the week.  We can crash with all those bands that spent the night on my couches.  Or maybe like me you have friends all across the state who say, “Why don’t you ever visit?”  I’ll bet you know somebody along I-80 or I-70.

That’s just how it worked out with Working Breed when they drove from Pittsburgh to play shows for me in Manayunk and Lancaster.  They had friends and family in West Chester who attended both shows and gave them lodging.  Venues like it when you bring 10-12 people to a show on your first visit.  Working Breed played two shows and got three future gigs out of it.

DSCF0251I’m going off the grid March 23-28 for a retreat in the mountains.  When I get back, tour planning begins in earnest.  If your band has a profile on Gigspots.com, take this week to update it with your latest pics, videos, links and shows.  I’ll be cleaning house of bands that don’t do their homework and picking the bands that look road-worthy.  Don’t forget that you can ALWAYS post your info, events and fun stuff on my Gigspots Facebook page.  It’s your bulletin board too and it keeps you on the radar of me and my audience.  Ask the bands I’ve taken on tour if that’s worth it.

Sweet Leda’s New Album: Let It In and Turn it Up!

Sweet Leda’s latest album Let It In deserves tons of attention and hundreds of accolades.  The fat, lush sounds of the direct-to-tape recording process captured the layers of power and intensity behind these songs.  If you’ve seen Sweet Leda live, you’ll feel the heat off this record.  If you’re curious what all the buzz and awards are about, it’s time to Let It In and turn it up!  You’ll find chances later to have a quiet moment with the record.  Your first play should be loud as hell.  Wherever you do that, do it to it.SL4

Julie Cymek wrote these songs and sings them with command.  She belts in the same weight class as Dana Fuchs, Grace Potter, Sister Sparrow and Joan Osborne.  Jaime Horrigan on bass can thump it or go all melodious on you.  He’s a double-threat on beatbox too.  Omar El Dieahy is my favorite guitarist I know.  He plays these crazy prototype guitars and while he invents new tones and textures, he never loses the song or lets it get impersonal.  Don Boyette on drums is The Pocket.  Dude is all sweet spot and grace, a drummer’s drummer. SL6 Joining Sweet Leda on two album tracks, as he often does live, is tenor sax giant Ron Holloway.  How lucky for us all!  You can Google him now or after you hear him, but you will.

Here’s the ten-song playlist and a thing or two about that thing they do: sweet, sexy, funky rock with soul.

  1. “Resolutions:” one of the band’s resolutions for the record must be to let Omar turn it up! You’ll figure out right away that this band means what it says.
  2. “Go Get Your Money:” Omar and Ron Holloway earn it one this one. They go and they get it!
  3. “Fake It:” no posers need apply! If you can’t be real with the open-hearted people in Sweet Leda, you can’t be real.  Whoever you are, I don’t want to know you either.
  4. “Make It Happen:” get off your ass! What’s stopping you?
  5. “She’s Not Coming Home:” I think you blew it mister. This is a song for a woman wronged.
  6. “Baby:” one hot, slow-burning torch of a song about making love. Julie didn’t write it for you but you’ll believe she did.  Deep down believe.
  7. “Bad Boy:” one hot rock song for the bad girls in the house! Bad hasn’t sounded so good since Donna Summer.
  8. “Let It In:” five senses and a whole world right in front of you. Seize something and hang on!
  9. “Something:” by George Harrison…a big romantic version. It’s a love song to a love song.  Omar!
  10. “You Can’t Hold Me Down:” I always hold my head high. I keep moving on.

SL1Those last words are Julie’s and could well describe the album.  Sweet Leda has plenty of reason to hold their heads high with the release of Let It In and the record should definitely keep their careers moving on and up.  But they could serve us all well as a motto for life.  There is great beauty in life and we need to let it in.  When it sparks our curiosity, we need to act on it.  And when people bring the ugly, we need to let it go.  Crank up your copy of Let It In and proceed loud and proud!  Buy it now at SweetLeda.com!

All photographs and digital-oil images here are the work and property of Dan Gillespie and DGital.  Used with permission.  See other spectacular albums at https://www.facebook.com/dgital.me/timeline or for consultation email dgital.me@icloud.com

132 Wishes and Thanks

132 Wishes and Thanks

What a lucky guy I am!  Even in the coldest week on record, I’m surrounded by warmth.  I have a wife and daughter who love me.  I spent all week receiving thanks and best wishes on my birthday.  I just finished directing operations for the best music festival Lancaster has ever seen and I’m headed for a humdinger tonight: Frozen Harbor Music Festival in Baltimore.  Thank you, family and friends and strangers, who made my life so beautiful this week.  I’ll do my best to live up to it!

