Before the 2017 holidays, I reached out to several Upstate bands to find out what their Christmas and New Year’s show plans were. The bands — the psychedelic pop trio Brother Oliver, the dance-rock band TJ Lazer, and the world music/gypsy folk/experimental rock outfit Wasted Wine — all had shows to talk about. And during the interviews, all three specifically mentioned their strategy to play fewer shows in Greenville after years of packed gig schedules.
One or even two bands with that idea might be coincidence, but three starts to indicate a trend. So after the New Year, I reached back out to singer and guitarist Andrew Oliver of Brother Oliver, singer and bassist Thomas McPartland of TJ Lazer, and Wasted Wine vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Robert Gowan to find out the reasons behind a decision that seems antithetical to someone trying to make a living as a musician: the decision to play fewer shows.
For Andrew Oliver, the choice to play less around town was motivated by a bigger goal to tour regionally and nationally.
“We’re trying to build an audience not just in Greenville, but all over the country,” he says. “I know there are different ways to do that, but a big part of it is getting gigs and building relationships with audiences in other cities. It’s about spreading the word on foot and making those personal connections.”
But Oliver also brings up a theme that the two other bands have thought about: the idea of making their local shows more special.
“It’s like supply and demand,” he says. “When we have a show in Greenville, we’re hitting up all of our friends to come, so it’s hard to hit them up again and get them to come do the same thing. So spreading our shows out builds some anticipation and makes it more special, at least to my thinking.”
Oliver is quick to add that he knows that that strategy goes against what musicians have long believed. “I still appreciate the idea that anytime you have the chance to play somewhere, you should play. Even if there’s only one person in the room, that’s still one person who didn’t know you before that night. That still holds weight to me. But I’d like to err on the side of caution. It’s hard to create hype around something if it’s happening all the time.”
For Gowan, who also produces music and makes videos for other bands, it’s more about balancing the band’s schedule with the needs of its individual members.
“Everybody has been really busy,” he says. “And we feel like we’ve cultivated a good enough audience that we can do shows less frequently and get more people out. By focusing on special events and holidays, it allows us to make our shows more important to us and the audience. If we’re even playing monthly, it becomes this thing where people don’t have as much incentive to come to a show. Spacing things out gets people more excited about coming to see you because they haven’t seen you in a while.”
McPartland has an interesting perspective, because in addition to his band, he books the shows at Greenville’s Gottrocks venue.
“I think it’s one thing to say you want to play out as much as you can to get your name out there and get exposure, but at a certain point, you start to realize that you’re doing yourself a disservice when you play that much,” he says. “Oversaturation will kill you in the market, and I think that there are a lot of groups in the Upstate that are starting to realize it. If we have a club date in one area, we look at three months down the road for another one.”
And as a booker, McPartland knows that too many local shows can hurt a band’s drawing power and make a venue reluctant to bring it back.
“It’s a conversation that I inevitably have with every band that’s in the market that wants to play the room,” he says. “I’d love for you guys to be able to play one club for free on a Wednesday and then come play here on Friday where you get paid from what we take in at the door, but that’s not the case. If you’re a patron, you’re going to go see the free show instead of ours.”