By CESAREO GARASA, Contributing columnist
As a working musician, my relationship with a venue's booker is extremely important. These are the guys who hear every band that comes through their doors and have the power to provide an outlet for local musicians and entertainment to audiences. I wanted to see what three of them had to say about 2013 and what they predicted for 2014.
In their business, a knowledge of self-promotion and politics in dealing with different egos is paramount. Their answers gave me some insight to what it's like from their side of the stage.
"I'd like to see a lot of bands get off the Internet and out in front of the crowds."
-- Neil Swank, manager and consultant at On the Rocks
My weirdest stage moment of '13
I've played some challenging shows before, but backing up Karling Abbeygate and the Atomics at the Rocks on March 17 was a masterpiece of confusion and lost opportunities.
The good will formed during years of performing in Bakersfield -- at one time just about the whole band was from here -- was lost in one 45-minute set when the award-winning chanteuse who has been called the "British Patsy Cline" lost her mind.
In a meltdown for the ages, Abbeygate insulted the venerated Buck Owens and the Irish in Bakersfield on St. Patrick's Day.
Being behind the drum set when things are falling apart around you is not just frustrating but confusing: Do I leave? What is happening? What did she just say? Did she really say that? And so on. I decided to soldier on and kept playing until the second-to-last song, when each member of the band started playing five completely different songs at the same time. That was a clear sign we were done in more ways than one.
Between that and the look of mischievous glee on Abbeygate's face every time she parceled out subtle jabs to the crowd, which --understandably -- gradually soured on her act, I knew that she had turned a different path in her career arc. What made it so shocking to me was how unexpected it was. Her stage persona before was the antithesis of the antagonistic performer she was at this gig.
One for the ages. But for all the wrong reasons.
-- Cesareo Garasa
Zachary Spier (bartender and booker at Sandrini's Bar), Thomas Rockwell (venue operator at Trout's), and Neil Swank (manager and consultant at On the Rocks) agreed to answer a few of my questions.
How would you recap 2013?
Spier: I've seen a lot of camaraderie between groups, which is always nice to see. Sandrini's specifically has had some changes in personnel and we're hoping to try some new things and figure out what's best for us and musicians.
Rockwell: Greater Bakersfield experienced a year like no other. Many events and new events and platforms opened up and closed down. Opportunities rose and fell through the cracks just as quickly.
Swank: We had a lot of fun with many bands and a lot of personalities. We said goodbye to a lot of my favorite local acts but there are a good amount of local musicians that are still creating and finding avenues to get their music out there. We saw how important social media has become in the world of music marketing and promotion. A lot of musicians realized how important it is for self-promotion and participating in not only one band or group, but multiple acts to stay active and relevant.
Who impressed you in 2013?
Spier: I was impressed with quite a few groups. I love that Mento Buru (full disclosure: the author of this column is in the band ) has been a band for so many years and are still able to stay relevant and fun. Choirs is another band that impressed me with an unparalleled work ethic and guys who seem like they're always excited just to play music.
Rockwell: Don and Annie Kidwell, band leaders and members of the Blackboard Playboys (the house band at Trout's). They constantly stepped up to the plate to helped manage sound and events of all genres that I opened my stages to. Don had played Trout's for a span of four decades and always appreciates artists of all levels and genres -- from traditional country to blues and even metal. Their sound management is dictated by quality and they are heavily invested to it.
Swank: The Architecture was one of those bands that broke up too soon, but I thought they had a lot of potential and a really great sound. I liked seeing the Steely Dan cover band The Blue Deacons and '90s cover band Nerdvana perform and respond to the public.
What is your prediction for the local music scene in 2014?
Spier: My prediction for 2014 is overall positive. I'm hoping to see more bands eager to play simply for the love of being musicians. I think there'll be predictably more of the same, but I'm hoping to see some groups break out and try some new things.
Rockwell: 2014 is a wildcard year. This is defined by a new level of clarity of the realistic level support of live entertainment in the greater Bakersfield region in recent history. The industry discovered that existing social media is not the "save all" when battled by the lack of feasible methods to broadcast upcoming events through local media as a whole, often based on rates to promote. The region and industry needs more feasible methods to broadcast local activities and businesses service and products to the masses.
Swank: I think that we've entered a sort of generational gap in local music. There seems to be very few established bands in this town and many young bands fighting for the opportunity to play. I think live music is currently at a lull, but I think that 2014 will be an interesting year with a lot of new faces and new sounds. Pretty exciting.
Who do you recommend to look out for in 2014?
Spier: Everyone should look out for the band Choirs in 2014. The nicest guys to ever pick up instruments and just an amazing group. I wish these guys all the luck in the world.
Swank: I think we could see local band Choirs begin to see broader attention.
What are your goals for 2014?
Spier: My goal is to get more people on stage that play because they love to play. It's easy to get lost in egos, money, girls, getting signed (if that's even a thing anymore) ... I would like to give opportunities to people that are passionate about playing music.
Rockwell: To find a local financial supporter to help to partially underwrite a mechanism of television and radio broadcasting that will be more faith- and community-based. Media can be an amazing platform to extend the reach of small business, faith, arts and education.
Swank: Of the many goals I have for 2014, I'd like to see a lot of bands get off the Internet and out in front of the crowds. There's a lot of young talent out there, but in addition to posting songs on SoundCloud and Facebook, they need to get their music to the local public. I would also like to see Bakersfield come out to see live music just to see live music. There's a lot of quality music not only from local musicians but also from acts travelling through town and it's near pulling teeth to get a crowd to see touring bands. People complain there isn't anything to do in town, but if you look for it, there seems to be live music happening nearly every night of the week.