But in the past week I dove back in as I’ll be resuming my teaching schedule next week plus playing my regular gig at the Daily Brew café on Sunday. So I’d better be ready! I took a couple weeks off from teaching before the trip to recharge the ol’ musical batteries and charted out a few songs for students. They include “Change of Time” by Josh Ritter; “Green Lights” by Sarah Jarosz; “The Stable Song” by Gregory Alan Isakov; “Breathe” by Eddie Vedder; and a couple oldies – “Evangelina” covered by Jonathan Edwards (written by Hoyt Axton – always loved this tune) and the classic “Until It’s Time For You To Go” by Buffy St. Marie (covered by countless musicians including Frank Sinatra!). This should get me going again with the teaching. There are a couple others awaiting my attention.
Of a slightly larger concern is working on my own repertoire which has gotten a bit stale I think. Soon though I’ll be back outside on the back deck at the Daily Brew where I can add vocals to my regular sets of all instrumentals. I don’t usually sing inside as the space is really too small to use a mic and sad to say, I don’t have the vocal chops to project enough without one. Out back it’s another matter. Which brings me to something I learned on my trip. Or maybe I knew this all along but didn’t recognize it.
I heard many singles and bands on the trip, both in bars here and there and on board the Regal Princess cruise ship. Some were excellent, some were adequate, some were marginal at best. The thing they had in common was understanding the value of familiarity. That is – not once did I hear a song that made me go: what is that? The hardcore musician in me objects to that just a bit. I WANT to hear new music from time to time. I want musicians to take chances once in a while and hit me with something that requires my attention. That, my friends, is a not a thing these days in most places that have live music.
The take-away here is that in 99% of the circumstances the audiences certainly did NOT want that kind of challenge. Over the many years I’ve been playing and performing I’ve looked long and hard for songs I believe have something of value for the listener. A catchy melody, insightful or truly heartfelt lyrics, a compelling arrangement that cannot be ignored. But hey….that’s pie-in-the-sky stuff.
So my plan for this summer will be to dig back in my old repertoire and not be too judgmental about what I may find. Skip the obscure (but in my opinion, great) songs by the likes of Tom Waits, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Warren Zevon. Stick to what I’ll call “modern standards” by the likes of Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Beatles, Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Bob Marley, the Dead…. You get the idea. It’s what people want and expect from one guy with a guitar. Performance reality. Not that those are bad artists or songs. There’s a reason why people still want to hear them decades after they were first played.
So what can I do? Well, the bottom line is this: Play those old warhorses as best I can, maybe even put my own spin on a few of them. Not too much of a spin though; that can lead to disinterest by the listener. Just don’t go slack or take the easiest way through the thing. That is something I often see in bars that feature the one-guy-with-a-guitar format. In those scenarios I always try to default to my #1 rule about performers who are work a day musicians: yeah, kinda ordinary and maybe even lazy but he (or she!) has a gig. God bless ‘em. Don’t be too critical.
There’s another aspect in play here too, one that took me many years to understand and appreciate. Compared to my younger days, I really don’t care all that much if the song I’m hearing has been played a zillion times. What really matters is – does the performer look like he’s having fun doing it? If so, none of that other stuff really matters. I say that because I’m fortunate enough to be able to play the guitar and sing reasonably well. How many people can say that? How many people WISH they could say that? I am grateful for the ability I have and I need and want to put it out it out there. So yes, there will be some old nuggets on display again, ones I’ve filed away for a long time. If you happen to hear me, I hope you like them. I just like playing, no matter what it may be.
But you will not hear me doing “Sweet Caroline.” Damn it!!!!!
Peace & good music,