Who needs an audience, anyway?
The past week was a bizarre one for Chasing the Sky. At its dawn, we played a show at The Intersection in Grand Rapids. The place was packed wall-to-wall. The crowd was singing along with quite possibly our most popular song, “Satellites.” One of my best friends, who rarely compliments anything I do, was moved to tears by our new track “Devil Dressed in White.” We spent the rest of the night sharing drinks back at my place, running on a complete high from the energy of the show.
At the end of the week, we played a benefit show at the Amway Grand Plaza, inside the Imperial Ballroom. Despite the swanky location, there were probably twenty people in attendance at the show’s crest – and that was long before we went on stage. By the time we had the chance to perform, only eight people (not including the staff) were in the room.
Playing a gig like that can be a real motivation-killer. As an artist, you want people to appreciate your work. When nobody’s there to see you perform, you sort of wonder if you’re even any good at what you do. But after giving it some thought, I started to remember some of my favorite bands from my junior high and high-school years.
One of the most memorable shows I’d ever seen was when I was about sixteen — I showed up at Skelletones, an underground, all-ages punk rock club that used to own the Grand Rapids music scene. I’d been holding tickets for a month to see two of my favorite bands on tour — Spoken and Sullivan.
And I kid you not, there were no more than 10 people in the room when you included the Skelletones staff. Imagine yourself in their position — you’re on tour from the south, and you show up in Michigan. Not only do you have to deal with the awful Michigan weather and roads, but then only a handful of kids show up to watch you play. Chances are those kids spent their allowance on the $8 ticket, so they’re not going to buy your CD. You’ll probably have to play your acoustic guitar on a street corner for gas money.
But I watched both bands get on that stage and pretend they were playing to a sold out football stadium. Spoken dedicated the song “Last Chance to Breathe” to me, which made me awesome despite being pretty much the only person available for dedication. After the set, I had a chance to hang out with the bands, get a couple signed posters, and chat about life on the road as a touring musician.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen hundreds of shows. There are few that I’ll remember as much as that one.
So now, when I’m on stage playing to a crowd of eight people, I remember that moment and try to give those eight people the best show of their life.
Because that’s what rock and roll is about, isn’t it? Doing whatever the hell you want in front of as few or as many people will listen?