Shhhh! Singer Songwriter Cape May

Singer Songwriter Cape May needs a Shhhh! policy.

On the website of the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville Tennessee, under frequently asked questions, you will find the definition of a Shhhh policy. The answer to the question: “Too much conversation distracts listeners and is disrespectful to the songwriters who form the backbone of our music community. We encourage talking before the show, between sets and after the show but ask that during the performances, to keep talking as low as possible.”

The Blue Bird Cafe describes itself as “one of the world’s preeminent listening rooms and a venue that has gained worldwide recognition as a songwriter’s performance space where the “heroes behind the hits” perform their own songs; songs that have been recorded by chart-topping artists in all genres of music.”

The same description fits the Cape May Singer Songwriter weekend-almost. Except we don’t always listen. Do we? We should be listening, here’s why.

Throughout Cape May on Friday and Saturday night (the last weekend in March)  at almost every available stage there will be the “heroes behind the hits” potentially. Will we be listening? I hope so. No I really want it to happen. Of course that’s out of my control, but I can wish.

The other night while working my front desk I took a reservation from Ed Roman from Shelburne, Ontario Canada. Not that unusual except Mr. Roman will travel to Cape May for at most 45 minutes of stage time, in a crowded, possibly noisy bar. Of course there are other aspects of the weekend organized by John Harris and his dedicated crew. There will be networking and seminars and a great headline act in Congress Hall. But I am sure that “Special Ed” Roman, would like, make that hopes to be heard.

Some performers will travel from nearby New York, like Ben RabbTom D’Ademo will come from Millford Connecticut, most likely with the same purpose as Ed Roman. They will come to network, learn and share their talents. All 150 Artists according to the event website, will in Cape May with the same idea.

I am not a stake holder in this event- other than my personal enjoyment. I realize the event organizers have little control over the venues and the individuals that attend. I just look forward to this event now in its eighth year, and love the variety of new talent that shows up in Cape May and don’t want one chord to be missed.

Then there is the economic impact of Singer Songwriter Cape May. The full hotel rooms in otherwise quiet March. The full bar scene in the waning winter weekend. If 150 acts drop $500 to $1000 each in investment for the weekend, considering transportation, lodging and meals-it adds up.

To me, its worth the City, her residents and the intentional visitors for the weekend to take Singer Songwriter Cape May seriously.

If the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville can politely ask (I’ll bet tell) people to be quiet, Cape May can show the same love. It may take a collective effort from venue owners, managers and even bartenders to make it happen but we can do it.

Singer Songwriter weekend is a little over sixty days away. If the next Bob Dylan is playing in Cape May will you hear him? Shhhhhh!!!



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  1. Hugh Murray
    January 30, 2015 / 10:38 am

    What a great article John. So many people are oblivious, no make that RUDE, when it comes to talking while people are performing. But say something to them and suddenly you’re the one that is rude. You’ve hit the nail on the head; let’s hope we don’t have to resort to THAT if people can’t keep their “pie holes” closed during a song.

    • JohnCooke
      January 30, 2015 / 12:15 pm

      Thanks Hugh, theres a time to talk and a time to listen. If it’s meant to be background music in a lounge its one thing. But if somebody is pouring their heart into a performance we should listen.

  2. suzanne taylor
    January 30, 2015 / 11:48 am

    Another good one John.Last fri.the constant racket from the table next to my friend and I put a dent in our enjoyment.There was applause at the end of each song but talking commenced as soon as the next song began.I wondered the point.We are very ,very lucky to have both musicians and venues to hear them in our little berg.Next time I will politely ask for a bit of quiet.

    • JohnCooke
      January 30, 2015 / 12:13 pm

      Thank you Suzanne. Your comments are appreciated and encouraging. I love this festival. Maybe someday it will get even larger and last longer. But it will take the effort of all the locals to pay attention.

  3. MV
    January 30, 2015 / 12:51 pm

    Couldnt have said it better, John! These artists come and pour their hearts and souls into bringing us music that is unique and personal–the least we can do is listen respectfully! Thanks for saying “out loud” what so many of us have thought! : )

    • JohnCooke
      January 30, 2015 / 1:27 pm

      Thanks for commenting Myra, that means a lot. I know how much it means to the musicians and it pains me when people talk right over them. I’d like to see it change somehow.

  4. January 31, 2015 / 6:13 pm

    There y’go, John – right on the head. I’ve participated as a performer and run sound at some of these events. The Mad Batter had a host one year – Debra Donahue – who announced that policy (listening during the performances, talking after). It is quite a commitment, financially and time-wise, by the musicians who travel here – I hope they’ll get the respect they deserve as we continue to host this thing.

    • JohnCooke
      January 31, 2015 / 7:09 pm

      Mr. Murphy MQ thanks for reading and commenting on the blog. Means a lot sir. This is why I wrote it two months out. It is that important. I don’t want to leave the weekend feeling frustrated that I didn’t try.

  5. February 1, 2015 / 10:47 am

    I get very upset ,when music is being presented and people are rudely trying to talk over the music or t.v is on . Love the music and the originals and and respect

    • JohnCooke
      February 1, 2015 / 11:15 am

      Linda, thanks for reading and commenting. I agree with you. When someone is pouring their heart and spending their own money to be at the festival the least we can do is listen

  6. February 1, 2015 / 1:04 pm

    Regarding yakking v. picking:

    Clubs can also help by arranging the sound system carefully, if possible. When the house sound is too loud, it can cue people yelling at their tables, just to communicate with one another, esp. when said people are older and maybe have a dip in the 2-3,000 range in their hearing (caused by, maybe, prolonged exposure to loud music in their far-off youth!) … Management–watch for cues like people over 40 cupping their ears. If one guy does it, he might be me… if everyone is doing it, and your 26-year-old waitress is putting her ear an inch away from customers teeth–maybe the PA is too hot in that area. Just as clubs have “APPLAUSE” sings, perhaps an MC could have a big “THIS IS THE QUIET PART” sign to hold up…. Trains now have Quiet Cars — why not little signs, like those Reserved ones… that say, “Music Lovers’ Table–if you choose to sit up close near the performers, please be careful about loud conversation and such–Thank You.”

