Summer is almost upon us, which means festival season is about to really get rolling. Nature has a mind of its own, and outdoor gigs are a completely different beast than your typical club dates. They can really be a ton of fun, but there are also way more things that could go wrong, and they require a different sort of preparation than normal performances.
If you’ve played outdoors often, you’ve probably already discovered some of these potential pitfalls. Here are nine tips on how to avoid and prepare for common problems – and have a good time! Remember, every outdoor show will be different, and you can never be completely prepared for every single potential problem. Hopefully this list will provide you with a good place to start, though!
1. Dress appropriately
Typically, you’ll want your band to conform to a fairly consistent stage image. Outdoor gigs in extreme heat or cold, however, are definitely a time to make an exception and let function trump fashion. Whatever you need to wear to combat the weather, be sure to practice in you chosen outfit first, so you can make sure it doesn’t inhibit your ability to play/sing. This includes sunglasses! If you happen to be set up facing the sun, you don’t want to have to squint the whole time. Even in the winter months when the sky is cloudy, the grey can get very bright. Be ready to put them on!
2. Tune frequently
Temperature fluctuations wreck havoc on the intonation of most instruments. If you don’t have a good stage tuner with a bright LED, you now have an excuse to go get one. If you can, tune up after every song (I’ll often check my tuning mid-song, too). Obviously, this is a little more difficult if you’re a drummer; just be ready to make little tweaks throughout the set, and bring plenty of Moongel/dampening rings just in case!
3. Keep it covered
Though you may not always have the option, try not to accept any outdoor gigs where the stage will be left uncovered. If musical equipment is exposed to the rain for a full set, there’s a good chance it’ll be ruined or near-ruined by the time you load out. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had friends tell me about playing on uncovered stages in Salt Lake City in the middle of August, only to find that by the time their set was finished, the plastic and rubber on the bottom of their amps had literally melted to the stage. Unless the weather is going to be incredibly mild (which is rare in most parts of the country during the outdoor gig season), really push to get some kind of covering over your stage.
4. Bring a case of water
This really goes for any gig, but it’s especially important when playing outdoors. Jumping around and rocking out under the direct sunlight of a 90-degree day is going to dehydrate you very quickly, so be prepared and make sure you’re sucking down water like crazy. This happens in winter months, too, as the weather will usually dry out and make it easy to get dehydrated as well. Bring a case of water or two the gig, and try to drink all of it by the time your set is finished.
5. Don’t forget hand warmers/gloves
One of my favorite tricks for outdoor gigs on chilly days and nights is to bring a pack of handwarmers and a pair of gloves with me. Frozen fingers are the bane of any instrumentalist, so combating the cold is essential before heading onstage. While waiting for my set to start, I’ll put on a pair of gloves and throw a set of hand warmers inside them. It’s a simple but often forgotten thing, and can really make the difference between a good set and a bad one.
6. Pack portable fans
When the weather gets hot, grab a little fan for everybody in the band. Especially on days where the weather is cooking and there isn’t any wind, these portable fans can really save your life (especially the poor drummer!). You can find plenty of little battery-powered rigs, but don’t forget that there will be onstage power, so regular, small fans with power cables should work just fine, too.
7. Prepare for feedback
Even the best live sound engineers have to compete with the feedback that’s inherent when playing outdoors. Unless you’re playing a major festival with a sound system that’s been really optimized for big outdoor gigs, be prepared to cooperate with your engineer to keep feedback to a minimum. This might mean that everybody’s stage volumes get a little wonky, you might have to EQ your amp, or tune your drums a little differently, and you may need to accept a monitor mix that’s less than perfect. If you’re playing an acoustic guitar or big hollow-body, consider bringing a sound-hole cover along to help out with feedback suppression. Remember, a happy sound engineer does his or her job much better than one that’s frustrated with your lack of cooperation! Don’t forget about the special “suck” knob your engineer has on the board that will get turned up, should you be difficult to work with.
8. Don’t forget the little things
Much like you pack away your heavy coats and snow boots for summer, make sure you’ve switched over your gigging accoutrements to suit warm-weather outdoor gigs (and vice versa when temperatures drop). Don’t forget clips or clothespins to hold music in place in case of wind, extra extension cords and power strips, sunscreen, and a few extra-absorbent towels for those sticky, humid nights!
9. Stay positive
Outdoor gigs have all sorts of difficulties and things that could go wrong, but overall, they should be a fun experience. Above all else, keeping a positive attitude will make everything go way smoother, even when things aren’t working perfectly. Try to enjoy the experience as best as you can, and remember to always be kind to the event staff regardless of how frustrated you might be.
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