Playing Out
The band had all the members it seemed to need. The gear was pretty much up to snuff and the practice schedule had been going on for awhile. The next thing was figuring out when to play in front of people and how to get that opportunity. Sometimes it seemed a group’s grasp of what was adequate preparation could be somewhat shy of the mark. To play in front of people and bask in the light of all those adoring fans was why we were all involved with this thing called music, right? It was hard to contain that eagerness to play out and hold back until the band was truly ready. With all the long hours put in practicing, building up around 25 to 40 songs, it was easy to get a bit of cabin fever, so to speak, and want to be out there “right now”. Of course this varied with each of the bands at this time, but it seemed that around 3 to 4 months was about the amount of time it took before a band was ready to face a dance hall crowd. Since groups starting out had never done this before it was difficult to get a handle on exactly how much material was needed to play the common 3 hour gig.
   Depending on the tunes, it could take anywhere from 8 to 14 songs to make up a 45 minute set. The approach to the song’s presentation affected the time constraints also. Some bands would introduce each number, perhaps giving information about not only the songs title and artist, but also making mention of what album the song was from or some other tidbit about it. Other groups might string together a medley of songs–going from one right into the next with no introduction at all. There were also groups that would fool around in between numbers for various reasons. One being that they were not organized as to the song order for the set. Another reason may be the fact that they didn’t have quite enough tunes to fill a whole set and they could pad the time out by stalling. The excitement of playing in front of people was a factor also. Perhaps the group would rush songs a bit–not getting the tempo the same as when they worked the tune up.
   Song introduction could be planned where certain members were responsible for the introduction to a specific tune. Many times, though, the “front man” or person doing the lead vocal for a song would introduce it. This person was quite often the band member that had brought the song to the band to be worked up so it was natural for them to do the introduction for the tune. Set length was a variable too with most bands playing for 45 minutes and taking a 15 minute break. There were other bands that would play a 50 minute set with 10 minute breaks. Others might just play til they got tired and then take a break.
   The sets themselves needed to be dealt with in some manner. Many groups would take the time to figure out set order–deciding which songs would work back to back. These sets would later be refined after playing out and seeing what worked with an audience. New material would further alter set order. Sometimes the sets would be written down on paper for each individual member; other times the sets would be wrttten out on large pieces of paper using a “magic marker” and placed on the floor where all could see them. Or maybe the “leader” would have the song order in his head and call out the tunes as they went. This could even be done randomly with no set order.
   Some bands would take the “flying by the seat of their pants” approach. This could have mixed results depending on how together the group was during a dance. If the members were astute and reading the crowd well, songs could be picked on the fly to support the energy level of the dancers. If the band wasn’t paying very good attention or were not sure of what they were going to do next, it could kill the audience’s enthusiasm and ruin the momentum. There was much more to it than just getting up there and playing. It was a skill that good bands learned. Groups that didn’t did not last long or were not hired again.
   How did a group acquire the opportunities to play after they were ready? Early on a band had only to make itself known and jobs fell into their laps. Having a band play music the kids listened to was a big deal in the early ’60s. Most of the dances–or sock hops–in this area had the music supplied by a record player and tons o’45s. If you can imagine a small player cranked to distortion–or pretty near–in a school gymnasium you've got the right picture of what dances were like at this time. As groups started sprouting up the excitement of hearing songs that were on the radio performed by real people was quite attractive. Some of the earliest bands became very popular due to this fact. That’s not to take anything away from these bands–they were indeed talented players–but, it was a bit easier to generate interest in a group under these circumstances. It was not unheard of for a band to put on a dance where they were unknown and draw 200 to 300 kids. By the 70s that was not an easy feat to duplicate, unless the band had a great reputation.