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In his essay below, "Get Off!," Andy Nelson offers advice to performers about "going overtime" in their performances.

From the essay: 

You're not going to believe this one, but it's true: You have now infuriated half of the audience, who did not come to see you—I know that's a shocker—rather, they came to see the person you shorted with your overdraft of time.

Read the entire essay below, along with some readers' comments.


Your considered comments on this and other essays about writing, reciting, and performing cowboy poetry are welcome.  Email us.


Photo by Stuart Johnson

Andy Nelson has contributed a response, "Amen, but ..." to Rod Miller's essay "Five Ways Cowboy Poetry Fades in the Footlights." 

Andy is a sought-after emcee at events across the West.

You can read some of Andy Nelson's poetry here and visit his web site: www.cowpokepoet.com.

Andy and his brother Jim Nelson  broadcast Clear Out West (C.O.W) weekly throughout the West on the radio and the internet, bringing "News and Entertainment of the Cowboy Culture" to a wide audience.  See our feature here and visit their web site: www.ClearOutWest.com

Get Off!

 by Andy Nelson

What is the next thing you should do after successfully mounting a green colt for the first time? Get off!

That bit of advice has always proved to be right on target when it came to training new colts. Get off, show him your appreciation for a job well done and then move to the next step after ample validation. Did I always follow that advice? Well... no, not always and I usually paid the price for it too. As a matter of fact, after having a good training session, chances are you'll mess up everything you just accomplished and maybe get prematurely unloaded by insisting on "just one more time". I tell you folks, it's not unlike cramming just one more poem or song into a performance slot when you are already out of your allotted time.

I guarantee the outcome will be the same as previously described: you'll mess up everything that you just accomplished. I do not profess to be an expert on this subject, merely a cowboy who has been in this situation. There are, of course, the obvious reasons not to be found guilty of this
infraction, but I also wish to explore the not-so-obvious.

Alrighty then, with the stage set, here are the obvious offenses of going overtime on the main stage (and a bit more about open mic performances later):

The person immediately affected by this faux pas is the entertainer who directly follows you. Now, instead of 12 minutes to amaze the anticipating crowd, he has to deliver the Reader's Digest condensed version to a crowd of bladder distended rioters! (That's person #1 you have offended.)

The next recipient of your inconsideration is the stage manager/emcee. This person is usually a volunteer, does not wish to be rude by asking you to leave the stage, and is the one who will be in trouble with the next person on this list. (That's person #2 you have offended.)

The Festival Director is now fuming and you could fry an egg on his slightly balding head! You can guarantee that a return invitation (that is usually accompanied with an improved paycheck) will not be forthcoming. (Are we still counting? That's person #3.)

Those are the obvious ones. Now put a little thought into these:

You have enraged the other folks who performed before you, who are now asking each other backstage, "How much time did the Festival Director give you?"  When that gets back to the Festival Director, he has to reach for the little nitro bottle in his shirt pocket. (With the number of people you have offended now, you could start a basketball team, complete with substitutes!)

You're not going to believe this one, but it's true: You have now infuriated half of the audience, who did not come to see you
—I know that's a shocker—rather, they came to see the person you shorted with your overdraft of time. (Hmm... that's a lot of people to tick off!)

...and of course, don't forget your relatives! They came to see you perform only because you are the most famous person in their family tree, but this really isn't their bag. They're very hungry and you said you'd buy after the perf! (Ooo... never upset a hungry person!)

Well then... before they start lighting the torches and assembling the lynching posse, here are a few easy-to-remember generalities that would help us all use only our allotted time and present the performances of our lives:

Less Is More: Like spreading compost on your garden, even if you have a full load, you stand the chance of smothering the life out of its recipients by dropping it all at once.

Leave Them Wanting More: Give the audience the best you have, that which is appropriate for the occasion, and then quit. Adding unnecessary material will deflate the audience and they'll start looking forward to the end of this performance, not to your next one.

Be Considerate of Others: Who do you think refers you for other paying gigs? Those you perform with and for can be either great advocates or not.

Cover The Bases: It is the event organizer's responsibility to let each performer know how much time they have to perform, but the entertainers should double check this with the emcee. In the end, the emcee is the one who makes sure the show runs on time.

Shoot For The Short End: If you are entrusted with 20 minutes of performing time and you are faced with the choice of ending at 17 or 23 minutes, choose 17! Too short is rarely a problem.

Time Yourself: When practicing, time your performances, then allow extra time for introductions, banter, applause, and so on. (Those things can use up as much as half again the amount of time that it takes to recite the poem or sing the song.)

This advice holds for open mic performances, too. There is only so much time allotted for the open mic, and nothing will make your fellow poets grumble more loudly than you hogging the stage. They, the audience, and the management monitor the talent on the open mic.  Establish a good reputation from the outset by following the points above.

So...What is the next thing you should do after a successful performance on the cowboy poetry and music stage? Get off!

© 2006,  Andy Nelson, All rights reserved
This article may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Reader's Comments

Linda Kirkpatrick , Leakey, Texas, writes:

Only Andy could get the message across with a sense of humor! But the words are so true and it is great advice for all performers. We have all been in that situation before and it is really a hard subject to address.  Here you have your program down to the exact calculated time and then, because the person before you has gone over his allotted time, you may be asked to change everything you planned to have the time work for you and the people following you.  We can all get a little bit out of Andy's comments and I hope that if I ever don't "get off" that someone puts a burr under my saddle!

Robert Dennis, Red Owl, South Dakota, writes:

This is one of the best written and most comprehensive commentaries to address this problem I've ever read. Congrats, Andy. You got it right, buddy.

One more point. If you do such a great job, whether you are the headliner or just one of the people in an open mic session, the crowd can and will call you back, if they haven't had enough of you.

This essay should be read at every show, just before starting. It would help things to run more smoothly and make the job a lot easier for the person running the sessions.

See other essays about writing, reciting, and performing cowboy poetry, listed here.

Your considered responses are welcome.  Email us.





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