Why people don't come to my shows

Long Road at Nighttown last year.

I think I understand why people who have never heard me play music don’t want to come to hear me play music.

I mentioned in last month’s column that I had lots of musical training while growing up in Cleveland Heights, at music schools, music stores and in Heights public schools—Coventry Elementary, Roosevelt Junior High and Heights High. I didn’t mention that I quit high school, toward the end of my 12th-grade year in 1967, to pursue a career in music.

I moved to New York City and got into a rock band right away. That band eventually—a few years later and after many personnel changes—evolved into Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

In 1969 I signed as a folky solo artist with Sire Records, which was on the verge of becoming a major label (later signing the Talking Heads, the Ramones, the Pretenders, Madonna and many others).

In the process, I was lucky enough to play onstage with Jimi Hendrix and other legendary rock musicians; open shows for Linda Ronstadt, Tim Buckley, and many more artists who were well known at that time; and perform in major venues such as the Bitter End, the Scene, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I returned to Cleveland and played all around the area with various bands and as a solo artist.

I changed my stage name to Baxter Shadowfield. A major label became interested in signing my last Baxter Shadowfield band—in an era when the only way to get a record out was to sign with a label—but I was burned out by then and I quit the music business. I thought I should take a stab at real life.

I had come relatively close to achieving fame and fortune, but the music business is tough and the vast majority of people who try do not become rich and famous. I didn’t play any music for 18 years. In that time I got married, had two kids, and worked as a writer and editor for magazines. 

My generation, the Baby Boom, was the first one in which a large percentage became musicians—amateur, professional; rock, folk, jazz, classical, religious—and performed in clubs, bars, concert halls and houses of worship. After the incredible commercial success of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, it became socially acceptable and fairly feasible to perform as a folky singer-songwriter or as a member of a rock band, so a great many people did.

Then a great many stopped at around the age of 30 because they were now members of families of their own and needed to make a more dependable living. Then, 20 years later, everyone’s kids grew up and we all “got the band back together.”

That’s why people who never knew me or heard me play music before I quit don’t get excited when I tell them that I’m in a band and we’re playing at this or that venue. I’m just another old guy in a band. 

I see it in people’s faces—people who never knew me as a musician, but who do know me as a writer, or as that guy who cooks at the Murray Hill Market, or as somebody’s father or brother, etc.—when I invite them to come and hear my group. I can tell they’re thinking: How good could this guy be? He’s standing there cooking vegetable soup.

The other side of that weird coin is that when they finally do come and hear me, they actually tell me how surprised they are that the band is so good. I say, “I told you we were good.” And they say, “Yeah, but . . . .” And, as I said, I get that. But, little by little, Long Road has amassed those surprised listeners into a loyal(ish) following.

I put together this ‘60s-style folk-pop group Long Road in 2007 to play one concert at Cain Park. People liked it so much that we decided to repeat the show at Nighttown a few months later. People liked that show so much that we did it again at the Kent Stage. Then Cain Park, Nighttown and the Kent Stage all invited us back within the next few months. That’s when we realized we were actually a group.

We play a small number of shows—maybe five or six a year. They’re all sit-down-and-listen shows—at places such as Nighttown, the Music Box Supper Club, the Barn in Avon Lake, and Cain Park’s Alma Theater; and we’ve played at the Beachland Tavern, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Lake View Cemetery, and other venues. We’re playing for the first time at the new Bevy in Birdtown (the former Winchester, in Lakewood) this month—May 14.

We draw our biggest audiences at locations in the Heights area. As I often say, Long Road fans will come and hear us anywhere we play—in Cleveland Heights. But if you’re a little adventurous you could travel to Lakewood, which is the Cleveland Heights of the West Side, to hear us. And this place is on the east side of Lakewood. I think you’ll like us, and the totally redesigned venue, too.

And when your friend who’s a lawyer or carpenter or doctor or steelworker asks you to come and hear his or her band, keep an open mind and don’t automatically dismiss the idea. At least until you’ve heard them. You might be surprised.

David Budin

David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

Read More on Songs and Stories
Volume 8, Issue 5, Posted 6:35 PM, 04.30.2015