This past weekend saw several milestones passed in my music career (for very loose definitions of “career”). Saturday night had me playing my 100th public performance in front of mostly strangers. I didn’t tell anyone until it was over, because I didn’t want to jinx myself. 100 times, I have gathered my guitar, my courage, many hours of practice, and more than a few nervous trips to the bathroom together and plied my musical wares for an audience. And no matter what it looks like to those watching and listening to me, before every single one of those 100 performances, I asked myself what the hell I was doing, WHY was I doing it when it made me so nervous, and prayed that I wouldn’t suddenly forget how to play the guitar. Because it totally could happen; my fingers do weird, uncooperative shit when I am nervous. Not to mention the cottonmouth and the inability to remember words to songs I wrote myself.
I still don’t know the answer, but it has a lot to do with the fact that, when it goes well, it feels so damn good. I love just sitting home, playing and singing by myself. It continues to amaze me that I am able to make music—good music—all by myself. But doing so for appreciative ears, and nailing it, is an order of magnitude more awesome, and I can’t even tell you why. I didn’t nail it on Saturday, I have to say, but it was definitely an acceptable performance and I stepped off the stage with my head held high.
I achieved some sort of dubious rockstar cred even before the performance, though, in arriving late for my show (because of the aforementioned trips to the bathroom, and because I put “N. Main Avenue” into Google maps instead of “S. Main Avenue”). I am late for a lot of things in my life, but never before for my own gig. I’m pretty sure the millions of dollars will be arriving any second. That’s how it works, right? Or do I have to trash a hotel room first?
And then, somewhere in the middle of my third song, it rained. On me. On my guitar. On all the electronics. On the audience who huddled under any available cover while I sang on through the rain. I stopped singing (but kept strumming—what a pro!) in the middle of the song to discuss with my friend Denise (who would be playing next) whether I should quit or continue to risk electrocution, and, as I had only one verse and a chorus left, I determined to soldier on and then head for cover when I was done. With every line, the rain came down harder, and I was amazed that I remembered all the words (in Spanish no less) while I contemplated my Charlie Brown moment…It’s not raining THAT hard. I was more worried about my guitar in the rain than myself. The irony is that this has been a terrible monsoon season, as monsoons go, and we’ve gotten hardly any rain at our house; but as soon as I’m carrying a nice wooden musical instrument and hooked to many electronic boxes, it pours. I have had performances interrupted by terriers, drunk bikers, espresso machines, clueless sound engineers, the developmentally disabled, loud talkers, and temporary amnesia, but the rain is a new one. I believe this is what they mean when they refer to “paying your dues.”
Another milestone was that both my parents (who now permanently reside in Tucson) were in the audience, in addition to Scott and my best friends Beth and Pam. It’s only the second time my folks have heard me play live, and it meant a lot to me that they were there. I played a song just for them, a song I knew I wanted to learn and play for them since the day I started playing the guitar. It’s called “Greenfields,” by the Brothers Four, and my parents used to sing it to us around campfires when I was growing up. My parents mouthed the words along with me, and it was…a moment. A moment to remember.
Later, as I listened to another act play, a couple of kids came up to me. One held out his hand to shake mine, and so I shook it. He admitted he didn’t know what to say; usually others start the conversations, he said, so I asked him if he liked the music he’d been hearing and flattered myself that he was star-struck. I found out he was going to be starting the 8th grade this week, and went to BASIS, a local charter school where a friend of mine works. His friend and bandmate joined the conversation, and we chatted for probably half an hour about music, the state of junior high and the teachers thereof, the inability to find quality folks to be in your band, and the Pet Shop Boys, including an audio demo courtesy of Scott’s phone. Children need to learn these things.
I thought I had another young fan who was fascinated by my performance, but after I finished my set, he came up on stage and let me know that what had caught his attention was the funky light bulb above my head. It was one of those colored bulbs with spikes of glass coming out of every side, and was, I fully admit, pretty cool. Leave it to a 4-year-old to keep your burgeoning rockstar ego in check.
My century performance fell on the eve of my 6th anniversary of guitar playing. Sunday marked 6 years since I went to Guitar Center, bought some nylon strings, and put them on my Walmart guitar, whom I’d newly named “Flo.” Antiguo had suggested both, so that I might be able to play my guitar without my fingers hurting so much, and that I might bond with her. I swear the latter made the difference, because I’m still playing. Playing guitar has changed my life. In 6 years, I feel like I’ve come a long way, and yet not nearly far enough. But I’ve got a great guitar teacher, Ryan Green (who’s still taking students in Tucson and online, in case you’re looking or know someone who is) who pushes me, and I love it. I’m currently working on a short Joe Satriani song—no lie. Never in a million years would I have even thought to attempt such a thing on my own. I probably should’ve done the lesson thing sooner, but I was waiting for the planets to align.
6 years, 100 performances. I guess that makes me a musician.