There was a crooked band

For Father’s Day this year, Angela and my daughter gave me the gift I would have to wait almost two months for: a picnic dinner and an outdoor performance of Crooked Still, a folk and bluegrass band we like. They were performing yesterday evening as part of the City of Kenmore’s Summer Concert Series. I took the whole day off, even though the concert didn’t start until 6pm. We were expecting precipitation, so we loaded up the Forester with raingear, our Igloo™ full of sandwiches and chips and fruit and cookies, and headed around the north end of the lake to St. Edward State Park.

Crooked Still at St. Edward State Park in Kenmore.

Crooked Still at St. Edward State Park in Kenmore.

Folks had already begun tossing out blankets and setting out lawn chairs on the stiff yellow lawn when we arrived, and people kept coming long after the band appeared and started playing their banjo-and-bass-fiddle flavored fare.

Mara suited up in her dancing gear. She knows good music when she hears it.

Mara suited up in her dancing gear. She knows good music when she hears it.

There was a big meadow off to the left where kids of all ages were able to run around and the parents tending them could still enjoy the music, although Mara was for the most part content to sit on the blanket with us, listen to the music, and drop wet chunks of cantaloupe into her lap. She did, however, don her dress-up dress and her fairy princess crown and dance a little bit.

"All she wants to do is dance..."

"All she wants to do is dance..."

The weather turned out to be perfect — cloudy so we didn’t have the sun right in our eyes, yet no rain. And the show was great. The band played everything we knew of theirs, except their version of “Wind and Rain”, which really is stunningly beautiful and sad.

One thing that bugged me was an almost total lack of the traditional audience ethos, wherein a soloist gets a hearty round of applause after noodling for a few measures, and wherein the band is recalled to an encore with thunderous beating of palms together. I kept being embarrassed that very few people seemed to be even aware that one of these fine musicians was actually doing a solo, and at the end of the show, the band dithered for a moment at the back of the stage because it was unclear whether the audience really wished them to come back.

And it was free! Thanks Mr. Mayor!

And it was free! Thanks Mr. Mayor!

It made me think that the audience had somehow slipped into a relationship with this live performance like unto the one they have with their televisions. When the program is over, you get up and leave or turn the channel. You don’t expect to interact, to be given the opportunity to plead for continuation of the show. I wondered last night if the consumer mentality that we are doping ourselves with through our “monitor culture” has begun to degrade our ability to be an audience and participate at the same time. It seemed as though a lot of these people viewed the event as though it were a TV show being aired outside.


3 Responses to “There was a crooked band”

  1. 1 Louis August 9, 2009 at 23:11

    As it is Father’s Day in Brazil, Feliz Dia dos Pais! Interesting observation, Matt. The monitor has created a certain detachment. Folks no longer engage or interact with live performance. I’ve often felt this is one reason why theatre is dying. More and more, people opt for the comfort and safety of their screens rather than the intimacy and spontaneity of the stage.

  2. 2 Kip August 10, 2009 at 02:01

    Here in Boise, we have a little thing called Alive After 5, live music every Wednesday night during the summer months. It’s a big event downtown…free as well…and families are encouraged. But it seems to mirror your event, in that it seems more people are socializing than listening to the music. Oh sure, there are the dancers and those who came specifically to see the band, but for the most part it seems as though it’s now just an excuse to hang out with friends. This may be a bold statement, but I’m starting to think that when something like these concerts are free, no one has invested any cash into the show, so they don’t invest any emotion into the show. It’s merely a social event. Maybe?

  3. 3 jstwndrng August 10, 2009 at 03:57

    We don’t get to nearly enough theatre events, mainly because of childcare logistics. I notice, Louis, that you and I both use the “re” spelling. It’s that sense of excitement, actually of non-comfort or even mild danger (“I am not at home, anything might happen here”) that I particularly relish about stories on stage. The thump of the boards under the actors’ feet, the glimpse you get of makeup at close range, which makes me say “hey, they did this for us!” The closeness of it, and how the stories unfold in a this space before you. All that is non-transferrable through wire or wave. But I think you’re right about the monitor (the “home theatre” in particular?) contributing to the demise of theatre.

    Kip, I think “there is iron” in your bold statement, and it makes me wonder whether bands secretly loathe playing free concerts, or whether they just know ahead of time that if they’ve been sponsored by a free-concert program, then there will be a greater percentage of The Unengaged, and maybe they’re okay with it. Maybe there is a philosophy that somewhere among that crowd is someone who will be turned on to a kind of music they’ve never heard before and will change their life, and that inattention by the greater throng is the cost of that happening.

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