What the hell: Southwest to expand live music on flights

To cleanse the palate, I feel about this the way I do about Smalt. I can’t believe someone had the idea, let alone that they pulled together a critical mass of people willing to make it a reality. Imagine the confluence of circumstances in which an airline’s executives greenlight a live concert for a captive audience in the cattle-car environs of an airplane and then actually find artists willing to play it. And not struggling artists either. You’ll know some of the names. You sell a million albums and then one day you wake up and ask your manager where your next gig and he says, “Flight 132 from Tampa to Philly.”

This is a whole thing, called “Live at 35,” that’s been going on for six years. I only first heard of it today. And judging from the reaction on social media, I’m not the only one. As Hillary Clinton might say, what happened?

Warner Music Nashville (WMN) announced today that they have teamed up with Southwest Airlines to produce a variety of promotions that will bring music into the skies. With this new partnership, Southwest will continue their history of pop-up shows on board flights featuring WMN artists, with the label also agreeing to continue their tradition of traveling with the airline.

Perhaps the most popular aspect of the agreement is the continuation of the Live at 35 in-air concert series, as well as the Opry at the Southwest Porch at Bryant Park series of summer concerts. Launched as a curiosity in 2011, the Live at 35 series has only grown in popularity over the past six years, as Southwest passengers hope that their flight will be one of the lucky ones to feature a sure-to-go-viral performance.

I grew up in New York City and I assure you, if a dude wandered into your crowded rush-hour subway car rattling a coffee cup and crooning — which happened a lot — you didn’t consider yourself “one of the lucky ones.” Granted, the acts in the Warner Music stable will be more talented on average than the acts at the 34th Street stop, but you’re in a fouler mood on the plane than you are on the subway. The trip is longer, you have four inches of legroom, and odds are you want to either sleep or watch a movie. Maybe you need to get some work done. Suddenly you look up and there’s Coldplay crammed behind the beverage cart, all set to rock coach. Do they give out free drinks on these “concert” flights, at least? This “amenity” should come with extra amenities to compensate.

Has anyone been on one of these flights? Was the vibe just pure embarrassment and discomfort for all concerned? And what does Warner Music get out of participating? An annoyed audience of a few hundred people is a blip in sales even if every passenger goes out and buys your album. And as far as I know, none of these concerts has broken out online and turned into truly viral marketing. Mystifying.

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