I did something a week ago Sunday evening that I haven’t done in more than two years: went to an actual semi-big deal show in Boston! I’ve had the tickets for almost two years. But the show was postponed twice in that time and f’n Ticketmaster refused to refund so I’d gotten to the point that I was going to kiss that $140 (two tickets) goodbye. But then, about two months ago they announced it was on. Yeah!
The show (when I booked it) was a couple of acts that I’ve been wanting to see live for decades: Hot Tuna (Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy, original members of the Jefferson Airplane but now much better known for their acoustic work on old and new blues) and the David Grisman Trio. Grisman, along with the late great Tony Rice pretty much invented the style that is now known as “Newgrass,” the melding of traditional bluegrass and hot jazz. Grisman is an amazing mandolin player, to say the least.
However, a week or so before the concert it was announced that Grisman was being replaced by David Bromberg. Although Bromberg is well respected as one of the founding fathers of the Greenwich Village folk scene back in the 60s I was never much of a fan. I felt then - and still do - that his playing was average at best and his singing voice is pretty hard to take for very long, for me anyway. But hey, I had the tickets so it was time to cross that invisible barrier of the Cape Cod Canal (if you live here, you understand) and head up to Boston.
I went with my old playing partner Andy, who is even more reticent to cross the Canal than I am so this was something like a revolutionary act for a couple over the hill hippie types. The show was at a wonderful venue that I knew of but had never visited, the Wilbur Theater in downtown Boston. A classic old small theater, there are no bad seats, drinks are served and the crowd at the Wilbur was comprised of oldsters like us so we felt right at home.
Bromberg and his four-piece band opened the show and it was immediately apparent that age and experience are not a guarantee of anything like progress (!). But hey, the crowd seemed to appreciate him so who am I to say? Anyway, their set was mercifully short. Then it was time for Jorma and Jack.
Disappointment #2. No acoustic guitars in sight; this would be an all-electric show. Now, I respect them on many levels: their almost telepathic musical communication, monster chops and just to be in the presence of legendary players from the glory years of Hippiedom was great. But - I really wanted to hear Jorma play the acoustic blues for which he is more famous in the last 50 years than he even may have been for his electric stuff. After about a half dozen aimless jams with a drummer, Andy and I kind of looked at each other and nodded. That’s enough. We left. Was it worth going? Yeah, most likely if only to check off another item on the list of “normal” things that we have all craved for the last two years.
I picked up three new students in the last couple of weeks, all adults of the usual sort who seem to seek me out (and for which I am very grateful!): folks who played the guitar a bit in their younger days but put it down for along time, decades even. But then they think: Hey, I have the time now. I should get back into guitar playing.
I love those types of students! They are eager to expand their limited repertoire and are hungry for knowledge and want to do things the “right” way. What I’ve always found interesting about these types of student is that almost without exception their roadblocks are hardly ever the physical act of playing the guitar; their obstacle is rhythm. We dive right into that from the first lesson, because without an understanding of the basic rhythmic concepts and how to apply them, nothing sounds right. It’s really not their fault of course. Most people have never approached rhythm from a conceptual point of view….it’s supposed to just happen without much thought. Sure, most people can tap their foot in time to a song but beyond simple clapping to a beat their hands have never been the vessel from which rhythmic variations flow. And intellectualizing two different approaches to rhythm, one with each hand is a challenge to say the least, and often very frustrating.
But here’s the part that is always gratifying for me. Once I get them COUNT beats, sometimes even out loud, there is almost always a moment of clarity and I love seeing their expressions change as they realize just how important rhythm really is and how to apply it, resulting in even simple songs sounding “right.”. In all three cases with those new students that was exactly what happened. I know all three of them will be very successful in their journey into playing the guitar.
There is a very animated discussion going on right now on one of the online guitar forums related to the need/necessity/legitimacy of using printed lyrics with chord changes while performing. This has been hashed through before on all the forums and the players seem to fall into two camps: the ones who have always used “cheat sheets” (as their detractors call their big, bulking notebooks on music stands, front and center as they perform) and those who think using any form of printed lyric/chord sheets are cheating at best and a sign of a rank amateur at worst.
I have been in both camps. For decades when performing in everything from 11-piece bands to doing a single I would never even consider using cheat sheets. I absolutely believed that doing so told the audience that you were not serious enough about your craft to memorize your music. The result in those days was usually pretty good, although I certainly forgot lyrics from time to time. If memory serves (ha!) I think there was a time that I could instantly recall both lyrics and chords to well over 100 songs.
Then about ten or so years ago I found that the ol’ memory banks didn’t open quite as quickly as they once did and I began using a 3-ring binder notebook with lyric sheets and chords. Better results, for sure, but that quickly and easily became something of a crutch. Plus, it was one more thing to schlep to my shows. And I couldn’t shake the feeling that it looked just…..cheesy. So after reading some comment on this on a couple of forums I invested in an IPad and subscribed to a service called OnSong where you can save those chord/lyric sheets and easily recall them via a Bluetooth-enabled foot peddle that - and this is HUGELY important - changes pages! There was a bit of a learning curve in terms of how to save the documents; it is very important to select a readable font that is large enough to read quickly and easily (I use 16pt. Arial) and of course remember to always recharge the tablet and pedal regularly. After some experimentation I settled on a specially designed tablet holder on a mic stand to keep my IPad at the perfect height and angle.
I am absolutely convinced this it totally legit in terms of my overall presentation, too. I now see many, many musicians using tablets this way wherever I go. Yes, it is one more piece of gear that I have to worry about but being able to relax and not worry about lyrics and chord changes is more than worth it.
Defeating my overloaded but sometimes hard to access memory and ever weakening eyesight is a small triumph I embrace, regardless of the lack-of-coolness on display!
If you would like to know more about my set-up and tricks to use it efficiently without glitches, just drop me a line or two via my Contact page.
Peace & good music,