Ok, everyone, I’m coming out of the Country Music closet. Here goes.
I’m a big time country music fan. I even listen to “The Highway” on Sirius radio more than the Broadway Channel. Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, these guys have become my new Rodgers & Hammerstein.
Phew. It feels better getting that off my chest to you guys.
And just last year when I got married, my wedding song was the boot-scootin’ “You” by Chris Young.
So when it was time to celebrate my one year anniversary, I thought a great “paper” gift to my wife would be tickets to see Chris Young live. And get this! When I looked up his tour schedule, well, imagine my shock and awe when I discovered he was going to be playing about an hour away from my wife’s hometown (where we got married) on the day of our actual anniversary! Kis-freakin’-met. Or as us country fans would say . . . yee-freakin’-haw.
I suggested to my wife that the best anniversary gift we could give each other would be to go back to her hometown, spend time with her family, and have some year old cake. And then I surprised her with the tickets. Hehe. Pretty good, right?
In between hootin’ and hollerin’ at the show that night, my bloggin’ radar was going off like crazy. I took in all sorts of things from the live concert experience that us Broadway folk could learn from (at one point, Tracy saw me typing something into my phone and she called me out sayin’, “Taking notes for a blog?” #SheKnowsMeSoWell).
Here are five things I learned at the Chris Young concert:
1. Forget Lighters, Look at all those Cameras!
From even before Chris took the stage, at least 1/3 of the audience was taking pictures, taking video . . . and sharing pictures and sharing video. Cameras at concerts are like turbo powered mini marketing machines. Chris even called it out at one point, saying “I’m going to be doing some covers tonight. So if I screw ’em up, just wait until the show is over to put ’em up on YouTube.” I’m not saying we should allow the same kind of free-for-all at the theater (although in some cases – Hedwig, anyone? – it might actually add to the experience). But we do need to give our consumers chances to do what they want to do . . . capture their experience to show their friends where they were and what they’re doing. Cameras at events are the new t-shirts. (Remember wearing concert tees at school the day after you went to one to show off to your friends?) It’s a way for people to e-brag about what they’re up to. So let audiences take photos before the show begins. Maybe even let them take pictures at the curtain call? Or set up step-and-repeats in lobbies. But let’s figure out ways to allow our ticket holders to use those mini marketing machines in their pockets for good, instead of evil.
2. Meet & Greets Go Official
Because I had crossed paths with Chris briefly a few years ago, I managed to arrange a meet and greet as another surprise for the wifey. (More points for the hubby!) Imagine my surprise when we were given official “souvenir” meet and greet passes, and sent to a special VIP meet and greet room. There we got instructions from Chris’s manager, Brent Gibbs, who told the fifty or so folks there how the M&G would work. It was swift and structured, with time for photos, autographs and even a hug . . . and it made all the fans in that room feel so special. And the photos get posted for free on their website. Most of the fans won the meet and greet through a radio promotion, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much people would shell out for a few minutes of up close and personal time. Broadway M&Gs are so unstructured. Maybe there’s a list at the stage door. Maybe not. Not only could adding structure to it (and making it more available to the public) give our fans a memory of a lifetime that they’d share and share and share with their friends, it could be another way to generate income for the artists. Broadway actors aren’t paid as well as movie stars or solo country artists, so I’m sure most would be happy for the extra dough. (I have to publicly say that Chris went above and beyond his meet and greet duties and spent a little more time with us, and even gave us a “Happy Anniversary” shout out during the show, so thanks a bunch, my friend – you helped me score like 100 get-out-of-the-dog-house-free cards.)
3. Follow the Bouncing Ball
Every single concert I’ve ever gone to, from the Monkees (my first concert ever) to Bon Jovi to Chris Young have all featured some kind of audience sing-a-long. The artist holds his or her mic out to the audience and the audience sings the chorus . . . and then usually the singer says that wasn’t loud enough and they repeat it . . . and the audience eats it up. Every single time. Obviously this bullet point isn’t for a literal Broadway interpretation (although I’ve seen it work at more Broadway and Off Broadway shows than you think, from the aforementioned Hedwig to Spamalot to Altar Boyz and so on), but the idea is an important one . . . especially in the 21st century. Today’s audience wants to feel more involved than yesterday’s audience. How can you make them feel like they are part of the action? Is it a surround sound design? Is it actors out in the house? The fourth wall crumbled to the ground around the same time the Berlin Wall did. Immerse your audience. Because soon enough they are not going to just expect it, they are going to demand it.
4. Concerts Don’t Have Understudies
Joe Nichols was one of the opening acts for Chris Young (although he’s a headliner in his own right), and before his third tune he admitted that he was under the weather and not in the best voice. He went on to explain that he usually never makes excuses if he’s not in the best voice, but today was terribly hard so he had to apologize. But, he said, “We’re going to give it all we got.” Joe knew people showed up to see him, and he knew no one could take his place, so he went on. When Broadway shows have longer runs, absenteeism rises. I know performing in a show is a hard thing to do eight times a week, but we have data that tells us that when audiences see that slip of a paper in the Playbill announcing an understudy, they’re deflated (click here for the research report). We all need to work together to curb this word-of-mouth killer (that means Actors thinking about the Ethel Meman days when there were less “outs” even though there were no microphones, etc., and Producers need to do more to ensure that Actors have the best working conditions possible so that performers can stay in tip top shape).
5. Oh the Passion and Pain in those Songs
I’m sure one of the reasons I love country music is that like show tunes, country music songs tell stories. And as I’ve listened to more and more of these songs, man oh man are they filled with some serious passion . . . deep love, deep pain, or serious pleasure. It was a great reminder of how important it is that characters in musicals and plays are in serious love with someone . . . or something. Think about some of your favorite shows . . . West Side Story and its written-in-the-stars romantic love . . . A Chorus Line and all of those dancers who would do anything for “love” . . . Les Miserables and Valjean’s love for his family (he stole bread to “save his sister’s son” and then swears on his life that Cosette “shall live in my protection.”) If a main character and his want are the engine for a show . . . then the love for that want is the gas.
Oh and here’s a bonus tidbit I couldn’t help but contemplate . . .
6. What if we went General?
At the Chris Young show, the entire “floor” of the concert was general admission. What did that mean? There were lines down the block hours before the doors opened. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d ever want general admission at one of my shows, but again, there’s a right show for everything. And there is something about first-come-first-served that creates a fever pitch with an audience. It also has a cheaper feel to it . . . so maybe there would be something to doing it with a rush audience? Or lottery? I dunno. But worth a thought, right? My new rule is when I see something that’s so different from what we do, I try not to dismiss it. I try to twist it.
So a huge thanks to Chris Young and his staff for making my anniversary a night we’ll never forget, and for teaching me a few things as well (I didn’t even talk about how to incorporate the idea of an “opening act” into our shows). Oh, in case you’re wondering, yeah, I’m trying to get him to write a musical.
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