Lessons Learned from a "Big Show"
On March 26, 2015, I put on a self-produced, one-man concert in Nampa, Idaho. Though I have performed on legitimate stages many times and have played solo gigs on countless occasions, this was my first solo "event" in a proper performance hall. It was also the first time I had to rent a facility, plan and coordinate advertising, interact somewhat extensively with the media, and deal with other logistical concerns in connection with a relatively large-scale musical performance. Added to that was the (allegedly) controversial nature of the concert; I say allegedly because I contend that my standpoint is not the one that should be considered controversial. What a backwards world we live in that would consider a defense of healthy, exclusively heterosexual living to be a contentious view!
On the logistical side, I encountered similar kinds of hurdles that I've heard such productions often have. There were contractual issues: as a result of negative feedback, the representatives of the rented venue decided to, shall we say, "creatively reinterpret" some parts of our original agreement late in the game. This potential stumbling block cost me both money and time, and tempted me to let them cancel the show (as was threatened). It also cost me the personal indignity that goes along with being bullied. They held the trump card; they had the ability to pull the plug on the concert. But considering that I was five weeks (and a considerable amount of personal expense) into the whole thing, and that some supporters had already purchased tickets, I backed down and met the demands that were made. But it wasn't lost on me that I was pushed around, and this shortly after placing a much-publicized newspaper ad which included the words stand up to bullying. It did not feel good at all, and I am determined to keep working towards being the kind of person who doesn't allow that to happen.
But that wasn't the first time I was tempted to throw in the towel. A couple of weeks before that issue came up, I had considered canceling simply due to being emotionally and spiritually down in the dumps - partly due to disappointment with the lackluster response from the community where the concert was to be held (which was near to where I spent my formative years). The negative thoughts typical to such a mindset rushed in: "Nobody's interested, so it's not worth doing"; "You're still making too many mistakes in the music"; "You'd save money - and therefore be able to give more to the Klein family* - if you called it off." But after this flood had raged for a bit, I recognized it for what it was: a simple temptation to give up in the face of inevitable obstacles. I've been down that road before, and have listened to the negativity. I've seen other people surrender to doubt and heard the excuses they made for their lack of perseverance. I was able to call to mind the fact that I had made a very public commitment to this show, and that if I broke that commitment then my motives would have been exposed as short-sighted and self-aggrandizing; I would have been a "cloud without rain." Though it may seem counterintuitive to some, going ahead with the event - a show that would make me the center of attention for about two hours - would prove the opposite to be true. A willingness to finish what I started would demonstrate, to me and hopefully to others, that it was not just about me.
The aforementioned musical issues presented their own challenge. I usually rely on songs, and that necessarily implies singing. In keeping with the ADD NO WORDS title and theme, I would offer instrumental music only (with the exception of two vocal selections for the encore). This pushed me to spend many hours practicing, and the idea made me pretty nervous. I regularly include instrumentals as part of my general repertoire, but as mentioned, it's far from exclusive and generally not in such a formal setting - with the eyes and ears of the public focused squarely and solely in my direction. I'm not a technically virtuosic player, but I did want to offer the best music I had in my "bag." The program consisted of 45-50 minutes of piano, 45-50 minutes of steel-string acoustic guitar, and a couple of "drum" pieces (a medley of two rudimental solos played on a drum pad, and a play-along piece featuring electronic drum set). I also included an acoustic hi-hat (played with my left foot) along with one piano tune, and foot tambourine with one guitar piece. The selections varied from hymn arrangements to jazz standards to pop/rock stylings to classical-esque things. Again, nothing I intended to play was going to blow the socks off of any superbly facile trained musicians who might attend, but it wasn't just basic beginner stuff, either. Some pieces involved a reasonable bit of arranging on my part, and two were original compositions. I hoped that it would all be enjoyable and engaging; that the concert would be able to stand on its musical merits even if it hadn't had the attendant moral component and charitable aspect. And everything would be played from memory (most of the pieces were already in my repertoire, but there were a couple of things that were learned in the period directly leading up to the show, and even the "older stuff" needed plenty of polishing).
There were negative responses expressed by members of society that insist on calling anyone who holds my beliefs to be "hateful." Somewhat ironically, these very people drew significant attention to what I was doing, and helped me make front-page news... twice. I also ended up being interviewed for one television news program and two radio programs. I learned that events like this are typically promoted with a press release, so I prepared one and sent it to the sources I felt might be most helpful in spreading the word. I was a bit hesitant about getting too cozy with the media, but realized that it would be disingenuous (and counterproductive to promotion) to plan a public event and then play coy when it came to being interviewed. Coordinating and conducting the interviews involved some effort, as did constructing an ad campaign (which included one "advertorial" composed by yours truly). Thankfully, I had a supportive ad agent, which made that aspect easier and even fun. But it's still all work. If there's one thing that all of these different aspects of producing a concert brought into sharp relief, it's that there really is good reason for entertainers to have agents, managers, and the like. If this had been a tour or an extended production, it would have been impossible to handle all of this myself.
