As classical guitarists we spend hours upon hours in the practice room believing that perfecting whatever piece we are working on will result in job offers and concerts around the world – a performing career! What actually happens is we become “professional practicers” that no one has ever heard of, never getting the “calls” for our desired concerts in the prestigious concert halls of the world. Until you establish a reputation with a product that people want, the calls never come. Many feel that a degree in music means that you are now a world-class performer. I would argue that it is a huge step in the right direction, but it needs to be understood as just that, a step. We participate in a creative field, and the creativity cannot stop at the music. Your creativity must be put to use shaping your career as a performer.
In mid July this last summer, Donovan Butez and I participated in the first annual Music Licks On 66 music festival – an open-source music festival that traversed the whole of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. The different groups who participated had to figure out their own travel, book and promote their own gigs, and solve other various logistical issues. It was time to get creative!
There was an agreed upon starting date of July 19th and an end of tour collaborative concert (party) at Viva Cantina in Los Angeles on the 30th. Though there was a start and end date, the different groups we participated with had their own itineraries. We were only linked by the road and a shared website, which communicated updated dates and venues as well as any other social media we each chose to share, such as videos, recordings or pictures.
The idea of a moving music festival was the brain-child of jazz guitarist and professor at University of Southern California, Bruce Forman. Bruce and his band Cow Bop had made the trip 3 or 4 times before as a sort of social experiment. Their goal was to start in Chicago with about $100 or so, with no scheduled concerts, and gig their way all the way back to LA, requiring the musicians to check their egos at the door. They played in night clubs, bars and other traditional venues for jazz music, but often there were times that they played on the side of the road, at house parties, or in front of one of the many unique roadside landmarks along route 66, such as the world’s largest ketchup bottle. It was incredibly inspiring to hear this story from a man who has accomplished so much in his field, and could discard ego for the sake of presenting live music to an audience no matter how small.
When Bruce presented us with the opportunity to participate, Donovan and I jumped at the challenge. As a classical guitar duo, we were faced with a huge obstacle, finding a venue that could accommodate us. It is one thing to have done this trip as a jazz musician – the venues can be less formal and a band can more easily compete with the noise of a crowded bar or restaurant. As much fun as it sounds, we were not going to make this trip with no gigs scheduled.
The great thing about being a classical guitarist is being motivated out of a true love of the instrument and its music; clearly it is not for the money. In almost every city in America there is a society of classical guitarists that have meetings every month for the sole purpose of listening to each other play our favorite pieces on our favorite instrument. It is hard to find another area in music and art that is so collectively supportive. What we realized was that there are plenty of different venues to play at as classical guitarists, but it takes a healthy combination of creativity and people willing to help you on your way. House concerts, art galleries, restaurants, small concert venues and coffee shops were the most accommodating arenas for our music. This was the first year of this moving festival, and I think it was a success. The amount of venues we played, cities we saw, and friends we made were worth all the time and effort that was required. We are looking forward to expanding the popularity of the festival next year when we do it again.
I hear many classical guitarists complain that there is no desire for their music - that we exist on the fringe of the art form. However, the way I see it is, if we as classical musicians make it a point to make the experience exciting, we could bring it back from the fringe. How many people actually know what classical music is about? Where do you go to listen or to buy CDs? What makes the music exciting and why should people care?
Most people are not professional musicians and music is not their top priority in life. They are busy with work and family, and the music they consume is what they can easily access. People eat what they are fed, and pop music with its huge infrastructure of advertising is very accessible. I don't suggest we corporatize classical music, but we need to get the message and our music out there. Classical music should be more accessible to a larger audience, and it is our job as classical musicians need to enable this. The only way for that to happen is for us all to get out there in our communities and provide something for these people to stumble upon and forge their own opinions. I can’t tell you how many people came up to us after playing to explain that they had never heard anything like that and to ask where they could hear more and purchase CDs.
This moving music festival turned out to be a great insight into power of live music and the importance of creativity as a performer beyond just the music. Get creative, put yourself out there!