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When You’re The Opener

I thought it’d be fun to go through what it encompasses when I open for a national act. As in life, sometimes it goes way smoother than other times.

Once the gig is locked in I make sure that we get the load in time, load in details and sound check time from the promoter. It is very important that you and your crew are on time (I can’t stress this enough..).

Once you arrive at the venue on show day it’s important to check in to staff at the venue first to see if it’s cool to bring in your gear. Another important thing to is to be as unobtrusive as you can to not distract anyone during whatever is going on when you arrive. What I usually do once all our gear in in the venue is to check with the stage crew to see how much time we have before we load onto the stage to sound check and/ or line check. Some venues just don’t like to take time to soundcheck the openers. Just be ready for whichever they offer you. At the very least they will usually give you a line check just to check levels really quickly.

Another thing, you have to check with the stage manager and or the headliner’s tour manager is to see where you are allowed to set up on the stage. More often than not their drums and stage props and back line will remain on the stage so be prepared to set up in front of all that.

Next up is to see how much stage space you will actually have while you play. This varies dramatically depending on the venue and on how many bands are on the bill and when you’re playing on the bill. I’ve actually played when there is literally 2 feet of stage space between my amps and the front of the stage. You just deal with it and do your thing and make it work for you.

Another thing to consider is the stage monitor situation. We still use wedges at this point so, as with everything else, depending on the venue and the act your playing with sometimes you will have monitors in some regard and sometimes they will be off. Once again you can ask nicely about them and the sound man will take pity on you and sometimes they will tell you to go screw yourself. Either way you deal with it like a pro. Usually if it’s the venue’s sound crew you will have better luck. I don’t let it discourage me.

Once you have done your sound check and/or line check you need to secure your rig and check to see where you can put your gear so it’s out of the way if you’re not the first band on that night. Again this is a question for the stage manager. Once you’re done checking it’s important to get off the stage quickly so the stage crew can do what they have to do before showtime to make sure the stage is ready to go for the night’s performance.

After I get off the stage I usually go into our area—be it a dressing room and or a common area for all the performers—to get ready (as I’m sure you know if there are only a limited amount of dressing rooms or a dressing room it’s the headliners. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve changed into my stage clothes in the back of my car or in one of the venues bathrooms because there are no dressing rooms.

I find out where we get to hang before showtime backstage and I find a corner out of the way and tune my guitars and make sure everything is good to go. It’s very important for you and your crew to be as out of the way for everyone as and to be as cooperative as possible with the venue’s staff. If there’s time, I will try to grab something to eat if not I will nibble on something to hold me over until the end of the night.

When I get the 30 minute ’till show time call.

I have my road manager get my guitars to my onstage guitar boat and I get changed into my stage attire and stretch out and maybe warm up on one of my guitars if we have time. At 5 minutes before we hit the stage I go over our set with my guys. This is another important thing to do. I always gauge our set to the act we are opening for. If it’s a harder rock act I can pretty much do anything within reason but if it’s rock act I will need to temper my set to the crowd.

If I’m not sure what the house will like I will open with a couple up tempo rocker songs that aren’t to heavy to feel out the audience. Fortunately I have enough material from all my CD’s where we can pretty much temper our set to any audience. Another thing to remember is to not over shadow your headliner. It’s ok to be good and do your thing but do it within reason and be respectful.

Usually we’ll get 20-30 minutes of stage time. I actually enjoy talking to the audience in between songs so depending on how we’re being received I’ll talk accordingly. On that note, be sure you know where you stand time wise while you’re performing. You don’t want to be the one running long. Running long is the quickest way to get both the venue and the headliner pissed at you not to mention it could run into overtime for their crew. If I’m not sure where we are time wise halfway through our set I will ask a stage hand during the performance so we’re off on time.

It’s also important to put on a great performance no matter how much stage space you have, if the monitors are working and how their crowd digs you. It’s also helpful to know what’s on the stage so you don’t trip over anything. Some nights will definitely go better than others but if you do a good job and stay cool with everyone it’s a great thing to play in front of big audiences that the big guys bring in and you also get the chance to win over some new fans. After we finish our last song. I make sure we get our gear off the stage immediately and get it out of the way off stage and secured.If we are allowed to sell our merchandise (this also varies from venue to venue and act to act).

If we have a merch booth I go hang out there for a bit before the headliner goes on and meet everyone. After the headliner’s on I usually will get a drink and take a deep breathe. I’ll then settle up with the club booker and see if we can get our gear out of the venue for load out. Sometimes you can do it during the headliners performance sometimes you have to wait until the end of the night. Just one of those things you deal with.

As for meeting the headliners, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t it totally depends on the situation. I usually keep to myself and do my thing and they are doing theirs. If they want to chat I’m always open to it. I’m just there to help the bill and promote my music. If you do a great job and aren’t any trouble for any of the crew, people will remember and you more than likely will get invited back to play the venue and/or open for the headliner in the future.I’m always up to the challenge to win over new fans in front of someone else’s fan base.

About the author

Ronny North

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