07 October, 2012

Why WVPBS' Recent Joe Bonamassa Guitar-A-Palooza Was A Fundraising Failure

WVPBS volunteer, Dan Ringer, admitted on-air during the recent WVPBS fundraising drive that viewer response to the Joe Bonamassa show was disappointing. I know why: An excess of guitar does not compensate for a dearth of good songs nor can instrumental virtuosity turn weak material into strong material.

As much as I admire Joe Bonamassa's talent - he's a fine blues guitar player - his recent PBS show was simply too much guitar and not enough songwriting. I think I heard the same lengthy guitar solo in 4 different songs.

A similar phenomenon took place at the Clay Center recently when Pat Benatar and her guitar-slinging husband, Neal Giraldo, took the stage in Charleston. I'm told by people who were there that an excess of guitar caused audience members to chant "More Pat, less guitar."

Like Bonamassa, Neal Giraldo is a fine guitar player but ticket buyers didn't go to the concert to hear guitar solos, they went there to hear memorable rock songs sung as only Pat Benatar can sing them.

During Dan Ringer's on-air lament that viewers didn't seem to like the Bonamassa concert, he commented that program directors draw conclusions and make future programming choices based on how viewers respond to the programs featured during these membership drives. I just hope program directors draw the right conclusions.

For example, if program directors draw the conclusion that viewers don't like guitars, they'd be wrong. Americans love guitars. The guitar is the most played instrument in America.

And if program directors draw the conclusion that viewers don't like blues-rock, they'd be wrong again. Because of America's appetite for blues-rock there are thousands of blues-rock artists making a good living playing blues-rock music.

Here's the conclusion I hope WVPBS program directors will draw from the failure of the Joe Bonamassa concert during their recent pledge-a-palooza: An abundance of musicianship cannot compensate for an insufficiency of good songwriting.

In future pledge-a-paloozas, give us great songs as well as great performers.

And while I'm on the subject, let me make another point about WVPBS musical programming: Putting on shows that feature a whole hour of O.A.R or Death Cab For Cutie is risky because viewers who don't like the first song tune out for the rest of the hour.

Rumor has it that Liz Phair is planning a "Chickapalooza" music festival featuring a variety of the best female singer-songwriters. Broadcast Liz Phair's Chickapalooza during a future pledge-a-thon and you'll hold more viewers because viewers who can't commit to a whole hour of Radiohead or Arcade Fire will patiently wait through a few songs by an artist they don't know or like to get to an artist they like.

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