Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Windshield or Bug?

art by Crystal

Sometimes you're the windshield...

I was playing a gig with Elena, at a local venue we're well established in. We love playing there - the acoustics are great, management is nice, and we have a lot of friends and fans that come out when we play there. But this particular gig was near Christmas and we weren't seeing our usual crowd. The place was packed with company parties and lots of college age people. Both of those kinds of groups are not usually there for the music, and indeed there was a din of noisy chatter but very little attention being paid to us. Eventually the crowd started thinning out and we figured the last set would be slow.

A group of young people emerged from the back of the bar and grabbed a table right in front of us. Then, a miracle occurred. They did not ignore us, did not talk loudly to each other or obsessively tap on their phones. They did not get up every five minutes to make a call or go out and smoke. They did not take pictures of each other making gangsta faces. No, these college kids actually listened to us. Even more amazing, they knew every song we played and were ecstatic about our mostly classic rock songlist. They sang. They cheered for every darned song. They raised their lighters.  And - bonus - they tipped. And when it was over, they demanded an encore.

Wow, what can I say. My faith in the younger generation was renewed!

art by Crystal

Sometimes you're the bug...

Whenever I have a great gig and feel a little excessive self-esteem creeping in, I know it must be about time for an ego smackdown in the form of a gig I regularly do at another Baltimore area venue. I can be fairly sure of what will happen when I do this gig, and the very next night after the previously described miracle, I was not disappointed. I was presented with a young college and professional crowd, all quite dedicated to ignoring me, talking loudly, texting on their phones, taking pictures of each other and constantly hopping up to go out and talk on the phone and smoke.

But then, someone did notice I was there, and came up to make a request. "Hmm," I thought, "I wonder what it will be?" but I could already feel it coming, and yes, there it was: "can you play Sweet Caroline?"

It's not that they wanted to enjoy my superb rendition of the song. They just wanted to join in on the chorus and go "dut, dut, dah!" and "so good, so good," at the top of their lungs, carrying out a bar ritual that they have surely participated in dozens if not hundreds of times already. I know I have. And even then, they were only good for two choruses. By the third chorus, the moment was gone and before the song is over they had already resumed their talking/drinking/picture-taking/texting/smoking routine. There was no applause. There was no tip. There were no more requests. In less than three minutes I have faded from their awareness, for the rest of the night.

The whole episode is like a pre-ordained moment of musical involvement, imprinted in the minds of young bar-goers after the song was revived in a scene from a movie in which - surprise - a bunch of drunk young people at a bar are singing the song. My audience seems programmed to re-live the scene and then go back to what they were doing.

I have written about this sort of thing before; it is part of the game if you want to be a working musician. Sometimes you love what you do; sometimes you are just earning the money. It's nice if you are enjoying yourself and getting paid, but it doesn't always happen. Would I rather be driving a truck, or working at a bank? Not in a million years. I feel lucky that I do love my work more often than I don't, and blessed that I get to play guitar and sing for a living. So I take the not-so-much fun ones as learning experiences, and try not to take it too seriously. It's counter-productive to have an over-inflated sense of self-importance on a gig, especially the less than ideal ones. You have to be able to laugh at the situation, and at yourself.  Besides, if only three people are there to see me, I have learned that it's always a good idea to play my best for those three people.

And I try to keep smiling.

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