Even as it was, there were the proverbial eleventh hour issues to handle. Programs had to be printed, and since mine included a carefully composed address to the audience about the issue at hand, there were last-minute adjustments to make to that as well. To ensure that the "drum karaoke" piece would come off without a hitch, I made sure to provide the sound tech person with both the CD and an mp3 on flash drive - a Lamborghini Aventador-shaped flash drive with working headlights, even! (Incidentally, when I placed my order for the play-along package, it was backordered - but thankfully, I had ordered it early enough that it still made it to me on time. I've gained some foresight over the years; I must be maturing a bit!). Of course there's the day-of-show organization, along with the loading, unloading, and setup of equipment, as well as some travel (I now live about eighty miles from the venue). That was almost all on me... I don't have a "roadie" or a driver at this point (I did receive some assistance from the sound tech, and some help with tearing down and reloading from supportive concertgoers... thank you!).
There were a few spiritual lessons to be gleaned from the attitudes of purported supporters. In the hope of generating interest (and yes, website visits), I advertised a ticket giveaway. As with similar promotions on radio, I posted a trivia question and offered two tickets to the seventh person to reply with the correct response. In time, one respondent did send the correct answer, and I informed her that though she was right, she was not number seven. I encouraged her to try again, since there was no rule against repeat entries. And she did try again - once. After replying with a message similar to the first, I anticipated five more e-mails in rapid succession; surely the idea had gotten through! But alas, there were no more attempts. I considered this to be another lesson in perseverance: why did the person even try to begin with? The prize was within easy reach, but the potential winner just gave up and quit. It occurred to me that perhaps this person's intentions were negative; that she only wanted the tickets to take away the possibility of someone else getting them... maybe she was a "gay rights" proponent? But even if that had been the case, the takeaway lesson was the same: someone who could have gotten what was sought ran out of gas just a little too early. How many times have I done that when the professed goal was easily attainable?
As previously discussed, I had some difficulty with representatives of the concert venue. When protesters made their objections known on the venue's social media page, the site's director repeatedly responded with a prepared statement attempting to make it clear that their participation didn't go beyond renting out the facility. Not surprisingly, this tactic didn't placate the pro-homosexual contingent. Later, when I was smooth-talked, flattered, and eventually bullied into paying for insurance and security, the same person seemed to want to maintain a friendly rapport with me. That didn't fly either. At one point during our previous conversations, she had expressed her approval of the popular bumper sticker that forms the word coexist out of letters made from various religious symbols. When all was said and done, this approval wasn't surprising to me. By trying to please everyone and to distance herself from the responsibility of direct involvement, she ended up making everyone upset. She could have refused to rent the venue to me on day one, and I would have walked away. Once she had agreed to rent it, she could have stood behind her decision and fully supported me (and not held me responsible for the perceived potential actions of negative people). Instead, she assumed a consistent standpoint of self-interest and the maintained the mentality of a people-pleaser. This reminded me of the wisdom of picking a side when there's a serious issue at hand. If there's a rock fight, the last place you want to be is in the middle ground. The silly coexist stickers are in reality promoting a new religion; one in which irreconcilable moral and doctrinal differences would be ignored in favor of "just getting along." That is not the religion for me.
A similar lesson came on the day of the show. I had heard secondhand that a representative from an organization in the area had considered being involved on a minor level, but had decided not to. As it was told to me, they expressed their support for what I was doing, but wouldn't be a part of it after all because they didn't "want to be a target." Talk about a lesson in "faith without works is dead!" Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it, too! For someone to essentially say, "I'm with you... but I'm not with you" is worse than not saying anything at all. I had experienced some similar interactions after my January "sticky note" ad ran; there were offers of financial and personal support that ended up amounting to nothing. This reminded me that for my own part, I need to put up or shut up, as they say - because I'm sure I've done the same thing to someone else at some point. If you're going to say you're on board with something, be on board. If not, that's up to you, too. But to be halfway on board? To try to reap the benefits of solidarity without taking any risk or making any contribution? Come on!
In the end, the concert came off without a hitch. While attendance was lower than I'd hoped, I was encouraged by the enthusiasm of those who did take part. My gratitude is extended to anyone who was willing to publicly express support for an event that its very aggressive opponents wrongly labeled as bigoted, hateful, and the like. My own performance, though certainly not perfect, was satisfactory (I did have to cut a couple of selections due to time constraints). The concert has been positively reviewed in the local newspaper by an attendee. I sold some merchandise, which helped ease the financial load a little. And I achieved a long-standing musical and personal goal. Most importantly, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was shared. And there's nothing hateful about that!
* Aaron and Melissa Klein are Oregon bakery owners (and Christians) who were basically forced to close their store location after they refused to be a part of a "gay wedding." They are the parents of five children, and currently await the results of the penalty phase of their trial for breaking anti-discrimination laws - which may involve up to $150,000 in monetary damages.