What do artists owe fans?


Photo courtesy of mykecave on Flickr

In my last post about the Mile High Music Festival, I briefly covered John Mayer’s performance.  Mayer is an amazing guitar player, and the energy displayed at the show poured into the crowd to greatly an awesome, lively show.  At the same time, I think fans who bought John Mayer tickets didn’t get to see what they paid for.

When John Mayer came on the mainstream scene at the turn of the century, his sound was a more melodic, pop-based sound – not N’Sync pop, but pop in the sense that the songs were straightforward and catchy.  With hits like “No Such Thing”, “Your Body Is a Wonderland”, “Why Georgia” and “Daughters”, Mayer established that sound. Then he decided to change it, moving from the pop-based going back to a more blues-based. It seemed to happen when the John Mayer Trio got together (Steve Jordan’s an amazing drummer by the way), when the transformation began.  It spilled out of the Trio and into his next solo album, Continuum.  When you compare the John Mayer you hear today from his 2001’s Room for Squares, it’s a pretty drastic change.

I’m not saying that artists can’t change their sound – it happens all the time. There’s also a difference between an artist experimenting (U2’s "Pop" and DMB’s "Everyday") and returning back to your original sound, or truly evolving your music into a different genre.  Mayer may be experimenting, but I would predict that his sound has evolved and changed and won’t be going back any time soon. 

When some artists change their sounds, they either start a new project or join up with a band.  However, when your sound changes pretty drastically and you’re maintaining the same stage identity, what do you owe those fans that came to hear the music that made you popular?

At Sunday’s show, Mayer didn’t play "Your Body Is A Wonderland", or "Daughters" and his other (arguably) biggest hits, "No Such Thing" and "Why Georgia" were condensed into a medley.  It would be one thing if this was a band like the Rolling Stones that have 70 hits – but if I’m not mistaken – Mayer’s only had 3 studio albums out. In addition, he played 3 cover songs on Sunday as well.  It’s cool to see big acts play a cover, but when you’re playing more than one at the sacrifice of one of your biggest singles, then you probably have a priority problem.

I’m not saying Mayer shouldn’t keep on playing jammy-blues, but if he doesn’t want to play those early hits then he should go out with a different stage name. At least when you show up to hear the John Mayer Trio, you know it’s not going to be John Mayer (just like when you go see Gwen Stefani, it’s much different than No Doubt). 

I feel when an artist is still relatively early in his career (compared to bands like the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi or U2), then you do have an obligation to play the major singles, regardless of how different they sound.  If you’re not happy with the old song’s sound, change something in that song to better fit your new style – but you owe it to play the music that gravitated fans towards you, especially if you’re using that same musical persona to bring those fans in.

I’d be anxious to hear what other fans & musicians think.

Mile High Music Festival Recap

Today is my first day back after a long, but very fun weekend at the Mile High Music Festival, and I’m definitely dragging. This weekend was a blast though, and I wanted to offer a few thoughts on Mile High Music, and the Festival experience.

In all the years that I’ve been going to concerts, this is the first time that I’ve been to a festival.  The closest experience that I’ve had was an all-day event that featured 5-6 bands, enough of a contrast of 48 bands over two days.  With the number and the sheer size of the place, it was definitely a taxing experience.  The weather nearly broke 100 degrees on both days, but I never appreciated clouds rolling in as much as I did each afternoon.  We rolled in on Saturday in the late afternoon, but not late enough to escape the heat. I also updated my Flickr with pictures from the festival as well.

Main Stage at Mile High Music Festival

Music. I managed to see:

  • Citizen Cope – They were playing when we walked in and were pretty impressed
  • O.A.R. – The show I was anticipating most, as I never heard them live before.  They had such an amazing sound!
  • Michael Franti & Spearhead – Awesome as always, I didn’t get to see as much as I hoped, but got my Spearhead fix nonetheless
  • Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – I was surprised he played some of his biggest hits pretty early on in the set.  Tom Petty was about what I expected, I was glad to have seen him, but it wasn’t a highlight of the day for me.
  • OneRepublic – In all honesty, from what I heard I had low expectations going in, but was pleasantly surprised.
  • Flogging Molly – One of the best shows of the festival.  This was the first time I’ve seen them, but I definitely will be checking for the next time they come back to Denver.
  • John Mayer – This surprised me the most, as Mayer’s sound has changed drastically since the beginning of his mainstream career.  He was extremely talented live and put on an awesome show, but I don’t think he did justice to his bread and butter.  I joked that he played a medley of songs that he didn’t really want to play, but felt compelled to because songs like "No Such Thing" and "Why Georgia" made him big.  He never played "Your Body Is A Wonderland" or "Daughters" though, which I found hard to believe.
  • Dave Matthews Band – This was my 15th show, and was as good as ever. What I found however, is that after sitting in the sun for two days straight, I had no energy left for this show. I spent half of it sitting in the chair, just taking it in. Jeff Coffin did a great job playing for LeRoi (get well soon!), and it was pretty amazing seeing Tim Reynolds play

