Think about the last concert that you attended. One of my favorite things about seeing a band live for the first or fourteenth time is the next morning. You wake up with the songs still buzzing around your head. You can still sense those moments where the arrangement changed or where the artist covered a song you had never heard before and all you want is to hear and experience that moment again.
Those headlining artists have legions of fans that are paying to see these performances. They also have experienced musicians often sharing the stage with them in a team or support role and possibly even their own audio or lighting techs to enhance the performance. But what about those opening acts? These are the guys and gals that get stuck with the 30 minute set to warm up the crowd an hour after the doors open. They are the singers that do their best to catch your attention while you’re chatting with your friend about the latest happenings in your life over that first drink of the night. They might very well have the hardest job at any show – perform to a generally apathetic crowd.
This is partially why the show I attended earlier this week was almost like a Christmas miracle for me. I’m not the easiest guy to impress musically. Having been raised on the complex arrangements of Sondheim and jazz, the harmonies of choral, soul, and theatre, an avid appreciation for dynamics and storytelling, and a degree in audio production I have a tendency to listen to music across each of these levels looking for every song’s quality. But there’s more to a live show than just the songwriting and the music because the stage presence and showmanship are also key elements.
Nick Howard, a singer/songwriter, was the opener at the show I attended. He found so many unique ways to engage the crowd and get their attention. From utilizing a minimal lighting element where the most stand out visual beyond his spotlight was a light box that spelled out his name, to the requests for more people to the center of the floor to help support a future stage dive, to sharing experiences that most of us have gone through at some point as the inspiration or dedication for his songs, Howard utilized all elements of his performance to get the crowd engaged. That, paired with some quality songwriting and performing, truly made for a memorable show, and one that stands out in my mind amongst all shows. I can attest to that because it wasn’t Eric Hutchinson’s music (the headliner) I was listening to the following morning.
The warmup act is a great opportunity to expose your music to an audience while simultaneously honing and refining your show. It isn’t the easiest gig in the world to get them interested in your performances, but if you think about creating an experience that makes the show unique, even under the simplest of terms, you might just walk away leaving the long sought after lingering impression.