Gigs, Gigs, and more Gigs! Dallas, Union Station Hotel, and the Bluebird Café.
It’s been a busy two weeks for old Alex, playing that rock’n’roll.
I went to Dallas for a healthcare conference (for the Studer Group) with my singer pals Michael Black and Gary Pigg. This is such a fun gig: a packed ballroom in a four- star hotel (The Adolphus in this case) filled with several hundred healthcare people who were attending the Studer Group’s monthly learning seminar. Many of these folks are nurses; some are CEO’s and administrators. No knock on the admin peeps, but the nurses are more fun. They like to get loud when we play and go out after the seminar for margaritas – or so they tell me. I stick around the hotel and have a salad after our three o’clock set.
Lisa usually sings with us, but because she works in healthcare as well, for a large corporation, she often can’t get loose to fly out for three days to do these shows. We sound better with her. We give away our Passion & Purpose CD ( www.thefirestarters.net for more info) and sign CD’s and posters at a reception after the set. Lisa’s line is always the longest, as she listens to life stories and tells her own. She is a three -year survivor of bilateral breast cancer. We’ve had a lot of nurse time. We love ‘em.
The “purpose” of Passion and Purpose is to make a connection between music and healthcare. We feel that both professions are not just jobs (of course music is not a job; you play music, you don’t work music, + in music you often just plain don’t get paid. Maybe there should be one of those suggestive bumper stickers: Musicians do it for free), they are callings. Indeed, we have a song of that name: The Calling.
Michael, Gary, and I had a great set in Dallas. A lot of that comes down to the audience. Thank goodness it was a lively group. It’s a bit unnerving to get up in front of row after row of people sitting at their textbooks, hands folded, as silent as Sunday in church, but we manage. I have learned a bit about speaking to captive audiences from three years of doing this. It’s fun. They’re stuck there, but for them we’re a break from the day-long learning sessions. I’ve had a couple of meltdowns when I tried to use too much equipment while doing my one- man –band thing. I’ve cut back to just two guitars in different tunings and a couple of stomp boxes. If I could, I would bring my studio with me, multiple amps, drum modules, keyboards, the works. But simple works better, anyway.
I love having a captive audience. It’s like playing the Bluebird Café, but with 400 people. They pay attention. At this point of my life, I really want that from an audience. I ain’t into shouting, “Are we having a good time yet? Whooo!” I know this audience, I know something about healthcare concerns, I’m pretty funny, and I’ve picked up some important tips about pacing and timing from Quint Studer, the masterful president of the Studer Group. He’s a very accomplished public speaker. Plus I cut my comedy teeth on Groucho Marx, so my rap name might be Quipmaster Al-Z.
Each day of the seminar is evaluated by the attendees. In Dallas we got a 96! Don’t ‘git much better’n that. That’s a lot better than the 80 we got in Atlanta last year when I tried to use a drum machine, a synth guitar, and a sequencer all at the same time. What can I say? It worked at home. Sometimes you just die up on stage. There’s no way out. Die smiling! Hope you get invited to do the next show. Even the best pitchers in the major leagues get knocked out of games occasionally.
Back here in Nashville we did a related show at the architecturally awesome neo-deco Union Station Hotel for a small group of Employees of the Year for Community Health Systems, Lisa’s company. We had a cool band and had some good moments. I am rarely satisfied, but people really liked it. I liked hanging out with the middle- aged yet refreshingly juvenile band guys. We never grow up, which is a fun thing. You can’t have a second childhood is you never leave the first. It’s my life, read the book!
Last night I played the aforementioned Bluebird Café, the original home of “songwriters in the round”. The Bluebird is sacred ground for us singer/writers. It’s just a little place (70 people?) tucked into an older strip mall in Green Hills, an affluent shopping section of Nashville. It’s next door to a dry cleaner and a home furnishing shop. There’s an old blue awning painted with the name. There’s no big marquee; you’d never know the club was there.
The Bluebird was the creation of Amy Kurland back in the early 80’s. I know that J. Fred Knoblach, Don Schlitz, Kathy Mattea, Jelly Roll Johnson, and other stalwarts were early standouts. Amy put the microphones in a circle in the middle of the floor instead of on a stage. That circular shape, where the performers face each other, creates a space for a fantastic energy. It’s like being in a high intensity living room. The audience is right there at the singer’s elbows: very intimate. Silence during a song is as absolute commandment. There is audience participation and lots of laughter but zero idle background conversation. This is a songwriter’s dream.
We had lineup of young studs: Dave Bradley, Greg Friia, Shannon Cain, guest guitarists Nick Ferrell, Spanky Dynamite, and one slightly older stud: me. My emerging eight-year-old stud son Aidan stole the show, or part of it, when he played violin on my song Dark Side of the Night, the progression of which I lifted from Johann Pachobel’s Canon in D. Aidan also hammed it up pretty big time. He’s getting the crowd thing early. Uh-oh! Scary. He even signed some autographs in his quirky but very artsy style. He’s got big talent just like my older son, James. They are my blocks off the old chip. I am one proud papa.
The gigs have all been fun, though must say that setting up for them has never been my cup of decaf. My back is sore from lifting amps. When I was twenty-nine, I had a road crew. Now I hump my own gear. What is wrong with this picture?
Bring on the gigs. I love playing my songs for people. I used my looper on two songs last night. The looper is an electronic device that allows me to layer track after track as I play. I build up a groove of maybe three or four parts and then play and sing on top of that. It’s an adventure. Sometimes it flames out, but at least I have the thrill of not playing it safe. What’s the point of life, to play it safe?