Two Totally Different Shows, One Weekend

     Prior to Saturday night, May 4, 2013, I'd never been asked to do an entire set of original music, especially original rock music without a band on acoustic guitar. But it came to pass that I answered an ad looking for just that so I offered my services and booked the gig.

     It was different in more ways than I anticipated. Firstly, I never had a contact's information. The person who communicated with me via email never provided their name and used an anonymous email address. All I knew was to show up at Salvatore's Italian Grill in St. Charles at 7:30pm and I thought I might be starting around 8:30pm and I could use my own microphone, but didn't know if their board had phantom power. I was in the dark regarding most of the details I'm used to knowing, honestly wondering how valid this gig really was but I decided to take a chance and go for it even though it was paying a fraction of what I'm used to. Probably not even enough to cover fuel to and from the gig as it was three hours of driving.

     I think what inspired me to give it a shot was how different I could already tell it was going to be. Firstly, I'm used to contracts and negotiations when booking shows. At the very least I know with whom I'm communicating. The bait for me was the opportunity to perform a bunch of virgin songs for the public. I only had a couple days to prepare for the gig so I spent several hours combing through years of old files, searching for rock songs I've written over the past 15 years or so.

     It was enjoyable for me to rediscover songs I wrote years ago that I still thought sounded pretty good. Definitely album worthy, some even radio worthy. Many of these old songs were still unfinished. After all, why spend time on a song no one will ever hear, right? Now they had an excuse, a purpose, a destination, and a date booked. I had to work extremely hard and fast but came up with a stack of original rock songs, enough to keep me on stage for a couple hours at least if need be.

     Everything started a little later than I expected but the musicians setting up the stage were cool. First person I talked to happened to be the right guy so I was off to a good start. The headlining band setup and did their sound-check. Then I did mine and the musicians said it sounded good. It was a very noisy, smoky bar so I was never able to hear myself on stage the way I'm used to so for most of the night I just sang and played a little harder than usual.

     My set went well. I think they had me turned up pretty loud for the audience but no one was complaining about the volume. It was challenging to deliver the rock songs I intended to be performed with a rock band by myself on acoustic guitar. I've done this for decades with famous cover songs but never with so many of my own originals. I had done just enough work on my songs to pull them off without a hitch. A little to my surprise, every single song received a very healthy clapping response from the audience.

     The club/restaurant was much larger than I expected. There could have easily been a couple hundred people there. I haven't played a noisy bar with smoking and drinking in… I can't remember the last time. It's not the scene I'm used to. Used to playing rock music yes, but usually in a more formal setting like for weddings and birthday parties. I didn't expect this audience to listen to me but they did. And they liked the music. There was whooping, cheering, even some rebel yells coming from all over the place. Folks at the bar turned their stools around to watch and listen. And as often happens at my gigs, cell phones came out taking videos of my performance. Cool.

     I think they let me play for nearly an hour, it felt like more than the 45 minutes I was expecting. I was a little disappointed having so many more great songs I wanted to share, but I was just the opening act for the opening act. Literally, there was another band to perform after me before the headlining act went on.

     The audience was very kind. It's not often you can get people pried away from their conversations while listening to just a guy and his guitar playing songs they've never heard. People are excited by familiarity. It takes something special to spark spontaneous interest in something new. I was proud of my songs for being able to grab the attention of such a crowd for such duration. When I would speak their heads would all turn to look and listen. It was a great audience.

     I walked off stage and was greeted by very flattering compliments, particularly from the musicians in the other bands. They kept coming up to me to shake my hand and say how great I sounded. Very kind.

     The next band was almost a polar opposite musically. They were extremely loud but kind enough to warn the audience before they began that they should either move away from the speakers or wear earplugs. Very thoughtful. Their music was heavy metal, very fast and loud, very dark.

     While the band was starting their set we were packing my gear. A woman walked by talking to someone and I noticed she had a very deep voice. Her makeup looked a little odd as well. I met some more musicians in one of the other bands and they let me in on what was happening. The headlining band was performing in drag!

     Never thought I would be the opening act playing original acoustic rock for heavy metal bands, especially not one in drag. It was quite different. Everyone was very nice and they seemed pumped about their show. They all expressed great gratitude for my coming out to open for them. I have no idea why they wanted or needed original acoustic rock to open. I'm just glad it was so well received.

     It was an hour and a half drive to the venue. Waited almost that long again before my set began. Once there I asked about the pay for the gig and was told we wouldn't be paid until the bar closed. With the other opening act just starting and the headliners still at least an hour out and a gig the next day at The Touhill I couldn't stay. This later became problematic since I had no more than an alias email address and no one reached out to me after I left all of my contact information. It took quite a bit of effort on my part to finally get paid a month later. This is why I always use contracts.

     During the weeks up to this weekend I was writing charts for our show at The Touhill. My drummer and I had played this show the year before and this year the director decided to hire our whole band. I didn't get all of the chart information until just days before for the show. I had to work quickly. We were accompanying the Villa Duchesne choirs so most of the songs were not being performed as heard on the original records. Choral arrangements, much like marching band and pep band charts, are notorious for using different key signatures than the originals, adding extraneous modulations to create excitement, and changing the form of songs, particularly if there would have usually been a long instrumental bridge such as a guitar solo or the like.

     Fortunately the director we were working with is super cool and a brilliant musician. He had me write parts for bass, drums, bari sax, alto sax, tenor sax, trumpet, trombone, guitar, and some piano. Writing arrangements like these is totally in my wheelhouse. For some charts I was able to transcribe much by listening to the original recordings but in other cases I needed to create my own musical ideas for my band members to play. We do a mix of this in our orchestra already with some songs wanting to nearly duplicate the original sound and others being totally original versions of classic songs.

     The stage crew and staff at The Touhill are very pleasant to work with. I hope to book a show for our band there someday where we play songs from our own repertoire. Hopefully this gig will become an annual tradition. It's a very nice stage that can handle just about any type of musical group. Their stage lighting is wonderful. I have yet to hear what the sound is like from the audience's perspective.

     So these two gigs were totally different; one playing by myself followed by heavy metal music. The other more like a pit orchestra gig playing familiar pop tunes. My band did a great job as always. We had only one rehearsal prior to The Touhill show, all of us sight-reading new charts just days before. It's so wonderful to work with great musicians with such capabilities. My band is awesome! And maybe we'll include some more of my original music in future shows.