As always, there was plenty of live music, everything from bands to single guitar players to the always outrageous and funny drag queen shows at a couple bars. Sadly, I’m beginning to see signs that the best days of KW may be behind that famous party town. Quite a few empty store fronts and a certain desperation from the hawkers trying to get the sparse crowd on the street to come in to various bars, restaurants and shops. But the most energy and biggest crowds were in bars that had single guitar players banging out high energy (and somewhat lame) versions of rock, country, Irish and of course Jimmy Buffett tunes. I must say, I give those guys credit for “going for it” if nothing else.
Which kind of begs the question: how long can we as guitar player/performers expect the crowds to keep coming for those types of acts? Perhaps I’m over-thinking this, but the bottom line may be that it really doesn’t matter all that much how good you are at your craft as long as you put it out there with energy and enthusiasm. There is no way you could call any of the half-dozen guys I listened to for a few minutes each very good guitar players but…. They were good enough. Good enough to keep the crowd involved and drinking (a key element in this equation both in terms of acceptance of a sketchy performance AND making the management happy!). It appears that in Key West at least, you can still make a decent living as a single guitar player if you know a few dozen Jimmy B. and Kenny Chesney tunes, with the occasional oldie sing-along thrown in. God bless ‘em.
I was thinking about my theory that energy trumps talent when we happened upon a nice little place called Two Friends. We stopped in because I saw a guy playing instrumentals on an acoustic/electric nylon string guitar, seemingly very similar to what I do at the Daily Brew every Saturday. We sat at the bar and it was immediately obvious that the guy was very good. He was also using a looper device but using it in a very subtle manner, not just recording a track to play lead over and blasting away. In fact I doubt anyone in the place knew he was using it – the most effective application of that device in performance that I’ve yet heard. I made a request – “Corcovado” by Tony Jobim, and the guy was thrilled to play it. And he nailed it, including the lyrics in Portuguese. I made sure to clap loudly, which made the crowd wake up a bit and they too began clapping at the end of each tune. This in turn seemed to inspire the guitarist to ramp up the energy in his playing just a bit and all in all it turned out to be a great set. I made sure to leave him a decent tip in his tip glass when we left.
But as we walked out the door I noticed another guitarist playing in a bar across the street. This was a side street, not on Duval. And he was trying to do what the guys down on Duval were doing. He was using a looper too, and not very effectively, just playing random riffs over a simple set of changes. It was a large place and there were a handful of people at the bar on the other end of the room, totally disinterested in what the guy was doing. It was kind of pathetic. But hey, he had a gig….
So maybe, after all, there IS hope for a guitarist who skips the Jimmy and plays well. I certainly hope so!
I was feeling pretty good about this until I got home and checked the web site of the Two Friends bar/restaurant. And there, on their page detailing the entertainment at the place was only one write up, all about their (apparently) popular regular entertainment: karaoke. No mention whatsoever of live music. So it goes, I guess. In Key West and everywhere.
Peace & good music,