I spent my week cleaning out closets, organizing my office, painting the kitchen and creating a giant collage.  They could all serve as analogies for my state of being.  It’s a great time for me to sort what’s important, rake away the debris and sow a fresh plan for spring.  I can reflect on an object and say Trash, Totem or Time Capsule.20150219_123001_resized  The heart of our home deserved rejuvenation and a fresh coat.  A new light at the center is next.  The collage is where I transform tokens from events into totems.  They give me power.  I do lead a charmed life after all.

Being an event producer makes it difficult to quantify time besides the start, run and end of an event.  I’m constantly planning, projecting, revising, and anticipating so that when the moment comes, I can fully be in it.  It’s like falling in love.  Thinking about it makes you miserable.  When you’re in it, little else seems to matter.  Time shrinks to with them or without them.  Space becomes where you share and where you’re apart.  Prior to Lancaster Roots and Blues, everyone was asking Rich and I who to see or who were our favorites.  He said it best when he said, “It’s like being asked which of your children is your favorite.  You love them all in unique ways and as a whole.”  My life makes me measure time the way lovers and parents do; there is no start or stop.

So I like tasks.  When my head is swimming with a jillion details leading up to 9pm on a certain Friday, I like tasks with defined parameters.  Paint this room.  Shovel this driveway.  You will see immediate results and feel a sense of satisfaction.  When I was a teacher and a school year was beginning or ending, I was grateful to have a lawn to mow.  The jillion details surrounding, “Have I prepared?  Am I reaching them?  Have I done my job?” could be neatly trimmed and drowned out by an hour’s roar of the mower.

20150219_192547_resizedSo some boxes went to the curb this week.  I can see my desk again.  The collage is 4’x10’ and hanging in the music room.  That’s 40 square feet of totems plus your well-wishes to cocoon me from the world.  My kitchen is cozy.  I love you too.

Lancaster Roots and Blues: Year Two in Review

My feet have stopped throbbing and my phone has stopped ringing.  The post-partum depression has subsided and my showcase at DipCo tonight will resolve the rest.  Yep, I’m back to being Sammy Gigspots just seven days after wrapping up a colossal Lancaster Roots and Blues festival.  Come set a spell at Lancaster Dispensing Company tonight 2/14 for Danny Whitecotton solo and The Plate Scrapers, a jammin’ bunch of bluegrass fellas from Cumberland, MD.plate scrapers

I’ll begin my review with thank-you’s.  Thank you Rich Ruoff: for giving me the opportunity to serve as your Director of Operations for this fantastic event.  Thank you to the bands and venues for working so hard to make sure everyone was having a blast and finding that buzz.  Thank you to the volunteers who made this festival run smoothly and our guests feel welcome.  Every stop I made, I walked into a venue packed with happy people.  Feel proud of yourselves.  You earned it.

The public response to LRB 2015 has been overwhelmingly positive.  We made the newspapers eight days in a row.  Our social media accounts continue to explode.  The photos and videos are pouring in and our post-event survey again shows that over 90% of attendees plan absolutely to return for 2016.  Two things people say we improved on from year one: our Shuttle Bus service and our availability of credit card readers.  Many people enjoyed riding the shuttle and being able to purchase tickets/merch with their plastic.

Those credit card readers were both a blessing and a curse.  It made life easier for our customers but it left us low on the ready cash you need to pay traveling bands living payday to payday.  Something that disappointed me personally was the lack of foot-traffic at our Food Truck Court.  Our survey results from 2014 included many requests for food trucks and I worked hard to line up some quality food smack dab in the middle of the festival.  We even made it a shuttle bus stop but people passed it by.

Our three new venues were fantastic additions.  Everyone had high praise for Lancaster Dispensing Company, Trust Performing Arts Center and The Elks Lodge.   They have all asked to be part of the festival again next year and they all earned our respect.  They all have my vote!

