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The discussion below is taken from a thread launched by "ColumbusMark" on the PSR Tutorial Forum. 

ColumbusMark -- 02-21-2010 03:55 PM

Hi Gang,

I try to get to my gigs one hour early to do my set-up. Unlike Gary who can do his entire set-up in 6.5 minutes, it takes me more like 30. I spend the first 6.5 minutes just untangling my power cord.

But here's the deal. No matter how early I arrive, I always have a "crowd" gathering a good 30-40 minutes early. They say they want to get a good seat, though the room often only holds 40 or 50 people or so anyhow ...every seat is a good seat.

What do you folks do while you're setting up and wanting to do sound checks and all of that stuff. Unless I leave the room, they all want me to go ahead and start even if it's still twenty minutes till the official starting time

Any suggestions?


travlin-easy -- 02-21-2010 04:02 PM

In my case, I play some Rod Stewart MP3s of his recently released old standards. I play them from my laptop, and while they're playing through the sound system, I set up the keyboard and other software, startup registrations, parameter lock, switch to favorites on the MFD, set up the first song on a registration bank, then test the mic and vocal processor. This only takes a few minutes at most.

Next, if I still have some time to kill, I'll walk through the audience while the MP3s are still playing, introduce myself to those that do not know me, ask individuals if they have a special song they wish me to perform, and schmooze a bit. This is the PR part of every music job and keeps the telephone ringing from folks asking for more performance dates.

Good Luck,

Gary Cool

ColumbusMark -- 02-21-2010 04:07 PM

Wow Gary!

Excellent suggestions. Sounds simple, but I hadn't even thought of that. I knew I was carrying an iPod loaded with music for some reason, but I kept thinking I would just use it in a pinch if my keyboard died (that was someone's suggestion in these forums), and had to improvise by deejay.

You absolutely DO KNOW EVERYTHING!

By the way, my keyboard mic settings are working fine even today thanks to your help.


stephenm52 -- 02-21-2010 06:16 AM

Mark, You've heard the best advice from Gary, but I'd like to add to his. I usually get to gigs about 30 minutes in advance and I too have the audience waiting to get that good seat even though there isn't a bad seat in the house. I too play some mp3 files while I'm setting up, many times I hear comments look at all the work he has to do to get setup. I joke with them and say would you like to help and that get's a chuckle. Sometimes I'll comment I'm going to be so tired after all the setting up, that how am going to play for an hour, again a few laughs. Then I get out there an schmooze for about 10 or 15 minutes depending on much time is left for the start of the gig.

ColumbusMark -- 02-21-2010 07:08 PM

Thanks Stephen,

Jokes are always good and I think I will start schmoozing ahead of time. I've been just sitting at the keyboard and "warming" up...but that takes away from the "real" show. I did have one resident say something like it takes an electrical engineer to hook all that stuff up. I sure didn't disagree.


limmy -- 02-21-2010 07:49 PM

Hi Mark,
I don't normally do retirement gigs. In the dance clubs situation however, I often have the same early folks, although not quite as many as I'd imagine you have. What I do is put some light music on, and I go and talk to them. This is the best time to find out what they like or dislike, and also to find out who else they've seen or heard. (die. to find out what your opposition is doing.)

Ask questions like:

I tend not to ask them for an appraisal on my own band. You don't have to raise this question, it'll come out in the answers naturally.

I'd also go and speak to the door sales person. This is the person who collects door fees at the point of entry. You can get a good feel of where the demand for your music is heading. smiley

Hope this helps.

Cheers, limmy

ColumbusMark -- 02-21-2010 08:18 PM

Thanks Limmy,

More great ideas. And good timing. I'm playing tomorrow, Tuesday, and now possibly on Thursday as well.

I appreciate it.


FrankB -- 02-21-2010 10:06 PM


As for a lot of us, Gary's been a great Mentor.

One of the things he suggested to me early on, was about Jokes. A "Joke" type story may offend someone in the crowd. I always took heed of this. I did make fun of mistakes, tangled cords, and had couple of attendants who would throw stuff, funny comments my way, then I would bounce things off of them. This seemed to work very well for me.

For Senior gigs, this took me awhile, but the only reason the folks are sitting there is for your performance. You need to be at ease, of course, but putting them at easy with chit-chat, would also warm them up.

An experience, not advice, but for a long time until I had a "DUH" moment, couldn't understand why there were so many ladies, not men.....They live longer was the DUH moment.

