How strange, to actually meet the person that is Jonatha Brooke. How strange, to encounter for the first time a fan’s mentality—to realize that the person who is standing in front of you and laughing at a joke is someone who is called by a single name by her friends—and not the full name that’s on her albums.
How strange it is to have listened to someone’s music over and over for a period of years, to become intimately familiar with it and with the half-veiled glimpses into the life that created the music—and then to meet the person who created the music. Because, when faced with the actual person, you don’t really know what to say. On one level you have an incredible level of intimacy with this person—you care about something (in this case, her music) that she makes her life’s work. On the other hand, she doesn’t know you, except as another face in another crowd that applauds wildly at the end of a performance.So, in this case, I told her that we’re audiophiles, and that because her albums have been so carefully produced, we now use them to demonstrate our stereo system to our friends. Then a picture or two, a smile, a handshake, a dash to a car to drive home—
- and thus goes real life.
This is why I like finding musicians who care about what they do, and who aren’t selling out every single arena in the country. In this case, I can pay $22 to get a great seat in a small venue with very good acoustics, and get treated to an hour-and-a-half show thoroughly peppered with stories and laughter and true performance. No going through the motions, here—this is someone who makes her living off of how she performs on stage, and who lives and dies by whether or not she connects with the people sitting in the general admission seats.
Then, afterwards, a quick change of clothes and a drink of water and then standing out front of the venue and signing the random detritus thrust upon her by fans. We waited, Kat and I, behind the signing table, for the initial crush of fans to leave. Signings can be accomplished quickly, but pictures generally take longer.
The difference between an indie artist working for a living and an artist paid for by a major label is, I think, effort. The indie artist recognizes that fans block out time from their regularly scheduled lives to come to concerts, and puts work into creating a concert that will be not just a good memory, but a memory good enough to share with others.
(After all, when you can’t afford for a label to promote your work, the best thing you’ve got is for your fans to say this: “Trust me. You may not have heard of her, but it’s worth your money for the CD and the concert ticket. Go. Thank me later.”)
Fans will hand you nearly anything they own to sign. For a memento, anything will do: while we were there, we saw a ten-year-old girl hand over a worn denim jacket to be signed. Jonatha looked at the child, looked at her mother, and said, “Are you sure this is okay?” - and only when the mother consented, did she sign.
She signed that jacket, and everything else she was offered: random scraps of paper (“I forgot my copies of your CDs and this is all I have”), worn CD covers (“I’ve nearly played this CD to death, and the only way it would mean more would be if you inscribed it to me”), t-shirts, publicity posters, tonight’s setlists, newspaper articles about the show, a green guitar pick dropped in mid-show (Jonatha: “How is my name going to fit on this?”).
A man and a woman, elegantly dressed, came up to her halfway through the signing. The woman was all but tripping over her words, trying to get them out coherently and quickly. “I have to tell you this,” she said. “Today is my birthday. I wanted to go to your concert but when I called for tickets, they were all sold out. Tonight, when I got off from work, my husband asked me to get in the car, and then he drove us out here and—oh, my God—we’re really here! This was the best birthday present I could’ve had.”
Jonatha shook both their hands and congratulated her on having such a lovely spouse with good taste—and winked at the woman’s husband, who grinned widely. She signed the CD he had bought for his wife, who then hugged the CD to her chest and gave her spouse an electric smile.
An indie artist knows that every object signed, hand shaken, and picture taken belongs to a fan that will undoubtedly walk away from the concert and tell his or her friends the next day about how fabulous the concert was. How they actually got to meet the person who crafted the music. How she was so incredibly nice and how impressed they were with her. A good indie artist recognizes that the leap between a current fan raving about a concert and the creation of new fans is as small as a borrowed CD.
Do not mistake me. I attended two large concerts last year—Sting and Dave Matthews Band. I enjoyed both, though DMB more than Sting. (Cost: $48.50 and $34, respectively.) It was good, but after the concert was over, I was one of around a thousand people who filed out of the stadium. The performance was over; it was time to go home.
In the case of the Sting concert, when our tickets were torn at the gate, we were given a little postcard that we could mail in for “a picture from the Sting concert you attended.” I carried the postcard around in my wallet for a month or two before discarding it. It took me that amount of time to realize that no mass-produced picture was going to personalize a concert in which I sat in the top tier of seats, so far away from the performer that I couldn’t even tell if he was smiling or not.
In the case of last night’s concert, I sat ten rows from the stage. I spent about five minutes moping about how lousy my seats were. Then I got realistic, and realized the acoustics were fabulous, I could see everything, and that I couldn’t ask for better seats.
But, to top it all off—in my camera right now, waiting to be developed, is a picture from last night. It’s of Kat, Jonatha Brooke, and me—mugging for the camera. All three of us, arms linked. I don’t have to mail off a postcard to get a bulk-mailed picture of “the concert I attended.” I have a real photo—and I’m in it.
Not bad, for a $22 concert ticket.