This argument was already in full swing when I arrived in Buffalo in August 1990. Which leads me to believe that it had been raging for quite some time previous to my arrival. Since I'd moved here to join a band that had already established itself on the local live music circuit, I figured out what the whole debate was about pretty darn quick.
Is it totally necessary for bands performing in local clubs to start so late at night? Why don't shows scheduled for clubs follow the same criteria as concerts, or local theater productions, for that matter? Does one really need to stay out until 2, 3 or 4 in the morning in order to support, or be a performing part of, the local music scene? And why doesn't this bathroom stall have a door on it?
OK, the last bit is part of an entirely different discussion, but the questions preceding it have been paraphrased ad infinitum for at least the past 25 years, mostly by fans, but often by musicians.
I've stopped worrying about it, frankly, and accepted the late nights as a job hazard, something that comes with the turf. But in recent weeks, I've heard from clubgoers expressing their displeasure regarding specific club shows. It seems that, for some of the scene's potential customers, that scene is starting too late at night and continuing until too early the following morning to make attending shows possible, not to mention enjoyable.
Let's deal with the obvious subtext here before we go any further. When I was new to Buffalo, playing in clubs several nights a week, I figured the folks complaining about being out until 3 a.m. were just getting too old for the game. In all honesty, the fact that the music, and all that went along with it, carried on until 4 a.m. – and would have probably carried on longer, if the bouncers at the Old Pink hadn't turned on the lights and shouted “I don't care if you leave, but you can't stay here!” – was something I found incredibly exciting, invigorating and a sign of a healthy and vibrant scene.
Obviously, this lifestyle becomes much harder to espouse as one gets older, faces mounting responsibilities and begins to find the prospect of being in bed by midnight much more attractive. That said, I still find the late nights, the hours and hours spent hearing live music, treating the passage of time as if it's something you're taking a holiday from for the evening, thrilling in a mildly rebellious and transgressive way. For better or worse, the whole thing still feels … well, to beat a cliché to death, kinda rock 'n' roll to me.
That said, it feels a lot less like rock 'n' roll to me when I have to get up at 7 the next morning. Many of you seem to feel the same way.
So do the gigs start too late? Is that late start time making it difficult for some music fans to attend shows they'd like to see? If so, what can be done about this? Or are things fine just the way there are? I posed these questions to fans and members of the music community.
Jeanne Dunkle of Snyder kept her response short and sweet. “If the headliner started between 8 and 9,” she wrote, “I would see a show a week.” Which suggests that, if there are others like Dunkle, than the club scene is scaring off potential customers by sticking to the Buffalo tradition of having artists start late and play late.
“Shows start way too late in Buffalo,” says legendary 97 Rock/WBFO DJ Anita West. “Even when I was growing up, I never would have gone to a show that started at 10 or 11 p.m. I never even saw shows start that late until I moved to Buffalo in 1988. I was amazed at the start times here, and I would miss many shows – at Mohawk Place, for example – because of their start times. I am a fan of a 7 p.m. start time for weeknights, and an 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. latest for weekends. I believe local bands would draw more people if they adhered to these start times.”
It's not surprising that musicians might see this issue from a slightly different angle. The performing musician in me doesn't mind too much hitting the stage at 11 p.m., as long as everyone hasn't gotten fed up and left already. That said, getting to the venue early, setting up, doing a sound check, waiting around until show time, and then playing until 3 a.m., and getting home by 4 if you're lucky – yes, as many musicians will tell you, it gets old.
“Gig start times are reasonable,” says musician Scott Militello. “But the expectation from the venue of a four-hour show is crazy. It dilutes the quality of showmanship and forces a band to elongate breaks or plays songs that aren't tight. When we play, we do two sets, and we always bring a great crowd, but they don't stay much past 12:30 a.m.”
Which suggests perhaps that an earlier closing time might be the answer? Ken Biringer, who does the booking for the Sportsmen's Tavern, says that earlier shows have proven to be very successful for the club. “We do 3 and 4 p.m. weekend matinees, 7 p.m. weeknight starts, and 9 or 9:30 p.m. starts on weekends, and that has worked well for us,” Biringer says.
Though attendees tend to blame the performers and the clubs for what they see as a forever running-behind-schedule industry, the musicians see things a bit differently.
“As a musician, my experience is that shows at places like Nietzsche's have start times dictated by attendance,” says Shawn Brandel. “Bands start when people show up, usually around 10 or 11.”
Brian Gorman, bassist with Buffalo indie-rock band Early Attic, echoes a similar sentiment.
“On weekends, fans are sluggish to show up,” Gorman says. “No one wants to play to an empty room, and unless your promoter/booker is enforcing start times, everything will start late. Since this is a 4 a.m. town, every bill needs to have one or two more bands on it, which compounds the problem, leading bands to go on way later than their scheduled start time. As for weekday shows [starting late], that has a lot to do with club owners having unrealistic expectations for their bar business, so they hold the headliner back as much as they can to keep people buying their booze.”
And so, the battle rages on. My two cents? I like two-act bills on weekends, with the headliner going on at 11 sharp, playing until 1 a.m. or so. The late-night crowd should be treated to a DJ spinning tunes until closing time. And everyone goes home happy.