Elvin Bishop Big Fun Trio, Mitchell Park Center, Earthwise Of Palo Alto, December 20,2019
Thanks for coming, for reaching out and for raising the question about the staging per se of Earthwise Productions at The Mitchell Park Community Center, El Palo Alto Room.
I’ve done 10 shows in the room. My plan — although I’m moving the goal posts, so to speak — is to do 2 shows a month there for 2 years to see how it goes over.
In context, I’ve been producing shows here for 25 years — since Fall, 1994 — including a run of 150 shows at Cubberley, either the theatre or auditorium(cafeteria/multipurpose room/”temporary library”/”temporary junior museum”), 1994-2001. (For instance Cake, blink 182, Jonathan Richman, Train, AFI, Steve Lacy, Fred Eaglesmith et cetera).
Also, as a one-off, I produced a recent show in Cubberley H-1 — a classroom with banked seating but no stage — capacity 100; it was last month featuring Matt The Electrician and Sylvie Simmons.
I rent these rooms from the City, at a standard commercial rate. (I am not a 501.c3 nor co-sponsored by the City, the way, for example MusikWest is). I bring in my own sound, or more specifically subcontract such with a company Audio Pro (formerly LDR) of San Carlos, owned and run by Andy Heller.
The legal capacity for seated assembly at “The Mitch” is 210 — Elvin Bishop sold out in advance, and 98 percent of the tickets were sold online at EventBrite.
To my mind, based on my knowledge of the artist (born, 1942) and on several calls I had received from ticket holders and prosective attendees, I estimated ahead of time that the average audience member would be roughly 50-60 years old.
The Elvin Bishop crowd, in a room as intimate as The Mitch, would not, for example prefer the entire house be arranged for dancing or standing, like, at The Fillmore. In some ways, without using the term in advertising, I see the Mitch series as “a listening room” or “theatre-style” (though in fact the El Palo Alto Room — which confusingly can be rented half-house as El Palo Alto North and or El Palo Alto South — though I would NEVER do such — is in places called “a ball room”).
Of the 10 shows I have produced so far — jazz, bluegrass, and blues –the average attendence was closer to 100 than 200, i.e. half full. The only other show where the size of the audience influenced my thinking on your topic was Molly Tuttle, Monday, September 30 — also a sellout, clean. And in fact I left up to her tour manager the final call for a stage or no stage. (And, further, I fretted about this topic or ruminated until about 30 hours before my show at which time I was attending the Gryphon Stringed Instruments 50th anniversary party and show Sunday, September 29 featuring Molly Tuttle as an secret special guest — her dad Jack works there — and noted that their stage including Molly’s set was not a stage but merely the ground level parking lot of the auto body shop across the street. My thought was: if ground level staging was good enough for Molly’s set at the Gryphon party Sunday, it was good enough for Molly Monday at The Mitch. I did, if memory serves, tell her agent that the previous shows in that room were stageless and there would be a discussion with the tour manager when they advanced the show, although he the tm never brought it up).
If I had a band that I knew could definitely sell 350 tickets at The Mitch and the audience was young enough to stand or dance the entire night, I might elevate the band and strike the seats — I think Yoshi’s and Freight and Salvage have, at times, struck seating and tables to create a dance floor or room for “kelpers”* at Charlie Hunter shows or for salsa bands.
So, basically, my concept is an intimate environment to hear and see (in that order) local national and international acts of various genre but to put the artists at the audience level, and not elevated. Besides the simplicity of the staging (“KISS”), and the cost savings, I feel that there is something egalitarian about staging in that manner — in all my shows, over 25 years and 300 or more events, with 500 or more booked acts, and maybe 10,000 attendees, there is a blurring between act and audience and staff. For example, many fans — like yourself, apparently, I learn — are also musicians, as are my staff, or volunteers. (I’ve never hired security per se for an event — when required, by the City, I had laminates designating Earthiwise Cubberley staff but they were frequently worn by musicians, who also helped load in — not the featured performer but off-duty musicians, who frequented my shows.
I have been asked this question, or fielded that comment several times. I usually say that because the seats are stackable and not fixed — meaning we lay them out. In Friday’s case I personally unstacked and set out all 200 chairs — so that people like you can move your chair to the left or right if that helps your sight-line. You can also, in open seating, move closer to the stage, or stand, or dance. (And we left it up to Elvin’s team whether, in the event of a rush on tickets, we would try to accomodate all comes versus leaving more room for the comfort level of the artist performing).
Further or similarly, if I had employed a feature offered by EventBrite, that lets me “scan” and not merely inspect all the tickets — hard copies and electronic — I might have been able to ascertain the order of arrival for paid parties and for example, learned, potentially if you had arrived early or late to the show, which might have influenced how I answered your question: I’m guessing that someone who asked such a question arrived late, and therefore sat in the back. But, I prefer to “Keep It Simple”, and have not even downloaded the app that would let me scan all tickets and gather such data — the service does tell me the names and email addresses of ticket holders).
