The Small Venue: Up Close and Personal (a note from Val)
ARENA concerts are fine. But the small venue is my obsession. To be up close and personal with an artist, a band - is an amazing give and take experience. You really know the artist AND their music by the end.
My first stadium concert was 1970 - Rod Stewart - Akron Rubber Bowl. I was 13. My friend's dad took us - and he was cool enough not to sit with us. He was up in the bleachers, we were on our blanket on the 50 yard line. We felt so grown up. Then the tear gas went off. Evidently some fans tried to jump the fence and security overreacted. It was chaos. Everyone clamored to get to higher ground, running with their shirts covering their noses to breathe. I'm glad I didn't know about stampedes and terrorist attacks back then. To this day I don't know how her dad found us. I still go to the big ones but...
Arena concerts are more about the scene than the music. The crowds, the look, the behavior, the partying, and argh the parking. Organized chaos. And it begins with the ticket purchase... I don't know which sets me off faster - an immediate sell out or the service fees. Over the years I've become an arena concert snob. It's too much of everything - cost, crowds, effort; and not enough about the music.
Small venues offer big benefits. First off, the tickets are cheaper. Way cheaper. They often sell tix at their box office on site sans service fees. Makes you happy from the start. At a small venue show you really hear the music, the lyrics, the artist's vibe. It feels like they're playing for YOU. They're often relaxed, happy to be there, and they let you into their world. They'll tell personal stories between songs, a joke or two - you get to know their personality. And you own those stories - you get to tell your friends the inside scoop about a song. They might try out their newest song on you - something they're working on. They ask your opinion. It's interactive; the artist sets the friendly tone, next a fan might call out a question - and the artist answers. It's intimate. And you get a good view of the guitar finger picking, drummer's sweat, facial expressions, foot pedal looping, interaction between band members. You feel their passion. There are pre and post bonuses too: without the crowds, you can grab dinner nearby before the show and maybe land a meet & greet after the show. One of my favorite Chicago venues, SPACE Evanston offers all the above. It's known as the quiet listening room - the artists love it because the audience shows respect.
Protocol for small venue concerts (read: rules for you)
- Shhhhh!!! People chose a small venue so they can listen
- Buy the artist's merchandise! There's an easy to find merch table in the back
- Check the venue's age requirement - many late shows are 21+
- Check the time of concert - early or late show? How many openers?
- Good chance it's standing room only - so wear your comfy shoes and don't complain
- Be a good audience; you're the artist's impression of your city - you want him back!
- Leave big coats and big purses at home - travel light, it's easier
- If your friend has drunk too much and keeps yelling out to the artist - remove your friend
If you're an oldster:
- Scared? Intimidated by the younger crowd? Think you don't belong here? Forget it. You belong as much as any other - and the artists love you because you pay for your music. So throw on your jeans, leave the baggage behind, and find a small venue.
- Don't know the small venues in your town? Google them. Ask around.
- Don't know the new artists by name? Go to Valslist.com concert page - Any artist you see there is one I recommend you try.
- Are they coming to your town? If you like an artist, check their tour schedule (google: artist name myspace) - it's all listed there
- The artist will try to impress you because they know you'll go shout about 'em to your friends
- Bring your friends. Buffers you from the younger set. And the artist does not want to play to a dozen people
- I guarantee this: once you experience a small venue concert - you'll be booking lots more
- Go ahead, start a trend with your peers. They'll follow if you lead
The small venue is the place to be - for artist and fan. I urge you to try it.
The small venue is the place to be - for artist and fan. And I urge you to try it.