Kansan Mark A. Johnson has done a great service for the bluegrass profession with his new digital publication, Stage Performance Guide For Your Bluegrass Band.
Throughout this 60 page e-book, Johnson discusses the art of performance, as opposed to simply playing music. It is targeted at amateur groups trying to make the jump from jamming around to actually taking the stage, as well as existing semi-pro bands whose live show doesn’t generate a strong reaction from audiences.
A major point he makes is that you need to bring the people into your performance… engage them, make them part of the experience. I have always described this phenomenon thusly: if people have fun at your show, you are great; if they don’t, you suck.
In a recent interview, Mark (not the Clawgrass banjo Mark Johnson) explained how the book came to be as he developed his own insights into what works and what doesn’t on stage.
“I’ve been playing banjo and singing in regional bluegrass bands for over 30 years. More than 20 of those years with the same band (the Bennett Brothers from the Wichita area). We performed regionally in Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. One of the highlights was being booked for four days at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS.
I became interested in the entertainment aspect of performing after I began telling a few jokes between songs on stage and saw how well the audience responded.
I enjoyed making people laugh so much that after a few years on stage I started to study stand-up comedy. It’s amazing how much you can learn about entertainment from doing stand-up. There is nothing more intense in entertainment than being all by yourself in front of a room full of strangers doing stand-up comedy. You receive instantaneous feedback as to whether you are pleasing the audience… either they laugh or they don’t. It made me learn to focus on the audience. I learned that I have to give them what they want or fail. I began applying what I had learned doing stand-up to our band and it really added to the entertainment value of our shows.
I have been asked to conduct a few stage performance workshops at bluegrass festivals the last few years and have coached a few bluegrass bands on an individual basis. One of the bands has tripled their performance fee since taking my advice.
You only have to attend a few bluegrass shows to see that there is a great need for training in stage performance. This is stuff nobody else talks about and I don’t see any other books that address this subject for bluegrass bands. I have been extremely happy with the sales of the book and comments that I have received from people who have purchased it.”
Mark is considering expanding this project into a DVD format that would include examples and interviews.
Here’s hoping that bands who could benefit from his expertise will take advantage of the opportunity.