Monday, February 23, 2009

How to run a showcase room

Chris Pickering in action on Thursday night

The whole idea of a showcase room is pretty strange -  you in effect run a tiny mini-festival in your hotel room, charging other acts to come and play, with everyone hoping that everyone else's audience will rub off on them and produce a fun, memorable and musical result.

(Apparently the private showcase rooms developed out of the desire by a number of those attending Folk Alliance conferences to develop opportunities to strut their stuff beyond their official showcase performances.  And so "guerilla showcases" started to be produced in people's rooms.  The idea mushroomed and eventually became a semi-official part of the conference programme.)

Although total newbies, we had 6 shows to put on (evenings Wednesday to Saturday, with Friday and Saturday afternoons thrown in), and were really grateful to our neighbours across the hall, James Moore and Chicago Mike, who ran “A Little Bit Marvelous”, for giving us tips here and there. We set up our room, which involved leaning one of the two beds up against the wall, collecting a dozen chairs from the ordering place in the lobby, and setting them up invitingly, and a bit of rearranging the furniture. Then we looked at how James and Mike set up their room, which seemed somehow lighter and larger than ours, and we rearranged the beds again, shortly before we opened the doors for the first time! We draped our Australian flag and Eureka flag, and as the week progressed we collected flags from other performers to decorate the room. By far the largest and therefore most eyecatching was the beautiful Scottish flag which Lorna Brooks brought. We pinned it to the curtains, and it was joined by a stars-and-stripes, a Quebec flag, and a Newfoundland flag.

I got some fresh grapes from a store on Main Street, because I was dying for some fresh fruit and they proved to be very popular with visitors to our room.  We also supplied bottled water.  (While some rooms offered free booze as a way to attract punters, we aimed our room at the listening crowd - having learned valuable lessons from Andrew Pattison and the Troubadour crew).

We put postcards everywhere we were allowed to, telling people when we were showcasing, and we put fold-up cards on the tables with the International Showcase Room programme on them, so everyone knew who was on. We had a poster on the door with our programme and our logo!!

And then we waited to see who would turn up…

Well, loads of people turned up, because three floors of the hotel were set aside to be little concert rooms, so they were awash with people sauntering down the corridors and peeking into every room. And by wandering and peeking whenever we could, we got a picture of what everyone else does.

Some rooms are very plain, and are all about getting a taste of the music and nothing else. No decoration, a few chairs and the bed to sit on, no hospitality, and in some cases you can’t even use their bathroom. I didn’t stay long in those rooms. At the other extreme were full suites, using a p.a., catering from the small kitchen, set up as a concert hall with rows of chairs, couches round the sides. Canada seemed to be particulary keen on these rooms, which were absolutely jumping. In the East Canada Suite they had platters of cheese and fruit and free beer to help you enjoy a wide selection of Canadian artists at maximum volume.

Then there were the quirky, atmospheric rooms, decorated with whimsical and personal items to create a friendly atmosphere. Lots of people favoured fairy lights, one room had a string of leaves decked round the door, many of them went for low lighting, and most rooms used one of the beds for sprawling on while listening. Some rooms removed all the beds and they were fun to sing in because there was some reverb.

The noise in the corridors, and often in the rooms, was unbelievable. But people didn’t mind if the door was almost closed; it didn’t stop them coming in to listen, and it did deal with the noise spill a bit.

We managed the noise, everyone pretty much turned up on time, the artists' contributions helped us out a little with expenses, and best of all, we got to hear some fabulous music from musicians we admire and came to know just a little bit.

A mad thing to do for a week, but the most fun in ages!


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