Fans and musicians grow tired of late-night shows

The Guns N’ Roses show at the Sprint Center on Nov. 12 was notable for at least two reasons.

For one, it was the band’s first performance in Kansas City in almost 20 years.

Second: Axl Rose and his mates took the stage at 11 p.m., typically the time most Sprint Center shows are drawing to a close. The show finally ended at 1:45 a.m., and by then, some of the 7,000-plus fans were well on their way home.

From my review: “It would have been a better show if it shed some fat and lost some bloat. Or if it started earlier. About the 1:15 a.m. mark, I noticed people heading up the aisles for the exits. And lots of yawning.”

That line elicited some comments at Back to Rockville, The Star’s music blog.

One reader wrote: “I think it’s extremely rude to keep your fans waiting and then go on to play a lengthy set.”

Another wrote: “Rock ’n’ roll doesn’t wear a watch or have a family.”

That may be true, but a lot of people who buy tickets have families and jobs, and too often the starting times for club shows are so late that people have ample reason not to go. The Guns N’ Roses late starting time was a first for the Sprint Center, where shows typically start by 8 p.m. And it was on a Saturday night, which meant most people didn’t have to worry about work the next morning.

But late starting times on weekdays can affect attendance at clubs, and not just among fans who have to consider the consequences of getting to bed well past midnight. It can also affect the musicians, especially those with day jobs.

So we asked fans, musicians and club owners about the ideal clockwork for shows, especially during the week. If any consensus arose, it was this: Earlier may be better, but it’s not always possible.

“I would rather go on early than late,” said Jason Beers, who is in a few local bands, including the Brannock Device and Dead Voices. “Those late start times really kill the potential for folks to take a chance on hearing your band. We want to play for new crowds, too, not just the bar rats and regulars. So the earlier the better.”

“Personally, I think more people would go see bands during the week if shows started at a reasonable hour,” said Gregg Todt, lead singer and guitar player in Federation of Horsepower. Todt is also one of Johnny Dare’s sidekicks on the early morning show on KQRC (98.9 FM, the Rock). “The problem is, people have tried the early thing, and it just doesn’t work.”

Matinees and happy hours

Some clubs do both early and late shows. The calendar at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road, this week included a free Tuesday night singer-songwriter matinee that started at 7 p.m. and the weekly Wednesday show by Bob Walkenhorst of the Rainmakers, which also started at 7 p.m. It also includes an all-afternoon Rock Band Academy showcase from 2 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, and the Alternative Jazz Series from jazz bassist Jeff Harshbarger, which starts at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Its evening calendar, however, is more typical of other clubs that showcase live music. Tonight’s bill starts at 10 with the Brian Ruskin Quartet. Local H goes on at 11 p.m. The headliners, Rob Foster and Dudes, go on at midnight.

Steve Tulipana, co-owner of the RecordBar and a member of a few local bands (including the Roman Numerals and Season to Risk), said his club is also a restaurant, so it has to accommodate the dinner crowds, too.

“We try to turn our room twice an evening to maximize food sales during the dinner hours,” he said. “So I would say that the venue having a restaurant does dictate the start time to a degree.”

Walkenhorst’s weekly show has a steady, regular crowd, but the early shows are hit-and-miss, he said.

“Sometimes the early shows just do not work,” he said. “It is still a mystery to me. I suppose much of it depends on the demography of the artist’s fans. Our weekly dinner matinees ebb and flow attendance-wise but for the most part are consistently worth their while. On Sundays we only do one show and it starts two hours earlier than the normal late shows, and many times it is just apparent that no one wants to be here at 8 p.m.”

Sheri Parr, owner of the Brick, 1727 McGee, has for the most part stopped booking late-night shows during the week, save for Monday night karaoke. But the Brick does have two regular early shows on weekdays: the Rural Grit Happy Hour at 6 p.m. Mondays and the Thursday night singer/songwriter forum at 8 p.m. About a year ago, she started booking 5 p.m. Saturday matinees.

“When we started, there was a loose theme: Americana, blues and soul,” she said. “But now we are open to other kinds of music. But it is a dinner crowd, so death-metal probably isn’t going to happen at 7 o’clock. The attendance? It varies from week to week, but the Rural Grit show usually has a pretty consistent draw.”

