Sunday, September 9, 2018

I've got a little list

I started going to concerts with my son when he was in high school in the early 2000s. Because of our shared love of eclectic bands and music that was decidedly off the mainstream, we frequented venues that were small and intimate. We had no interest in any bands that were booked to fill the large arenas. And never stadiums! Stadiums — as far as we were concerned — were reserved for sporting events, not musical performances. We gravitated towards single room venues that were reminiscent of the dark smoky coffeehouses of the beatnik era, where patrons sat at too-small tables and watched a singer try not to step off of the too-small stage.

Due to the small capacity and close quarters of these places, my son and I were usually in very close proximity to the stage. So close, if fact, that we became pretty adept at reading the set lists that the artists would place around the stage prior to the evening's performance. These little, hand-scribbled agendas served as a reminder to the singer of what songs to sing. Used primarily as a guide, most performers would often stray from the predetermined list, though some would stick to it to the letter. For us, reading these lists was no easy task since — from our vantage point — they were upside down. However, reading them would spoil the spontaneity of the show. But sometimes, we couldn't help ourselves. After the show, my son would stealthily snag one of these set lists. No one looked our way as my boy would carefully remove the thick gaffer's tape that held the list in place during performances.. The more shows we went to, the more his collection expanded. For years, no one seemed to care. Not the band members. Not the owners of the venue. Not the audience members. It was as though he was picking a used tissue off the stage. If someone did notice my son taking a set list, the act was usually regarded with a scowl or a puzzled look that silently questioned, "Why on earth would anyone want one of those?"

One night, after a raucous show by Austin "bad boys" The Asylum Street Spankers at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania's now-defunct The Point, my son greedily (or accidentally) grabbed two set lists from the recently-vacated stage. As we rose from our stage-side table, Spankers singer Wammo approached us and politely — almost sheepishly — asked my son to return one of the lists. "We kind of need them from show to show." he explained. I understood. The Spankers were a small,  scrappy, self-reliant, independent band that traveled around in a rickety van, packed with musical instruments and few personal possessions. I suppose they didn't have the luxury of writing out a new set list for each show, the way a Bruce Springsteen or a Bob Dylan might. My son relinquished one of the two identical pages and Wammo thanked him.

Father John Misty's "fake list"
My son continued the practice of sneaking a set list for years and years. He eventually stopped, however, for a couple of reasons. One - he got bored, I guess. He had a several folders stuffed with torn, sticky and folded set lists and it was time to move on to something else. Two - other people, we noticed, picked up on his little hobby. We began to see other audience members making a move toward the stage near the end of a concert, edging closer and closer as the shows drew to a conclusion. This sometimes resulted in a friendly (or not-so-friendly) confrontation over set lists. Other times, roadies would just hand set lists over to the prettiest girl nearest to the stage. Lastly, my son is a DJ on a local Philadelphia radio station. Through his job, he was become friends with some of singers from whom he nicked a set list or two. So, nabbing a torn piece of paper pales in comparison to meeting and interacting with these folks.

Don't take her music charts.
(Photo by E.)
One of those singers with whom my son maintains a friendship is Nicole Atkins. (A quick Nicole Atkins story, then right back to our regularly scheduled blog post.... At the end of June, the residents of the tiny 100 block of Mole Street in Philadelphia held their annual Molestice Festival to welcome the longest day of year with food, drinks, games and live music. This year's headline performer was Nicole Atkins. My son and I gathered, along with hundreds of other folks, at the far end of Mole Street about twenty-five feet — and a sea of people — away from the temporary stage that was set up for the day's performances. Four or five songs into Nicole's set, she approached the microphone and picked my son out of the crowd, pointing to him, waving and offering a friendly "Hi E!" But she wasn't finished. She squinted and announced to the crowd, "I see you brought your dad Josh with you." I was so embarrassed.)

Now... where was I...? Oh, right.... Nicole Atkins, a wonderfully talented singer-songwriter, is currently on tour in Europe with her band. A few days ago, she posted this cautionary statement to Twitter:
It appears that, after all these years, I have been enlightened to two types of lists lying around on a stage after the show is over. It also appears that audience members feel they are entitled to take whatever they wish once the performers have abandoned the stage for the isolated comfort of the "green room." A handful of audience members, I have noticed, now viciously clamber for those set lists (or whatever else they can grab) like vultures fighting over a coyote carcass in the desert,

Back when my son first started collecting set lists, no one — I mean no one — bat an eye when he picked one off the stage. Now, it has become a thing. A real thing with unwritten rules and protocol. Not all artists welcome nor appreciate the taking of set lists. Some are okay with it. Now, I would just ask first.

Or perhaps, if you really want to show your appreciation and support for your favorite singer, buy a t-shirt or other merchandise after the show.

I think Nicole would like that, too.

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