Local support benefits everyone—the opener gets an opportunity, the headliner gets a warmed-up crowd, the crowd sees a new band, the band gets new fans, the venue gets a longer show …
“No local support.”
I hear that a lot these days.
Once upon a time, when big tours came through town, I could call the club and see if they needed an opener. Sometimes they said yes, and often the slot went to someone else, but at least it went to someone.
Now when I call, if I actually get to speak to someone, usually someone I’ve known for many years, they say No local support. Not even, Sorry, this band isn’t looking for local support. Just a cold ass No local support. I had a boss who replied to emails with non sentences like that and that shit is annoying. Give me a subject and a predicate, old friend.
I don’t hear no local support strictly because of me. I hear it because of them, aka the big-time music business overlords. It’s not because of record labels, talent buyers, promoters, bands, or booking agents. The problem is record labels, talent buyers, promoters, bands and booking agents. They’re all guilty, and they’re all faking the we support local music funk.
For those of you who don’t know, local support is code for the opening act. For decades, national touring acts would, get this, trust local talent buyers to book a local band to open the show. These coveted opening slots were a huge opportunity and often a launch pad for talented local musicians. The opening act might not get paid much, but they would play to a room of music fans who might not be familiar with the opening act. While it is a good rule to never take a gig for exposure, there’s a difference between playing a bar in Portsmouth on a Tuesday for exposure versus opening for Coldplay at the Garden for actual exposure, as a friend of mine once did.
Local support benefits everyone. The opening act gets a real opportunity, the headliner gets a warmed-up crowd, the crowd sees a new band, the band gets new fans, the venue gets a longer show with happy beer-buying patrons, everyone sells more merch, and everyone can claim that they support local music. Those were the days. Decades of days. It’s over.
The local scene used to be run by passionate locals. Like everything else, the corporations have taken over. They own and book the venues and they work with the labels and big-time managers who control the bands. The venues are big, spiffy, and are equipped with state-of-the art sound and fancy lights. Despite the fact that a century of amazing rock shows took place in dingey rooms with questionable everything and were awesome. OK, fancy rooms it is, but a funny thing happened on the way to the fancy room—these big shots who produce music locally stopped supporting local music. Much of my early career was built on opening for national acts.
As a frequent support act, we always take it seriously, read the room, know whose crowd it is, and then try to steal the show. There’s an art to being local support, and after 25 years of being that guy, I know a thing or two about it. I’ve also been on both sides of it, having owned a live music venue and before that, booked shows in Boston and Lowell. I have the awards to prove it. I personally would have felt much shame if I brought in a big-time act and then shut all local bands out of the show.
In short, I have never uttered the phrase No local support. These days, though, I hear it regularly, and by regularly I mean when the same guys I used to work with take a moment to actually reply to a damn email. When they do reply, they usually say No local support like that isn’t some wack shit to say.
Is it me? Maybe they don’t like me. Maybe I suck. Nope, nope, and nope. Many local bands I speak to are told the same thing. No local support. The funny thing is, it’s not the headlining band who is making this decision. Musicians support musicians, by default. The bands often have no say and I suspect are too busy and tired to even think about it. At least that’s what I like to think. It sure would be nice if bands stood up and said, Yes local support. Let’s not pretend that big time bands are not part of the problem.
But why? Who decided that there should rarely be local support? The answer, as far as I can deduce, is the so-called machine. I ask the clubs, they blame the bands. I ask the bands, they blame the manager. I ask the managers if they blame the labels. I ask the labels they blame the clubs. The closest thing to an answer I ever received was given to me off the record by a big time A&R man. Yes, those still exist. He said, “We don’t want to take the risk that the local act is going to blow us off the stage or draw more fans.” Oh, you mean like when Van Halen opened for Black Sabbath and stole the show every night? You don’t want to risk creating legendary moments? Oh.
I have seen this happen. I’ve done it. I once opened for an almost-famous West Coast rapper and when my set was done, the headliner played to an empty room as my fans split when I was done. With no local support, that show would have been a disaster. I’ve seen many opening acts blow headliners off the stage. Oh well. Be better. Sorry, everyone is having fun and stuff.
Another line I often hear is, We travel with our own opening act for the whole tour and if we add a third act, the show will be too long. Yeah, because people hate festivals and they really hate having a great time for a few hours. OK, the machine.
It is often said that the music scene ain’t what it used to be. Yeah? And maybe it’s because we can’t get decent gigs.
I could not get many of the bigger local acts to comment on this story on the record because they don’t want to ruffle feathers. What feathers? The chicken is plucked, bro. They’re not going to call you and they’re definitely not going to return an email.
To be fair, there are some acts who occasionally get the coveted opening slot on a big time show. It still happens. Sometimes. Personally, I haven’t played the Paradise, where I appeared dozens of times, in years. But this isn’t a me thing. Besides, my band kills every time we play, which is not very often. I spoke to members of over 20 established acts and they’re saying the same thing. It’s also not a Boston thing. It’s happening in NY, LA, Atlanta, and even in Vermont. Not Vermont!
Will we get it back? After writing this, I probably won’t because the big shots will have hurt feelings, call me old, and say I suck. Luckily, this isn’t about me. This is a systemic issue. The natural process of passing the torch, launching careers, and supporting local music has been interrupted and some of you music business big shots need to wake up. You’re sabotaging your own futures and you have zero credibility if you even consider telling anyone that you support local music. You don’t. You aren’t even trying. You do what you’re told by the machine. How very punk rock of you.
P.S. Reply to a damn email.