I’ve talked before the amateur mindset and embracing lessons from temporary setbacks in earlier posts, but there’s nothing like taking a (figurative) punch to the face at a gig to see how much you get rattled.
Last Friday evening, I played the kickoff event for the BuckMoon Arts Festival at Fulton-Montgomery Community College with KoriSoron. We were experimenting with a new live set up and performing in a theatre we’d never played in as a group before.
The day itself was warm and humid and I was sweating as I loaded things in. The theatre itself was relatively cool. We got everything set up and soundcheck went okay, but people were coming in and sitting down during soundcheck to watch us play which is always a little challenging. Not wanting them to leave, I said that I just needed to take care of a few things and that I’d play a couple of solo pieces before the set.
The reality of the situation was that my hands felt sticky and were sticking a little bit to the back of the glossy neck of the guitar. This was not a huge problem but was enough of an issue to be disconcerting. I made my way to the bathroom, washed and dried my hands and came back to give it a go.
The first two solo pieces went off fairly smoothly. It was still a bit before the set was supposed to begin so I had to pull another piece out of the hat and start playing that. The spotlights were on and the stickiness got worse. Having been in compromised performance situations before, I went into “grin and bear it” mode and did my best to get through the piece. A lot of notes (and a few clams) later the piece ended and I wiped down the neck of my guitar.
One of the other things I experimented with at this show was a longer explanation about the songs we were playing. In previous shows, I’d just make a song introduction and crack a joke but I realized it was hard for the audience to engage in tunes that they had never heard before and didn’t have a context for. So I added the context.
As I was talking about the first tune, in the most non-nonchalant way I could imagine I tried wiping down the back of the neck furiously to remove any dried sweat or anything else that would keep my hands feeling sticky on the neck. I called out the next tune and within the first two bars my hand was sticking again.
There were four things I could have done:
1. Since I didn’t have the foresight to bring any talc on my own, I could have reached over into Dean’s stash of talcum powder for his tabla and put a squirt into the palm of my hand. Problem solved. Unfortunately, I didn’t think of this solution until 2 days after the gig.
2. I could have adjusted my playing. I could have recognized that instead of fighting the situation that I could work with it and just slowed WAY DOWN and played as simply as possible. Unfortunately, I didn’t think of this solution until the drive home from the gig.
3. I could have had a complete meltdown. Fortunately, this is not a option for me but I’ve been on several gigs where other players have addressed things in this manner and…well…I guess the kindest thing I can say is that once you’ve seen that you’ll never forget it.
4. I could decide to suck it up. Grin and bear it. Refuse to adjust my playing to the situation at hand and then get frustrated that I didn’t play as well as I thought you ought to.
Option 4 meant that we made it through the gig without any train wrecks (we even got compliments on the show) but that it did not go as smoothly as hoped (I have yet to crack open the recorder and see what we have recorded (that’ll happen later!).
The practice room is a critical stage in getting any material ready for prime time, but there’s nothing like a live gig to take you out of your comfort zone and learn where things are really at in your playing. Every fighter has a plan when they step into the ring, but the ones who typically do well are the ones who can take a punch to the face and adjust appropriately to what’s going on.
Sometimes you NEED to stick to the plan and sometimes you need to adapt to the situation you find yourself in. That presence of mind comes with experience and even experienced performers will sometimes drop the ball on this. Hopefully if you find yourself in a difficult situation at your next gig, you’ll remember this tale of woe and be able to adapt and adjust (or just bring baby powder!) and not just swing for the fences!
As always, I hope this helps!