Credit: slgckgc (CC BY 2.0)

Credit: slgckgc (CC BY 2.0)

On Saturday, I went with my brothers to the “Weird Al” Yankovic concert in Newport News, Virginia. I’m a big fan of Weird Al, and it was our second time seeing him. He puts on a great show, and we had a lot of fun.

If you’ve never been to a Weird Al show, it’s a little different from your average music concert. During the performance, the physical energy of the crowd more closely resembles what you might see for a big name standup comic, rather than what you’d expect from the fans of a popular rap, rock or pop artist.

In general, when I go to a concert, I’m not among those moving the most. I stand, I clap, I bop along to the music. I don’t tend to put my arms up, scream, etc. I’ll sing along if the artist wants it or I feel just right. But I am not among the most animated in attendance.

However, at a Weird Al show, I am. A lot of his shows are at seated theaters and concert halls. For 95% of the show, people remain seated. A majority stay pretty still, as well. There is plenty of applause between songs, but probably not as much singing along as you’d expect. This is to say absolutely nothing of how much they are enjoying the show. Smiles abound.

The One They Came to See

But if you were to look on stage, you would see Yankovic performing with as much or more energy than any other music act I’ve seen. For 2 hours, he’s a source of constant enthusiasm, exemplified not just by his vocals, but his facial expressions and physical movement. His energy is palpable.

A lot of artists feed off the crowd. It made me wonder, if their crowd looked like a Weird Al crowd, how would it affect their performance? This is surely nothing new for Weird Al: these are his people, and he’s moving enough for all of them.

Yankovic is 55. Some of the songs he played on Saturday, he has performed more than 500, 700, 900, 1,000 times. He has been performing for well over 30 years, and his setlist featured songs from all eras, including 1981’s “Another One Rides the Bus,” 1983’s “I Love Rocky Road” and 1984’s “Eat It” and “I Lost on Jeopardy.”

Does it Look Like I Care?

As I was watching him on stage, I thought about community work. We have things that we do over and over again, with people watching us. You can safely automate some things. You can delegate others. But no matter what you do, there are always going to be those bread and butter tasks.

If your heart isn’t in it, if you look like you’re phoning it in, people can tell.

If that’s where you’re at, you need to do one of three things:

  1. Step away (take a vacation, even – your community will be there when you get back). After all, Weird Al takes breaks between albums and tours.
  2. Find a different opportunity (serve a different community).
  3. Get out of the game.

There’s nothing wrong with the last one. A majority of community professionals aren’t paid all that well – they could likely transition into other jobs where they might be happier and make close to, the same or more money than they do now.

As a front-and-center community person, there are a lot of things you can overcome. But when people can see that you don’t care, that’s a hard one. Budgets can be fought for, software can be updated, policies can be changed, teams can be built, systems can be implemented… but if when people look in your eyes, or read your words, they don’t feel that dedication and belief in what you do, that’s a problem for everyone.

How can someone believe in the community and choose to become a part of it, if you don’t believe in it yourself?

He’s the Same Kid

What I find to be true, with those of us who have stuck around in this field for a long time, is that we have that belief in our work. It shows in how we carry ourselves, how we speak to people and how we talk about our communities and our profession. The difference, skill-wise, between me now and me in 1998 is everything, but at core, I’m still the same kid who chose to build a community because it made sense to me and because I enjoyed connecting people.

There is a seemingly limitless quantity of Weird Al live performance footage on YouTube, from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s. Whether or not you are a fan of him, you won’t find a clip that makes you think, “he doesn’t believe in this.”

The “Weird Al” Yankovic of 2015 is the same energetic kid who played “Another One Rides the Bus” on national television in 1981.

“I Love Rocky Road,” from his self-titled debut album

“Handy,” from his fourteenth and most recent album, Mandatory Fun