I recently agreed to play a charity fundraiser with some friends, Charlie and Charlotte and their Sweetwater String Band. I've have played quite mandolin on a few gigs with Charlie and Charlotte over the years, but for this show, since one or two of their regular pickers weren't available, they needed to include a couple of folks I hadn't performed with before, Troy on banjo and Larry on fiddle.
Now, when you have a public performance coming up, what do you do to get ready? Along with your own individual practice, to make sure you’re warmed up on your own instrument, the whole band needs to get together and rehearse to make sure they can play their best together. So we all got together last Sunday to practice at Charlotte's house, and started running over the material for the two sets which Charlotte planned to play at the show.
These five musicians had never performed together before, but we all knew what to do: WATCH and LISTEN. To know when to play lead or sing harmony, LISTEN to the bandleader's instructions and preferences, and remember them. To know when to play backup or be quiet, WATCH and LISTEN to what all the other people are doing, and don't step on them. To know when to split a lead break, WATCH and LISTEN. Be ready for the subtle, sometimes almost-instant "handoff" from the other lead player, so that you can take over the second half of the break without hesitation.
This also brings up some "Don’t’s" which you can figure out well enough: when playing, DON'T pay attention just to yourself as the rest of the band listens to each other and tries to sound their best together. DON'T throw in all your favorite licks at every opportunity, but play (1) what belongs best in the song and (2) what sounds best in that particular group. DON'T make the show all about you, but concentrate on making the bandleader(s) sound as good as you can-- they're the people who hired you. Back them up. That's what you're there for.
This isn’t hard, but you do need to have the right attitude. I'm glad to say that everybody knew what to do in the rehearsal, and we sounded fine. I'm looking forward to the show.
Don't worry, you'll get a report.