Venue & Festival Logistics:

The grounds of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park served as an excellent venue for the Festival.  Everything was spaced out pretty well, and it was surprising how little noise pollution there was.  In addition, the organizers were pretty smart in being liberal what they allowed people to bring.  The fact that we were able to bring in folding lawn chairs is really what enabled us to sit through the sweltering heat for two days.  We also brought in more water bottles then were allotted, and they didn’t give us a hard time.  Also, they have the smartest camera I’ve ever seen for a concert: "Non-pro cameras (film, disposable and digital); pro-camera is anything with detachable lens".  I also love the fact that they opened the stadium, allowing people to have shady places to sit as well as running water & toilets.

I know this may come across as overly critical, and the comments made must be taken with a grain of salt for two reasons: 1) This is the first year that they’ve done anything like this, and it’s a monumental task to plan; 2) This was the first festival I have ever been too, and it could be that every festival suffers from these issues.

Honestly, the festival felt like it was over-sold. Not that there’s any problem with having a good crowd at an event: if you have the capacity to accommodate the number of people.  I’ve probably been to at least 100 sporting events and concerts, and the lines at the Festival by far were the worst, especially when it came to food and water.  It easily took an hour to be able to get any kind of food, and the watering lines were too long for as hot as the days were.  I hope that next year they are able to increase the food vendors, as well as double the water stations.

If you read my post leading up to the Festival, you’ll notice I didn’t see all the bands that I originally listed.  With all of the crowds it simply made it too difficult to navigate out of the main stage area into any of the other stages.  This may be simply the way things are at a festival, but Sunday was definitely far worse in terms of volume of people camped out on the stage lawn.  I know the same amount of crows prevented our group from seeing any of the “village” exhibits, as well as the merchandise tent.

Also, I realize the role of General Admission in festivals, but I wish there was some way to offer incentives to people who bought their tickets early.  Our group was talking and we thought what would be cool would be to rope around some of the stages. The people who bought tickets when they first came out have access to the roped section closest to the stage.  You could even tier different sections of the grass dependant on when people bought their tickets.  This way, more people would buy their tickets earlier, and festival organizers can get a better sense of the final number. I know that people could buy tickets on even the week of the event, which makes me wonder how many people waited until the last minute and contributed to the surge.

Lastly, $8 for a beer?  That’s highway robbery.  I realize that people still paid for beer at that price (me included) but the going rate for these things should be between $5-$6.  Also when you charge $8 for a beer, don’t complain about running out of $1 bills for change.

Did you go to the festival?  What were some of your thoughts on the highlights and ways that the festival can be improved?

Mile High Music Festival Greetings

Hello from Commerce City, Colorado (which is pretty much Denver)!  I’m back at the hotel after Day 1 of the Mile High Music Festival.  I’m a bit zapped from being out in the sun all day, but I wanted to offer a few random thoughts from the festival:

  • Holy crap! You can bring lawn chairs in? I am so glad that we packed them, they were awesome today!
  • There was absolutely no tailgating possible, or at least by the time we got there (3pm) everyone had cleared out
  • The beer attendants weren’t doing that great of a job checking ID’s initially, but they must have gotten the memo later in the evening.
  • O.A.R. rules, so does Michael Franti & Spearhead
  • Tom Petty was really cool, but I was ready to go home early
  • Commerce City has a lot to learn about running a festival & traffic control, because of them our taxi cab fare tripled.
  • The Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is a very nice venue. They opened up the inside of the stadium and it turned out to be the best kept secret of the whole Festival. We had access to working bathrooms and nice shade.
  • $8 for a beer? You’ve got to be kidding

I was hoping to post a few pictures, but my camera card reader is in the car. Hopefully I can post some before I go back tomorrow.  Sunday I get to see Flogging Molly, the Flobots, The Roots & Dave Matthews Band!

Are you at the festival? Hit me up on Twitter!

Tailgating not allowed at Mile High Music Fest?

A comment from my last post about Mile High Music Festival made me aware of something significant: According to their web site, Re-entry and Tailgating are listed under “prohibited items” at the Festival.  This contradicts what I was told by someone in the Mile High Music Fest Facebook Event – they said they called and were told the opposite. I’m trying to get more information from both sides, but for now I may have to assume the web site is accurate and tailgating is prohibited.

In which case is total crap!  You expect people to show up right at 10:30am and file straight into the Stadium for the next 12 hours with only a small soft-sided water bottle to keep them from getting exhaustion and dehydration?  You’re just asking for trouble!  I realize that this is supposed to stimulate vendor activities, but the vendors are going to make plenty of money regardless of re-entry policies.  True, at most sporting events don’t allow re-entry, but most sporting events aren’t scheduled to last 12 hours!  Come on Mile High organizers, let us have access to our cars during the festival!