What about the music?  Well, I didn’t get to see much.  I started my Friday at The Trust so I could introduce the first act of the night, Grand Ole’ Ditch.  I love their sound and my goodness that’s a beautiful room!  I introduced Sweet Leda at The Elks at 9:10 and stuck around for two songs.  They are great friends and one of my favorite bands on the planet.  It thrilled me to see The Elks filled with happy people like I remember it always being for Music Fridays.  I introduced The Freeway Revival at 10:30 at Federal Taphouse.  I love their blend of country, blues and rock.  And wow does that place get fun as the night gets late!  I closed my night by introducing Second Hand Suits at DipCo at midnight.  Only my badge got me inside; the place was at capacity most of both nights.  I had my only beer of the night there as I caught up to the pack of twelve family members I had roaming the festival.  The music, the crowd, the moment and that beer were glorious.  Then I went back to work till about 2:30.

I saw even less music Saturday night.  I saw Dana Fuchs melt a Chameleon Club filled to capacity: one song from stage right.  I saw Iris DeMent for one song: from beside the sound board.  I did get to drive her to and from the Marriott and Ware Center and we chatted a bit.  She’s a lovely, regular person and had several questions about Lancaster, our festival and my Subaru.  She has a daughter approaching driving age.  I got to witness some of the late-night bluegrass jam at Tellus 360 and have a beer with my daughter who was hanging tough for a second night.  She said she was proud of me and that was enough music to my ears.

Then it was time to clear Freedom Hall of cars, sound, lights, everything for the gymnastics competition loading in at 8am Sunday morning.  I caught a couple hours of sleep then drove home the first carload of stuff.  I went back to finish loading out the backstage office and by 11am I was headed home with the last of it.

I visited with my out-of-town guests a bit and got some immediate feedback, mostly positive.  Friends tell you the whole truth and I love them for it.  They couldn’t stop smiling, laughing and bringing up moments from the weekend.  We had only seen each other in passing.  They all declared it a success and an improvement on year one.  That was all I needed to hear.  I hit the showers and caught about 16 hours sleep.  Monday was pretty lazy too.

By Tuesday I was back on the job.  Yes, there will be a Lancaster Roots and Blues 2016 and yes we will continue to improve.  Thank you all for your encouragement and support.  You are why Lancaster comes first in our name.

Have You Seen Sam?

Where in the world is Sam?  Well, I’ve been hither and yon directing the operations of Lancaster Roots and Blues 2015 to prepare for the biggest party ever thrown in our fair city!  I’m digging the hugs and pats on the back; keep ‘em coming!  Coffee is nice too.  I have been doing plenty of writing but mostly it’s content for the LRB website.  Have you visited today?  Do you have tickets?  Are you volunteering?  Let me hear you Lancaster!

Much of my other writing has been farmed out to our media partners.  Check out these fun, informative blogs I wrote for FigLancaster.com.  This link will take you to my piece on the festival venues.  This link will take you to my blog on the stuff people are shouting at me as I run through the streets.  And this link will take you to the blog our office manager Carrie Binkley is writing: a sort of behind the scenes/under the gun peek at how we lash this thing together. Master Class page-2  Her latest is about the stunning array of Master Classes we are offering this year.  And don’t miss her piece on our Food Truck Court!

I will be even tougher to keep up with the weekend of the festival but know this.  I couldn’t be more proud or pleased to be working with Rich Ruoff and our team to bring Lancaster Roots and Blues back to town Feb 6-7.  We have responded to your requests to offer a Food Truck Court in Lancaster Square and wow, wait till you see who’s coming to dinner.  We also have added tons of great stuff to do during the day Saturday, with Master Classes at The Ware Center starting at 12:30pm, music starting at the Convention Center at 2pm and at Tellus 360 at 2:30.Ditch2

I can tell you that I’ll be at Trust Performing Arts Center Friday 2/6 at 5:45 to introduce Grand Ole’ Ditch and kick off the night in style!  If you haven’t heard these bluegrass phenoms from Cumberland, MD or visited The Trust before, I highly recommend you meet me there.  Can you say humdinger?!

Snorkels and Grappling Hooks

I’ve come up for air to fire a flare.  My November really rocked and I hope yours did too.  The grand finale happened 11/29 for WILMO Rock Circus at World Café Live at The Queen.  If you were one of the hundreds of people under the big top, I know I just made you grin (and maybe blush).  If you missed it, don’t let that happen again!  Twenty four bands for $20 doesn’t happen every day.  My friends at Gable Music Ventures know how to spot talent and produce an event.  Videos are uploading to my YouTube channel.

