Cam Smith is the lead vocalist of Porterville, CA’s Hotel Books. Smith also travels as a spoken-word poet and public speaker.

Insane Expectations

In my life, multiple people have told me that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over, hoping to have a different result. When I looked this up in a dictionary, I found it to be definition number three of six. If I have learned one thing about being in a band, it’s that it takes a fairly high level of insanity to keep with the vision that led to creating the band in the first place.

I don’t think insanity is some sort of missing piece that will guide one to success, but I do think more insanity is necessary for an artist than for most people. Maybe I am wrong to make such an assumption because my band has not met the same type of financial success of others bands working just as hard, but seeing your ventures and ideas fall apart in your band’s journey are just as important and as valuable as the ones that do work out. I know from my own experience that playing the same dead end town over and over can lead to disappointment (over and over), but if I reframe my thinking, it could also lead to my band becoming a building block in a small town’s emerging music community. When we first started playing in a particular town in Texas, we played for three people. The promoter did not show up, the two booked local bands did not show up. There was no PA system, just a man with a key who opened the doors.

We were offered to return to that same town three months later, and instead of abandon the ideo, we chose to come back. This time, the promoter showed up in an effort to make up for the bad experience he left us with last time. There was one local band from who had a similar vibe to us. The vocalist of that band, a 16-year-old named Mikey, told us he was one of those three audience members from our first visit months before, and he loved our sound so he started his own band. Because his band playing, they invited two other bands from an hour away. Mikey had printed out show posters and had posted them all over town. The first band traveled an hour north to be there, the second band was Mikey’s band, the third band traveled an hour south and Hotel Books played last.

By the time doors opened, there were 17 people there. By the time the first band began, there were 45 people in the room. Being a two-piece band at the time, it was very quick for us to set up. We went on by 7:45 p.m. and there were over 80 people enjoying the show. As with most shows, the local bands before us encouraged everyone to stay for the touring bands. Right before the last opening band played their last song, the vocalist announced they would all be staying for Hotel Books and told everyone to stay for at least one song. All three bands had merchandise, but all three encouraged their fans to buy merchandise from us since we were on tour. Both bands, who traveled an hour each, gave us their pay. After the amazing show, we went on with our tour and continued to keep in touch with that same promoter.

Four months later, we returned to the same town for a show, and the same guy was running the promotions. There were two local bands, both metal. The promoter was an hour late and did not answer his phone all day. By the time we played, there were nine audience members; Mikey was not one of them.

As we packed up to leave, the promoter stiffed us on pay. I asked him what happened to Mikey. He told us he had gone to college and moved away. He said that ever since Mikey left, the shows had fallen apart. He said Mikey was playing in three bands, that none of them were even very good, but he always played. He said Mikey would spend no more than $20 to make posters and no more than three hours hanging them. He said Mikey did something that anyone could do. The only reason it was Mikey and no one else was because Mikey chose to do so.

A year later, I saw him again at a show, and he said that he promoted 15 shows in a row at that place, all to which no one came. He told me he kept with it until the day he moved, and he never stopped promoting because he knew someday the right person would come and have the influence to bring more.

Mikey built a community. Anyone can change their town, anyone can inspire their friends and classmates to participate in a night of fun and music. Anyone can make touring bands eternally grateful for an unexpected and healthy night. The only thing it takes is a bit of passion, selfless work and a little bit of insanity.