On Thursday, April 21st, I went with a friend to see Friends With Benefits, a Lehigh student band, perform at the Fun House. Personally, I have never been to the venue prior to this evening, and my friend has also only been there once throughout his four years here at Lehigh. The main reason why I chose this event was to support our friend Adam, the guitarist/ukulele player in the band.
Friends With Benefits, a cover band that mainly plays acoustic rendition of hit and classic songs (Taylor Swift, Fetty Wap, Jack Johnson, Ben Folds, etc.) as well as a few originals written by the band. As a group they have performed at various Lehigh competitions like Battle of the Bands, Frattle, Open Mic, etc.
The Thursday time slot was originally booked for Steel City Sunrise, but an accident involving lead singer Mikale rendered the band unable to perform for this night. A few days later, Friends with Benefit member Marc Wiener met Fun House’s owner Lilian at her bar, and their conversation led to the mark of FWB’s first debut to the local community.
The show promptly started at 10:30pm, after the band did a quick sound check. Due to the venue setup and the fact that it is a bar, lighting was very minimal throughout the building, and there was no spot light on the performer at all. The crowd consisted of about five to seven local people sitting at the bar, and four Lehigh students sitting right across the band – a relatively low turnout, but not surprisingly considering that it’s still early into the night.
Yet within half an hour of playtime, one by one, Lehigh students started showing up to form a large crowd. One thing I noticed is that everyone here is either friends of the band or friend of a friend. This is a perfect example of the symbiotic relationship between Lehigh University and the Bethlehem community that the school resides in. By inviting Friends with Benefit to play at the Fun House, Lilian helped the band boost its reputation and experience, all the while attracting a large customer segment that otherwise may have never stepped foot into the bar.
In terms of performance, the band did a really good job with audience engagement by allowing song requests on top of playing upbeat and trendy songs. At one point, lead singer Paul asked the crowd to sing along, and in another instance everyone started standing up to form a dance floor. It was a very authentic live music experience, and I would say that the show succeeded in this aspect.
One thing that stood out to me, though, was the homogeneity of the crowd. Everyone there that listened to the band was Lehigh students, and the local Bethlehem residents were all sitting at the bar area instead. This makes me wonder what the best way to integrate the two groups together harmoniously is. Another question the event posed is, how will Fun House act to retain the students – a customer segment known for really high churn rates – that showed up tonight? Customer acquisition is a key activity for any business, so will the bar keep inviting Lehigh University artists over to eventually familiarize the venue in the minds of attendants?