by Dawn Shaw
I am in the auditorium when the announcement is made, standing near the back of the house awaiting the start of the show. A convoluted wave of elation, anticipation, and trepidation passes through me all at once. We are going to be slammed.
It is Thursday, January 14, 2010 and I am at the Don Gibson Theatre in Shelby, North Carolina. I am for all intents and purposes en route to a conference in Reston, Virginia, but this is a detour that has been intricately planned. Carbon Leaf, fresh off a rock and roll cruise out of Florida, is headed back home to Richmond, Virginia, and has booked and handful of gigs along the way. I figured that if my husband Ian and I flew into Charlotte and rented a car, we could drive to Shelby, catch the show, and then drive to Reston the next day in plenty of time for the conference over the weekend. So I purchase my concert tickets over the internet and have them mailed to me.
But then I learn that Carbon Leaf is looking for volunteers to help sell their merchandise, and this prospect is alluring. So I throw my hat into the ring, even though I realize it may mean that we maybe stuck in the lobby and miss the majority of the show. This is a sacrifice we are aware of and are willing to make. And yes, I did run everything by Ian so he did have some say in the matter. A couple of the band members have been very kind to me, so this is my way of giving back.
We show up on time and enter hesitantly through the back door. There is no one to stop or question us. I am surprised at the lack of security. I’d only met the band once despite discovering them 5 years previous, but even so I am not a stranger to them. Once I find our contact for merchandise, we are shuffled to the lobby where the merchandise crates are stacked. I am surprised once again that it is none other than lead singer Barry Privett who shows up to set up the merchandise booth. When I ask him about this, his response is simply “We’re not rock stars.” It is then that I begin to understand the reality of these hard working touring bands. There is little glamour and certainly no wealth. They don’t have an entourage of “people” who set up their show, run interference with venue management and fans, or pamper them. Barry walks us through pricing, inventory and how to operate the credit card machine before rushing back to prepare himself to go onstage. At this point, I’m still a little star struck, so it’s difficult for me to concentrate on the directions he gives us. Luckily I make a few notes, and Ian isn’t quite so affected. In the meantime, each band member has appeared from back stage in order to welcome us.
The devastating earthquake in Haiti had happened only a few days prior. So when the announcement is made that the venue is going to donate their share of the merchandise sales to a Haitian relief fund, followed shortly by a similar proclamation by the band, I know that Ian and I, first time merch volunteers, are going to be mobbed by this modest but philanthropic crowd.
I am right.
During the show, our paid seats sit mostly vacant. I maybe spend 2 minutes in mine and Ian not at all in his. I catch a good bit of the show, but mostly from a nearby location where I could take photos.
After the show, the band is to our left busily engaged in meet and greet, and Ian and I are selling like crazy. The crowd only numbers 300, but I am convinced that most of them are standing in front of us waiting to spend their money. At one point, facing the throng, I freeze up like a deer in the headlights. A perceptive customer says to me “Relax. Take a deep breath and take your time. They’ll wait.” The truth of his words sinks in, forever changing my approach to selling merchandise, which I have done many times since. If I begin to feel overwhelmed and anxious by a sea of waiting customers, I play those words back in my head, take a deep breath, and take one order at a time.
When the crowd finally thins, band member Terry comes up to us and says “you guys rocked merch.” It’s a welcome compliment.