Four days after arriving home from my longest period of time away from home, some thoughts from the lonesome highway, (or what I did for the first ten days of March) ….
While on tour between March 1st and 10th, I realized fully what an amazing network of friends and family I have available to me. People opened their homes to me for house concerts, fed me, provided a warm and comfortable place to sleep, and engaged in conversation with me. Some of them were people I were meeting for the very first time, and were as accommodating as if we were lifelong pals. That alone concretized a feeling I have had for a while, that deep down, people are essentially good, they want to help, they want to be around others, and through conversation, we discover that we have much more in common with each other than not. We are much more than performer and audience, and the line (that shouldn’t exist in the first place) between us disappears completely. The walls we sometimes put up in an effort to closely guard ourselves – not only at the venues, but at gas stations, supermarkets, rest areas, etc….. quickly fall away with a genuine smile, and a friendly “hello”.
Despite being surrounded by my house concert hosts and their friends, this was a journey that was long and very lonely at times. Particularly the time spent driving. Phone calls back home, a visit with my sister and her family, and the use of video messaging certainly helped, but the highway hours were long, boring stretches, even on the shorter commutes. Aside from leaving the house, and saying your goodbyes, driving is indeed, the most difficult aspect of being a touring songwriter. The rare occasions when Sheila can come along – even if we don’t share the driving duties – make travel much more tolerable, simply because I have someone to talk to, and someone to share the experience with. I doubt that I will ever embark on a series of dates of this length again. 3-4 days max is good for me, and gets me home with a much faster turnaround.
Regarding highway travel – I’ve yet to understand the concept of having three lanes of traffic, a sign that says, “SLOWER TRAFFIC, KEEP RIGHT”, only to take that option away a mile later with a sign that reads, “RIGHT LANE ENDS”. A long standing pet peeve of mine…..
When I performed my feature set at the “Find Your Muse” open mic at The Evening Muse in Charlotte, NC, a couple of things happened that evening that, for lack of a better term - changed my perspective. Or maybe it was just a reminder of how music can bring us together. The talent level and the diversity of acts at this open mic was like none that I had ever witnessed at an open mic. I hate to say this, but most open mics that I have attended are typically comprised of older, white, males, some of whom are singer songwriters, some who are keeping their connection to performing alive with a repertoire of Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and the like in their catalog, and a handful of younger songwriters testing out new material, or using the open mic as an audition in hopes for a paying gig at the venue. Most of them sit in the audience with their guitar case at their feet, waiting for their name to be called, while the regulars usually sit at a table together. Sadly, many of the performers leave as soon as they complete their 2-3 song set so that by the time the last person gets to perform, they’re doing so for less than a handful of people. At The Evening Muse, everyone stayed until the end. On a Monday night.
At “Find Your Muse”, performers consisted of a wide age demographic and stylistically ranged from several hip hop/rap artists, poets, stand-up comics, singer-songwriters, and R&B vocalists who took the stage to share their talents. As this unfolded before me, I had a bit of anxiety as to how this straw cowboy hat wearing, contemporary Folk/Americana songwriter from Buffalo, NY would fare before this audience. After the changeover, as people were settling back into their seats, I started my first song. There were quiet murmurs coming from the audience, probably things like, “uh oh, WTF is this going to be like?”, but by the time I reached the end of the first chorus, I could see the faces in the audience begin to soften, smiles started to appear, heads began to move in time, and a hearty round of applause followed upon its completion. After the completion of my third song, “In Its Own Time” (a song which has become to me, one that is about transitioning from one period of life into the next), a twenty-something African-American male stood up, and shouted, “that’s what I’m talking about! That’s some profound shit right there!!!” The walls came down. Age, race, gender, or any other metrics, demographics, or geographic location didn’t matter anymore. That’s what music can – and is supposed to do - regardless of how the industry, the media, or the perception of your own mind attempts to package it with a pretty bow, and assign it a genre. If it’s good, if it contains universal truths, and speaks to even one person – it’s does what it is intended to do – put us “in concert” with each other.
House concerts. Five of the seven dates on this most recent tour were comprised of house concerts. There is something uniquely special about these shows, for the hosts, performer, and audience alike. They need not be fully attended to maintain that special feeling. Two of the house concerts I performed on this tour had less than 10 people in attendance, the others ranged from 15-25 people. Here’s what makes these shows so wonderful – 1.) It’s a gathering of friends and neighbors, and from that, a real sense of community is generated. 2.) As a performer, you have the undivided attention of a listening audience. No conversations are taking place, no one is looking at their cell phone, no one is approaching you after every other song to make requests for Jimmy Buffet songs, The Eagles, or Wagon Wheel. No one yelling "Freebird" (Why is THAT still a thing?). This is an audience that has paid good money to see you perform YOUR songs, and may very well be hearing you for the first time. Talk about having an open mind! 3.) As a performer there is absolutely zero onus on you to “draw”, sell tickets, send out press releases, posters, or have a street team plaster streetlight poles with flyers to announce your pending arrival in town. As an audience member, there is no logging into a ticketing website, trying to beat the bots for the good tickets and settling for ones in the nosebleed section, or buying better seats at twice the face value on the secondary market, paying inflated service and postal charges, fighting traffic, and paying $20 or more to park blocks away from the venue. 4.) The conversation, food, and drinks. That puts a big, fat bow on the whole house concert experience. It is truly wonderful to see the joyful reaction of those who are first time attendees, many of whom thought that live music was only consumable in a standard brick and mortar venue. It is that experience that over time, can lead to the creation of new house concert hosts and series. It’s a wonderful alternative for those of us struggling to build an audience, and those of us supplementing our income with bar and restaurant gigs. There’s not a thing wrong with that….
Thanks for reading. I get to do this all over again on the weekend of March 22nd-24th, so it’s time for me to head to my car dealership, and have the oil changed in my faithful Subaru, and give it a quick look over to make sure all is good to go for another venture on those “twisted turns and straightaways, where lonely nights turn into lonelier days”. After my Buffalo area gigs this St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and next Thursday when I host Nickel City Sessions, I’ll see you soon in Ohio, and Michigan…..