"Got time to breathe, got time for music. Now let’s try Slimy River Bottom, and this time, make it purdy!"
— Briscoe Darling, Andy Griffith Show
If you live in Alabama, there are plenty of venues to perform in front of an audience. Maybe your choir group has honed its skills enough to hit the road or you are a soloist with a guitar and good voice and want to sing country or Southern rock, or you and your bluegrass buddies would like to play somewhere other than the local barber shop or garage on the weekends. This article will outline how you can take your music on the road, even if it’s just playing "down the road."
I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to play music across the Southeast by sharing the stage with acts like Josh Turner, Miranda Lambert, Aaron Tippen and even Little Jimmy Dickens. One thing I have learned is that it’s not that hard to find a place to play if you’ve worked hard at your craft and you can find an audience who likes the music genre you play.
Every town in Alabama has opportunities for playing your music live. If you jot down a few of these places, you may find your community has venues any beginner or experienced group or soloist can play.
Express Your Independence
The Fourth of July offers a great opportunity for you or your group to express its independence. Before the fireworks show in your town, chances are there will be live entertainment. Even if there is an established or famous act scheduled to play, you and your group can offer your performance as an opener act. If you have a CD or recording of your group or act, this increases your chances of being booked, because people like to know if you sound reasonably well before they book you.
Bluegrass festivals also offer an opportunity to play publicly. If you are relatively unknown and would like to be booked for next year, most bluegrass festivals have plenty of casual sit-in performances offstage where you have an opportunity to network and meet the people responsible for booking acts. In addition, you will have plenty of opportunities to simply pull out your instrument and play or sing with other musically-inclined individuals.
The following is a list of bluegrass festivals in the state: Paint Rock Valley Bluegrass Festival in Estillfork, Foggy Hollow Bluegrass Festival in Webster’s Chapel, White’s Mountain Bluegrass Festival in St. Clair Springs, Tennessee Old Time Fiddlers Convention in Athens, Great American Bluegrass Festival in Dothan and BamaJam Music Festival in Enterprise.
One of the most forgiving places to start playing is in your local church. This way, if you bomb out, you probably won’t get booed off stage. Today’s churches in Alabama have a wide range of musical opportunities ranging from classical choir groups and bluegrass gospel to more alternative sounds like pop and rock. I recently performed at a Cowboy Church in Alexandria. The audience seemed to sincerely enjoy worship songs written and sang with a country and Western swing rhythm.
Other opportunities for playing live include local restaurants, cultural arts centers, grand openings of local businesses, visits from politicians, farm day events, Cattleman’s Association events, nonprofit gatherings and fundraising events. In addition to these venues, visit www.alabama.travel and click on the box at the bottom of the screen called "The Year of Alabama Music" and you can find out more about 230 stages and 300 different music festivals across the state.
Whether you are singing along with CDs or playing an instrument as you sing, you need a minimum amount of equipment so your sound can be broadcast over a larger area. If you are playing for groups ranging from 30 to 300, a PA or public address system may be necessary. Basically, this consists of a powered mixer and two speakers. You can plug microphones and instrument cables directly into the powered mixer, which sends the signal to the speakers through speaker cable.
Yamaha has come out with a truly simple-to-operate, compact PA system, the Yamaha Stagepas 500, which delivers a high-quality sound in a convenient, compact design. You can carry the entire sound system with one trip. The mixer fits neatly into the back of one of the speakers, and microphones and cords can be stored in the back of the other speaker.
The mixer allows for 10 input channels. This means you can plug in 10 different microphones, instruments or background music. The Stagepas 500 has two, 250-watt power amplifiers with the ability to send high-quality sound over long distances.
This makes it ideal for outdoor venues. The sound quality is remarkably crisp, clear and loud for such a compact unit. The highs are clean and the lows give a full resonance, especially with only 10-inch speakers. In addition, the compact size of the entire unit (under 57 pounds) makes it a breeze to set up and be ready to play within 10 minutes.
For more information about the Stagepas 500, visit www.yamahaproaudio.com. In addition, the sound system can be ordered through www.musiciansfriend.com or you can simply use the Google search engine and type in Yamaha Stagepas 500. Unit retails for $899.
This November as you are planning Thanksgiving and Christmas events, be sure to plan musical events. If you’ve got time to breathe, you got time for music.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.