As a general rule, it’s probably not the best idea to play outdoor shows in the dead of winter. It’s tough on your instruments. It’s tough on your hands. It’s tough on your lungs.
But every once in a while a big-cash opportunity might come your way, a Christmas or New Years gig in the city square, let’s say. Or even if it’s an outdoor performance on a particularly chilly Spring or Fall day, you should be prepared to battle with the elements. How?
1) Get to the gig early and let your instruments acclimate to the temperature. Radical shifts in temperature (both up and down) can damage your equipment. So I recommend bringing the instruments in their cases, leaving them on stage IN their cases for a while, and then taking them out.
Once they’re out of the cases, don’t play them yet. Give them more time to settle. That direct contact with the air might make them tense up again. Finally, allow yourself enough warm-up time before the performance begins and the crowds arrive so you can play the instrument, tune it, play it, tune it, play it, and tune it.
Oh, and if your instrument is your voice, go easy. Warm up slowly, first in the car, then outdoors.
Be sure to cool down and load out in the same way.
2) Warm up your amps. The same advice above could be applied to the amplifiers. Let them adjust to the cold. THEN put them on stand-by for a while. Once your guitar is tuned, fire up the amp and let it sing.
3) Wear fingerless gloves (or drummers, where gloves with grip). This may not be possible for every musician, depending on the instrument and style of music you play, but I’ve gotten away with wearing fingerless gloves on a few cold occasions, especially at gigs with limited lead playing, complicated chord comping, or right-hand palm-muting. So if its your typical rock, folk, or pop show,… try fingerless gloves. But try it at practice first!
4) Limit your set time. Don’t get stuck entertaining Jack Frost for 3 hours while the hungover bassist catches hypothermia. I’d say that 30-45 minutes in the cold is more than enough. If the event planner or promoter wants more music, they can hire an additional band and you can work out the backline details together ahead of time.
5) Construct your sets so each player gets some relief. Space out the songs where Sarah’s gotta belt out those high notes. Let a different player carry the lead on the next song. That way, when the spotlight and pressure are on someone else, you can take a minute to tune-up again, warm your hands, whatever else you need to do to keep rockin’.
Have you played any arctic concerts? How’d it go? Got any tips of your own to add?
-Chris R. at CD Baby