Performing Music Outdoors

Ah, summer time; the season of the great outdoors. Outdoor parties and festivals of all kinds are in full swing, giving musicians the chance to play in the fresh air. Performing outside can be a blast, but there are a few new variables in play any time you are musically communing with nature.

Here is how to successfully manage most of them.

The Sun
By far the biggest new factor to deal with is the sun. The sun takes no prisoners. And it's really hot. Make sure you are protected. Wear sunscreen and light clothing. Maybe even a hat. Drink plenty of water and position a fan right in front of you. Added bonus: a fan also makes your hair look cool.

Don't forget to protect your gear as well. Amps get hot under the best of circumstances. A black Marshall amp cranked to 11 in the hot sun gets really, REALLY hot. Do your best to get that gear in the shade.

Sad Tune
Speaking of gear in the sun, don't count on being able to read it any more. All those digital and LCD screens? Gone. The hardest of all to deal with are electronic tuners. Being in tune is critical, and nothing is worse than flying blind without your tuner. Unfortunately, that's what you may often be doing.

This is a double-whammy given that fact that keeping an instrument in tune while playing outside is double-tough. Temperature and humidity changes wreak havoc on the tuning stability of guitars, basses, violins, and the like. Don't store your gear in your air-conditioned car and then pull it out in the 90 degree heat just before the performance. Try and let your instruments sit outdoors in their cases long enough to acclimate to the new environment. And as long as we're talking about it: don't let delicate instruments sit too long in a crazy-hot car either. Guitars don't do well at 1 billion degrees.

Everything's Strange
Your instrument will likely feel different. Changes in humidity and temperature can make playing a different sensation than you're used to. Your strings might feel sticky or otherwise "abnormal". There's not a lot you can do about it. Just expect it and do your best to work through it. This will be a personal battle. The audience has no idea what you're dealing with, so soldier on and remember to smile.

You will sweat more. The top of your guitar will get slimy. I always wear wristbands while playing. This helps to keep my hands and instrument dry, and I can also wipe my forehead and face if I need to. Other musicians prefer to keep a small towel handy for wiping down between songs.

Inclement Weather and Other Nasties
Be ready for rain. I live in Seattle, and I've played outside in the rain more than once. Even August isn't a safe bet around here. Have a tarp handy to cover any gear that is exposed to the elements. In the unusual event of lightning, high winds, typhoons, flash floods, earthquakes, or hordes of locusts, put your instrument away and get the hell off the stage.

Don't forget bug spray! Many times you will be playing as the sun goes down, and what started out as a pleasant evening becomes a swat-fest between notes. Since both hands are often busy while playing, you are simply enormous, unguarded buffet for whatever nasty critters come along.

Also be aware that as the sun goes does what was once a hot day can become a chilly evening. All your instruments are going to need to be tuned again. And again. I often switch guitars throughout a set based on my needs for certain songs. On chilly evenings I don't. I get one instrument warmed up and tuned correctly, and stick with it unless I break a string or something. It's a small sacrifice for not having to switch to a cold instrument every couple of songs!

Don't let my warnings scare you off. Performing outdoors is awesome! Just be ready for things to be a little different than what you're used to, and have fun!

* photo by favim


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