The Emerging Artist as Accompaniment for Other Artists

Like the last two years, I will be going to the North East Regional Folk Alliance or NERFA Conference in the Catskills in New York in November. Usually I go as a solo act to play showcases, network with other artists and meet with venue owners, booking agent and “presenters”. The conference goes on for three days and three nights and much of the best part of it are the “guerrilla showcases” that go on til all hours of the morning. It’s the most fun an emerging artist can have while being sleep deprived. 

This year is somewhat different for me, while I will be doing solo showcase acts during the conference, I have been asked by two different artists to be their accompaniment on guitar for their NERFA showcase acts. Independent of one another, Jackie Damsky (who does covers of “golden age” jazz and blues) and Carolyn Waters (who does blues and gospel music) have asked me to support them at a variety of showcases. I consider it both a wonderful opportunity and a personal challenge.
I think that it is important for an emerging artist to occasionally get out of their own music and their own head and “learn to play nice with others”. If done right, and the integration between accompaniment and vocalist is tight, the overall effect can be truly wonderful: a genuine synergy,where the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. For the accompaniment, it becomes critical to pay attention to the vocalist’s tempo, groove and (importantly) dynamics. This does not preclude the an accompanist from taking some creative license and possible improvisation. But such license must be exercised within the context and confines of the tempo, groove and dynamics set by the vocalist. After all, you are the accompaniment, not the lead in the situation. Where the vocalist goes, the accompaniment follows and not the other way around. Where the vocalist and the accompaniment can achieve that close synchronicity the accompaniment becomes more like a second voice in a beautiful duet. It can become an especially captivating moment for the artists and the audienceat those moments. That’s what I shoot for. 

Well I can hardly wait to go to NERFA now and expect it to be something special this years. Sometimes the stars align just so creating special opportunities for new musical adventures. I think this years NERFA conference will be one of those times.

Food for thought.

Yours in DADGAD

Rick Gottlieb