When did the musical entertainer die? I would opine that, at least within indie-rock circles, it was the rise of “shoe-gaze.” The name alone implies an audience whose focus is shifted away from the act on stage and instead on, you know, their shoes. Pretentious front-men and women have attempted to buck that trend with a heavy dose of noodling guitars, drawn out solos, or worse, lasers and lights. And pop-rock acts like Beyonce and Usher just take their cloths off. Oh sure, they shake their ass pretty well but everyone likes sex, it’s easy to entertain that way. Musical entertainment has gone the way of most of America–just cater to the lowest common denominator and you’ll get your viewers.
There is a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, however. A voice that is imploring our culturally stymied nation to fix our gazes upon the stage once more, one who resists the temptation to overly sexualize the act. That voice belongs to David Mayfield and all praises to him and his band, The Parade.
At Club Cafe on May 8th, The David Mayfield Parade presented their brand of alt-country to a crowd of roughly fifty viewers spanning generations from baby-boomers to X-ers. Touring in support of their recently released Good Man Down, Mr. Mayfield and his Parade showed that good songs are made even better live when the act takes seriously the value of entertainment.
While The David Mayfield Parade’s latest offering brushes past a multiplicity of genres: rock, grunge, industrial, and singer/songwriter to name a few, the bluegrass element which has been at the foundation of Mayfield’s musical exploits since childhood stands firm with pristine, sometimes 4-part harmonies, stand-up bass, and violin rounded out by keys, drums, hand bells, and tambourine.
“The first record I didn’t have a band together. The first record was sort of an AM radio, throwback sound. But I realized that I’m a little rowdier, and a little weirder than that record and so when it came to do Good Man Down I really wanted to bring those elements in. The biggest criticism I get from industry people is that every couple of songs sounds like a new album, and I’m like, is that a bad thing? But in a lot of ways Good Man Down is even more bluegrass than anything I’ve done before.”
Bluegrass has always been an inherently entertaining genre. From Uncle Dave Macon to Steve Martin, the bluegrass musician, for some reason, has always had his or her finger on the pulse of the audience. This tradition is being kept alive and in David Mayfield one can see the influence of generations of past flat pickers, banjo wielders, and fiddle fondlers whose stage personas ring through the halls of musical history.
The act, for David Mayfield, is treated with the utmost respect. His band gathers on stage before him and this allows Mayfield to triumphantly enter demanding the attention of the audience. Weaving his way through his fans, some standing some seated, on his way to the stage invites them to be just as much a part of the show as the performers. Even if the crowd is reluctant to accept such an invitation, David demands it.
“So much of what I do is directly related to engaging the audience. If we see that not happening, it’s really hard to make it happen. We have to wrestle them into submission, and usually, by the end of the night, we succeed.”
A David Mayfield show, while complete with staggeringly good songs, also contains rehearsed jokes such as “Now I would like to take the time to introduce the band.” Which is then followed by David introducing the band…to each other. He also makes it humorously sexy by purposefully dropping his guitar pick and turning around to pick it up, showing off his back-side in the process. Some of these sexy moves he seems to have picked up from a drag queen Bugs Bunny.
David Mayfield as an entertainer is certainly at the top of his game but his musicianship is also of the highest pedigree. Though when one listens to Good Man Down Mayfield’s fluent flat-picking may go unnoticed. The avoidance of showcasing his skills on the record is a deliberate choice by Mayfield, one that allows the rest of his band to fill out the sound.
“We’ve all seen front men who are guitar slingers and sometimes it gets a little pretentious. It’s like, ‘ok, brother, we get you.’ And sometimes in my live shows I’ll parody that. But for the most part I just like surrounding myself with talented people. I like being in an ensemble.”
Such pretentiousness is avoided at all levels by Mayfield. Alt-country vocals are one thing that rarely comes off as genuine. Most attempt a nasally, southern accent that usually comes off as annoying at best, asshole-esque at worst. But David, hailing from Kent, Ohio, avoids the forced southern accent and just sings.
“I made a bluegrass record when I was a lot younger and when I listen to that now I realize that I sound like I’m trying to be from Kentucky. The lack of accent I think comes from playing in Cadillac Sky. We played bluegrass, instrumentally, but with an indie-rock element, which was a shift from my hillbilly roots.”
With such a high respect for the music and the performance The David Mayfield Parade is seeing their audiences almost double in size when a city is revisited. Such a fact is indicative that Americans want to be honestly and wholesomely entertained. And really good songs help too. Long Live The Entertainer!