Wednesday, August 18, 2010

the new old kind of concert

I've been thinking about buildings. This wouldn't surprise anyone that knows me. Lately its been theaters. Places where two of my favorite things, architecture and music, combine for amazing experiences. Since the BIG EARS festival, how the two interact has been on my mind.

I won't get into any theory, but what I'd like to bring up is a trend I've been seeing lately: artists and music listeners have been demanding better quality digs to have concerts in. Often smaller venues too, sacrificing selling more tickets for a better quality experience.

Case in Point: I was looking through The Black Keys tour schedule and it looks awful. Not because of the music, but because of the venues. Places like "Time Warner Amphitheater" and "Verizon Wireless Music Center" fill the list. Interestingly, the Orange Peel in Asheville (one of the few venues I would be interested in) was already sold out. Probably because it's smaller, and probably because it will be one of the best concerts on the tour. Why? The quality of the venue.

Second Case in Point: On Friday there was much excitement shivering through ranks of indie kids when Sufjan Stevens' tour tickets went on sale. On his site it said that Sufjan "personally structured this tour around some of the most historic theaters and venues in the country." Our little Bijou made the cut, presumably because of BIG EARS (it also sold out in hours). I'm betting that this tour could have made a lot more money playing big outdoor amphitheaters with corporate names. But an emphasis was placed on the architecture the music will happen in- something I think more musicians are considering. The 90s model of mega concert, where Dave Matthews was a little moving spec so you watched the jumbotron screen and paid $10 for a Coke, seems to be slowly being subverted by the intimate concert experience.

Knoxville is lucky in this regard. Somehow, we managed to not tear down the last few historic theaters. And we have desirable venues of all sizes- big Tennessee, medium Bijou, smallish Square Room, and micro Pilot Light. Perfect places for tours of all sizes. I'm seeing Knoxville pop up on more and more tour lists (shout out to AC). It's worth noting that our "Music City" neighbor is often missing from the lists that we're on. A musical critical mass is developing in our city. And, I would theorize, the wonderful architecture (and the musical experiences it facilitates) of our venues has a lot to do with it.


Unknown said...

I have to admit I was also pretty gleeful that Sufjan is coming to Knoxville, but not to Nashville. We're probably more fortunate than we realize for getting the shows we do in a city Knoxville's size, largely thanks to AC Entertainment and having the Bijou and Tennessee.

The Modern Gal said...

You're right. I'd much rather see a show at the Tennessee Theatre or Bijou than at an arena like Thompson Boling or the Civic Auditorium. The more intimate feel adds to the shows -- and I can be sure I'll actually SEE the act. Plus, with smaller crowd comes less hassle. Knoxville really does have a great set up for this.

B said...

I've found that I will pay to see way more bands I've never listened to at the Bijou than anywhere else, strictly because of the architecture.

Besides AC, we can thank Knox Heritage for saving the Bijou and also Jason Boardman (the Pilot Light) for scouting out and bringing unknown musicians to Knoxville that eventually make it to the Bijou in later years.

B said...

and I expect seeing Sufjan Stevens play at the Bijou in November will be one of the greatest things to ever happen to me.

Anonymous said...

I actually think the Civic Auditorium is quite nice. It's ugly as sin but it's pretty intimate. Now the best venue/artist combination I have ever experienced was Tom Waits and the Ryman in Nashville. I have seen Tom 6 times and all were special shows, but the Ryman takes the cake as far as venues go.

Unknown said...

I couldn't disagree more when Em said "I actually think the Civic Auditorium is quite nice. It's ugly as sin but it's pretty intimate."

There is a reason that the KSO, Knoxville Opera, and most musical theatre won't perform there, for the most part. The acoustics are horrible and it is anything BUT intimate. The lobby facilities are inadequate, the design was/is sterile, and there are ongoing maintenance issues. The only positive thing it has going for it is audience capacity and stage size, which is meaningless if the quality of a performance is lost in the unattractive barn-like structure. Knoxville badly needs a replacement for the Civic Auditorium.