A couple of blocks north of the Brick, at Czar, 1531 Grand Blvd., management has started a Wednesday matinee show from 6 to 9 p.m. called the Indie Hit Makers Showcase, curated by singer/songwriter Mike Borgia. The evening showcases four bands, each in a 30-minute set. Donations are accepted at the door and go to the bands. The Czar’s manager, Dutch Humphrey, said recently, “It’s been going on for a few weeks, and it has a lot of opportunity to grow. Last night we had a really good crowd. It’s becoming our only consistent early show.”

Lauren Krum, lead singer in the Grisly Hand, is a fan of the early-show concept, including the Hit Makers Showcase.

“I think those take a while to get the word out,” she said, “but if it’s downtown-ish, it’s a great way for people to go out (downtown) who would never go out if a show began at 10.”

Late nights/early mornings

Two factors can determine whether some fans will go to a late show: the starting time and the number of bands on the bill.

Tulipana said starting times are usually no later than 10 p.m., but “we also negotiate different start times for different artists and shows when it is requested by the agent or artist. If it is local artists, we like to do three bands. I think it helps build the scene and fill the night out. If it’s a touring band, it depends solely on the agent and the artist.”

At Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester, owner Frank Hicks favors starting things a little earlier rather than later. But he has discovered that sometimes early can be too early.

“If I was a concert-goer, and the weather is really hot or really cold, once I get home and get comfortable, it can be hard to get me back out,” he said. “So we’ve tried some 6:30 starts, and they’ve been hit-and-miss. I can book Hamilton Loomis at 6:30 and everybody comes. I book Popa Chubby at 6:30, nobody comes.

“Generally, we try to start our weekday shows at 8 o’clock. Most shows are done between 10 and 11 so people can get home at a decent hour and get to bed. I want the show to start early enough so that people who feel like they have to go get to see the whole show or most of it. Most of the time I set the start times. Some of the younger bands freak out about an 8 o’clock start because they’re used to a late crowd and starting at 10.”

Around here, some of the local bands appreciate an earlier starting time.

“For me, the perfect show is two bands, opener on at 9 p.m., headliner at 10,” said Ben Grimes of the Soft Reeds. “But (that) seems like a pipe dream in this town.”

Others have similar dreams.

Kristie Stremel, who leads her own rock band, said, “I love shows that start at 9 with one opener. Headliner goes on at 10-ish and should have a couple of hours of material for the ticket buyers.”

“I’m pretty used to the whole ‘opener at 10, middle band at 11 and headliner at midnight’ or something loosely holding to that,” said Andrew Ashby of the Caves and the String and Return. “I don’t mind shows starting at 9 o’clock sharp, either, but it always seems that people don’t start walking through the door until after 10.”

Shaun Hamontree, guitarist and lead singer of American Catastrophe (and co-founder of the design/filmmaking collective MK12), said the combination of a later start and a big bill can be a problem.

“On a three-band ticket, the norm nowadays, it is sometimes frustrating for the headlining band to go on third,” he said. “More times than not, the headliner ends up going on at 12:30 (a.m.) and the crowd is usually on their mental way out the door.”

Humphrey, lead singer in Cherokee Rock Rifle and bassist in Atlantic Fadeout, agreed.

“Sometimes our fans don’t like it when we don’t go on until nearly 1 (a.m.), but there’s not much you can do when you’re on a three-band bill. The other thing is, you don’t want to be on so early that you’re wrapping up your set when people are still walking in the door.”

Some of those people say they’d walk through the door more often if shows started earlier and/or were shorter, especially those who can’t do the late-night grind like they used to.

Readers at Back to Rockville were asked to comment on starting times for shows. Several complained about shows that start well beyond their appointed time, most infamously the Bruce Springsteen show at the Sprint Center in August 2008, which started 80 minutes late.

One reader wrote: “Back when I was in my 20s I could go to a show at the Replay (in Lawrence) that ended at 2 a.m., get home at 3 a.m. and still be up for work at 6. Not anymore. It takes a special show to get me to the Replay nowadays just because of that.”

Brian Dolny, 33, who goes to work early each morning for a local make of high-fidelity home audio loudspeakers, feels the same way.

“I used to go to a lot of shows, but now it’s maybe a couple a year,” he said. “Even if a show starts at 9, the band you want to see doesn’t go on until after 11. By and large, the opening bands are different from the band you came to see. Some of them might be good, some not so fantastic.

“At some point you start thinking, ‘I gotta get up early. How much longer till I reach the point where I’m gonna pay for it by dragging ass tomorrow at work?’

“I’d rather pay less for a show and not sit through two bands I don’t care to see and have it end earlier.”