I had couple of "crony" ladies at one place that I was warned about. They already had their mind made up before I played, the music was going to be too loud, and wrong type. I was patient, but irritated for several gigs. Then one gig, the lady obviously had her hair done up nicely. I complimented her on it, and from then on out, those two were my best groupies. LOL.

Playing for the seniors is both Fulfilling, Pleasure, and of course sadness mixed in. What experiences I had doing it.

Good luck.

nhsinger -- 02-22-2010 06:45 AM

My 2 cents for what it's worth ...

Although we've had conversations on this forum about quick set up times, I try to keep the set-up calm and unhurried ... no sense of urgency because old folks pick up the prevailing mood so let's keep the stress level down. That being said, I usually bring in my equipment 15 minutes before show time in places I regularly play and 20-30 minutes early in a new place even if I have to sit in the parking lot for a few minutes after arrival. In a new venue I might ask the folks close by if they're in the mood for some boogie music, hard rock or perhaps some nap-time lullabies. If someone comments on the wires and set up I usually tell them to pay close attention to where everything goes " 'cuz I'm old and I forget ..." which usually gets them to bragging about their ages and calling me a "kid". (I'm in my mid 60s ... ) In my regular places my warm-up or sound check is one or two piano notes to see if it all still works ... a new place might get a one minute, half volume, medley of piano instrumental ... save the styles for the show! Then I may ask them to excuse me (if necessary) so I can "wash my hands ... wink, wink. ... 'cuz I'm old ..." and I promise to be back in 30 seconds or less Audiences, young and old, love the ridiculous, exaggerations and lies as long as they know what they are and inevitably, someone will time me and give me the word when I return "you were gone for 2 1/2 minutes ..." then the answer is ... "it used to take me 30 seconds when I was young but I forgot ...", or something like that.

In the regular places it's sometimes a bit tough because you have a history and you'll have to hear about who fell yesterday or who is in the hospital, and who has died since last month and while I don't often remember the names, etc. it can set a mood that isn't always upbeat. But it's an important part of their daily life that took me some getting used to when I first started playing these places. And my wife and two of my daughters work in Assisted Living so I hear it at home nearly every day, even when I'm not playing! Get used to it...

Usually, my schmoozing comes after the show, like a preacher at the door. I try to walk through the audience and greet/thank everyone, if possible, and they've come to expect it and look forward to the personal handshake, touch, hug or whatever is appropriate ... the latest news from my end ... my last tour, my health, etc. They will often remember our last conversation when I don't ... I see hundreds ... they see me and a few others. This is a habit I developed in my band days and actually demanded this of my pickers. I've had nearly as much positive feedback for 30 years on this one thing, as I have on the music. After all we are paid professional musicians so good music is expected, but the personal touch is a bonus. If the conversation gets too heavy or too long my "equipment has to be packed up ..." or " I have say "Hi" to so and so before they leave ... " Nobody likes to watch a good time come to an end, so I'd rather pack up in an empty room if possible and come down from the "high" of the performance at my own pace, in my own reflective solitude, That 10 or 15 minutes is good for getting my feet back on the ground before I meet the real world, again, outside of the door.

I have been told many times that my audience has been waiting for over an hour for my show. Years ago I wondered why until I realized that this crowd comes to the dining room 30 minutes before meal-time, three times a day, just because they want "their table" and they have plenty of time on their hands. They sit in the same chairs with the same friends at my shows and they want those chairs and those friends! I'm not keeping them waiting ... the only time they have to hurry or watch someone hurry is usually stressful ... hurry up and shower because a resident assistant has ten showers to give before breakfast ... hurry up, the bus is waiting at the door ... hurry up to the doctor appointment ... hurry up to the hospital in the ambulance ... hurry up and get out of the building in a fire drill. Hurrying is not a pleasant experience for them nor is it for me as I'm becoming older and my mind and body is slowing down ... although I'm in the transition time when impatience still sometimes rules.

Bottom line ... I see little to gain by letting playing for and entertaining seniors become stressful in any way, whatsoever, for them or for us. Very few, if any, of us are striving to become national stars, doing what we do. The expectation of our audience is for us to entertain and communicate as human beings not as human doings. In my opinion, we have no competition amongst ourselves and that is why so much of what we each do in this regard is openly shared on this forum. We are here to serve the love of the music and the love of the people. We have a unique niche in the entertainment business that is not at all attractive a vast majority of performers because of the ego-serving glory perceived to be present in younger venues and many of us have lived a lifetime there. Just continue to learn and practice your chops, make the most of your God-given talents and life experience. Share your humanness with your senior audience and the rest will work itself out ... the time is getting shorter every day so don't be late!

