TV or not TV

TV or not TV?– Road Dog- Summer ’00

I hadn’t played in Ashland, Oregon in about ten years. The concert presenter who decided to bring me back this year was impressed by my music, but also worried about the level of name recognition which I might (or might not) have with her audience after the long hiatus, and was determined to do her best to make the show a success. I was impressed with her chutzpah and energy, and promised her I would help her however I could.

She phoned some of her media contacts, called in a favor or two, and secured me a spot on a great morning interview show on the local NPR affiliate. The show was popular with her audience, and my appearance would definitely improve the concert attendance.So far so good, right? There was only one thing wrong with this picture. The show needed me in the studio for a sound check at 8:00 a.m. on the Friday of the concert, and I had a workshop on Thursday, the night before, in Corvallis, about 3 1/2 freeway hours away (in good weather, and it wasn’t good weather) from Ashland and the studio.

I had three choices, each with a hefty down side. I could turn the radio show down, disappointing the concert presenter and making it harder for her to reach our potential audience and to make the concert a success; I could drive down to Ashland after the workshop, arriving in town and checking into a hotel around 3 a.m. with a 7 a.m. wakeup; or I could wake up in Corvallis about 3:30 a.m. Friday and do the drive on the morning of the show, hoping that the weather and roads would cooperate in making it possible for me to arrive at the studio in time.

Fingerstyle guitarists on morning television talk shows are about as common as reference librarians on the pro wrestling circuit. Any high-quality television coverage is a rare plum, of course, and real network coverage on the day of a concert even rarer. Once again my promoter scored quite a coup- this time an invitation from the local CBS affiliate in Tulsa (KOTV) to perform for the duration of the Friday version of “Six in the Morning,” their two-hour morning coffee-and-light-news program. The station was more than willing to help us promote that evening’s Tulsa concert in the process. This meant, of course, that the station needed me there at 5 a.m. for sound check.

As with the Ashland radio interview, I had an event scheduled on the evening before, a concert about two hours away in Oklahoma City, and the same set of three bad choices- pass on a great opportunity to reach a much larger audience for my music and my concert, drive part of the evening to get to Tulsa for a 1 a.m. hotel check-in and 4:30 a.m. wakeup, or awake at 2:30 a.m. in Oklahoma City and make the drive then.

Acoustic guitar music is too often regarded as having some sort of cult-only status, which I’ve taken to mean that it is often seen by the mainstream media as worthy of the same sort of coverage given (or more often not given) to stamp-collecting conventions or bridge tournaments. This being a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever I’ve seen one, I long ago resolved to answer all reasonable press inquiries whenever possible, and to play my music for whatever unlikely audiences might result from the radio and TV invitations which pop up. While this policy has led me into some quirky situations, it’s also produced some breakthrough publicity, and a lot of good concert and workshop turnouts along the way. You might call it: “preaching to the unconverted,” just as the old folk wisdom counsels us to do. Most times, of course, there is no trauma involved, and the media events and interviews help create lots of energy and exposure. Other times I’m presented with quite a different set of choices.

The two cases described above, of course, fall into the latter category. These kinds of decisions test one’s commitment, stamina, and sanity, and often lead to longer introspections when tours end and time becomes available for such things. What is reasonable to expect of oneself in the way of physical energy, mechanical dependability, and career dedication? When and how will my willingness to do these crazy appearances backfire? During the 5 a.m. load-in and for the two hours of lighthearted television shenanigans with the local Regis and Kathy Lee, will I have enough of my wits and musical skills about me to compel any of the good local coffee-drinking-getting-ready-to-go-to-work citizens of the greater Tulsa metro area (or those of southern Oregon) to want to buy a ticket to come see me perform that evening?

Considering it further- what are the best uses of one’s admittedly limited touring energies? Should I instead have talked to my wife on the telephone, practiced some more, worked on new music, gotten some exercise, slept late, read my novel, had dinner after the show with a local friend, or visited an interesting museum or park instead of committing to the crazy drive and the morning media exposure? What do others decide in these same situations? When will one of these invitations be goofy enough to make me say “No?”

Postscript: I said “yes” to both appearances. For the Ashland radio interview I arose at 3:30 a.m. in Corvallis, drove to Ashland, checked into a hotel for a quick wake-up shower, and did a half-hour talk and play on the morning show. At the concert that evening it seemed clear that the attendance was boosted by my radio appearance, and we all felt good afterwards. In Tulsa I drove over from Oklahoma City the evening before, got three hours of sleep in a local hotel, and then did the show. I decided to ask for a show of hands at that evening’s concert to see who came as a result of my TV appearance, and a grand total of two people confessed to having been compelled to buy tickets after watching the show. Maybe it was because I was as dumb as a post while I was on-air, or maybe it was just not my crowd, or maybe…

What, if anything, is to be learned here? Radio that reaches the right audience is absolutely crucial, and I’ll do it just about anytime I can, but perhaps it’s safe to pass on 5:30 a.m. TV appearances. Keeping your concert presenter happy is part of the equation as well, and if they feel that you should do the show, you probably should do the show. The question of how hard to push onself is ongoing, and will probably never be satisfactorily resolved in this road dog’s lifetime.