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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Making the transition from opening acts to headliners

    Making the transition from opening acts to headliners

    On a typical night at Club Congress, restless concertgoers cram together and combine their body heat to create an airless, uncomfortable atmosphere. It’s almost impossible to hear anything over the myriad of voices clattering all at once and beer bottles clanking in the background. Suddenly the lights dim, and the stage temporarily blinds people with rays of light.

    Excitement spreads through the air. The buzz only lasts for a moment though before the audience realizes who it is; it’s just the opening act. Time to get another drink.

    “”When you’re opening for someone, you’ve got to win over fans and most of the time, the people there at the show have no idea who you are,”” said Joshua Radin, an emerging singer-songwriter.

    “”They’re going to talk and drink, waiting for the person that they came to see,”” he added.

    Radin, who had previously been an opening act at venues across the state, recently moved into the big leagues with his own headlining show Tuesday at Club Congress.

    Radin said he’s found it is easier to be successful when you find acts whose music style gels with your own. He has opened for Mat Kearney at Congress and also toured with big names like KT Tunstall and Imogen Heap.

    Singer-songwriter Matt Wertz, who spent the fall opening for Christian rock-stars Jars of Clay, is taking his first turn as a headliner at Congress Monday. Opening is awkward because the focus isn’t on you, Wertz said.

    “”You kind of feel like a house guest to somebody,”” he said. “”You have to be real careful about (not) offending, not stepping on anyone’s toes and being in your place.””

    It can often be frustrating for opening acts even when they do tour with artists with similar fan bases. Openers must be inventive and use different techniques to draw the audience out. Wertz said he used to play intentionally soft songs so people would realize how loud they’re talking.

    The only way to get to the coveted “”house owner”” spot is to keep plugging away as an opening act. Wertz said the formula that generally works includes coming through and opening a couple times in the town, then trying to find a small venue on your own to see how that works.

    Radin said it also depends on the bookers and promoters in a town, who tell you when they believe you’re ready to sell enough tickets on your own. Radin’s definitely at that point, he said; numerous shows on his current tour have sold out.

    “”I’ve just started, and it’s just crazy,”” he said. “”To have the Valley Ballroom sell out two weeks, three weeks in advance, and two shows in Chicago sell out three weeks in advance – it’s really cool.””

    That’s where the biggest difference comes in. The pressure of an opener is to win over new fans already at the show. Headliners must make sure fans actually come.

    “”The only pressure that I feel is the pressure of people showing up,”” Wertz said. “”Once they’re there, it’s all gold.””

    Making the step from an opener to a headliner doesn’t require too many changes to the show’s content.

    “”Oh, you know, most of the money on this tour went into the light show,”” Radin joked. “”It’s a lot like Pink Floyd.””

    Maintaining a sound that keeps the fans happy is an important consideration. Both Radin and Wertz have attracted followings from keeping a mellow, acoustic vibe, but both have backing bands with them this time. To counter a downturn in vibe, Wertz intentionally includes a solo part in his set that doesn’t include the band.

    “”I really like those times, too, and that’s where I feel like I can sit back and relax a little bit, take it a little slower,”” Wertz said.

    After garnering so much experience opening, the musicians said they know what to look for in their opening acts. Radin said he looks for musicians who he thinks his fans will appreciate. It’s also important to find bands he’ll be able to get along with, as well as acts that will compliment his sound and attract new fans.

    “”They’ve got to be able to draw some people to the show,”” Radin said, “”because otherwise there’s really no point in having an opener.””

    Matt Wertz performs Monday at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7. Tickets are $10.

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