My name is Mab O’Connor and I am the female lead singer, bass player, and rhythm guitar player in Yasgur’s Farm Band. Of course I don’t play them both at the same time! Back in 1969 I lived on Castro Street right in the Heart of San Francisco, California. Boy were things happening back then. Now 33 years later, I find myself in a band playing all the great songs of the Woodstock Era. There is nothing better then playing songs that I loved years ago. And I am sure most of us used to pretend we were that singer or guitar player. Now my dreams have come true. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are too old or too young to start in a band. I will be 53 years young this May, and our band has been together two years now.
In forming the band we looked at what music would be appealing to people of all ages and music interests. We also took into consideration what would be fun for us. For six years I was the music director for a local Dulcimer Folk Music Society. Playing all that wonderful folk music started to bring back the memories of my Joan Baez Days. A good friend Lilli called me and asked if my husband and I wanted to form a Folk Band with her. So she came over and the three of us started to jam not only to Joan Baez but found ourselves blasting out Born To Be Wild, White Rabbit and that was the beginning of our “Hippie” band. We then invited my brother-in-law Rob to be the lead guitar player. Believe it or not our first two gigs we had no drummer. And the people still loved the selection of songs we did. Thinking back now I wonder how we pulled it off. Have you ever heard Born To Be Wild and Jumpin Jack Flash without drums? But we were hired just that way as a house band. Then we asked another brother-in-law to be the drummer and we were complete. We rehearse faithfully every single Sunday. The old saying we have been preached to all our lives really does pay off – practice makes perfect. Not that we are perfect, but it does make us a tighter band.
We were a house band for over a year at The Strand Cafe in Lemont, Illinois. It was a Cajun/American Restaurant. We seemed to fit right in. The decor there was out of this world. They had wild, bright colored hand painted murals on the walls. There we learned how interacting with our audience was very important for our band. We talked to the people, told our silly jokes, played our LOUD ROCK N ROLL and everyone was very receptive. We had no sound engineer and we’d often ask the crowd if they could hear us, or were we too loud, and we found that people loved to tell us. They felt like they were a part of what was going on. Sadly, the Strand was sold and turned into a “fine dining” restaurant and we would not have fit in there.
To market ourselves, every time we play out we ask people to sign our mailing list. If the people like you and your music it will really help you into getting a following. If we play indoors, I always make sure to put our business cards on every table . They include our picture, web site address and phone number. When we started out we did take some jobs that did not pay all that well. But it gave us that beginning experience that every band needs. It gave us the feel of what its like, how to set up and very important, because of those little gigs we landed better paying jobs. Now we play from Festivals to Private Parties. We also made our own CD Demo right on my PC. This was another part of the learning process, and the results came out better then we had expected. We made up packets of past flyers, black and white and color photos of the band, and some text about the band and our play list. We have found some people that have wanted to hire us just based on the songs we do without ever having heard us.
Another source for future jobs for our band is a local music production company that is interested in getting us into more Fests next year. They do take a commission. Usually 10 percent if it’s under $1,000 gig, and 15 percent if its over. If you want to go that route that can also help a band. The more jobs they get you, the more money you both make. However, we mainly like to market ourselves. You need to be friendly to those you contact, and always thank places that have given you the opportunity to play. If it were not for them, you would not be a working band.
Our band is a very important part of our lives. Music is a great reliever of the normal stress life many of us face daily. Our rehearsals, though sometimes work, are also very rewarding. You forget about the bills or the To Do List for the following week. Everyone needs to make some time in their life for things they enjoying doing. Three of our band members have full time jobs. Two being on third shift and one being on first. That is our only draw back right now. We can never play on a Friday Night because of work commitments. But hopefully one day that will change when they are able to get on a day time schedule.
Its also fun to think of the different possibilities for your band. We put on a “mini” Woodstock Fest last year in Mokena, Illinois. People sat on blankets and it really set the atmosphere. We set out Lava Lamps and Candles and some funky posters. Although our music is mostly rock, we did have requests for Puff The Magic Dragon, and when we played it, people took out their lighters and were waving them in the air. Such a wonderful feeling. For future mini “Woodstock” fests, we are going to encourage people that come to dress “hippie” also.
What really works for us is that our music is still alive and appealing to people of all ages. It is not uncommon to hear people singing right along with us, or giving the “Peace” sign. We dress the part and that really adds to our performances. I think people feel the energy we display at our gigs. I think its very important to “feel” the music you play.
For our next gig, we have asked people to come dressed as “Hippies” and the establishment has offered to give away some prizes for the best dressed “Hippie” there. Also I usually make up a few hemp bracelets I throw out to the crowd. It just makes things fun.
From our experiences of playing out, we have learned many things the hard way as others do also. But we have also met many wonderful people.
I am having the best time of my life.