Let us entertain us

A century or three ago, people had drawing rooms. salons, or other large rooms for entertaning guests in their homes. Even when the room and home were of modest size, there was usually a piano, or at least a spinet, at which members of the household or their friends would play music and sing. People often had gatherings at which amateur or professional musicians would play to an appreciative audience of friends and acquaintances.

I admit that my impression of homes of yore is based mainly on literature and movies. But I have also known actual live people who hosted concerts in their homes for friends and family. In fact, there’s a whole house concert industry now. Unfortunately though, most houses no longer have space to devote to music. Living rooms are dominated by so-called entertainment centers, for consuming electronic media. With no performer-friendly home venues, what’s a mediocre musician to do?

Luckily, public music performance has gotten easier than ever.  There are dozens of bars and other music venues in any medium- to large-size city, and many of them book performers for almost every night. Tonight in Seattle, for example, The Stranger list 93 music events. Some feature big-name performers, a few are outside the city limits, and some offer DJs rather than live music. But there are still several dozen venues where one can hear local acts. And if you aren’t lucky enough to book a show at a venue, there are plenty of street corners and other busking locales.

You may be wondering, “Who goes to hear all this music?” Having been to many sparsely attended shows in the course of my music-fan life, I can tell you that in most cases the crowd consists primarily of the band’s friends and family. In other words, it’s as if people had temporarily converted a public establishment into their own private listening room.

Last night I attended a show where three bands played in succession. Two of my daughter’s friends made up half of the the middle band. During their time slot the audience numbered about 30. If you subtract the members of the other bands on the bill (say 8 people) and the few friends of those bands that cared enough to pay attention to a band they didn’t know (say another 8), that leaves maybe 14 people who had come specifically to see the second band, or about 3.5 friends or relatives per musician. And most of those 14 audience members are musicians whose own bands may be playing at a different venue tonight.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this scenario. The democratization of music, writing, and other forms of expression is the new normal, even while it’s a throwback to the days when people confined their amateur efforts to private drawing rooms. As robots and computers take over our less creative jobs, we’ll still have these occupations all to ourselves, for a while anyway.


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