James McMurtry Concert

I like to listen to music while I’m working, and I like artists who use words well. When I saw that James McMurtry, son of Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry, was going to be in St. Louis, I polled Brother Mark and Friend Shari to see if they’d like to hear him. Mother said she was in until she found out that the show wasn’t going to start until 9 pm, so she bailed, leaving a ticket for Friend Shari’s BFF Linda. Mark invited¬†Friend Robin.

I hadn’t planned to take any photos – I explained to Shari that I can either work or I can watch, and tonight I wanted to be a civilian and enjoy the show – but Robin said break-ins were common and I should take my camera with me.

The show was going to be in The Duck Room at Blueberry Hill. When I booked the tickets, it assigned us a Section, Row and Seat, but it also said Standing Room Only. Boy, was it EVER. (As always, you can click on the photos to make them larger.)

Where are the exits?

The first thing I do when I go into any room is to locate two exits. When we went down the narrow steps into The Duck Room, I couldn’t locate a second exit. Then, I looked up and saw the floor above us was wood, there was no sprinkler system and the audience was standing – not exaggerating – shoulder to shoulder. I elected to take a place where I could lean against the wall about 15 feet from the exit. That also kept me out of the traffic of people going back for drinks.

Unfortunately, the four guys who were standing next to me consumed four pitchers of beer after I started counting. They weren’t mean drunks, but they bobbed and weaved so it was almost impossible to keep anything close to a clear line of sight, and as the evening wore on, their loud talking and hooting drowned out the show.

How did I take the photo?

I mentioned that I like music with words. Unfortunately, the guy running the sound board thought louder was better. He cranked up the mike so loud that McMurty’s distorted lyrics sounded like Dylan gargling with a mouth full of marbles. I had a digital recorder in my pocket and it confirmed what my ears heard. McMurtry and his band play some mean guitar and drums – Choctaw Bingo had the crowd rocking – but you’d have been at a loss if you didn’t know the words.

I couldn’t resist banging off 36 frames during the show. I was pretty far back, and catching a view of McMurty between the bobbing drunks was like threading a needle with mittens on. Still, I like this shot of the performer framed between a shadow on the left and a ghostly face on the right..

From a technical standpoint, there was so much dark in the photo (this is a pretty tight crop) that the automatic meter wanted to open up the lens to let in more light. The part of the photo I was interested in, though, was McMurtry, who had a spot on him. I underexposed the shot about two stops or more from what the meter was calling for. That gave him the right exposure and caused everything else to go dark.

An interesting oops

I normally have my camera set to operate at 200 ISO, with the ability to go automatically to higher speeds when the exposure drops below 1/30 of a second. The other day, though, I wanted to shoot some interiors at the highest possible quality, so I locked the ISO at 200 and put the camera on a tripod. The shutter exposure was so long that I even used the self-timer set on 10 seconds. After I pushed the shutter release, the camera counted down 10 seconds before making the exposure. That allowed any motion from the button push to die down.

While our party was walking to dinner, I thought I’d try some street shots. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to put the ISO back on “float” mode. I composed this shot, squeezed off what I thought was going to be about a 1/8 second exposure, then started to put the camera down. Because the film speed was so slow, the actual exposure was 4 seconds, creating these streaks of light. Except that my friends (and brother) were hungry and there was a cold wind blowing, I would have experimented more with this.

Bottom Line on The Duck Room

I’ll never go there again.

  • Putting a bunch of drunks in a dark room where I could spot only one exit is a good way to kill folks. I don’t intend to be one of them. I’m not going to say that there WAS only one exit, but I’m a guy who looks for them and I didn’t see more than one.
  • The sound was lousy.
  • Two-plus hours is too long for my old legs to stand. It’s a good thing Mother bailed.
  • For the price of the tickets for a bad sound and uncomfortable surroundings, I could have bought multiple copies of McMurty’s CDs for the group and we could have enjoyed them in Mark’s living room.


10 Replies to “James McMurtry Concert”

  1. It’s been a long time, but I think there is another set of stairs on the far side of the room. Not ones the customers get to use in normal curcumstance, but in case of fire…

    Then again, I’ve only been there twice and it’s been at least 7 years since the later of those two trips.

    The venue to cause a freak out of all freakouts is O’Malley’s in Weston MO. The inside stages are in cellars. Shudders. Twisty narrow underground tunnels to get to them. Neat architecturally. Horrible when crowded if you fear fire or stampede.

    1. I’m sure there had to have been a second exit, but it wasn’t where I could see it from the entrance, from the back middle or the left-hand side. The place doesn’t have to be on fire for you to need to be able to get out in a hurry: all you need is for a fight to break out or some nut to pull a gun to start a mass stampede.

      High school sporting events were bad about having emergency exits blocked with equipment or chained shut to keep people from sneaking in. If I spotted that, I’d shoot a photo, then go see the home coach to warn him that he had 15 minutes to have somebody clear the exit or I’d call the fire marshal. I never had to make the second call.

  2. I’m with you on the sound. Where did sound people get the idea that volume levels near the pain threshold made the concert experience enjoyable? My Bride and I have stopped attending concerts altogether.

    1. Loud is annoying (“If my music is too loud, you’re too old”), but loud and distorted is unacceptable. Just for the heck of it, I played the most popular song of the night, Choctaw Bingo – a real rocker – off my digital recorder and compared it to an MP3 version. Night and day difference.

      Brother Mark, who is less paranoid about exits than I am, listened to part of the concert from the read middle of the room and said the sound was somewhat better. That doesn’t cut it: they sold tickets for the WHOLE room, so the whole joint should have sounded good.

  3. Paul Thorn still gives great concerts. You should check him out on YouTube. He’ll be playing in StL Nov. 16 at the Old Rock House. Which is an OK venue, but now I’m going to start looking for exits!!

    1. Covering lots of Bad Stuff makes you think about that. I always check for exits, count the number of rows fore and aft to two exits on planes, and count the number of rooms I have to pass to get to an exit in hotel rooms above the second floor.

      I’ve been “lost” in some smoke-filled rooms, and it’s not a pleasant experience.

  4. It is so interesting to me to read about how you scope out rooms for potential disaster. I’m not saying it’s wrong, not at all. But it is a piece of life that I never ever think about. I’m always surprised when I meet people who automatically do these sorts of things. I forget that many folks intuitively operate this way.
    I loved the oops photo, BTW. Completely awesome.

    1. When you’ve seen lots of Bad Stuff happen and the results, you get cautious. I like to think I’m on the sane side of paranoia, but that’s open to debate.

      That particular room and set of circumstances set my alarm bells ringing. Had there been half as many people, twice as much light, no drinking, more marked exits and a sprinkler system, or some combination of the above, I wouldn’t have been so concerned. Topping it off, to exit you had to go into a fairly narrow stairway that made an immediate 90-degree turn. Patrons would be piled up like cordwood if there was a panic.

  5. Years ago, when my young daughters were at a roller rink party, I went around the place and saw that the “second exit” was under chain and padlock, I presume to keep out gate crashers. I notified management on duty that if it was not immediately unlocked, my next action would be to diall 911 and report the situation. It was unlocked. The next day I called the town’s code enforcement officer who thanked me and indicated that unannounced inspections would take place. I just can’t imagine the complaceny of patrons by not taking a little look around.

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