Looks like 2 cents became a nickel's worth ... perhaps I should reconsider the "preacher at the door" thing ...


ColumbusMark -- 02-22-2010 08:33 AM

FrankB and Dave,

Thanks for your wonderful comments and ideas. I can't believe how much I've learned in less than 24 hours after posting my question. You pros all offer so much insight based on your careers that it is truly inspiring to gain even a little of your wisdom.

Thanks so much for sharing. Dave, love that "need to go wash my hands" line. I know that will get a chuckle. I really didn't know if folks at the retirement places appreciated humor or not, but I did try a few jokes at an assisted living place a week and a half ago and got several laughs. Of course, most of the jokes were at my expense and I think everyone enjoys it when one can poke humor at himself. Being a terrible banjo player you can believe I've been at the losing end of many jokes. It's all fun and I love it and so does the audience. (I will say the keyboard has given me more "status" than the banjo!)

Again, thanks to all for sharing your wisdom.


nhsinger -- 02-22-2010 01:43 PM

Mark, more on senior's sense of humor ...

I often have thought of the elderly as "children with experience ... " and they are often as tactless or as honest as children in their responses, particularly to the self-deprecating humor I often use but this is not for the sensitive or the faint of heart ...

When my children were young still at home I often closed with a line ...

"Thanks for spending some time with me today ... my name is Dave but some have called me a dead-beat Dad 'cuz instead of being home with my kids, I'm out here having fun with you ... ". It never failed to get a laugh . . . but the biggest laugh of all was one night in Brattleboro, Vermont when a lady in the front row yelled out, "Go home, then, and take care of your kids so I can go to bed ... I'm tired" . . . and she meant it!

So much for being the star ...


ColumbusMark -- 02-22-2010 08:54 PM

Hi Dave,

I have a "so much for being a star" story that might equal yours. My three-piece string band was playing at a nursing home a couple of months ago. All was well until about hal

We weren't sure if she were being helpful or if she was heckling us. In any case we kept playing and still chuckle over that.

That could be my new nickname, Mark "take a break" Levin.


EddieShoe -- 05-10-2010 10:18 AM

An activities director booked me to play an Island Themed party at a NH. She asked if I could wear something tropical and asked for some specific island type songs. No problem.

I show up in a colorful Hawaiian shirt and straw hat and wasn't 10 minutes into the show when a lady, sitting close to me, yells: "Take off that hat. You look stupid."

Rather than agitate the lady, I took off the hat and proceeded with the program. Another 10 minutes later she says: "Okay. Knock it off. Its time for dinner".

The AD came over with another employee and sweet talked the outspoken lady into going somewhere else to prepare for dinner ....which wasn't scheduled for another 45 minutes.

aster, I was told this woman disrupts all the entertainers and actually tried hitting one with her cane during a Christmas concert. Her behavior had become so extreme they were trying to find another facility for her.

I guess you could classify this experience as "NH heckling". You can't let it rattle you to the point of distraction. It is also another reason why you should always make sure there is an attendant in the room to help with unruly residents. It doesn't happen a lot....but it does happen.


travlin-easy -- 05-10-2010 01:33 PM

Once in a great while I run across a similar situation. Sometimes I'm able to just ignore the person and everything settles down--sometimes it gets worse. I always insist on someone from the staff being in the room at all times, if for nothing else, the safety of that person, and in extreme circumstances, the safety of others. This is clearly spelled out in my contract, which I send to each of the ADs at the beginning of a new season. That staff person in the room can defuse most situations before they become out of control.

Gary Cool

DonM -- 05-11-2010 1:26 AM

I can't add much to what the others have said, but I do encourage everyone to work the Nursing Homes when possible. It is even more rewarding for us than the residents. I used to do a Rock n' Roll theme show at the Nursing Homes and it always went over well. One of the things I did was "Teddy Bear", after which I would go into the audience and pick out a lady or two to present with a stuffed bear. Once after the show, I spotted a lady crying and when I asked her what was wrong, she said that I had been there several times over the years and had never given her a bear. I went to the car and got her one of course, but I stopped doing it after that because I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.