Friday, June 24, 2011

When Bluegrass Fans Forget Who They Are (Steve Martin at ROMP)

Banjo Player Steve Martin
It's another great day in Owensboro, Kentucky.  Of the six years I've been coming to Owensboro for the ROMP bluegrass music festival, this is the first year of daytime temperatures much below 100 degrees.  Yesterday peaked out somewhere in the 80s and by the time we left the park at midnight it was actually a little bit chilly - this really does not seem like a ROMP festival.

Part of the reason for that, of course, is of Steve Martin's appearance with the Steep Canyon Rangers last night. There are definite pros and definite cons about having Steve Martin appear at a smallish bluegrass festival.  Best of all, Steve Martin is an excellent banjo player, songwriter, and entertainer.  He more than holds his own on stage with the Rangers (a band of excellent musicians and singers, to be sure) and, in fact, almost every song in their 98 minute set was written by Steve.  The show is a great blend of comedy and some very serious music. 

Now for the cons associated with having Steve Martin come to your smallish bluegrass festival: he draws a completely new crowd, a crowd of boorish, rude loudmouths who are not at all like the usual fans who attend bluegrass shows.  Right next to me sat a young couple who insisted on standing for minutes at a time while using their fancy cameras to snap picture after picture of Martin.  When asked to sit down so that those behind them might get a look at Martin and the Rangers, they rudely lied that they had been here for hours to get their location and had "warned" everyone behind them that they would be standing for most of the show.  Sadly, they were just the tip of the iceberg.

As some of you know, it is a bluegrass festival tradition to place an empty chair early on in order to claim your spot for the show.  Because of Steve Martin's appearance, many people arrived four or five hours early to get spots near the stage - only to have dozens of people arrive late to stand in front of them all night long by squeezing between the stage and what was officially the first row of seating.  Those in the first couple of rows of seating, the people who had  been in the park the longest, did not see a whole lot of anything except the backs and butts of the rudest people in the park.

To his credit, Martin noticed what was going on and told the intruders that when they "finally got their pictures, they should sit down so that those in the front rows could see."  Didn't happen.

Having Steve Martin appear is a great thing for the International Bluegrass Music Museum in terms of selling tickets and raising the profile of the museum.  Now, I can only hope that the excess of idiots from last night bought only single-day tickets and things will get back to normal for the last two days.

(The photo is one I took of Steve Martin and the band warming up outside their tour bus about 30 minutes prior to their appearance on stage.)


  1. Well put, Sam. The show was awesome, and it was easy to see that the folks from the museum put a lot of time and trouble into giving us an amazing day. Its too bad that a small percentage of those unaware of festival etiquette couldn't behave themselves EVEN after being asked to do so. Kudos to Steve himself for pointing it out. Thumbs down to the folks involved to not recognize their inappropriateness. I'm NOT NOT NOT gonna let it it ruin my fun, that's for sure. More good grass to come...and I've waited two years to get back here and I'm gonna soak up all the good 'grass and friendly folks I can get.

    I hope the "idjuts" read today's local paper. ;-)

    Cindy M. Dong, grass fan from Phoenix AZ

  2. It's sad that some people couldn't behave themselves in a respectful and appropriate manner. Maybe ROMP should've had Steve Martin in an indoor theatre - it would've limited the number of people who could see him, but people would've been assured of their seats. I dunno - pros and cons, like you said. It's sad, though, because the friendly atmosphere is something I always enjoyed at ROMP.

    I wish I could've been there this year, rude people and all. Have fun!

  3. Sounds like a conflict between Bluegrass concert audience behavior standards and Rock concert audience behavior standards. What you discribe is appropriate behavior for a rock concert, but when I used to go to them at least.

    Still, don't have have security? Where were they?

    Hope you're loving the rest of the conerts and that your good weather holds out.

  4. That sucks. Sounds less like Bluegrass fans forgot who they were than Steve Martin fans didn't know the etiquette of the bluegrass culture. For example, I wouldn't have known about the official front row. At all the concerts I've attended, I've only seen the area up that way as standing room only. Seats have always been in the back. But I've never been to a bluegrass concert.

  5. C.B., when it comes to bluegrass festivals, it's sometimes a generational conflict. The older folks show up early, claim their viewing space, and remain out in the sun and heat for the whole day. That's why it is so frustrating to have the younger crowd show up just before the act they want to see cranks up, only to block everyone's view by cramming as near the stage as possible. They were politely asked to moved several times, but few of them did as asked. To top it off, that part of the crowd was so noisy that it bothered the performers, they drank too much, and more than a few were high on other substances. Even a couple of the entertainer's asked that they move back because the cigarette smoke was bothering them.

  6. Will, it's different than a rock concert set-up - traditionally, it's always done this way with no standing room up front. I really hate to see that tradition end just because a younger crowd is catching on to the updated version of the music. We need that crowd if the music is to survive into the 21st century, but I hope that civility doesn't suffer, as a consequence.