I like to think of myself as Bruce Hornsby Superfan #1, but I know it to not be true (that would be Si Twining of Bruuuce.com). That being said, you can comfortably place me in the next tier of fandom down the line. Through the years I have seen Bruce in many different type of configurations – solo, with an orchestra, with the Range, etc, but there is no party like seeing him with the Noisemakers. This is why I happily schlepped to Red Bank, New Jersey to see the full band at the Count Basie Theater (site of my first live Steve Winwood at the tender age of 20) last week. What struck me about the show was not just how musically remarkable it was, but how many best practices of word of mouth marketing the Noisemakers experience exemplifies. Its part of the magic that makes folks like me come back show after show, year after year. Here they are:
Co-Creation – 5 minutes after the theater doors opened, the stage was covered with cards, letters and notes with heartfelt requests of favorites, standards and covers for Bruce & the band. He read some of the notes on stage and, while he jokingly responded to someone yelling an arcane request “we’ll play what we like”, he definitely made a point of letting the audience shape the show. The fact that every show is different drives nerds like me to research setlists and hit multiple tourstops.
Transparency – There is no rockstar or even jazz virtuoso posturing. Bruce chose to play the highly-requested Harbor Lights solo and explained that it was because the band hadn’t played it fully orchestrated in so long that they would be rusty. He also apologized in advance for 1 tune that wasn’t good in sound check, but they needed to get used to playing it live (still sounded great). And for the first time I’ve ever heard, he ended the show saying “I know times are tight and I really appreciate you all coming out”.
Surprises, Mashups, Inside Jokes – Bruce performed a live debut, played the dulcimer (which I had never seen him do), and pulled off a couple of song mashups that were headscratchers even for me. The encore was technically 1 song – Mandolin Rain – but jammed through pieces of the lesser known Shadow Hand, Halcyon Days and the Dead song Black Muddy River for those hardcore fans hanging on every note. Another little fun shoutout was a Sopranos nod with “Got Yourself a Gun” during an earlier tune. Newcomers may not even notice, but there is an element of discovery makes repeat customers feel lke insiders.
Remember Your Roots – 10 – 15 years ago, Bruce regularly also had a live feature where he invited women on stage to dance to Rainbow’s Cadillac. I even found a video of this happening at his show on millenium eve – memorable because the weight of the women broke the revolving stage (and yes, I was there). Listen for the chorus of “Women are Smarter” in the song. I hadn’t seen him do it in a while, and as the picture at the head of this post shows, he brought it back because “they finally got the stank back on it”. That’s Bruce on top of the piano playing the accordian. Another example of honoring roots is Bruce always playing The Way It Is, End of The Innocence, and Mandolin Rain. This is that moment of recall for those who may be less familiar with his work and a chance for him to really push the envelope on how he twists and turns 20+ year old tunes.
Give it Away Now – If you love something set it free. Bruce’s new record company has just put up a complete livestream of his new album – 5 weeks before release. Will it stop me from buying the real thing? Far from it. It gets me excited now and has me making more concert plans.
All of the above principles give me a real, multidimensional story to tell about Bruce. Are you feeding your customers’ hunger for conversational capital?