By Kat Goldman
I’ve opened for so many famous people I’ve forgotten some of their names! Let’s see, there was Eric Anderson, Martin Sexton, The Strawbs, Dar Williams, Jonathan Brooke, Al Stewart, Colin Hay, and Midge Ure, to name a few.
Playing the opening act before a high profile songwriter or band forces you to prepare well in advance and work hard towards your gig. It makes you step it up a notch, and challenges you to become stronger as a performer. It grows your confidence, knowing that for that evening, and on that stage, you will have to fit into the same “league” as your co-bill.
There are a lot of perks to being the opening act. It’s always great exposure for you, and all of a sudden your friends and family will start to think you’re really COOL because somehow you landed a gig with a famous person.
Being the opening act is also a great tidbit you can add to your bio. For example, if you write: “Opened for Eric Anderson, Colin Hay, etc.,” it always adds to the meat of your story and associates your image with great talent.
Forget right away this idea that the opening act is somehow lesser than the main act. I just saw REO Speedwagon open for Chicago last night, and, in fact, REO really stole the show! They were on fire! Was it because they tour more frequently than Chicago and were therefore effortless in their performance? Chicago seemed somewhat strained and slow in getting started. They didn’t even play “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” until the very end! (But you know who was sobbing and fervently flicking their Bic when they did…) People were becoming so impatient they were getting up from their seats to go to the washroom and buy popcorn! What I’m trying to say is, just because you’re the opener doesn’t mean you are somehow lagging behind your main act. The audience might even prefer your set!
Think of your opening set as a great opportunity to win over a certain audience- an audience that was built by your main act. You might find you really connect with them and they with you. Hopefully it will be a crowd that shares your same aesthetic. For example, opening for Dar Williams is always a special treat for me because her audience genuinely loves singer-songwriter folk music. Thus, your music might totally compliment your co-bill and the night could go swimmingly. Or, you could be paired with a thrash metal band. Then you’re really fucked.
Hopefully the main act will be nice to you. For example, they might check in with you at the end of the night to see if you were treated well by the venue, and that you got paid. If you didn’t get paid, you might want to inform the bar manager that you know karate and aren’t afraid to use it.
You might want to have a listen to the main act’s music in advance as a courtesy, and also so you’ll have something to talk about if you should see them backstage. Don’t be afraid to gush. I bet they’d be really flattered. Maybe you can slip them one of your CD’s at the end of the night. You never know. It could be the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
Alternatively, your main act might not be very nice to you at all. Maybe they’ll be a real pain in the ass, like the time I opened for someone at Hugh’s Room. The main act asked if he could use my keyboard for one of his numbers. Of course I let him play it, but he insisted they duck tape my keyboard pedal to one, exact, spot on the floor to suit his posture. The problem was that spot was so far away from where my feet could reach- and what with my legs being so short- that when it was my turn to play, I slowly began to slide off the bench under the keyboard trying to reach the pedal and nearly fell off! It felt like I was doing the limbo! And guess who had to pay for the keyboard rental at the end of the night?
Just remember: there is no shame in playing the opening set. It’s always a win-win. I would try to get as many as you can. Ask around for the good ones; offer bribes if you have to. And make sure you promo the hell out of it in advance. You’ll make some new fans, and who knows - you might even get a tour out of it.
The Opening Act
There’s nothing wrong with being the opening act. In fact, it’s one of the best gigs a songwriter could have! Hell, I’ve practically made a career off the opening act!
First of all, it gives you clout that you’ve shared the stage with someone famous. Plus, you might get treated really well, like having chips and hummus and soda pops left for you in your dressing room.
Once they gave me a full spread at a nightclub in New York: chocolate, salsa, Tostitos, wine- the WORKS. Everything about it was classy, until the male wait staff came in to change their clothes. That’s when I realized my dressing room was not really a dressing room at all. It was the male staff’s locker room. I didn’t mind.