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It's a New Year! (2023-->24: NYE in the Winspear)

Updated: Jan 8

Hey, it's a new year,


How has yours started?


I wanted to share a little from my NYE gig at the Winspear... not to be boastful, but because it felt like a milestone in a strange and slightly surprising way. And a few people have asked about how it went.



It was the first time the Winspear has been open to the public on New Year's Eve. And in the lobby, my group with Dale and Jayden were the only performers from 8-1130pm.


It was difficult to guess exactly what the event would look like. There was a lot happening out in the square. Would anyone come inside? Would the Winspear lobby be a place of interest? What would the crowd be like? What would they be looking for? Would (or should) people come and go, or stick around for an extended period?


So often, I feel like a metric placed on performers is not even whether their performance is good (artistically, skillfully, whatever) but rather judgement is placed on whether they can gather and hold a crowd. Often I've felt like I've had to worry more about the gathering of an audience as an event organizer, even more than the music...


A travelling artist from Nashville gave a presentation when I was at MacEwan, and I remember him saying that "musicians must thrive on rejection" (and I'm sure if we can stomach it, it would be a healthy attitude for many areas of anyone's life). I think one of my favourite ways I've been rejected as a musician is when discussing potential performances, venue or event organizers have told me that they "don't think I (or my group) could get or hold a crowd" or "be a draw". And to be fair, sometimes it is difficult for any performer. I've had times where my efforts have brought significant crowds and also times where similar efforts saw small turnouts. I watched a talented street performer from abroad this summer at the Fringe repeatedly captivate crowds of hundreds, maybe over a thousand at peak times, then on a few occasions come back from a performance and say that he "fired his audience".


Apparently on NYE my parents thought they should stop by "just in case nobody else did".


3 800 people came into the Winspear on New Year's Eve (across the night, Winspear staff counting). At times the wall of people around us was so thick that it obstructed anyone else from coming closer/seeing the show. Though a touch classier, in many ways it felt more like being a "circle show" performer at the Fringe than playing on the stage in the main Winspear hall (and if I had know this would be the vibe, we probably could have played to this more).


Apparently $1400 was made at the one bar inside selling orange juice and banana bread (I was told at least 2 bars will be open next year... the idea by the end of the night seemed to be that the Winspear would be open in a bigger way for this occasion next year).

People shook along with the bucket of shakers I brought. At one point, a kid probably 10 years old, busted out his break-dance moves to our funk. At another time a midle-aged couple (the lady in a memorable elegant and sparkling red dress) showed their ballroom dancing skills to a slow/beautiful ballad.


There were moments when we didn't hold the crowd as strong. Mostly, I would say that was where I programmed a few songs in a row that were a little more intellectual, a little less of the accessible dopamine hits. Seeing this pattern enough times now, without a carefully niche-gathered audience, I might almost question whether it's ever worthwhile to take the risk of presenting deeper music... though I don't think that keeping it exclusively "surface-fun simple" is completely the answer (maybe just not more than one "musically deeper" song in a row, for most occasions/audiences? Was one suggestion, at least). I do find myself thinking a lot about how the average person has a lesser attention span than in the past anyways, and how this might affect what we present.


Which is where a near-street style performance probably makes sense in the Winspear on that particular day, with a street-festival feel to everything in the Churchill Square area (even for an inside performance).


Anyways, I guess as a group leader this was probably the largest audience I've played for so far. I mean, short of the larger farmers' markets if you count them (as many as 10 or 15 000 attendees on a Saturday in St Albert!), where really most people are going there on a quest for potatoes (etc), though they might incidentally discover music. It turned out that the Winspear and our unique group were an inviting enough draw for a significant crowd on NYE. Certainly City of Edmonton advertising and the occasion played a significant part.


As a performer, I still continue to alternate between events that often feel like larger "highs" than I might have imagined possible or likely (though this is no longer surprising) and then often wondering when the next gig is... yay for substitute teaching for consistent continuous work now! I'm performing less than I have in the past for a variety of reasons, but maybe on average performances feel more personal or higher impact now...

Going into 2024, I might remind myself (or anyone) the Wayne Gretzky cliché: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take".


Probably a lot of us should take more shots, in many areas in life. I should, not just with music. And then, laugh at rejections (imagined "not-being-able-to-get-a-crowds" etc) and not take ourselves so seriously if we don't get our ideal outcome.


But if we consistently put ourselves out there (and with some effort)... sometimes we will get results that are better than we might imagine.


Best of luck with whatever you are chasing in 2024!

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