What if it is just back up music played in a restaurant? Will they care? Would they prefer that I don't intrude on their dining experience? That's what I was wondering last night when I began load in, doing something that I haven’t done in literally twenty five years. My friend Garret Swayne, who runs the Main Street Songwriter Showcase here in Woodland Hills (http://www.garretswayne.com/msss.swf), also performs on Wednesday evenings at a wonderful Italian restaurant on Ventura Boulevard called Giovanni’s Ristorante run by a delightful fellow named Rick. (http://www.giovanniristorante.com/html/home.cfm). I set up the sound system and at the end of the bar, put up a poster of me and all my albums and an array of albums for sale, ...just in case.
This week Garret was in Nashville and asked me if I would consider filling in for him. The gig was a three hour set from 6 to 9 pm. I have been doing concerts for the last fifteen years and what I usually do is a one hour set followed by a meet and greet followed by another set of a little less than an hour. Prior to that I was the perennial opening act for people like Bonnie Raitt, Robin Williams, Nicolette Larson and Steven Wright. I did twenty five to forty minutes depending on my reception and the good graces of the headliner. But this gig? Three hours? Even when I’m in practicing mode, I usually only do between one and two hours, so this was like a marathon.
I also didn’t do what I normally do for a concert, which is to spend at least an hour warming up and getting into that musical space. I find that if I play music for an hour or so, something happens that enables me to zone in on the music, afterwhich playing and singing become effortless fun. But this evening was going to be different.
I decided that I should start off with songs that were in the easy part of my range and then as I warmed up expand the range and the repertoire.
In a performance like a restaurant, you are not the focus, you are the background. This was something that I was not accustomed to, but I wanted to accommodate the clientele and not put Garret in a bad situation for recommending me as his fill in. I didn't really know what they expected of me.
As the waiter came out, I actually went into instrumental mode and played softly so that the folks could hear the specials. This was a complete submerging of my ego and it was kind of interesting to be playing music and thinking about the audience as somebodies that I didn’t want to inconvenience or interrupt. But as the entrees came and I continued to play, the people became engaged. I mean, they applauded after every single song right from the get go, so it wasn’t that I was ignored but they all had their agenda when they came in.
It’s just that the more I played, the more I got into it and consequently, the more they got into it. I didn’t do any of my usual comedy, just songs and perhaps a brief comment. This was also completely different for me, as comedy is a good part of my performance. I didn’t plan to have comedy be such an integral part, I simply can’t help it.
As the night evolved, and I played whatever I wanted, mostly original songs, but also a cover or two, I sold a lot of CD’s and the tip jar (yes, I told you this was humbling stuff for my ego) was overflowing with large bills. Amazing.
I guess what I took away from the experience is that no matter what the venue, no matter what the vibe, no matter what the humbleness of the presentation situation, if you give it a one hundred percent commitment to excellence, it is not only its own reward, but that only good can come from it.
Every single time you perform, give it all you’ve got. It makes everything worthwhile.
And I had a really fun time playing. I swear to you, at the end of the three hours (with no break) there were still many songs that I had hoped to get to, but...THERE WASN'T ENOUGH TIME! I couldn't believe how much fun I had.