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Into 2021: What kind of performance people need

Happy new year! I know, I know… it’s a bit late. I was busy. But still, happy new year!

I took my second turn at Drakensburg Gardens Hotel as the resident musician. Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day. The above pic I took on 1 January, a beautifully cool day after loads of sunshine and performing by the pool during the day and in the evening at the restaurant. That was, up until President Ramaphosa announced the party was over on 28th.

Up until that point, there was a great atmosphere around. Equally so, I had been really impressed with how the hotel and the guests were handling themselves. Each person was screened at the gate before entry into the resort, and once in there were strict protocols in place to ensure safety and hygiene. People were wearing their masks and everything was going well. I was surprised at both the adherence to the restrictions as well as the festive atmosphere.

Then it all changed. The day after the president’s announcement, it was quiet. People were around, but there was less merriment. Perhaps it was the figures he released. Perhaps it was his disposition. Perhaps it was the ban on booze. Perhaps it was the “oh, we’re back there at that lockdown level again”. Perhaps it was all of that and more.

I set up to play by the pool at lunch time and then later on in the afternoon outside on the deck pictured above for “sundowners” (aka coffee or milkshakes). The atmosphere was sombre throughout the day. I carefully chose my songs, in an effort to lift the mood. I smiled at people, and they attempted to smile back. But it was clear that the sobriety of the president’s speech was a shock to everyone’s system.

It is on this point that I’d like to zero in on something I’ve noticed in my profession as a performer. Live music, particularly at this time of year, goes hand-in-hand with booze. Not just over the festive period, but generally. Everywhere I go, there’s this symbiotic relationship between an audience listening to music and drinking.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a glass of something when I’m in the audience on holiday. I get it. I really do. And prior to this residency, I would say that as a performer, I actually prefer people to have a few drinks in them. It takes the edge off. They’re less inhibited and more responsive to an artist or a band. There’s applause, there are song requests and there is a louder atmosphere of folks talking and singing along and generally being merry.

Heaven forbid anyone would ban the beer, remove the rum and take away the tequila. But that’s exactly what happened.

And I noticed something profound.

People watched me more than usual. They listened too. With keen earnestness. It was like a theatre show, rather than relaxed background music. Some even looked as though they were scowling under their masks (and if you’re insecure as a performer, that stuff will unravel you quickly), but it was those same people who would come and thank me after listening intently for a few songs and tell me how much they were enjoying it.

“Thank you and well done. We are really enjoying your music. It makes such a difference having you here.”

At it’s heart, that’s the same sentiment as “#&^%#$ bro! You are *!%#ing brilliant!” when the same guy has made his way through a couple of pints.

For many folks, maybe it’s the combination of venue and priorities. Maybe it’s more about the sum of the whole experience than just the music.

But on reflection, I’m looking into 2021 and thinking through what kind of performance people need. Not necessarily what they want.

There’s no doubt that it’s easier to perform to a crowd of people who are ticking and responsive, than to a crowd of people who are tamely scrutinising your every note and word. But the latter holds a cognitive edge that, for me, makes the message I bring in music more likely to stick than to slip.

I’ve tested this out before in various settings and capacities, and I think that post-2020, we need to be looking forward.

So we begin this new chapter with work on the live show of The Great Deep. It will be medicine. Intervention-based therapy. It’ll be a multimedia theatrical show that we’ll take into homes, with a message.

I can’t wait for it to be ready.

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1 thought on “Into 2021: What kind of performance people need

  1. So insightful, as proud of you, as always.
    Love to you and Tammy

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