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Dave Carlock - A Day In The Life
LITTLE RIVER BAND PERFECT FOR MENDEL CENTER
Originally Posted: 10-03-2013 8:19 PM
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I've been following the last two seasons of the Mendel Center's programming with interest. In recent years, the Benton Township venue had been getting a reputation of being the ones who put the “GRAM” back in PROGRAMMING, giving the family matriarch some place to take GRAMPS on a weekend. The venue booked very conservatively and played copycat with other Michigan venues who were booking some truly snoozy shows.

Last year at the end of his tenure, Larry Erdman gave the Mendel a parting gift of 18 shows—a glimpse of what the Mendel could be again through booking recognizable brands. Blue Man Group, Beauty And The Beast, & Tony & Tina's Wedding were some of the great choices that energized bigger attendance again and stirred word of mouth. The Mendel Center was becoming fun again.

Following Erdman's retirement, Eecutive Dir of Marketing & Communications Laura Kraklau stepped up with a streamlined 13-show season in the same brand-driven programming vision for the Mendel. The 2013-2014 season features solid music choices such as PFX-The Pink Floyd Experience, Hair, Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60, and this past weekend's season kickoff: The Little River Band.

One of the interesting challenges in programming the Mendel lies in its classification as a Performing Arts Center. Performing Arts Centers have a mission to enrich the local community with exposure to various factions of the Arts. To this, the Mendel typically offers a few children's shows as well as dance troupes, such as last year's appearance by the Russian National Ballet, among musicals and popular music. This great diversity is a positive in theory, but as I've said for quite a while, it all depends on the brands.

Another interesting challenge is picking the right popular music brands that could stretch Gram & Gramps' without giving them a cramp. With bridging generations in mind, The Little River Band was an excellent season opener. With a dozen hits in their catalog that are recognizable to most people in the “mid-30s through mids-60s” demographic, and solid vocals as the calling card of the band; Kraklau picked a winner.

On show night, the crowd was stoked. But would the band deliver? I had been concerned that the absence of Glenn Shorrock, the singer of the majority of the hits, would affect the band's impact. No, not at all. Wayne Nelson, the remaining member from the hit record days and singer of the song “Night Owls” did a really good job. He was a little pitchy at the front of the show, but as a few 40-something women jumped to their feet, and one exuberant fan ran to the front row and danced arms up in front of Nelson, his pitch actually improved. Not kidding! Fan energy really does make a difference.

The band was really great, with the standouts being drummer Ryan Ricks, who was rock solid pro, and lead guitarist Rich Herring, who was a laid back burner of a lead man. I was stunned by how close the guitar tones were to the original recordings. Solos were pretty consistent to the records with a little room for the players to stretch out. A few songs had some variations to the arrangements, but for the most part they were spot on authentic or improvements. “Lady” and “Lonesome Loser” closed the night and they were clear standouts.

After the third song or so, a much older gentleman, seated on the other side of friend Jamie Kovach, remarked during the between-song quiet: “Why do they have to play SO LOUD??” Ahhh yes—this is the other side of “stretching the demographic”… Gram & Gramps still haven't figured out that a popular music concert is gonna be a louder, fuller sound than a string quartet and will include a solid helping of “that bass”. I'm not sure how they still don't know this. If this gentleman was in his late 70s or 80s, this experience has been the same in concerts since he was in his 20s.

But remember that in regard to a Performing Arts Center's mission, exposing an elderly crowd to younger music is no less valid a goal than exposing 20 and 30-somethings to the Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack Show, a throwback to an era that patrons 70 years old and up can relate to.

In regard to volume culture shock, I'd recommend that the Mendel Center do what I did at one of my shows at St. Joe's Heritage Center. Pass out earplugs. Yep. The Symphony booked me for an Around The Town series show in 2008 in a room too small and too live. So I bought earplugs in bulk and had a lovely friend offer them in a wicker basket to everyone as they entered. Giving out earplugs warned them that the show might be louder than their normal experience and gave them an option.

The reaction to the earplugs at my Heritage Center gig was interesting. Some people were annoyed, a couple left, most never even used the earplugs and said the volume was fine, even in the front, and some people had a great attitude toward wearing them and loved it. One lady came up to me and said she felt liberated by not having to wear her hearing aids for the first time in a long time. Another lady said, “when they showed me the basket of colorful earplugs, I thought they were pills!”

Good programming Mendel Center. I wonder what Gramps will think about “Motownphilly” when Boyz II Men performs?

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