Monday, January 28, 2013

Frustration? No. Art? Oh Yeah!

I recently went to see a local concert by singer/songwriter/guitarist Shawn Colvin. It was a great show. But it didn’t come easy. It had to be earned! By everybody there. Including Shawn Colvin.
Thinking back, I realized how much frustration, and the opposite reactions to it, played a part in the concert. The doors were supposed to open at 6:30 and the Sunday night show was supposed to start at 7:30.
We got there to see a huge line formed from the door of the city college auditorium, at about 7:20. We had reserved seats, so figured we’d arrive right before the show started. Well, the line was long, and the doors weren’t open. And yes, it was very chilly outside. The nearly full moon, shrouded by a gray veil of thin clouds in the eastern sky, backlit campus trees in the distance.
We picked up our tickets at will call, and there were some people already loudly and indignantly demanding refunds from the will call guy. Maybe they’d already stood out in the cold for an hour and had had it. We decided to wander to the back of the very long line. Once there, we learned through the rumor mill that there was a problem with the sound system, and “the artist” refused to let anybody in the building until the problem was solved.
“Probably a contract thing,” said a chatty guy in front of us. Another woman told of people upset enough with the situation to loudly demand refunds, so they could leave. The line moved ahead incrementally as some of those people left.
So frustration was palpable in the frigid air. It was cold, the show was already supposed to have started. And there was no indication if or when the doors would open. More grapevine info filtered through from chatty guy ahead of us.
“Apparently the sound man who works here is sick, and they’re trying to find somebody to replace him,” he said.
Then, at around about 8 p.m., the doors suddenly opened and the cold concert-goers, gladly moved into the heated theater. An opening act played folk guitar and played nicely enough, while making sure to thank the crowd for hanging in.
“I’ve had a blast opening for Shawn Colvin,” she said, “And tonight, I gained even more respect for her. She just wants to put on a good show for you.”
When Shawn Colvin came out, the 57-year-old petite redhead, who’s put out some beautiful folk music in her career that spans from the 80s, looked like she was doing everything she could to keep a lid on her crankiness.
She thanked the crowd, but declined to give details of the delay, saying only, “We came here prepared…” i.e., somebody else wasn’t. The crowd got it.
She plays a plugged in acoustic guitar with artistic surety. She’s a pro that needs conditions just so in order to perform to her own high standards. When she had problems getting her guitar in tune between songs, she looked like it was all she could do to hold it together. Her face said, “I don’t need this right now.”
“I swear too much,” she declared to the audience, as if talking herself out of firing off a few curse words over the difficulties of the evening. “I wish I could blame it on the altitude,” she added as she tuned, giving the crowd a chance for a little laugh. The Sacramento concert site sits not much above sea level.
She tried to turn the angle of a small tuner clamped onto the top of her guitar near the tuning pegs, and it came off in her hand. Veering away from more frustration, she explained that attached,  it wouldn’t turn far enough so she could read it. She told of her show the night before in Napa when she was tuning a string with difficulty, checking the tuner, when a guy in the front row said, “You’re sharp.”
“I threw the (Ipod mini-sized) unit at him,” she said, getting a laugh. “And I’m sorry I did, because I lost a $50 tuner.”
I.e., she wasn’t sorry in the least about throwing something at the guy she thought was out of line.
Once she did massage the strings into tune, she played. Her rhythm and deep bass notes lent rich contrast to the high notes her smooth moving left hand made. Which is just another way of saying Shawn Colvin is a pretty good guitar player! All this was topped by her personal songs, sung in her high, clear, emotive voice. Put together it was quite simply, artistry to behold.
She’d managed to melt away the earlier frustrations. She didn’t care if the crowd had to wait out in the cold until the sound system was up to snuff. It was her reputation on the line as a performer, her name on the tickets. And when her guitar was out of tune and making it difficult to get in tune, she joked about it to ease the tension. But underneath all her actions was her steely resolve to play and sing her songs as well as she knew how.
And that night, even though it hardly came easily, she did. And the audience was rewarded with the soulful power of her art, which no one can deny, is really something special.
And while frustration had visited the audience and Shawn Colvin early in the evening, in the end, everybody’s patience showed it to the door. And at the end, to a standing ovation, Shawn Colvin thanked the crowd for hanging in there for the late to start show. She came back on stage to play three encore tunes. She thanked the happy crowd again, to another standing O. Nobody was thinking about the cold wait in the line, just then. It was nothing but warm and fuzzy.
And as for those who stomped off after insisting they get their tickets refunded because of the delay in the cold?
Well, their loss for having a hissy fit over the delay. They just plain missed a great show.


Mark Eric Larson has written two books of essays, "The NERVE...of Some People's Kids," and "Don't Force it, Get a Bigger Hammer. To read, visit:

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