First, an apology of sorts for any poor non-Celtic Thunder fans who are still checking out my blog. No, this is still not a 'Celtic Thunder' blog, and I promise there will be a lot of great stuff on here about other bands and artists. Indeed, Josh Groban just announced his new album, and I have several shows backlogged to write about from the local music scene, and there's another cool Mama Lenny and the Remedy show at Road 34 in 2 weeks, and I have quite a few other cool music events on my calendar, with more being added almost daily. I also have a couple Where Are They Now? posts to polish up, so there's a lot more coming. But, Celtic Thunder isn't in Colorado all that much, and this was the first year I actually got to see their show. Considering how much I've gotten into them over the past few years, this poor blog could be a lot worse.
Anyway, that said, I wanted to revisit my earlier topic a bit- autographs and meeting celebrities. I am still not generally a fan of autographs, but I actually did get the guys I met last night to sign the back of my printed ticket. The dynamics last night were interestingly different from what I observed in Denver. At the Loveland show last night, there were only about 20-30 people standing back by the gate for autographs, so a somewhat smaller crowd than in Denver. There was no suggestion of having the fans all stand behind a line this time, so once the guys came out, first Colm and Ryan, and then the rest of them, the line the fans self-organized into devolved into various clusters of people, with the singers all fully surrounded by fans. If Thunderheads were like many fan communities, this would have been a security nightmare, but it really just resembled a bunch of friends hanging out and chatting after the show. There were lots of people taking photos, and most people were seeking autographs from the guys, but the guys were not working their way down a line, so it was even more casual than after the Denver show.
So, as an experiment, my two test cases suck. The 2 nights I am comparing are almost not comparable. Still, I made a few observations, of course. First, it was a heck of a lot nicer meeting the Celtic Thunder guys a second time, regardless of signing/not signing autographs. The setting was better for conversation last night, too, but it was easier to start conversations with these singers with us not being such total strangers. So, while I love the smaller gigs and more intimate communities of local music, I am again a bit more optimistic about at least the possibility of artists getting 'bigger' without losing too much. It takes the right people, of course- from the looks on their faces as they were approaching the fans last night, Colm and Ryan were clearly looking forward to meeting people and talking to people, as opposed to dreading the necessary chore of signing autographs. But, so long as they take enough breaks and keep themselves healthy on tour, I doubt that people like the Celtic Thunder guys will ever burn out from trying to keep up their closer connections with their fans.
My second observation was of course about autographs. In general they are impersonal, and a convenient medium between the artist and his adoring public, something that can take the place of any real interaction. But, as a supplement to conversation, I can concede that they have some value. I will certainly enjoy having the autographs of 5 Celtic Thunder singers displayed inside my choir folder during our long tedious holiday concert rehearsals next week. As reminders of the conversations I had and the people I met this week, they are pretty cool artifacts, actually. The one singer whose autograph I have, but without having had any actual conversation, however, is not nearly as emotionally resonant. I'm thankful for all of them, but it's the conversations, and actually having met these men that mattered to me last night, not having their names scrawled on a piece of paper.
Our society props up singers and other public figures behind a wall of fame and unreality, shielded from the public as brands and images and veiled behind a curtain of carefully managed information. But, at least for many musicians, sharing their music is an inherently personal activity, one which is most satisfying when their audience can see them as fellow human beings, not mythical celebrity figures. Where autographs are used as a way to maintain distance between fans and celebrities, substituting a quick scrawl of a pen for eye contact and friendly greetings, they are never going to be something I approve of. But, where an autograph has enough context to support it, ok, maybe they aren't so bad after all.