Country on The Move – by Bob Everhart for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

COUNTRY ON THE MOVE

By Bob Everhart, President, National Traditional Country Music Association for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

     Oftentimes I am asked if ‘producing’ and ‘directing’ a
country music festival is hard, or do I just get to watch the
entertainers perform and enjoy the music.  Well, that’s kind of a hard
question to answer.  For one thing, I have to draw on my experience, and
I have quite a bit of it, especially since I’m celebrating my 70th year
surviving playing music.  That in itself is somewhat of an
accomplishment.  It’s true I’ve had some other jobs, most of them
temporary working in television (super good show “Old Time Country
Music” on PBS-TV in Des Moines for seven years; managing radio station
KJNO in Juneau, Alaska, for two years (I sure didn’t like the winter);
Recording six award winning albums for the Smithsonian Institution; and
of course managing a country music festival for 44 years in Iowa with my
wife Sheila.

     “The Truth Hurts” a common statement coming from political
punsters these days is very applicable to working in music, especially
without another job.  I’ve talked many times about the incredible
unfairness of small entertainment venues paying a high licensing fee to
BMI and ASCAP who collect money for the songwriters they represent.  The
huge flaw with that is they don’t even know what songs are played in
those small entertainment venues.  So, that’s the gist of that problem
in the music world, but the question here is it hard to direct a
festival.  The answer is ‘yes’ it is.  It wasn’t so bad in the beginning
for me, however before I ever got to that I had a really nice rock band
called the Royal Flairs that were very popular in Chicago.  We were
asked to ‘open’ for a ton of rock bands in huge auditoriums, and we
did.  That in itself doesn’t give much to ‘running a festival’ but I
watched what the producers of the various shows did all the time.  I
picked up some good pointers about how to deal with musicians and music
makers, especially if they were egotistical beyond their ability.  There
are a few of those everywhere, but not so much in rock music as there
is at a lower level of playing in country music.  In rock music, once
the ‘trend’ is set and working, it’s simply doing your job and enjoying
it.  In country music, especially at the acoustic festival level, it can
be difficult for someone who firmly believes he’s the best singer to
walk on planet earth to understand and accept the fact that certain
things have to happen to make it all work.  Tickets have to be sold 
before any musician can be paid, unless of course you have a sponsor who
picks up the tab.  This isn’t as difficult in traditional country music
as it is in rock music at the big amphitheaters.  Mostly those rock
music promoters will do just about anything to keep the musicians happy,
that’s why they’ll provide them brown m&m’s ‘only’ in a dish in
their dressing room.  I don’t believe I’d do that, they’d have to find
somewhere else to play.  BUT….they sell tickets.  That’s what pays the
bills.  In traditional country music, the level I like best, it’s much
harder to sell an unknown ‘really good’ singer who is unknown in the
area.  Had an opportunity to overhear a discussion about this between a
musician and a promoter.  The promoter was trying to tell the musician
they couldn’t just put someone on stage if the audience had never heard
or seen them before.  BUT, he would put the act on for exposure if the
act wanted to do that, and then determine what the future might hold. 
“Exposure” doesn’t help me” the musician replied, “even if we sell a lot
of CD’s.”  So it’s a dead lock, neither one changes.  Neither one
wins.  I’ve always found stage time for even poor entertainers,
especially if they were giving it everything they could.  I’ve marveled
at how well some of them have become, and some of them are my favorite
performers.  But it’s still a risk for ‘main stage’ entertainment.  BUT,
I still do it, because I want to do it. 

     Then as time passes by, and one realizes there are less and
less venues having ‘live’ music.  So what does the musician do?  Free
“Jam” sessions is one response.  That would be OK if the musician in
question is not the best player in the world and can use some of this
experience playing with good jammers.  On the other hand, he’s not going
to go much higher on the ladder either, jam sessions are everywhere,
and they are all (or very nearly all) free enterprises, the musicians
don’t get paid.  So how do you ‘find’ venues that do pay, and how to you
find venues that will allow traditional or classic country music to be
performed?  Not easy, there are fewer and fewer of them.

     My wife Sheila and I have a small venue called the Oak Tree
in Anita, Iowa, seats right at 100 people comfortably.  We can charge
$7 per person to come in and watch a well prepared two and a half hour
show.  So what do we have, $700 in the pot.  Now don’t get me wrong,
only the best performers with a following can fill the house, most
cannot.  Sheila sends out post cards to every one on our list, costs
right at $102.40 in postage, another $32 for the postcard paper and the
ink to print them.  She also prints a flyer that she takes around to the
towns nearest us. She doesn’t charge for her time, nor does she charge
for the gas to put the posters up.  In the meantime I have to figure out
what the electricity, water, and insurance amounts to for each show. 
It’s right at $65.  We also run ads in six local newspapers in our
area.  We have to use want-ads because other advertising is too
expensive.  Even the six small ads cost right at $140.  When we have a
new act, knowing because they’ve never been seen by our audience, we
advertise on KWMT Fort Dodge radio, another $200 there. Some of our
excellent backing musicians perform for free, simply to help us keep the
doors open.  Some get a small amount, and we try to save back $150 for
our special guests. Well at $689 in our ticket selling efforts, we’re
seeing a huge profit of $11.  That isn’t much for all the work Sheila
does, or me for that matter, does it?  We make about $85 a night on the
concession stand, if we’re lucky, so we are just rolling in dough. 
Every show is different.  Sometimes it averages out like this, most time
it doesn’t.  It can go up or down as easily as anything else.  What’s
so bad about all this is no one will even attempt to do what we do,
especially if they don’t get paid for their ‘time,’ much less go in the
red to keep it going.  That’s why we do a SpringFest (this year it’s
April 26-27-28) four big shows.  Everybody has to perform for free, and
we do to.  BUT, it gives us a little bundle to start with and help us
through the summer though it never ever is quite enough.  We welcome any
entertainer to be part of this benefit show.

     Do we still want to keep doing it?  Sure we do, we love the
music.  We love the good performers.  We love to perform ourselves. 
However when someone says to us with a fist in our face that we need to
give a particular performer more money and more performance time, that’s
when we really begin to waver.  That’s a situation we don’t want to
deal with.  That’s thugs at work, and if it happens again, we’ll
probably just quietly slow down and give up.  Sheila and our daughter
Bobbie Lhea will find jobs somewhere, I would too, but age is against
me, not much luck me finding anything that I could even do.  So there
you are.  Is it hard to put on a festival?  Yep it sure is.  Take the
small show we do at the Oak Tree and magnify the numbers and you have it
in a nutshell.  I reckon that’s probably why there are so few really
good ‘real’ country music festivals.

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