Okay, before some of you go all-diesel on me, I am aware that many of our bluegrass music bands have a bus (and some have two) for their performance tours along the bluegrass ribbon of highway. In my recorded interview with Frank Solivan below, my reference to a bus as it relates to bluegrass music is just a passing jab for a chuckle.
Are we good? Give it a listen:
Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen spend plenty of time on the road. And their bus? They drive an upscale Mercedes Sprinter van to transport band personnel, instruments, gear and luggage.
This leads to a well known, but non-researched factoid by Lisa: touring bluegrass music bands spend more time on the road with band mates than with their own families. And as Chris Jones, my co-columnist at Bluegrass Today, states in his very popular TED Talk,“Top 10 Ways To Break Up A Band,” traveling can make or break a musical group.
Frank Solivan shares a similar sentiment.
“… long distances on the road, you just learn to deal, that’s the thing about being in a band, 95% of being in a band is the hang, the other 5% is the music. If you can’t hang with everybody, it’s not going to be good, on stage either.”
I interviewed Frank when he and Dirty Kitchen (Mike Munford, Danny Booth, and Chris Luquette) were at the Station Inn in Nashville, Tennessee for a show. This was just a week after their triumphant swing through the World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, North Carolina where Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen was recognized by members of the International Bluegrass Music Association as Instrumental Group of the Year.
I arrived to the Station Inn during sound check and sat in the back of the darkened room. During that stretch, Frank was involved in getting the sound just right for his own vocals and instruments; he also organized the band’s merchandise table; then made sure that the guest list had the right names on it, all the while checking in to let me know that he knew I was standing by for our Artist2Artist interview.
As the leader of my own group, I know all too well about this sort of multitasking. Truth is, pre-show busy-ness is emotionally draining, and it can also be a threat to delivering a great live performance. So, when it comes to show time, how does one leave behind the multitasking and go into performance mode?
Dedication to a pre-show routine.
I’ve witnessed many bands screw up a performance due to a nonexistent or dreadful pre-show routine. Less-seasoned artists can be self-conscious, and even embarrassed, to integrate a plan for creating personal space and time prior to a show– but it’s a must in order to switch into a performance mindset.
Frank Solivan says going straight out of multitasking into a performance guarantees a less than stellar show. What’s his pre-show routine? He gets away from the other members of his band, picks up the mandolin and does what he calls: “listen to my fingers.”
That’s an interesting approach and one I had never considered. Just before a show – rather than listening to your instrument – listen instead to your fingers. It’s a Zen-centering shift.
The show itself.
It’s time to take the stage and Frank pares it down simply, saying “to put your best foot forward, all you have to worry about is yourself. If you have your part down… of course there will be those moments where everybody hits a clam, or there’s a little stumble here or there, that’s part of live music, and it’s kind of fun to pull yourself out…”
And finally, one of the more poignant moments in our conversation is Frank’s thoughts on inspiration as it relates to songwriting. It hit home with him during the recent sickness and then passing of his beautiful and talented mom, Lorene. He zeroes in on the energy of songwriting being around all of us. Frank says it takes a sensitive songwriter to recognize the presence of music in the “ether” and then to have the tools to focus that energy through an artistic “magnifying glass.”
Near the end of our conversation, Frank goes way etherteric on me. You’ll smile.
Definitely listen to our 20 minute talk because there’s a nugget buried in there thanks to bassist Danny Booth. He provided to me a board-feed recording from the 1986 Strawberry Bluegrass Festival where Frank, as a youngster, was sitting with his dad on the front row listening to Newgrass Revival – which included John Cowan on vocals and Sam Bush on mandolin. This is the VERY moment when Frank was bit by the bluegrass music bug.
As always, please share your comments, thoughts, and insights. Your ideas are important to me, and I know that Frank will enjoy what you have to say, too.
Thanks for reading and listening.