the opener

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Every band, burgeoning singer songwriter, stand up comedian, and dozens of other types of performing artists have been there. I’ve been there countless times, and will probably continue to be there hundreds of more times in my career. I’ll be there Friday in fact. The double edged sword of the loved/dreaded opening slot. She can be a cruel, heartless mistress, some nights subjecting you to crowds who have no interest in hearing your music, your jokes, who don’t care how many times you emailed the headlining band’s manager’s personal assistant to the sound man’s nephew, or how you even figured out that chain in the first place. Other nights, she rewards your perseverance with the sweet gift of new fans made, merch sold, and some new friends made in the other band. Regardless of what the spoils of your opening set are, there’s some basic things to think about as you warm up the stage at a sometimes less then opportune time.
***(These things come from conversations with a a few different musicians I’ve had over the past couple days regarding this topic. This is in no way directed at any bands/people specifically…..)

– Sounds basic, kind of something we should do as humans, and this definitely doesn’t exclude musicians. More often then not, the headliner may not really want an opening band to play, so coming into a sound check with an ego and a list of demands doesn’t really fly. Remember who set the show up in the first place, be grateful and graceful without getting worshipy about it.

2.DON’T ASSUME YOU CAN USE THE OTHER BANDS GEAR – When you assume you make an ass out of….yourself.Is that how it goes? Although in a perfect world every drummer would use a drum kit that magically adapted itself to all my whims and heights as soon as I sat on the magical stool, this just doesn’t happen. Some people like to set their gear up, sound check, and make damn sure it stays that way. It makes things infinitely easier to share things like drums and amps, just send an email beforehand. To make it easy on everyone, speak to your band, find out who needs what, send one email to one person in the other band and work it out representative style. In the continuous life long recession that musicians live in the less cabs people need to take with gear the better. And the sound man will probably love you too, it can literally save hours over the course of show from sound check to tear down.

3. PLEASE PLEASE START ON TIME – 90 percent of the time, about 80 percent of the people are there to see the headlining band. Although for the benefit of the doubt we’ll say that your music kicks ass and people will love you, being in an audience can at the best of times be a tiring experience, mentally and physically. The later you start, the less likely people will like what you’re doing, and the less the headliner will probably like you as well. And for the record, don’t do the bathroom trick, which is a conversation that goes like this –
headline band - hey, you guys ready to go?
opener - yeah, for sure! I just need to run to the washroom and then grab the guys and we’ll start right away.
15 minutes later, headliner sees opener at the bar waiting for a beer
hb - sooo, are you guys headig up now? We really need to get things rolling.
ob - oh yeah, for sure, I’m just going to grab this beer, and then our guitar player just needed to run out to the van for something …..
And so on. Lame.

4. IF YOU HAVE A 30 MINUTE SET TIME, PLAY A 30 MINUTE SET – Don’t have much to say about this that can come out in a constructive manner, it’s pretty self explanatory.

So there’s a few things, and I’m sure everyone’s got a few more. As a bit of a disclaimer so I don’t come across as a complete asshole, I’ve been on both sides of this and I understand the tricky position of being the opening act and how the balance of having a useful opening set is a delicate one. I also understand how to drive a standard, but that doesn’t give me the right to skip from first to third every time I drive because it’s a funny noise, and drive recklessly. Thoughts? Lemme have it……..

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3 thoughts on “the opener

  1. Stacey says:

    Agreed JVT! So annoying.
    I’d love to hear your thoughts on headlining band etiquette too… like whether they should listen to the opener’s set or not ;)

  2. joshua says:

    Interesting question that I think depends on the situation. If it’s a band that the headliner asked specifically to play the show, I think yes, they should hang out and provide some support, and they obviously asked them for a reason. If it’s a thrown together show where the opener has no connection to the headliner what so ever, I don’t think there’s as strong an obligation. Personally, I like seeing live music, so the opportunity to catch a band is for the most part one I take advantage of. Times I maybe wouldn’t catch the whole set is if there’s a backstage area and I have a chance to warm up and hang out a bit, relax before I play. Or if there’s a cock fight going on and I’ve got 20 bucks on it……

  3. Thanks for sharing!

    Don’t forget the… “Don’t hog the ENTIRE merch space for your own shirts, dog collars, tatoos,… and CD’s, leaving the headline act ZERO room to display theirs” ; )

    About a week before you played that super kick ass show, I had “the opener from hell experience”… it really made me say “never again”! However I have since booked some in the next few months, and I will just make sure they read your blog first ; )

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