Why do some bands go the extra mile to engage their fans? Why do some bands head to the merch booth, while others head to the green room or tour bus after their live set? As fans why do we expect the members of our favorite bands to be any different than us? While the answers to these questions may not be easy, there is one thing you can count on: progressive reggae-rock band Passafire takes the interactions with their fans as seriously as they do their music and live show.
Passafire, comprised of lead singer Ted Bowne, bassist/vocalist Will Kubley, drummer Nick Kubley and Mike DeGuzman on the keys, has gained a well-deserved reputation as a “fan’s band.” The members of the Savannah, Georgia band do more than the “bare minimum” when it comes to fan interactions. They personally manage the band’s social networks; they maintain a “behind-the scenes” blog and, of course, make it a point to meet-and-greet fans after every show. The guys know the importance of making these connections with fans, because, after all, they are fans themselves.
It is easy to put musicians on a pedestal. They become larger than life. As fans we create this mystification around the types of people they are, the “glamorous” lifestyle of touring and what must be a voluminous collection of “sheer genius” ideas swirling around in their heads. We think of them as poets, storytellers, and for some—even prophets. I’m not denying that some of this isn’t true—but, it does make sense to consider that in a lot of ways musicians are just like you and I. They have families and friends; they have places they call home; they pay bills most of the time; they get homesick; they work hard; they have hopes and dreams. And they, themselves, are fans—who can also get a little star struck from time-to-time.
“It’s crazy for us to have fans, because we are all fans of other bands. There are bands that we would see on the street and be like ‘On My God! Please let me shake your hand.’ So when people do that to us, we are like wow!” says lead singer Ted Bowne.
The guys were walking around in Brooklyn when they passed one of their favorite bands, “…we saw the guys from TV on the Radio. We were like ‘I’m not going to say anything! I’m not going to say anything!’ We just walked around the block,” says bassist Will Kubley.
As fans themselves, the guys from Passafire know the responsibilities and the importance of creating personal connections with fans. They are no strangers to heading for the merch booth right after the encore. They take pictures with groups of fans, and sign posters and CDs. They stay in the venue lobby until the last fan is gone, and then have a beer with whoever is left.
“That was something that Pepper always did on the first tour they took us out on. As soon as they were done they would go to merch and hang out with fans. It just makes sense. Why wouldn’t we do that?!” says bassist Will Kubley. Fan Eric Rice commented while standing in line following Passafire’s set at the Marquis Theatre in Denver, CO, “It’s awesome that these guys come out and hang with us—especially when they don’t have to. This is who they are.”
Another fan, Matt Pyle of Denver, CO describes the group as Reggae-Rocks’ roots revolution. “I first heard them (Passafire) when Pepper announced that they were singing them to the label”. The label Pepper signed them to was Law Records back in 2007 by releasing their sophomore album, Submersible, which was recognized by iTunes as one of the “Top 10 Best Reggae Albums” of 2007. Passafire then released their third Everyone on Everynight through LAW Records on September 15, 2009.
Passafire recognizes that this “old school style” of social networking not only creates connections with fans, it also generates a broader, “word of mouth” following for the band. “People talk about it. If you’re a dick to people, they are going to get turned-off and find something that makes them happy. If you’re nice to somebody after they just complimented you on a performance, then they’re likely to come back and will tell more people….and next time, they will each bring a friend. It’s just social networking in real time,” says lead singer Ted Bowne. Passafire also uses Facebook and other social networks to create personal connections…
“It’s the band members themselves who run all our social networking sites. It’s not hard to get in touch with us personally. You can send us an email; write us on Facebook, Twitter, whatever and one of us in the band will personally write you back….(when we respond) an excited fan will be so amazed and so grateful,” says Will Kubley. It isn’t out of the ordinary for the guys from Passafire to accept any, and all, Facebook friend requests. Bowne probably accepts the most “…I just accept them all. I just respond and am like ‘yeah, okay sure’ and then a few seconds later I get a message saying ‘Hey man! I can’t believe you fucking accepted my friend request. I love your band! Oh my god, are you really writing me!’”
Another one of Passafire’s fans Jordan Burkett, said he first met the group 4 years ago through his buddy Nick and got to meet the group in November of 2011. “It’s their whole energy. My favorite songs are “The Breeze” & “Ghostman”.. Beau Thomsen first heard of the group 3 years ago and said he even received a big hug from the group right after the show.
As a fan, it’s exciting to meet your favorite musician or band. You feel honored when your favorite band takes the time to sign a poster, CD, or even take a picture with you and your friends. But, can you imagine how you might feel if (arguably) one of the biggest names in music showed up at your show, rapped with you for a minute and then remembered you seven years later? Bowne shared his own fan appreciation story from the early days of the band when Passafire played an after party following a Michael Franti and Ziggy Marley show.
Bowne went to the show and gave a flyer to Franti, “He looked at it and he says into the mic, ‘There’s a party down the street at Loco’s on Broughton. Go check out Passafire.’ Everyone was ‘like woohoo, fuck yeah!!’” To everyone’s surprise Franti made an unannounced appearance at the after party, “he came over and grabbed the mic and rapped with us…it was the craziest and blew my mind!” Bowne said with a smile on his face.
The story doesn’t end there, as Bowne explained, “About seven years later we played Baltimore with The Wailers and Michael Franti. We played Pier Six Pavilion and it was awesome! I saw him (Franti) back stage and was like, ‘Hey man, it’s really cool to play with you….I don’t know if you remember me, but we’re a band from Savannah, Georgia called Passafire, and you came in and rapped with us. It made our night and was really awesome.’ Franti said, ‘I do remember that night. I am really glad you’re still doin it! I’m proud of you guys for making it up here. This is a big show. Good job!’ That made my year!”
Passafire has been humbled by their fans, including those fans that are part of other bands in the scene. After winning the 2011 Pier “Album of Year” award for “Start From Scratch” Bowne received a pleasant surprise from Rebelution lead singer Eric Rachmany. “…he (Rachmany) hit me up and was like, ‘you guys deserved it—the album was awesome… ‘”
The guys are also excited about the “Passafire Street Team” that is led, and managed, by fans who have volunteered their time to promote the band. In addition, Passafire is in the process of “repaying” their fans by putting together a diverse collection of musicians to remix/remake their songs. While the timetable for the project is uncertain and the names of the collaborators are under wraps, the projected release date is sometime in the summer of 2012.
Now, some of you may be thinking “okay this is all nice, but every band loves their fans” and I don’t doubt that you are right. However, there is something unique about the way Passafire interacts with fans—they are humble, they are soft spoken, they are normal guys and most importantly, they are genuine. Yes, we all hear bands say “Thanks for coming out. We love you,” but few bands go the next step and put that appreciation into action. For me, it comes down to the whole “actions speak louder than words” motto or like a great singer songwriter once wrote, “one ounce of action beats a ton of words.” And Passafire’s willingness to engage fans is a perfect example of how one ounce of action can go a long way.
Here’s Passafire performing an acoustic rendering of “Train Wreck” at the MoBoogie Lofts…
Here’s Passafire performing an acoustic rending of “Dimming Sky” at the MoBoogie Lofts…