That Elvin Bishop not only sits during Big Fun Trio but to my observation slouches probably worsens the problem you identify.
(Another question I fielded more than once Friday was whether we should get a bar to serve alcohol, or sell more food. Although I did take the business card of the bartending crew at the Palo Alto Black and White ball recently — at Lucie Stern Center – -I doubt I will ever sell alcohol at Earthwise events; for concessions, OTOH, I was expecting ADA’s Cafe to remain open, but somehow I dropped the ball in coordinating that with Mrs. Hughes, the spearhead of that project; for the Molly Tuttle show the artist, whose mom is friends with Mrs. Hughes, even called from the stage for the audience to visit the cafe during her set break.
Circling back to your comment or what I started to say: I think the old Cubberley High for 150 events in the 1990s “quaint” whereas today, 25 years later it would be “sad”. (And I am of the age to recall attending a high school dance in that same multipurpose room). I also think Cubberley Theatre per se (but not H-1, different department) is slightly mismanaged, relative to the staffing or policy of the 1990s and that to me is a barrier or disincentive to resume a series there. I did the Matt The Electrican show on a whim and although Room H-1 is not ideal, I am pondering an ongoing singer-songwriter series there, between now and when the wrecking ball hits (you may know that Cubberley is targeted for redevelopment). For me, with banked seating, a folk series there would not need a stage although we brought in sound – but no technical staff. It’s debatable whether such a series or repeat production needs sound reinforcement, though I would more likely err on the side of better-than-needed sound rather than making do with less. What I think H-1 might need, however, if you excuse the digression, for purchase as a room for the arts, might be a mural on the wall that indicates subtly that art belongs there — not to the exclusion or more mundance uses and not to the extent of naming a series or identifying the producer: more like a rendering of a musician or something with a graffiti-styling and the words “sound” or “noise” or the like; mos def not WELCOME TO EARTHWISE AT H-1. Similarly, although I should have stated this further up, in lieu of a stage for the Mitch shows we purchased you may have noticed a Persian rug which we jokingly call “a magic carpet” on which the featuring musicians set up — although even that, the tour manager/guitar tech before he realized what he was dealing with started to direct us to use the rug for the drummer only, even on cajon. We usually have a second, less fancy rug specifically for a drum kit, as you likely know, to prevent the kit from sliding.
A rock band with a kit drummer we might get a drum riser, but have not yet had call to do so.
I am also in part booking “to the room” in that I have a series of piano-duos coming — in that series or sub-series we are trying it with no sound. The room you may have noticed has a passable Baldwin donated at the opening five years ago, which Mitch Woods but not Bob Welch played Friday.
I don’t think I will decide conclusively on the utility of Mitchell Park for a great concert series until after the first 50 shows. The room was not designed for concerts, yet I believe my concerts are its highest and best use. (With Cubberley I did not decide after a while: and in fact it was Charlie Hunter, the first to sell out the room, and who returned four times with five different combos, who said I had to keep doing the shows; he said that when he played a bar in San Jose he was unsure whether he or the mixed drinks were the draw, whereas my room, the Cubberley Theatre, was a true listening room, or a pure listening room).
I’m producing a Charlie Musselwhite show at the Palo Alto JCC
— my first show there — on Sunday, Decembe. 29 — with Valerie Troutt featuring Howard Wiley and a special appaerance by MC Lars – fro $25, and that show will mos def have a stage: if you buy a ticket I will comp you a second ticket as my guest, in light of your letter.
How was the sound?
P.S. to readers of Plastic Alto: if you a, attended the Elvin Bishop show, and b, read this, you can “comment” below at Plastic Alto / WordPress as RSVP and I will comp you a ticket for each purchase order for Charlie Musselwhite, a week from tomorrow.
thanks for pointing this out
Bob Welch, Elvin Bishop, Willie Jordan performers known as Big Fun Trio
CHT 1.0: Kind of a red herring but I was looking on the video archive for Charlie playing while standing i.e. 1990 to 1994 or so, versus examples since 1995, seated. I heard that due to the nature of his playing, two parts at a time, he switched to seated to avoid tendonitis and the like; he’s a total f-in’ genius and phenomenon; someday he will start to appear while levitating six inches from the ground, maybe at The Mitch, and on its flying carpet
I didn’t hear this song (and Amy L. pointed out that he also skipped “Fishin”) but he strutted nonetheless:
Per my headline I read this famous passage by Emerson at Dartmouth in the 1980s:
We return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.
There is a whole festival of Big Ears in Knoxville, TN March 26-29, 2020: Anthony Braxton, Ches Smith, Kronos Quartet, Dan Weiss no relation.
andandand: local musician Jeff Weber, who is or was brother in law to trompe l’loeil muralist Gre Brown:
*”kelpers” is or was jargon by Charlie Hunter and his sideman my former management client John Ellis to describe the dancers at his show, their swaying and bobbing.
A flyer from a Charlie Musselwhite/ Old Davis show in Palo Alto, probably not by Greg Brown although he called me once to offer to show me his work for that nearly forgetten local group.