In late August of 1986, I got a call from my friend Jim Goodwin, who had previously booked me to open for Johnny Cash at the Club Casino in Hampton Beach, Massachusetts, a venue Jim ran successfully for many seasons. Jim said he had arranged another date with Chuck Berry at South Shore Music Circus, a lovely outdoor tent theater in the round, and asked me if I was available to open for Chuck. The answer “NO” was not an option.
Was this really happening? I couldn’t believe it. The first Rock and Roll song I learned how to play and sing was “Johnny B. Goode”, and the man who sent that song into outer space in a time capsule was sharing his stage with me? Did I sell my soul and not know it?
Ron Rawson, the Director of the theater gave me 20 minutes. I knew well enough not to play for 21 minutes. It’s not professional to go over your alloted time. Traditionally, opening acts are just there to provide an intermission.
I couldn’t help but stop in the middle of my set though, to yell excitedly at my audience in the round, “I hope this looks like fun, ’cause it IS!” Everyone roared… They could feel my excitement…. It was a wonderful party for 20 minutes.
Over the years, I always made it a habit to wear my watch backwards so the watch face was on the inside of my wrist. When performing, you never want the audience to see you checking the time.
Even worse is saying “Okay folks, before I go I have one more song or joke…” As soon as you say, “BEFORE I GO” the audience is already on their way to get more beer and popcorn.
Believe me, I know… I paid my dues in comedy rooms, bars and night clubs, and I learned some humility over the years, so I knew this moment wasn’t about me. It was about Chuck Berry and everyone who came to see his great show on a beautiful summer night. I had no stage fright. I was there to see a great show as well, and boy did we have fun.
So, at exactly 20 minutes, I threw my hands up, and yelled, “That’s it for me” and left the stage. I raced up the “Star Aisle” to find Ron Rawson blocking my path, arms folded, with a stern look on his face. He then shared a great lesson with me.
“Paul, you did a great job,” he said, “My audience loved you, but you didn’t give them the opportunity they deserved to show it. Turn around and look.”
Ron pointed to a large group standing and applauding. He continued, “One quarter of the theater is on their feet. The next time you are here at my theater, bow front, back, left and right, then front again. On your last bow, bow deep and stay down until you hear the peak of the audiences applause… THEN… stand up… and when you run off the stage, the entire theater will be on their feet.”
“You say, ‘Your welcome’, When you stay on stage long enough to receive their thanks.”
Because of Ron Rawson, I have received many standing ovations in my career. I have never forgotten that audiences have the right to say “Thank You” and I hope anyone who performs for an audience reads this and takes this helpful tip to better themselves when sharing mutual appreciation for their performances.
And now, I just want to say – THANK YOU RON RAWSON for not only giving me the opportunities to perform at your beautiful theatre, but for taking the time to teach me grace and humility, all the while being a mentor and friend.
And THANK YOU CHUCK BERRY for being a LEGEND and being a kind and benevolent enough to let me be a part of your music.