Friday, June 5, 2009

Behind the Music: Local Outdoor Christian Events

My friends, we have entered the festival and outdoor concert season. Tomorrow Frank, some friends of ours, and myself will be playing some tunes for Jesus Day in Vincennes, Indiana. It's been quite awhile since we've done an outdoor gig. I'm a little nervous. Is it fun to listen to music in the great out of doors in such places as parks or church lawns? Absolutely! But it increases the Something-Can-and-Will-Go-Wrong Factor by about 2000%. So while you sit in your lawn chair and send your kids to the bouncy castle so you can have 2.6 minutes of freedom from "Hey, Mom. Mom. Mom. MOM. MOOOO-OOOOMMM! Can I have some...popcorn/Coke/candy/cash/the phone/a goldfish/a shiny Buick?," the peeps on stage might be facing some of the following:

1. The Joys of Nature. If it rains...we have lots o' electricity running to expensive gear that is strapped to us that is not waterproof. That will teach you the true Fear of the Lord. If it's too hot, you sweat and complain. If it's too cold you can't feel your fingers enough to play. If it's too sunny, the music is one big unreadable white blur and I can't read the screen on my keyboard to see what the settings are. Fab-o. If there's too much wind, the music can blow away...I need some rocks or paperclips stat! If it's too dark, again, I can't read my music. Is that a "C" or a "Q"? Memorize my music, you say? Well, that would be great if I had no small children and could practice 3 hours a day...but...uh... I think a bee just stung me.

2. Schedule snafus. The people who run festivals and events are often capable and organized and hard-working and not paid. They rock. But rarely are they musicians. So it sounds awesome to schedule 8 bands that day, giving them each 45 minutes to play...but that always, ALWAYS leads to getting behind in the schedule. It takes awhile to set up and tear down for each band. And I don't usually see band leaders looking at their watches to see if their allotted time is up. This could be the one shot of fame they have, and they will play until they get the cold steely eye of death from the organizer! The result? Things get behind. Not to mention one band was 2 hours late getting to the fest because their rad WV van broke down 3 times coming from Iowa to Indiana. The time you play is probably not the time you play. But you'd better be there 6 hours early just in case... And you will have no sound check or warm up. Good luck!

3. Can You Hear Me Now? Sometimes you get a good sound check and you get to adjust all the levels of all the instruments and make sure you can hear yourself sing and the instrument you're playing. The sound tech is wonderful to work with and listens to your needs and responds. You have adequate time to warm up and make adjustments. When you step up to the mic, you are confident and ready to rock. Then there's the other 98% of the time. All you hear is drums and you see people's mouths moving and you desperately hope that's the right key you are pressing and the right note you're singing...

4. Pregnancy. Okay, a lot musicians probably don't face this. But I have. And while I'm not pregnant now...I have done many an outdoor gig while pregnant. It dampens the "rock out factor" a bit when you have to pee like crazy while on stage for 3 hours straight...or feel a little nauseous when you see the crowd chowing down on nachos... Good times. Noodle salad.

5. Equipment failure. Strings snap. Keys stick. Sticks break. Cords short out. Speakers blow. Fuses blow. A guitar stand suddenly collapses and you hear a deafening...CHUNGGGGGG! One minute you're having a rockin' good time...and the next there's a complete and utter blackout on stage. Yes, these are a few of my favorite things.

6. Human error. We all make mistakes; I don't care how good you are. Many times, those mistakes happen on stage. Someone plays the wrong note, sings the wrong words, forgets that last chorus we added, and the beat goes on. Most of the time. Sometimes the drummer lapses and the beat does not go on. My go-to errors are: getting too into the music or the crowd and then I forget to change the setting on my keyboard. It's a soft and somber moment in the music...when suddenly... Beth plays an incredibly loud organ note for no reason! Awesome! That didn't kill the mood at all! Or I close my eyes and bash my face into the microphone. Equally awesome! I can sing of your love forever with a bloody lip and chipped tooth!

7. Phobias. Have you ever stood on a flat bed truck? It's a lot higher up than it looks. There might be a way to climb up there. There might not be. You might be 3 inches from the edge of the Dark Abyss of Death. You might not. The stage looks like it's made of paper sacks and concrete blocks. Maybe you will fall through the stage. Maybe you won't. It's a fun game.

8. That guy. When you get a bunch of people together, especially Christians, strange things happen. Yes, there's the guy who yells "JESUS!" at every event. I don't mean that guy. I kind of love that guy. I'm talking about the guy that tells a band member's wife that hugs are inappropriate displays of affection at a youth event, assuming they weren't married. And when he found out they were married, he didn't apologize. And then he was in a skit where he hugged his wife in front of everyone. THAT guy. Of course that's a totally hypothetical situation...

So...with all the distractions, why do we keep saying yes to these things? Well, you see, it's like this. God saw fit to give me a talent and a passion to praise Him through music. I am nowhere near the most talented or most polished musician in my little corner of Indiana, but He's given me opportunities to serve and teach others a little bit about what worship looks like in our lives. Sometimes it's loud. Sometimes it's soft. Sometimes it's silly and fun. Sometimes it's reverent. Sometimes everything goes great and people worship and we get to share our hearts with people and we feel like God did big works through us and maybe they even took up an offering to pay for our gas! Sometimes everything seems like a failure and people look like they'd rather be stabbing themselves in the eye with a pencil and we just have to trust that God put us there for a reason that we'll only understand in heaven someday.

So if you see me tomorrow chasing my kids around the park, trying to keep my music from flying off the stand, sweating buckets...yeah, it's kind of crazy to do these things, and I might have 18 more gray hairs by the end of the day. But it's worth it. I will get one more day to worship with my family, some of the most awesome friends a girl could have, and a bunch of complete strangers who I will share eternity with. Now that really IS awesome. :)

Look! It's me! Outdoor event + pregnant + too sunny + music trying to escape + bouncy castle= Why did someone take this picture?


Mare said...


This is fantastic. I would love to be at one of your concerts. I think it's great you do this, craziness and all. c

Helen said...

They took the picture because even so, you are beautiful.

You are a blessing, dear Beth. A true blessing..

katdish said...

I find that the worse practice/sound check goes, the better the set goes. Because at that point, you realize that it's all in God's hands anyway.

And sometimes when you think you just gave the crappiest performance of your life, someone will come up to you and thank you for the blessing.

I'm giggling about you bonking your head into the microphone and losing track of where you are, because I do that all the time. Have fun today!

And get a twitter account already!