It’s time for another etiquette-drenched edition of Mr. Bluegrass Manners. I’ve been sifting through my file of questions (which I’ve decided to label “File of Questions”) and here are the latest:
Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,
Could you tell me the proper way to respond to a fan, when handed an album to autograph from 1978, who firmly states, “You sure don’t look like this anymore.” Would I be out of line if I asked her to show me a picture of herself that’s 40 years old? Thanks.
I Know I’m Not In My 20’s Anymore
in North Carolina
This is an issue which has plagued bluegrass artists for years. It’s not clear whether fans are under the impression that the performers they go to see are not subject to the aging process like everybody else, and are therefore surprised to discover that they’ve aged, or whether they believe they age normally but expect them to constantly change old record and CD cover photos to reflect their current appearance. The third explanation is of course that they’re just rude.
The least subtle approach used with me recently was when a gentleman walked up to my merchandise table, took a look at the picture on an instructional video from 2001, and blurted “God you’ve aged!” (true story, I promise).
I know that in bluegrass music, we pride ourselves on performer accessibility, but saying things like that to artists is the equivalent of saying, “you sure have gained weight!” or “losing some hair, aren’t you?” and I’m afraid to say I’ve heard both of those one-liners said at the record table at one time or another. These are statements that should just never be made to anyone outside your immediate family (I make that exception only because someone in your immediate family at least has the option of hitting you with a blunt object).
To get around to your actual question, I think your response is perfectly appropriate, especially if delivered with a sense of humor (or maybe just some forced laughter). If you were to add, after asking for the 40 year-old photo, “I’d be willing to bet the years haven’t been kind to you,” it might be crossing the line into responding to rudeness with rudeness. I think good bluegrass manners dictate that it’s best to go for snappy or direct, rather than rude or sarcastic. Unless you’re just really mad.
Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,
I’m an event producer for a major bluegrass festival in the eastern U.S. (“Bluegrass at a Campground”) and I’m constantly getting peppered with phone calls, emails, and text messages from the same bluegrass artists and agents over and over wanting to get booked. You would think after I didn’t respond to the fourth or fifth call, they’d get the message, but apparently not. What’s the best approach to take here? Should I change my contact information? And by the way, we’re all booked up for 2018. 2019 too.
Tired of the Calls
I recognize that this can certainly be a nuisance, especially when some artists and agents are from the Persistence is All You Need school of career management. However, I noticed in your letter that you said “after I didn’t respond after the fourth or fifth call,” which certainly implies that rather than reject any of these people, you’re just hoping they’ll go away. This, I’m afraid, isn’t good bluegrass manners, and may be compounding your problem. Replying to people can be time-consuming, and sometimes awkward, I know, but it’s really the right thing to do, and it should end the unwanted communication very quickly. If you don’t have time to do this yourself, delegate it to someone. If you’re someone who isn’t comfortable rejecting people, again, you can delegate this to a person who doesn’t shrink from this task (taking care to avoid people who actually relish rejecting people, like a girl I knew in school). You’ll find that most artists are okay with, “I’m afraid we can’t use you next year.” It saves them all those follow-up emails or phone calls and helps them move on to bug other presenters. They’re less okay with, “I don’t think you’re any good, so don’t contact me ever again,” or “I keep waiting for you to blow me away” (an actual quote), so I would avoid the brutally honest approach. On the other hand, if artists demand a reason for their rejection (not recommended) they kind of have it coming. Artists, too, have a responsibility to accept a clear and kind rejection and to stop contacting you. Nobody likes a stalker. On the other hand, if you actually book someone after the 16th attempt to reach you, you’re setting yourself up for more of that persistence. You may be creating future bluegrass stalkers.
Are you absolutely sure you’re all booked for 2018 and ’19?
Dear Mr. Bluegrass Manners,
A bluegrass artist did not respond to my Facebook request. I sent her a message saying, “Accept my friend request, or I’ll BOYCOTT your music!!!!” A friend of mine told me that was impolite, but I STRONGLY disagree. Who’s right?
Unfriended in Boise
Well, I’d say your message was only impolite if you also consider “Give me $10,000 or your dog DIES!!!!” to be impolite. Some don’t, but I would classify that as overstepping, at the very least. One thing you have to remember about Facebook personal accounts is that they’re just that: personal. Some artists do accept everyone and use their account primarily for commercial purposes, but others are more clearly differentiating between their personal and public pages—a public page does not require a friend request and can be followed by anyone. They may want to just post family pictures, or make personal political statements, or just say things they wouldn’t necessarily want seen outside their circle of friends (in the original meaning of that word). They’re under no obligation to accept anyone’s friend request, even from their Uncle Clyde (though that could make for an awkward Thanksgiving dinner). I would follow the artist’s public fan page, and you can also follow their personal page without being a friend, and see their public posts. Then you can always send her a message saying, “Reply to this message or I’ll BOYCOTT your music!!!!”
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