A friend of mine from California recently wrote on Facebook about a great blues band he had listened to that afternoon. They were professional in every way, he said, except they “made the mistake of letting strangers walk up and join them for a song or two.” My friend concluded by saying, “This practice should never be allowed.”
I agree. It seems counterproductive that a band that has worked hard to perfect its sound – and harder still to get the gig – would risk it all on a complete unknown who walks up and says he can nail David Gilmour’s guitar solo on “Comfortably Numb.” It’s one thing if it’s an open mic, as not that many people who are there are expecting to hear rock history being made that night. But getting, playing, and keeping a gig is hard work, and the band needs to be mindful of that fact, even if a patron isn’t.
Here’s what someone who asks to sit in says to the band:
Hey, mind if I sit in?
And here’s what someone who asks to sit in actually says to the band:
Hey, mind if I sit in? I realize you’ve been playing for years and have developed a unique voice and style, but that doesn’t matter to me. I’m not concerned with your years of lessons, what you had to sacrifice or how long it took you to buy your gear, or the months and months of practice it took you guys to get to this point. I want you to back me up while I show off for my friends. And it won’t bother me at all if I mess up and you look like schmucks.
Such requests should be met with a gentle, tactful, yet firm no. Someone who wants to sit in might have the best intentions in the world and may also have an amazing amount of talent, though that’s never been my experience. And to be completely fair, there are venues that encourage musicians (usually jazz) to sit in with the band. But those who would sit in, as well as those who would let them, must realize that the band risks its reputation when it allows strangers to perform with them. And a band is only as good as its last gig.
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