Jordan2Mid-month I took Pressing Strings on a tour of some of my northern PA clients and finished the loop at DipCo.  Again, thanks if you were there and I know you’re grinning.  I had been trying to woo this band north from Annapolis for over a year.  Jordan and Nick played three inspired shows and have promised to return.  The fine folks at Turkey Hill Brewing Company and Bullfrog Brewery sure were glad it happened!  For my showcase at Lancaster Dispensing Company, local amazeballs Little Dinos opened the show: Loretta, Scott Bookman, Matt Underhill and Kelly Buchanan.  Cool and classy just like Dino!  Click here to see videos.  Even better: come to McCleary’s Pub in Marietta 12/26 for a set by Jordan Sokel.

Kaleigh4Also playing 12/26 at McCleary’s will be Kaleigh Baker.  If you caught the tour I ran with Kaleigh and Skribe (plus special guest Bjorn Jacobsen), you know this lady can sing the blues with the best of them!  Maybe you have been watching her 30 Artists in 30 Days special on YouTube.  Either way, you should gather those you love and come out for a set or two.  Kaleigh and Jordan don’t play central PA too often and I’m very proud to be hosting them again.

The snorkels and grappling hooks of my title represent my consciousness the rest of the month.  Below the surface, I’ve been working like Cousteau to create another amazing experience for you at Lancaster Roots and Blues.  We targeted December for major announcements and a media blitz.  It’s a season of giving and we are giving you a ton of reasons to get tickets.  Click here to see my blog about the venues published in Fig Lancaster.  Then visit the ticketing link to see the specials we are running.  We have added an under-21 ticket which is good for The Ware Center and The Trust Performing Arts Center.

What will January bring?  I’m hoping for peace on Earth.  I’m counting on busy days and nights.  There are a million details to staging a festival this big and Rich and I and our new office manager Carrie Binkley will be working tirelessly to make your experience the best.  If you hope to catch me in a still moment, try McCleary’s 12/26, The General Sutter Inn 1/9 or DipCo 1/10.  I’m hosting three more local shows before Lancaster Roots and Blues including two acts you have never seen here before and shouldn’t miss.  Join me at DipCo 1/10 for David Pulizzi and the band Terra Voz!

Save the World Songs

I saw Sir Bob Geldof on the news this morning.  For the thirtieth anniversary of the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas (Feed the World),” an all-star group of musicians has re-recorded and updated the song.  For those who missed 1984, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure were big rock stars who gathered artists from the biggest acts in England and Ireland to sing a song and sell the recordings to fight famine in Ethiopia.  They called this super-group Band Aid.NPG x87846,Band Aid,by Brian Aris  They sold over a million copies in the first week and watched the song become the #1 UK Single of all time (until 1997).  Millions of dollars were raised and by 1985 they had organized Live Aid, an internationally-broadcast dual-venue concert (London and Philadelphia) that earned over $280 million.  The finale at Wembley was the Band Aid song and at JFK in Philly it was “We Are the World” by the USA for Africa all-star chorus.  These songs and organizations are still raising money to fight poverty and famine.  Proceeds from sales of the 2014 song are slated to fight the causes and spread of Ebola.  I’ll buy that!

I love when musicians use their talents and influence to effect positive changes in the world like fighting famine and disease.  Sure, there are plenty of critics who say Band Aid, Live Aid, Farm Aid and other events like them are scams at worst and big skimmers at best.  I just like it.  Music is the international language and I feel it’s a useful, logical forum to bring people out of misery.  Wikipedia lists 79 events under “benefit concerts” so I guess I’m not the only one.

I was only eight years old when George Harrison and Ravi Shankar staged the Concert for Bangladesh on August 1, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.  It certainly was the first event of its kind where rock stars united for an international cause.  I had no idea where Bangladesh was but I sure as hell knew who the Beatles were and I was thrilled that one of them was back in action.  I thought, “If George says it’s a good cause, it must be so.”  Of course I didn’t go to the show and it wasn’t on TV.  There was no such thing as the internet and only NASA had computers.  But even then I understood disasters both natural and man-made.  I knew that cyclones and war were bad for kids.  Four years later I bought the concert album and by 1978 the concert film was in heavy rotation at the midnight movies downtown.

