"It's work and it's play and on the best nights one overwhelms the other...."
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Filled in for a friend of mine last night at a gig. These are always the most interesting. No rehearsal. No set list. Just show up, plug in, and hope when you both come in together you're in the same key. What songs are we gonna do? I have no idea. Nobody has any idea. Bar was crowded. And there was a drummer behind me I had just met 5 minutes prior. Everybody looking at us expectantly. With that "here we are now, entertain us" look. We look at each other with a look that reminds me of the shrug emoji. And sure.....there was some false starts and crash landings and maybe it wasn't the type of night I'd want popping up on a bootleg, but we shoved ourselves in that corner underneath the TV set, stashed our guitar cases underneath the pool table, and somehow managed to get through a 7-10 set that ended with a few 60 year old women dancing in front of us as we played a version of"Gloria" that my buddy Rob, with no warning, added the full Jim Morrison recitation from "The End" to. And I mean the full monty. The entire "the killer he woke before dawn / he put his boots on" bit....which culminated with me crashing back into the "her name is G!" bit just as Rob was hitting the line about visiting the Mother's bedroom. Probably a good choice. Maybe you need to be a Doors fan to understand this. Anyway...Rob played a screaming solo with the neck of his Bud Light bottle, and when he put it back on the bar mid-song he spun the neck of his guitar around and knocked the bottle over, spilling its contents all over the bar and scattering multiple patrons. I told him it served him right for drinking Bud Light, especially since the drinks were on the house for the band. Anyway.....it struck me in the midst of this maelstrom that this is not the usual entertainment at your local VFW. And maybe that's why when the song ended a guy got in Rob's face. I thought....here we go. But he merely asked for the band's tip bucket, and passed it around the bar himself.
I really do love the VFW on Rockwell Ave. And Rob.
As musicians, we're pretty much used to EVERYTHING. But moments like these are the ones I'm writing about.
Two days earlier myself and my regular duo partner were playing one of our favorite places. It was our yearly Ash Wednesday fish fry gig. Most in the audience arrived with smudged foreheads and monumental thirsts. Perhaps this night serves as their last hurrah for the next 40 days, not counting the Saint Patrick’s Parade Day dispensation from the diocese of course. Regardless….it’s always a good time for us.
And then it got better. A family came in with a small child. She might have been 3 years old.
Kids are absolutely transfixed by live music. They look at you like you just fell out of the ceiling tiles. Any chance they get they bop over to stand in front of you. Or they make Mom and Dad do it. All they know is that this isn't normal. Two old dudes standing in the corner surrounded by wires and making loud noises. So they study you intently. I can't tell you how great this is. Even the most jaded guitar player, decades into a career playing for the same money they were making when Ronald Reagan was President, melts when a child starts bopping up and down in front of the mic stand. We grin at them all goofy. If a parent gives them some cash and tells them to put it in the tip jar, they'll run over and run back like they've just robbed a bank, and that alone can redeem a bad day. This little girl was a true rock star.
Most of my best friends are musicians. They'll understand what I'm talking about here. There's a variety of reasons we still do this.....and I think I covered a few of them. As I've mentioned, we don't make much money. When I started all this a beer was $1. Now they're $5. Only our fee seems inflation-proof. And yea, there's many nights I don't want to drag myself off the couch to go play. But I can't recall ever regretting than I made the gig. It's work and it's play and on the best nights one overwhelms the other. And if sometimes we merely break even…..well that's better than most.
It’s a pretty small club. You have to be slightly cracked to join it. But once you’re in, you’re in. And it’s not like you can’t get out. More like you never want to.
In a bit...