By: Chris Maccini
I love opening bands. They’re the wild card of live music. You never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes it’s a thrilling discovery of a new favorite. Sometimes it’s the worst musical experience of your life.
Whenever I go to a show, I generally have some idea about the headliner. Maybe they’re a band I’ve been waiting to see for years, maybe a friend turned me onto the show and told me they were good. Generally, I’ve at least listened to a song or two online. I have some expectations going in. But openers are a complete crap shoot. Often they’re not even listed on the bill. They’re “special guests” or “and friends.” Many of my friends will try to time their arrival at a show so they miss the openers completely. This is a well-refined art among some. Wading through online listings, facebook posts, and flyers to decipher, does 8:00 mean that’s when the doors open? When the first band comes on? When the headliners play? How many opening acts will there be? They attempt to arrive just as the headliners take the stage. What a mistake!
Openers are what live music is all about! If you just want to listen to the music you already know with no unpredictability, stay home and put a record on. Why do you go to live shows? For the unexpected, for the raw emotion. Openers are the young bands that have nothing to lose. They lay it all out there. More often than not, they’re absolutely awful, but who cares? They’re giving it their all. And every once in a while you stumble upon a true gem.
I’ve seen my fair share of terrible openers. I won’t call any out, but more than once I’ve had to leave a venue to escape screaming teenagers with screeching guitars. You win some, you lose some. I got a beer across the street, and I’m no worse for the wear. If anything I was pushed out of my comfort zone, something art should do. And I can’t criticize. Anyone who has the balls to get on stage and scream their lungs out, bear their soul, has my utmost respect.
One of my favorite concert experiences of all time was at a Bon Iver show in Stockholm, Sweden in the fall of 2008. I love Bon Iver and I was excited to see them. But had I not gotten there early enough to see the opener, I never would have discovered one of my now-favorite artists, Anais Mitchell. Her opening set blew me away and started an obsession that has led to seeing her live many more times. That same year, I saw Fleet Foxes open for Wilco in Spokane, WA. Can you imagine if I’d arrived just as Wilco took the stage? No way! Just last weekend, I went to the Tractor Tavern’s anniversary show in Ballard. Seattle staple The Maldives were headlining, but everyone who was there on Saturday knows that openers Kithkin brought the real energy that stole the show. I pity those poor saps that got there late.
Here’s my advice, fellow music lovers, next time you’re on your way to a show, get there early. Get your money’s worth. Support an up and coming band. Openers are where it’s at!