The best it ever was

It’s an extremely busy week, as the Night Drivers and I head off to Circa Blue Fest and then a European tour. Meanwhile I’m in the midst of some sort of satellite radio marathon. This is just a sign of how good business is, which leads me right into this “encore presentation” of a column of mine from November of 2013 about how bluegrass artists are all conditioned to talk like this is their “best year ever.” Perhaps you’ll at least enjoy some of the band names.

Because our touring season is winding down, and Thanksgiving is upon us, I wanted to open on a personal note: I feel grateful for the fact that this past year was the best and most rewarding year our band has ever had. We played some festivals and venues we had really wanted to play, we topped the Bluegrass Today charts a few different times, and our new CD received five stars from Hoard’s Dairyman magazine in Wisconsin.

“So what?” you may be asking yourself, and well you might. As you and I are both well aware, even if it hadn’t actually been our best year (and really, it was, I swear!), I, like most professional bluegrass artists, would feel pressured to at least imply that it was anyway. That’s just what we do.

In fact, it’s a big part of most artists’ standard IBMA World of Bluegrass conversation material. When engaging in casual chit-chat with Promoter X (there really is someone with that name, by the way) we feel that we have to mention how well things are going and how rapidly our calendar is filling up (the “no thanks to you, pal” is only implied).

The era of self-promotion on social media sites has taken this business approach to a whole new level. We’ve all read the status updates about everybody’s “packed house” they just played, even though if we take a closer look, we realize the packed house was literally a house, with a capacity of 27 (28 if we bring grandpa’s old easy chair up from the basement).

These kinds of statements are just an accepted part of our interactive entertainment world that we live and brag in. And really there’s no harm in it, is there? Most of us can read between the lines and know that one show in a Santa Cruz bar doesn’t necessarily constitute a “west coast tour,” and that a “sellout” of CDs may mean that there was only a partial box of 12 CDs to begin with. Most of us also understand that a little positive hype (within reason) is part of keeping a business going.

It’s the “Business is good, people are wonderful, life is terrific” school of describing your life and work. “Business is exhausting, people are unpredictable, and there are termites in my house,” after all, is not very inspiring.

It would be interesting, though, to step into an alternate reality in which entertainers, musicians, and bands give blunt assessments of the state of their careers, even if they aren’t going well. Not only would this be entertaining, but we would all feel so much better about our own careers and lives knowing what’s really happening with others in the business.

Here’s what I imagine today’s Facebook status updates and tweets might look like in this painfully honest new world:

From Bob Millhouse and Lonesome Hedge:

“Looks like another night off. Our show in Toledo was cancelled due to slow ticket sales. Sure wish we’d had a deposit! LOL”

From Lisa LaPorte and Rippling Pond:

“Down another 3 spots on the chart this week. I guess #16 is about as high as ‘Heartache Train’ is going to go. #realistic”

The jamgrass band Moonshine Mantra opens up about band personnel changes:

“We lost Justin, our banjo/flute player last week. The hard feelings will pass with time, we’re sure. Auditions to replace him aren’t promising so far, but we’re holding out hope. Any banjo players who double on flute (recorder and/or ocarina okay too) please send us an audition MP3. We’re not that picky at this point.”

Along the same lines, this update from Jimmy Reese and Nervous River:

“Tired of the personnel changes this year. It makes it real hard to put on a decent show. People blame my strong personality, but I think if we had more shows booked, we’d probably be able to hold on to members longer.”

Towne Countye discusses their studio progress:

“Things are going slower than expected with our new studio project. I guess our timing isn’t as solid as we’d thought it was. We’ll probably rely heavily on digital editing to make it all come out in the mix. We’re hoping for a release date of next April, but it could be as late as next January the way it’s looking right now.”

And finally, this tweet from Falling Pyne from their Wyoming tour:

“Poor turnout in Laramie tonight. Could be weather, but I think we’re just not very popular here. #IntimateAudience”

On second thought, I’m already tired of this new, overly honest world; it’s depressing! Let’s go back to sugar-coating and shameless self-promotion, shall we? I feel confident this will be the most popular article I’ve ever written for Bluegrass Today. Until next week’s, which will be even better.