August 5, 2007

Play for the people

I saw Dick Dale - the King of the Surf Guitar - in concert last night (at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History).

At the age of 70, Dale can rock the house like a guy in his 20s. He plays guitar (of course), sings, plays drums, plays drums on the bass guitar strings, while the bass player holds it and plays the chords, and he also plays a Louis Armstrong-inspired trumpet. And those are just the instruments he chose for this particular show - his website lists a total of 17 instruments that he has mastered.

His 15-year-old son Jimmy ("15 going on 20," according to Dale) accompanies him onstage, can match him note for note on his (matching gold Fender Stratocaster) guitar, and also plays some mean drums.

Dale is a complete entertainer, holding nothing back, and many elements of his performance translate over to public speaking.

Put the audience first

Dale is all about the audience. He mentioned that he doesn't have a set list, which is unconventional in a live show. Some fans come to consecutive shows, he said, and he never wants to play the same songs in the same order (or in the same style) that he played them the night before.

He also addressed some young guitar players in the front row when he said, "Play for the people," not to impress other musicians. "When the people like what you play, it means you're giving your heart to them."

He closed the show by introducing and thanking his band members and then turning to the audience and saying, "And most of all, you!"

Incorporate audience interaction

Twice during the evening, Dale encouraged the audience to sing along - which we did. Throughout the show, he spoke directly to individuals in the audience, some of them his hardcore fans, also known as "Dick Heads."

He paid special attention to the young musicians in the front row, repeatedly giving them advice about musicianship and life (he went off on a bit of a tangent at one point about respecting their parents, letting their parents hug them, and taking care of their parents in old age).

Let your body language do the talking

When a musician of mostly instrumental and quite complex music has his hands full with a guitar, and is also directing his band, how exactly does he communicate to the audience? With the rest of his body!

Dale's expressive face and physical movements were as effective as though he were explaining his music in words. As he played, he managed to use his hands and body to communicate to his band members, encourage his son to take center stage, point out friends in the audience, and also move expressively to the music like a surfer on a wave.

You are the host; the audience members are your guests

At the conclusion of the show, Dale went right to signing autographs. We and other audience members went ahead to the reception, held appropriately in the Marine Life Exhibition Hall.

When Dale arrived at the reception, he greeted everyone as though we were honored guests. As he entered the room, he made eye contact with me and my husband, immediately walking over to shake our hands and ask how we liked the show. We got a few minutes to speak to him before other guests beckoned, and then he was off chatting and posing for pictures with strangers.

Under promise and over deliver

Tom Peters said it first and it's been repeated many times in marketing books, blogs and speeches. I knew very little about Dick Dale before I walked into the concert. I'm a fan of traditional surf guitar, and knowing that Dick Dale was one of its pioneers, I knew I'd have a good time.

But I had no idea just how much fun this show would be. I can't say anyone under promised. But they certainly over delivered. There was one surprise after another. Each song brought out new talents of the musicians. Each piece was more complex than the last. I never could have imagined how unique and special this show would turn out to be.

What more could you give your audience?

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1 comments. Please add yours! :

Unknown said...

Thanks for writing this post. It really was an encourging, heart warming post. I loved it!

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