    You can even go the Clint Eastwood route and just keep lowering the PA, or even warn… “This next performance is going to be quite difficult to hear, just thought we’d let you know…” and see what they make of that….

    A generalized gesture, just raising palms and patting them down at the entire room… (rather than pointing at a table and saying “Clam up!”) can go a long way. In Fergies Pub at their weekly Irish Session, a rowdy crowd was cheering and banging mugs along to “Friggin’ in the Riggin’…” five minutes later, as a woman stood and delivered a tragic ballad a cappella, you could hear a pin drop; even the bar back paused halfway on the stairs with a full bucket of ice… and let her finish. It was a moment no one in the room would ever forget.

    Finally, some bars also offer “instructions” saying, “Please be ready and order in rounds when possible… as this helps us avoid too much yakking during the performances…”

    — just my 4 cents, mcget /

    • JohnCooke
      February 1, 2015 / 1:25 pm

      Thanks Michael, I love the ideas and illustration from Fergie’s I think my friend John Byrne tends bar there once in a while. There seems to be growing support for the listening room concept.
      Again, thanks for reading and commenting.

    • MQ Murphy
      February 2, 2015 / 6:24 pm

      Right on, Michael – I’ll vouch for that hearing loss and you and I both know how that has happened – as you spelled it out. I find that I’m always adjusting the EQ to favor the frequencies that I have trouble hearing these days. I like your suggestions – I’ll share them with the management at the venue I’ll be working this year.

  7. Debra Donahue
    February 1, 2015 / 4:23 pm

    I’m heartened to see so many like-minded comments on your blog, John and thanks for posting your thoughtful views!

    We are lucky to have such a thriving music community here, populated with a throng of awesome musicians of every stripe and style. There’s an even larger bevy of amazing and generous lovers of live music. Watch closely and you’ll see how deeply we all feel about each other and this embarrassment of riches. And when SSCM is on, we’re in a special kind of heaven because we get to hear even MORE music. It heals and enriches. It’s our religion, and when we can’t hear the preacher, it just ain’t right.

    My own Shhhh viewpoint is not unique, but living in Nashville for a time gave me an interesting perspective. I was always struck by the level of respect and attention given to the legions of songwriters I saw and/or knew, performing in venues (official and unofficial listening rooms) all over town. Audience members were not at all shy about quieting people not privy to the listening room concept or to the phrase “indoor voice.” This level of respect was and is, an innate part of the culture there, where The Song is King.

    Sadly, too many times during SSCM, I’ve observed loud and oblivious patrons utterly trample a songwriter’s attempts to be heard. Maybe they were unaware of what was taking place, or maybe they generally regard music as wallpaper. Whatever the reason, it’s just tragic to witness. Unfortunately, it’s also difficult for anyone to try and quiet the loudies because there’s always a good chance it can go from bad to worse. One can’t say “shut your pie hole” or “put a sock in it,” but I’ve seen even the gentlest nudging, request or plea met with um, enthusiastic resistance.

    The key is that EVERYONE has to be on board when presenting or listening to live music…owners, patrons, waitstaff, bartenders, and musicians too.

    We have to revere these souls who are standing before us, offering their hearts and souls, their talents and messages, their time and their energy. Also consider that they’ve chosen to come to OUR little hamlet on their own dime. In March! Let’s show them the abundance of love and pride that’s inherent in Cape May, and thank them for their gift(s) in the best possible way — by listening to them and buying their CD’s.

    I’m probably preaching to the choir, but thanks, John, for being a stalwart champion of so much good stuff! I’ll be quiet now.

  8. Jim Mellon
    February 2, 2015 / 8:25 pm

    When dealing with the masses, education is the key. Many good ideas include educating the audience as well as the staff and talent. anything is possible…

  9. March 28, 2015 / 8:37 am

    Woof, also, to our lovely canine host.
    Mr&Mrs. Meat Singer/songwriter/Anniversary couple and the sun’s out we’re off to George’s for breakfast wee! Gonzaga rules the boards and all is right with the world.

  10. Mike Madigan
    March 25, 2019 / 9:08 pm

    I’m just reading this honest article and great comments just before the Singer Songwriter festival 2019 is supposed to come to Cape May this weekend. I’m a musician from Newfoundland who “winters” here in this beautiful seaport town.
    I attended a Squares concert last year at the Congress hall ballroom. Great concert. They even dedicated a Ron Hynes song to my wife and I. A real listening audience too.
    May I suggest for some venues here in Cape May what they do up at “Burlap and Bean” Coffee house(alcohol too) in Newtown Square PA. I’ve been there many times!
    People come in, chatting, having coffee/drinking, enjoying seeing friends. Then at 7:30 an emcee comes out and basically says, “Welcome to Burlap and Bean! What a great show we have tonight with the (Stray Birds). You’ll love them! But this is a listening venue…two sets of 45 min each…so we ask you to please listen! Then in 45 minutes we’ll take 20-25 min to chat, laugh, refill your glasses again and chat some more. Then we’ll have a listening venue again for the 2nd set! Ok, here they are and enjoy the show!!!”

    Works perfectly! I’ve enjoyed every music show there!