The struggle of art is a specific and striking beauty.
It was five minutes after stage time at the late afternoon music festival and the band had yet to start. A cluster of technical assistants and road managers were crowded around a laptop. Something was wrong.
Shortly, the singer emerged onstage and attempted to start a song with the band. The sound was muffled and muted. The musicians were obviously straining.
Here is where many artists give up. Ego takes over or embarrassment wins the day. Tempers flare. Tempos slow. Anger explodes or the crowd dissipates and the stars declare there will be no show because it just can’t be done “the right way.”
But on this sunny Sunday in Cincinnati, that is not what happened.
The song stopped. The singer smiled. The situation was explained.
There were technical difficulties. Things would not be normal. Things would be hard. But this group wasn’t giving up.
Nothing sounded perfect. The stops and starts were messy; the setlist was changed. But the smiles on stage spread to the crowd and the thousands gathered became part of the sing-along, a choir to the chaos of things not going “the right way.”
It might have felt more like art than normal.
Situations like this are what nightmares are made of for most of us. Being unprepared, hung out to dry, exposed, naked – the fear alone of just such an event keeps the majority of people from even trying some things.
So what do you do when it happens?
My neighbor across the court has a rowdy, overgrown pup of a dog. I have never had many pets and am usually completely unprepared to encounter canines, but I have learned over time with this one that there is a basic best practice. When he gets loose on the leash and comes bounding over to me while I am pushing the mower or playing with kids, I have to lean into him – literally. I open my arms and let him jump on my chest. I gently grab his ears and rub his neck. And suddenly I have the leash and the dog is panting and my neighbor is thanking me. Everything is fine.
But HOW exactly does one lean in when there are failures and misfires and reputations on the line?
There are some lessons to be taken from the musician onstage:
First – He leaned into those closest to him.
He made sure he had the full support of his backing band before he went forward. And this meant he had to communicate more and spend more time focusing on their collected efforts. He would count songs off or direct members of the group live on stage. He got more intimate with the team because he knew they all had to be on board for any of them to win.
Second – He leaned into his larger network.
Part of the technical failure he found himself afflicted with concerned the presence of background vocals, so the singer was forced to ask those in the audience for help. Asking others for help can be awkward but the singer knew a secret: he knew no one wanted to see him fail. There was love and respect to leverage.
Third – He kept smiling.
It was hard not to root for the guy. He had every reason to quit, to pull rank, to reschedule. But he came out and leaned in and stayed humble the whole time.
As the musicians finished their set that evening, the singer was overwhelmed by what was happening. He considered the audience and thanked the crowd for the sixth or seventh time.
“We have had a crazy few years,” he said with emotion. “Amazing things have happened. We have seen remarkable stuff. But tonight? We will NEVER forget tonight.”
And that is how it works. When things fire and function, when everything is working, when your ideas are good and your execution is adequate – you may be comfortable, but you are likely forgettable.
It’s just another show on the tour, another barking dog in the neighborhood.
But when the speakers blow and levee breaks and dog gets loose but you still pull out a win?
THAT you will always remember.
Lean in to memorable.