the sound of no hands clapping

What if they gave a concert and no one came?

It’s a running joke/sad truth amongst musicians about the shows where the band outnumbers the audience. I’ve been there. It doesn’t matter if it’s an eighty piece orchestra with fifty people in the audience or a quintet with an audience of three. It feels bad either way. But it can be good. I played in Dana Auditorium in Greensboro, NC, once. It’s a large concert hall. There were four of us. Well – the audience did outnumber the band but not by much – I think there were 15 of them. We put chairs on stage so they would be right up next to us and it was great – like a living room concert. I think they even had a sofa up there that was a prop for some theater piece. The audience loved the intimacy and we got to play acoustically just like playing at home.

But it’s never happened before to me that simply not one person showed up for the gig until last Tuesday in Rocky Mount, NC. The Imperial Centre is Rocky Mount’s new arts and science complex. It was built with FEMA money (Rocky Mount was badly flooded during huricane Floyd) and private donations. It’s a beautiful performance space – looks like it seats around 800. Nice facilities, good acoustics. I believe it opened early this year and they’ve had some theater productions in there. According to the tech guy ours was the first music performance in the new space. I was playing bass with the David D. Trio – David DiGiuseppe on accordion, and Beverly Botsford, percussion. Sound check went quickly and well – excellent staff there at the Imperial (that name really bothers me, though). It seemed that there had been no advance ticket sales and I jokingly suggested we round up some folding chairs to put on stage in case we only had 10 listeners. But by showtime it was clear that it was no joke – not one person had shown up. Our host assured us we would have “a small audience” and by 8:15 a group of 12 people walked in and we scoured the dressing rooms for folding chairs. Our audience was a tap dance class that had been meeting in another part of the complex and been drafted to be our audience. They were augmented by a few staff members dragged out of their offices. 

This story could have had a sad ending – us packing up and driving home without playing a note but I think I enjoyed it even more than if we’d had a crowd of hundreds. Our new friends were ecstatic with the music they had no idea they were going to be hearing. They got to ask questions during the performance, we were much more relaxed than we would have been playing across the void between stage and rows of plush seats, and a very good time was had by all.

And in the great tradition of bureaucratic organizations – the check is in the mail……