That summer of 1971 I also learned the song “Get Together” by The Youngbloods.  I had heard it on the radio a few times before but it was at Vacation Bible School that I really learned it.  A couple of the “teen counselors” who helped with arts and crafts also played guitars and taught us some cool folksy gospel songs.  On the last day of VBS, we sang some songs with them for the gathered parents.  Then they did a few songs on their own.  When they played “Get Together” to wrap up the afternoon, suddenly all us kids started singing along.  The parents thought it was adorable and these guys were obviously moved but they were also quick to say that they hadn’t taught us the song or made us sing it.  That puzzled me for a few years; why apologize for such a beautiful accident?  At eight, I didn’t know that people protesting the war in Vietnam had adopted it as an anthem or that some parents might not approve.

And I didn’t know until today that the song had been used in TV and radio ads in 1970 by a group called The National Council of Christians and Jews.  Or that  just after the 9/11 terrorist attack, Clear Channel Communications put “Get Together” on a list of songs it called “lyrically questionable” and suggested to their 1,200 radio stations that they “…might not want to play…” them.  I may never understand that.

Album Review: A Ton of Bounce in Grand Ole’ Ditch’s Big Red Ball

This bluegrass band Grand Ole’ Ditch from Cumberland, MD is a serious contender for my band of the year 2014.  They have just released a full-length album and it’s a humdinger!  Here’s my review.

A Ton of Bounce in Grand Ole’ Ditch’s Big Red Ball

I only have two problems with Big Red Ball, the imminent release by the Cumberland, MD band Grand Ole’ Ditch.  It makes me drive 80mph and it’s an hour too short.  Song after song, the energy these fellas pour into the music just drives my heel.  And I don’t want the ride to end.  I want to ramble till the roads turn to dirt, the car turns to campfire and the water turns to wine.Ditch2

The Cumberland Gap is really the trail-head to Appalachia proper.  This young band reincarnates that atmosphere with sounds steeped in centuries of coal dust, thin topsoil and rarified air.  They are a traditional string band and these boys are serious pickers.  Guitar, dobro, mandolin, fiddle and upright bass: they dig deep coal, plow rocky hillsides and soar the steep peaks and valleys in beautiful, challenging territory.

Yet while the tools and traditions are old, the territory Grand Ole’ Ditch traverses leads you across some rare twists and turns.  They might start out around “Shady Grove” but they swing by Yonder Mountain.  It’s not just high-speed picking with the Ditch or getting from point A to B.  The arrangements, key changes and harmonies are thoughtful nods to the past with modern grins from the restless.  “Cap, Coats & Cables” is a great example.  The breakdowns come, then break down again and you’ve crossed two bridges and a chorus before you realize that you’re home again.  The lyric is that rugged winter landscape we all know but these fellas are grabbing their caps, coats and cables to go tame it.  Whether they’re towing cables, jumper cables or guitar cables isn’t the point.  They’re ready.  “Hindrance” is just as complicated yet as direct as a brick wall; “…I don’t know and I don’t care about useless, mindless things.  If I don’t get out of here I will surely truly go insane.”  This is modern bluegrass ala Yonder, Stringdusters and Trampled By Turtles.

The landscapes in Big Red Ball are populated with drunks, lost loves, dark characters and “Man’s Best Friend,” the song destined to be the favorite of many dog lovers.  The lyrics paint simple, accessible portraits with clever word choices and phrasings.  If the songs were paintings, they would be by Rockwell and Remington.  You will know the people, places and things portrayed.  You just might recognize new details or remember more than you care to.

Vivid, clever lyrics meet sincere, energetic playing and four-part harmonies in Grand Ole’ Ditch.  I’m not the only person who’s recognized it.  I first saw them opening for Cabinet at Dante’s Bar in Frostburg, MD.  The next I heard of them, they were invited to play Telluride, Charm City and other defining bluegrass festivals.  They will release Big Red Ball on a night they share the bill with The Steep Canyon Rangers and Bobby Hicks: October 25 at The Palace Theater in Frostburg, MD.  It’s the evening concert after the Mid-Atlantic Fiddle, Banjo and Mandolin Competition.  I figure even at 80mph I’ll be able to listen to my copy four times on the drive there.  You can download yours at itunes, Bandcamp or http://www.grandoleditch.com/.

