The stage as toolWritten by Sarah Cohen | | email@example.com
Not all venues are created equal. Toledo offers a variety from the good, the bad and the ugly. Local musical settings range from art galleries to coffee shops, beer galleries to amphitheaters. However, if you are in a local band, you can cross off playing the latter, unless you win The Blade’s Battle of the Bands (who are those people?), leaving the rest of us with the smaller, local places.
For original bands, I recommend seeking out a room with a stage and a sound system. A show is much enhanced by these technological advancements, yet these simple improvements seem to elude many of the venues on the local circuit.
The Village Idiot and The Ottawa Tavern are bars that have recently updated their spaces. Unlike many bar venues, they have taken steps toward being legit clubs, providing a sound system, stage and lighting. These bars benefit from having good locations and large crowds (that seem to live there). Performing bands are sure to get recognition and applause for playing new and original material. The main challenges to the audience and musicians — both spaces get loud and crowded after midnight and because of this bands are expected to play, umm, loud.
A stage is more than a symbol — it’s a working tool that helps a performer more efficiently rock. Without one, people are less likely to treat the evening like a show, and more likely to write off a band as “background music” (my least favorite term ever to be deemed a genre.)
Manhattan’s, which offers live music seven days a week, does not have a stage or any sound system. For a venue that has such good taste in music, and treats its performers quite well in terms of pay and respect, it is really time to take the next step by installing some hanging speakers and a small raised stage. My real vision for Manhattan’s would be to move select shows to the party room. It would be the perfect space to have a show based on listening and respect. Believe me, there are so many people who would love to come out for music but stay in because of the lack of etiquette in the bar scene. I get chills at the thought of playing to a captive room full of attentive patrons.
Ahh, the elusive captive audience; a dream to most, a reality to few. Once, in a far away land called Lansing, I went to a show where
100 people sat in rows of folding chairs facing a small stage surrounded by artwork. They paid a small cover and sat to listen to the stories set to music. It was all very Zen; the crowd only wanted to be part of the experience. There were bars to the left and the right and anyone was free to leave at anytime. It was like being at a play. Robinwood Concert House is a newer venue that takes listening very seriously. It should be commended and visited by many. Specializing in avante garde and touring groups, it remains one of the most unique performance spaces in the are. Bozarts Fine Art and Music Gallery also features a welcoming creative space where acts local or otherwise perform in front of local hanging artwork. No pressure to be a cover band here, either. The sacrifice is neither spot can offer the cold hard cash a bar can. It’s Catch 22 of 222 for musicians in Toledo. Quality/Quantity = Sacrifice.
What happened to paying a cover? Toledo has taken the recession hard and now makes a funny face at the mention of paying a cover for music. Because of this, it has become harder for local bands to get people to come to venues like Mickey Finn’s or Frankie’s. Both provide excellent sound systems and great stages — not to mention real sound men, a breed of men that has migrated north. Maybe for those who come to shows for the social aspect it doesn’t matter, but those there specifically for the music struggle to hear and participate.
So what can we do to better the music scene? Venues, help your bands and provide a stage or sound system that works with your room. It will help with quality and constancy. Bands, keep playing new music so people stop treating us like a call and request radio show. Most importantly, if we as a people had a bit more self-control when out in public and paid a bit more respect to the performers, we could see a change in quality almost immediately. A few days ago, I heard a guitarist named Tim Oehlers shout, “Please be quiet so we can hear the music!” while struggling to hear The Staving Chain and its acoustic instrumentation. I shook his hand. Well played, sir.
P.S. It was just reported that “Wooly Bully” was heard being played at the Toledo Art Museum … now that’s high art!
Sarah Cohen is a Toledo native and an original musician of The Antivillains who manages Happy Badger Cafe in Bowling Green. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.