Climbing the music industry ladder is not an easy feat and once you reach the upper rungs it does not mean you stop climbing. You have to continue to work diligently to maintain your status, reputation, integrity and so on. Musicians must promote through playing out. They play anywhere and everywhere at first and then once they reach the proverbial “rock star” status they have the ability to be more choosey where they play. Gaining more fans should always be the goal. Regardless of whether their music has been around for ages or they are green to the scene, every musician can accumulate more people to listen and buy their music. At a recent show I was able to witness original promotion from a big name artist and it inspired me to share the story.
Living in Lahaina, Hawaii has its advantages for sure; the beauty, the easy-paced life and beyond, but it is not really a place that has a large variety of music, or is flooded with musicians eager to play for you. Don’t get me wrong, musicians are eager to play, but the venues are not on every corner and most of them are playing for the tourists. So, when the opportunity arouse for me to see the very popular Donavon Frankereiter play at a restaurant I jumped at the chance. Expecting the place to be wall to wall with people dying to see to Donavon in such an intimate setting, I was shocked when we arrived to a nearly empty establishment. Granted this was only the first of the two performances he would play that evening… but still. The tables eventually filled, but in no way would I say it was packed. Frankenreiter casually came in and tuned with his accompanying musician, Kirk Smart, while the bar music still played! It was the familiar scene of a singer songwriter playing at one of your favorite haunts; no one really paying attention until they captivate the crowd with their instrumentation or harmonies. Donavon was wearing skinny jeans, a t-shirt and, what I hope were faux, snake skin lace ups, donning his usual facial stubble and scruffy hair. He thanked the modest crowd for joining them and jumped right into the set, performing the tracks from his latest release “Revisited”; a majority of the tracks from his debut self-titled solo album updated and re-released. Donavon performed along with Smart at Tia Juana’s, a restaurant that he co-owns in Lahaina, Maui.
His performance was everything that you expect from Donavon; casual, confident and a little messy, with the sound guy cutting his mic during “Call Me Papa“, a song that I hadn’t heard him perform live since Bonnaroo in 2004, during the significant part of the chorus “You can call me papa, and I’ll call you baby, Don’t forget that your mamas my, baby too”. Luckily the crowd was there to fill in. Frankenreiter somewhat laughed off the error. What can you expect from a typical “bar gig” Donavon? Obviously embarrassing for the amateur sound guy, but he handled it like a pro and quickly got the mic hooked backed up, while both musicians looped their riffs and moved on. They played through “Free”, “On My Mind”, “Heading Home” and many favorites without too much chatter between. After the set both musicians graciously thanked the very excited crowd and exited the small corner stage. Donavon then went around and handed out free copies of his new release and signed them, if you had a pen. How familiar, a musician hawking his own music to get patrons to “spread the word” so to speak. Going back to the roots of becoming an established musician; work the crowd that came to see you perform, they tell a friend, share your music and your popularity increases. It seems so simple and it’s refreshing that “rock stars” still have to do some leg work with us “little people”.
Yes… I had Donavon sign a copy of “Revisited” for me after the set and even had a moment to chat with him about his life in Hawaii (he resides in Kauai when not on tour). He originally recorded the songs chosen for the album in Hawaii and wanted to experience the music of his rock star beginnings by re-recording them with more of an influence from the islands. The whole album reflects his inspirations by incorporating instruments common to the area such as the lap steel, slack key guitar and ukulele. Each song igniting the sound Donavon initially exuded with an even more laid back vibe, brah! Plus the mere fact that he was willing to promote it the way he did made me appreciate the work so much more.
Playing for a room of 40 people is rare in the life of a rock star… unless a millionaire pays for them to play a private birthday celebration or their child’s barmitsva. But when a typical musician starts playing music, they do it for the love of just playing with the hope that they will become successful and that people will like their music… like them. It is a rare instance to see an established artist, like Donavon Frankenreiter, digress to a musician’s humble beginnings, but seeing it happen is an experience to reflect on. Granted the rush of playing for thousands piled into a roaring crowd is missing, it seems like such a pleasurable moment to have a moderate party congregate to sing along to some of your first tunes. In a smaller setting it is similar to those campfire days, when it was just close friends who were enjoying another friend’s tune reciting every lyric. For the musician, not only do they get to look into the faces of their fans and supporters, but they can actually talk to them. And to my delight I chatted with a rock star returning as a modest player at a local spot, performing for a small crowd of lovers to his music. Now I can only hope that more up and coming artists take a cue from Donavon and get back to the fundamentals of making fans and promoting their music. Aspiring singer songwriters take notice and remember where you started when you make big.