Despite what those old Our Gang episodes would lead you to believe—you know, the ones where Spanky and the other Little Rascals are averting some crisis by brainstorming overnight a staged show where everybody available miraculously shows up, pays four bits, sits and watches, and even enjoys putting up with Alfalfa’s singing—the truth is that producing a successful live acoustic music concert is, in reality, an extremely difficult task.
Just ask Pat Wolk. She knows only too well the struggles of booking touring performers, guaranteeing them their take and then having to hustle for a good turnout. She’s been doing it for years for the Fresno Folklore Society (FFS) but recently decided to take a much deserved, and indeed most probably needed, hiatus from the job. The dubious honor of booking for the FFS now rests on the capable shoulders of Steve Ono.
No doubt Pat will be a good mentor for Steve, sharing the ins and outs gleaned from her many years of experience. As Pat worked with people like Bill Rickard, who had the job before her, and even was fortunate enough to take good suggestions from none other than Utah Phillips himself, it’s certain Steve can rely on Pat to assist him in the tradition and legacy the FFS has of bringing quality performers to Fresno in diverse genres of music including bluegrass, Cajun, old-time, swing and international, to name a few.
We recently asked Steve how he felt about taking on this daunting task. “I am excited about booking for the FFS and hope to bring lots of fine music to town,” Steve responded. “Pat has done a great job and brought many wonderful shows. I will continue our tradition of booking the many acts that contact the FFS for a comfortable place to play between Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
The chances of a show making money have grown increasingly difficult for the FFS or for that matter any local independent concert promoter. A struggling economy, competition with high-rolling casinos that feature well-known artists and a dwindling core group of devotees who, for the most part, aren’t getting any younger have made the job of getting a good turnout even tougher.
The key often is bringing tried and true musicians who patrons are familiar with such as John McCutcheon, Laurie Lewis or even Peggy Seeger, whom the FFS has booked for April 8 at Frank’s Place, a relatively unusual venue located at the Warnors Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Fresno. But introducing new, often mostly unknown, acts has its intrinsic merits and is a noble cause in itself even while taking the risk of losing money from a small turnout.
It’s Steve’s desire to bring in acts that appeal to a younger audience. “Folk music is rooted firmly in tradition, but the young folk musicians are doing things their own way just as we did before them. I really enjoy the new attitude,” Steve said. Steve is also looking for concert suggestions for which you may correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another independent promoter who has been bringing acoustic acts to Fresno lately is none other than Roger Rocka. Over the past few years, Roger has been hosting acoustic concerts at his dinner theater in Fresno.
We asked Roger why he has branched out from theatrical productions for the occasional concert. “I love acoustic music whether it’s a single performer or a symphony orchestra,” Roger said. “To me, it’s pure, honest, straightforward and often far more beautiful and meaningful than electronically enhanced multi-tracked, heavily produced music that prevails on commercial radio. Its music that gets us back to our roots with lyrics that often tell stories about the human condition, things we all have in common. I’m glad to share this music through (live) performers.”
Roger has brought to Fresno Dougie McLean, Kinobe, Archie Fisher, Cheryl Wheeler and Jill Sobule, to name a few, and is bringing Misty River, an all-female quartet of acoustic musicians, to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater on April 19.
Besides having a name artist for a good draw, other key elements that go a long way in helping produce a successful show include picking the right date and having a suitable venue. Steve related his and the FFS philosophy concerning the locations of their shows. “The typical nightclub with a dance floor is really about standing around, dancing and yelling in each other’s ears as the band or DJ tries to drown out all conversation with sheer wattage.
“The FFS concerts are all about people sitting, being quiet and listening to the artist except when the artist wants us to participate. Then we sing along, do call and response, stomp and clap, hoot and holler.” Steve says that he intends to support Fresno’s Cultural Arts District, as well as booking acts for the Universalist Unitarian Church and Cal Arts Academy Severance in the Tower District.
Another intimate venue the FFS has been utilizing, but eventually may not have available to it, is the Brick Wall near Fresno High School. This is a small setting where mostly local performers hold forth, but the FFS does have the great Irish piper Paddy Keenan scheduled there for April 19, which unfortunately is the same night as Misty River at Roger Rocka’s.
Picking the right date is crucial as well. You would think Fresno is a large enough metro area that, in theory, two competing acoustic concerts should both be well attended.
Getting the word out in advance is yet another integral part of ensuring a success, something Pat Wolk knows the value of and to which she devoted countless hours covering the media and Internet bases. It is my intent to help in my own small way, possibly every other month, by contributing an article to the Community Alliance giving you a heads up on upcoming acoustic concerts, which is something I also do on a regular basis while hosting Wasteland of the Free heard every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon on KFCF 88.1 Fresno.