A Word From the Manager

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Hey, folks! Phil here. Open Beta’s official cat-herder/taskmaster/band manager/check again tomorrow because we may have changed it. Basically, I’m here to try to keep them on a path. And yes, I can already hear the snickering. I’m doing some of it myself.

Y’all may ask how such a thing happens. I don’t have an answer for that under normal circumstances. In this case, I’m something of an obsessive fan (the band members would more affectionately refer to me as a “superfan”, which may be more accurate, I’m not stalking anyone here). I saw them under their old band name at Cup O’ Karma back in December of 2014. Legally got married at one of their shows at the same place March the year after (proposed at a different show at a different place a few years later, I’m not good at proper timelines). Point is, they’ve been a big part of my life, some of them for even longer than others. At one of those shows, Brian wore a shirt that said “The Hooligans”, which becomes relevant later.

I was hooked from pretty much song one. My father raised me with a fairly significant appreciation for music, and I’ve been lucky enough to have friends who’ve expanded that throughout the years. I’m not a quarter the musician any of the band members are, but I can’t imagine my life without it any more than any of them can. My mother introduced me to Irish and filk music during a visit in the summer of 2001, the year I turned 16 and an overall upturn in how I expected my life to go (though it’s certainly not been without its downs since then) – also the year I discovered a seatbelt could leave a 2nd degree burn (who knew?!).

At the time, streaming music wasn’t as easy to obtain as it was now (though we won’t discuss how many sodas went into a certain music program’s account back then), and we literally didn’t have smartphones, iPods, or YouTube (for the pedantic ones, I’m aware the iPod came out in 2001; in October, and money was not a thing my high school student self had). My father not being interested in all the same music as my mother (nor being as avid a collector of music, even of his preferred varieties), Irish and filk kind of slipped away for a while. Then my mom came for graduation, and either when she visited or possibly mailed later that year (20 years means timelines are fuzzy) I was provided a CD called “First Offense” by The Hooligans. That CD no longer plays. Or rather, it does, but about halfway through track 6 it’s going to play the same 10-12 seconds for the rest of eternity, from wear, not damage (I’m not sure it stayed out of CD players long enough for damage, just moved from one to another).

A few shows after the first (maybe the one where I got married, maybe a different one), Brian wore that shirt. Recognizing the style of music and connecting it to the album after much squinting of eyes and thinking about it during the first set, I did something I don’t do often – I approached a stranger and asked. Turns out, Brian was one of the folks responsible for that CD that I’d spent hours listening to over the course of 10-12 years at that point (and yes, we’ve officially reached the point where I’ve been listening to Brian make music for more than half of my life). From there, the band received a request for “Black Velvet Band” at least once a week. (Oddly enough, not actually my favorite song from the album, but the one I most wanted to hear them play.) Eventually it happened. I was ecstatic.

Life and non-band related things happened, my wife and I hit the occasional gig, that kind of thing. Turned out I had a lot in common with Brian (and later, not so little with Paul and Erin) and we became friends. Karaoke (there’s some fun stories – ask Brian some time about the first song I ever did at karaoke with him; he tells the story better than I do I think), board games, life happens. Eventually, Brian convinced me I should join them on stage for a song (he worked at that one for a while; very politely, mind you, but he wanted it to happen and he was sure it was going to go well when it did – he was right).

Then a pandemic happens, and the already probably overdue album the band was hinting at hit a hold (as did most everything else in the world). We languished. I discovered I’m not nearly the introvert I thought I was and I really, really wanted my live music back. Not long after the live music sort of started again, I was asked to join the band in rehearsal for another song (which I’m not entirely certain I’ve sang the same way twice since we started rehearsing). This song was different though. The first song was a callback song. Easy for me to keep up with because I was pretty much always going to be repeating Brian (or, ya know, singing a chorus). The second I had less vocals, but I was meant to harmonize with two people who I believe are far more talented vocally than I am (and who are objectively far more experienced than I am) and I had to remember the words, not that they were complicated. The other difference is that this one was meant to be on an album, right from the beginning.

At one of those rehearsals, a comment was made that this album needed to be properly rehearsed for and recorded (instead of done in less than a week, which is their story, not mine), and they’d probably need someone to keep them on task. They ended up asking me. I knew their music, was already rehearsing, and tended to get along with them all. I agreed, and it worked. I’m not sure how they weren’t tired of me by the end of it, but they weren’t, nor I of them. And herding them wasn’t nearly the task you’d think it was. Keeping folks on tasks they mostly want to do anyway is much easier than getting them to do something they don’t.

There was some downtime between recording and release, of course. Sound engineer had to do his thing, CDs have to be printed, and non-music life goes on.  So outside of masters, things went back to a semblance of “normal”. Even towards the end of recording that album it was acknowledged that I’d probably be involved again for the next one if willing because it seemed to go well, but you don’t go digging into album C much when you’re still finishing album B (unless you’re recording them at the same time, of course).

Sometime between album recording and December, talks happened I wasn’t a part of. Then the band approached me and asked if I’d be interested in managing them, and not just for an album. I said yes. It’s a different experience, and I don’t do everything you might think of as a band manager. Yes, I poke them. A lot. Because life is a thing and we need reminders. “Set lists BEFORE rehearsal so we know what needs to be dusted off. Hey, how’s that bit of the new song coming along, ready to practice it as a whole? What was that change we needed noted on the Master Set List?”

I’ve been managing people in one way or another a long part of my working life, but there’s a big difference in managing people and managing a band. When managing people, it’s my job to provide direction and goals. Work with everyone to get there, but either me or someone over me is setting next steps.   

The band sets the goals. I just try to keep them on the path. And ask them when they’re finishing the original music that’s right around the corner.

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