A Tale of Two Gigs

As an emerging artist, I try to participate in an open mike night in a different place each week. As it happened, I went to an Open Mike last wednesday and had a scheduled "gig" at the Starbucks at Harvard Square the next day on Thursday. The contrast was remarkable and proved something of an object lesson for me. On Wednesday, I decided to go to an advertised open mike night at the Fitzwilliam Inn in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. I chose venue this because it was seeminglu run by a friend of mine, Hal Pederson and I thought it would be nice to see him again.

I got to the Fitzwilliam Inn about a half hour before the scheduled start of the open mike (early is the new "on time" for me) and the staff showed me to the "Pizza Room" where they have their own wood-fired oven to bake pizzas (and I presume other foods as well) a la Bertucci's style. Wonderful and cozy. As the first one there, I decided to take out my Taylor 12-fret and warm up by playing an instrumental from my second CD, "Sedona Sunrise". The staff member there was apparently so impressed with my warm up, he immediately asked if I would continue playing in the lounge area where more people were gathered. Since there was plenty of time left, I though, sure, why not? I merely brought my guitar and capoes with me, sat down next to a table and began playing another instrumental, which I had been working on. The reaction was amazing to me. The patrons began applauding my instrumental and one put out a glass for me and put a ten spot in it. What I had had expected to be an Open Mike (turns out the Open mike was every other week seemingly), turned into a paying gig with the owners asking that I please, please come back and they would pay me my normal gig rate and another patron indicated that they would be hiring me for a private party. At the end of the night an hour and a half later, I had made $33 and sold a CD to the owner and gotten two (2) committments for paying gigs in the future. All with no set up and no amplification. Just me an my guitar playing acoustically like in a NERFA guerilla showcase. It was a great night all round. Who knew?

The next night, I was sceduled to play the Starbucks located in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. I had to pay for parking and brought my basic amplication rig, which includes a Fishman Soloamp, microphone, stands, cables, preamp and stomp boxes, CD display case, my own tiki tip jar and my trusty Martin OM-28V guitar. A heavy load, but I could manage it single-handed in a single trip from the car. I set up my rig and immediately got to it in a second floor loft filled with more than 100 people. But even though there were a much larger number of people, they were all seemingly absorbed in their laptops, ipads, tablets and drinks. One person paid enough attention to lightly clap (I guess he didn't want to be seen as "disturbing the virtual peace" of the area) at the end of my first song. The entire niht went like that. Got a single tip, no CD sales and very little attention for an hour's worth of my time performing. <sigh>.

Serendipity is a funny thing. And life has lessons to offer if we're willing to pay attention. I think the big lesson to be learned is that the emerging artist must always be "prepared for happenstance". In the case of my impromptu "gig" at the Fitzwilliam Inn, I "happened" to have a few CD's, a physical (as opposed to electronic) press kit, and music business cards with me. It made all the difference. If you are "open" to the possibilities of a situation, with a little luck (Okay, a lot of luck), you can make that situation into a paying gig and have a great time doing it. Conversely, just because you schedule a performance as a "gig", doesn't mean that circumstance won't thwart you, if the audience is there for other purposes like at the Starbucks. In the final analysis, I believe that it was the "intimacy" of the Inn and sheer size of the 2nd floor of the Starbucks that determined the outcomes in each case. If the room you're playing in is so large, the loss of immediacy or intimacy with the performer is lost and the performance becomes little better than background noise. In fact, I think it was the lack of an amplification rig that helped me be the success I felt I was at the Inn.

Food for thought.

Yours in DADGAD!

Rick Gottlieb