Tonight's show (the one hour one at Billy Goodes in Newport) went reasonably well all things considered -- no major disasters and one unexpected and undeserved miracle. But first things first.
Tonight's show was the first show that I had performed all by myself -- I've played a few open mikes here and there, but those were only a few songs and I was usually there with a friend or two (even if they didn't perform with me), and I haven't even done one of those in a couple of years.
So I had certain expectations going in. I figured that in general I knew the material pretty cold (with some possible exceptions, of which more later) and could play creditable versions of them. But I knew that this was my first time doing this (and in particular my first time setting up sound equipment of any kind) and that this wasn't likely to be the performance of a lifetime -- not that I ruled it out necessarily but I was trying to be realistic.
Despite this expectation, I was still nervous, and one of the things I was most nervous about was being nervous -- because if you're really nervous and you make a mistake (as inevitably happens in a performance of any length) then it can make you completely freak out and, boom, disaster. So my biggest fear was fear itself.
Not to keep you in suspense, this didn't happen -- I did make mistakes, yes, but it didn't fluster me to the extent that I kept making more and more, building into a complete fiasco. I am kind of proud of that.
My nervousness did manifest itself in (at least) two ways, though. One is that after the show I got that feeling of exhaustion you get when you have been functioning mostly on adrenaline and the reason that you were stressed out has finally left. Man. Yes.
But the other thing that happens when you're hopped up on adrenaline, if you're not careful, is you start playing everything a lot faster than you should. This can make for a more exciting performance, but if you're a bit shy on material to begin with it can mean that you've run through your set and there's still twenty minutes to go. Fortunately, tonight I had some material in reserve, but that won't be the case on Thursday when I have a three hour show. Of course, having already done one solo show I can hope that I won't be as nervous and won't speed through stuff as quickly, and hopefully that will be the case, but I think I will be wise to put together some new material tomorrow and Wednesday. (I might even take a vacation day on Thursday, but I don't have that many vacation days in reserve, so this may not be such a great idea. I'll think about it.)
Another problem is that the crowd wasn't, in general, paying too much attention to me -- they applauded after a few songs that they particularly liked, but otherwise I would finish a song and complete silence would greet me. One thing I discovered tonight is that I don't really know how to deal with that, and when that happened I just moved on to the next song instead of saying something (which would serve the dual purposes of potentially breaking the ice with the audience a little and also would soak up some of that all too abundant time).
So. Looking back on tonight's show, what would I have done differently?
I had this picture in my mind of how I would start the show. I would say, 'Hi, I'm Jake Haller of the Killdevils. Normally Chris Monti would be sitting here on my left playing guitar and harmonica, but he's out sick this week. He'll be back next week, and in the meantime, here's one of his songs.' Then I would sing 'The JCBFI Blues'.
This turned out not to be possible, because I didn't know how to talk to the audience when they weren't paying attention to me, so instead I opened with 'Cow Cow Blues' (which got no response, so I still couldn't say anything) and then launched into JCBFI with no introduction. The problem with this is that nobody's heard of this song and it's sort of slow and I've only been singing it for a little while (Chris usually sings it) so it wasn't a really good choice -- I should have saved it until I had built up a little goodwill in the crowd. (I did do a pretty good job with another Chris Monti song, 'Thorn In Your Side', though, I think.)
I did luck into a good end to the set, though. I did 'Midnight Special' (which wasn't originally in the set list, but I had gone through all the material in the set list already), which people really liked -- one or two people sang along on a chorus or two.
Then I went to the Grateful Dead song 'The Dire Wolf'. I started off playing this and thought to myself, 'Man, this sounds pretty weak'. But then the miracle referred to at the beginning of this entry occurred: A gentleman came into the room who, it was apparent, was a big Dead fan, and he started singing along enthusiastically, and this inspired me to sing stronger myself, and it ended up turning out OK -- plus the guy dropped a $20 bill on my piano, which was completely unexpected and very heartening after an evening of not much audience feedback.
Then I did 'Rider on the Rain' and ended with a slow blues instrumental of my own invention called 'Eleven Past Two' and was ready to call it a night. But wait! Several people said, 'Oh, come on, you can play one more, can't you?' And they requested a bunch of songs I didn't know at all, so I suggested a Ray Charles song and ended up playing 'I Believe To My Soul'. (Still under the influence of adrenaline, I played it a lot faster than I should have, which meant that it ended up being a slow-to-midtempo blues instead of being at the extraordinarily slow pace it should have had. But I think my singing was pretty strong and it turned out all right anyway.) It was a very nice end to the evening.
The performance I was most pleased with was the rendition of the Randy Newman song 'Rider in the Rain', a song that I had been struggling with for some time and which as late as Friday I thought I probably wouldn't actually be able to perform, because I couldn't get the bass line to work. Over the weekend I hammered it out and I though my rendition tonight was quite respectable, although it was not exactly a crowd favorite.
After that I packed up, but there was one other thing I was screwing up my courage to do. Several musicians I respect a lot have said that after every show they make a point to go around and talk to everyone in the audience -- it helps form a connection to them and makes them more likely to remember the show (and you) fondly, tell their friends, return for other shows, etc. And I know that on those occasions when a musician has talked to me during a set break or after a show (Chris Turner and Marty Ballou both do this) it has made me very, very excited and happy. Yet somehow it's always been something that I have had a hard time doing -- my basic theory being, why would someone want to talk to me?
But I couldn't rely on Chris Monti to do it for me this time, so I waded in a talked to some people -- a woman Chris had introduced me to at a previous show, the guy who gave me the $20, and a couple of women who had seemed to appreciate 'Midnight Special'. They all seemed to get a kick out of it, so it was nice. One of the women asked me if Chris and I knew any Whitney Houston songs, but we don't. I said I would bring a list of songs that we do (I actually have a pretty complete list on my hard drive that I keep up to date) so they could see if they wanted to do any requests. Although that might be a bad precedent, but there it is.
Then I ate some sausage gumbo (when I asked the waiter to expand on what this was, he told me it contained four kinds of sausage! so I couldn't really resist) and came home.
So, things to do before Thursday:
1. Come up with list of additional songs I can play.
2. Rejigger set lists.
3. Practice, practice, practice.
4. Get additional sound equipment from Chris. (Billy Goodes has its own (crappy) mixer, which I made use of tonight, but I'll have to bring one to the Java Hut. Also, somehow I had one too few quarter inch cables, I guess because I can't count.)