Life, Death and Hyperbole

Life, Death and Hyperbole

I have faced plenty of deaths and tragedies in my life.  When death came to school, I always used to tell my students, “Death is a big part of life.  Save it for last.  Do everything else first.”  I taught the tragedies of Shakespeare and they always boiled down to a great person’s life ending because of a fatal flaw in character.  Pride, greed, avarice, jealousy: these emotions rob you of life and blind your vision of what makes life worth living.  I have lost four great people in my life in the last forty days.  They weren’t Macbeth or Othello or Lear but they were great to me: fine, humble, honest, loving people.  I will miss them and honor them by following their examples and owning my life.  “To be or not to be” is not the only question.  Better to start with the 5w’s: who, what, where, when and why.  Be in the present.

Triphazard living in the moment!

Triphazard living in the moment!

I’m feeling fully alive and activated right now, if a bit over-stimulated!  I built more great connections and memories in September and loved my opportunity to tour manage for Triphazard.  I’m booking tours on the Gigspots circuit and my showcases at DipCo.  I’m writing bios and album reviews for regional bands.  I’m sponsoring a rock festival in Wilmington and a simulcast charity concert from Charlotte.  I’m hired again to be Director of Operations for Lancaster Roots and Blues and it’s a thrill a minute.  I want to stand on Tellus’ roof and scream about all the great music and good times coming to Lancaster and the mid-Atlantic region.

But should you believe the hype? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Just because I say something’s great doesn’t make it so for everyone.  So let me try to quantify and qualify “great” with regard to music, performance and life.  When I say, “It’s a beauty,” what do I mean?

To me, the beauty value of a song or performance is in direct relation to how alive it makes me feel.  Physical manifestations may include toe-tapping and range through swaying to dancing.  I may hum.  I may sing along.  Regarding thought: does this performance make me curious and/or capture my attention?  Is it unique, familiar or a marriage of the two?  Can I identify with the story or idea being presented?  Life is measured in motion.  Can you put my body and my mind in motion?

Move my mind and body and you release my soul.  That’s where imagination and emotion live.  Your performance sparks my memories and/or desires.  My pains, my dreams, my secrets and my joys are animated by your melody or lyrics.  You become the soundtrack for the banquet in my head where your angels and demons meet mine.  Or you’re a nice distraction in the grocery store.  La-di-da, I need cereal.

Motion, thought, imagination: those are my criteria.  To what degree does a performance make me move, think and feel?  Genuine music moves you; it’s as biological as a heartbeat.  People are naturally curious too but humans mostly want to hear about themselves and familiar experiences.  Food, comfort, company: that’s what we like.  And not having those things makes us cry out from birth.  A great song reawakens those moments in life, beautiful or brutal, when you were totally in the present. Whether it was that perfect first kiss, watching that person walk away or just your imagination, great music takes you there.  And live music is better.  And America’s music takes me there: folk, jazz and the blues.  If you start there, I’ll likely follow a while.Queen2

So stand back while I crank up the hype machine!  The pride I take in facilitating these performances is based in humility, honesty and love for life.  Come celebrate humanity before the dust is all settled!

100 More Tickets or The Ten Percent Rule

I’m in a weird flux position as I blog today.  No, it’s not a yoga thing. Triphazard Group Pic (1) I just finished a ten-day tour with the Liverpool, UK band Triphazard as their tour manager, roadie, chef and driver.  I’m about to reprise my role as Director of Operations for Lancaster Roots and Blues in pedal-to-the-metal mode.  I’m between tides.  These intense labors of love both thrill and exhaust me.  I couldn’t feel luckier than to have had these experiences.  Like all passionate loves, they make you feel lucky, invincible and vulnerable at the same time.  You discover you’re defenseless against whom or what empowers you.

I wrote a blog in October 2013 titled “Tour Life: Woe or WHOA!” and I reread it before beginning today’s piece.  I’m happy to say it stood up to the road test with Triphazard last week.  I’m unsure if they had read it but I must state that this trio earned all my respect for work ethic, energy, professionalism and fun-factor.  They played five powerful shows and obviously poured their hearts into every beat.  They were pure joy to work with, live with and watch perform for ten straight days.  They became the benchmark for all future bands taking a lap on the Gigspots circuit.  BANDS: please see blog above.

My only regret of the tour is not putting more money in their hands.  Two of our shows were “door shows;” the bands earn a percentage of ticket sales.  Two of our shows were “guarantees;” the bands get paid a pre-negotiated fee whether the audience is 200 or 20.  Ironically, our biggest guarantee show had the smallest audience and our “hot ticket” shows had lukewarm sales at best.  My goal for Triphazard and the other bands who joined us on the tour was to put at least $200 in their pockets after each show.  For the two ticketed shows, a three-way split of ticket sales equaled $80 per band.  That sucks.  These were great shows in great rooms; ask anyone who was there.  Each band sold some merch and got offers of future gigs, radio play and other potential support after their sets.  But they walked out those nights with gas money and a snack at Sheetz covered.

I first heard the phrase “100 more tickets” and learned about the 10% rule at a festival this summer.  The promoter told me his goal for ticket sales was 2,000 over two days.  Tickets were $60 for a two-day pass, of which he lost $10 to taxes and fees.  He had to sell 900 tickets just to cover grounds rental and sound/stage production.  Another 150 would have to sell to cover promotion/advertising costs and 150 more to pay for porta-potties and an EMT crew on stand-by (required by law).  That means 1,200 tickets at $50 would have just covered his $60,000 expenditure.  Did you notice I have yet to mention any compensation for the bands here?  Most played it to be there, to be seen, to network and to celebrate the season, the place and the amazing musical family they’ve become.  But all expect “…fair compensation from any profits earned.”  I promise that every band played their asses off and a great time was had by all.

Ticket sales this year were around 1,100.  Even with sponsorship money and a percentage of the food vendors’ take that meant our heroic promoter and over 70 bands earned nothing.  As we were starting the immense clean-up efforts Sunday morning and I asked about the turnout numbers, he said, “100 more tickets.  If we’d have sold 100 more tickets, everybody could have had a little something and I’d have covered costs.  If it was 200 more, or 10% of my target, everybody would have got a fair amount and I’d have seed money for next year.” All I could think was that if every band had sold two more tickets, 140 more, everyone would have gotten paid and next year would start on secure footing.  And it was all brought home to me that 90% of ticket sales at concerts and festivals go to cover costs.  If that promoter had guaranteed even $100 to those 70 bands, that plus only the costs I named above would have been $67,000 against his gross of $55,000.   I guarantee he had tons of other expenses and I have yet to mention any compensation for his time.  He spends over four months organizing this event.  It’s not a hobby.  This guy works like a machine about 350 days a year and it’s clear his bands love him.

What if my tour had sold 100 more tickets: say fifty each for the “door shows?”  That’s an extra $350 Friday and $500 Saturday to be split which meant the payouts those nights would have been $196 and $246 respectively per band.  Not $80.  These were venues that hold 200-300 people quite comfortably.

I apologize if all this talk of numbers and money bored you.  But I just watched a band I truly love work their asses off for ten days at great costs to themselves and barely cover living expenses.  And when people ask me about Gigspots, their second question is always, “So, how do you make money doing that?”  Here’s the short answer: from you.  You have to buy a ticket to a show or a t-shirt.  You have to buy advertising, management, agent or writing services from me or become a sponsor of my events.  I’m in the entertainment business.

Your short answer: “Everybody wants my money.  Why should you get it?”  Fair enough.  Not everyone finds music, art, cuisine and travel entertaining or worth more than the lowest common denominator.  There are a lot of comfy couches and big screen televisions and frozen pizzas out there and I enjoy them occasionally myself.  It’s the great irony of Gigspots; I use social media to tell you to turn it off and go see a show.  Those 900 videos on my YouTube channel aren’t a substitute for a show.  They’re meant to show you what you’re missing or to help you recapture that night at the show.

Queen4If William Shakespeare couldn’t sell tickets, you might never have heard of him.  He might have starved to death or gone off to work in the mills.  People still read the plays but not nearly the numbers of people who still buy tickets 400 years later to witness and feel the timelessness of live performance.  I’m no Shakespeare.  But you never know; the band I’m encouraging you to see might be the next Beatles.

For instance, my monthly showcases at DipCo don’t cover costs until I sell 80 tickets.  There are 100+ seats.  If you’ve been there on a night where the band and seating are tight, you know what a joyous, transcendent night it can become.  Ten percent of breaking even is eight tickets.  I have an amazing season planned and you’re invited. Appearing October 11: Lovers League with a guest set by Bjorn Jacobsen!