Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Just Do It"

I am a strong proponent of 'just do it' as applies to making music. Don't worry about IF you are good enough..... IF you have 'talent'..... IF you can learn.... just DO IT. The more you do it, the more you will learn, the better you will get--- and the more people will accuse you of having talent!!! Making music, like making life, has no final goal.

At the same time, LISTEN. Listen when someone who knows more, tells you something about your playing. Listen MOSTLY to the folks who are playing with you and blend in, don't play over..... even if you believe that THEY are wrong and YOU are right. If your mindset is, lets make the SONG the MOST important thing in the room, anything and everything will sound better.

Yesterday was a beautiful day here, and my favorite thing to do on nice days is gather some friends and stand on the street in my small city and play music. Every time we do it, something wonderful happens. For example, one sunny day a woman sat behind us, very quiet, looking contemplative, for a good long time. Finally, she approached us to say that she has been so depressed, but after listening to us singing with such joy, she was starting to feel the sunshine!! What a wonderful thing!!--- to have the music speak through us, to her in her time of need!!!

Yesterday a woman stopped and hung out a ways away from us at first, but after a few songs, moved in and made a request. Beatles, she wanted. Well, unfortunately, we told her, our 'Beatles' person was not yet here (Betsi knows Beatles!!), but I finally found a song I could stumble through...Eight Days a Week.... and we did it.... with her singing her heart out next to me with a BIG ole smile on her face!! Was she the best singer I have ever heard? Not hardly..... but did I love to stand next to her while she so obviously felt the music move her??? ABSOLUTELY!!!  Then there was the little tiny tot that danced while we played.... shook the rattle she was provided as if she were rocking a hall...... and protested when her mom moved her back down the street!!

These are the things that happen on the street that prove to me every day that music is magic, healing, a strong part of what a human being is.....

AND, while I am on this roll..... there is a BIG difference in my mind between the people who use music for the 'LOOK AT ME' factor, vs people who use music as a sharing, caring, lets-have-fun-and-touch-your-soul-too factor.....

If your goal is the second factor..... to make music for the sake of how it heals/feels .... I am cheering you on!!! GO FOR IT!!!!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nursing Home Gig

There are so many opportunities to Share Music.

Like yesterday. I jokingy told my friends that I finally have a gig at a nursing home!!


BUT.... the gig, like so many others, was another lesson on the power of music.

People who can hardly talk, who don't remember their adult children anymore, who just turn away if you talk to them, respond to live music right in from of them.... they smile, move, some sing!!! Music lights up the room!!! Staff dance past us,  One calls over, "Come and take this to the other units, they need this too!!" One lady says to us, 'Dont stop now!!' (Of course, right before I figure we should be closing it up).

It helped that my friend, Mike, brought his two kids along, and cymon is a wonderfully developing musician!!! But it did not seem to me that the children were the main interest.

No, it was the sound. The music. And these folks are not starved for it, I know that they have sing alongs two evenings/week..... but they loved what we did, anyway, even if they only knew a couple songs (I Got You Babe and Smoke that Cigarette were easily two favorites!!).

We did good, doing that gig. My mom was happy.

I think we helped make my moms first Saturday at the nursing home a little more pleasant.

Music heals. It draws people together, if gives infinite enjoyment.

Thank you, music!!!!!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hudson Busk

We have a great time playing together. Harmonies. Solos. Great songs. 

You will have a great time listening to us sing and play classic folk and rock music that you know and original or obscure music you don't know, but should. 

Talk to us about providing live music for your party, event or benefit. 


Marilyn Miller (guitar, harmonica, vocals)
Betsi Krisniski (taking pic) (guitar, uke, banjo, bells, vocals)
Mike Pagnani (fiddle, banjo, accordian, vocals)
Peter Tenerowicz (keeper of the beat, vocals)
Cymon Pagnani (guitar, bass, vocals)
and assorted guests......

Monday, September 2, 2013

Private Parties

I played a private party last night. I played there last year too. It is one of my favorite gigs..... people sit and have fun eating, talking, swimming, watching the fire and fireworks and I have a lot of fun, singing for them.

This year I invited Betsi and Mike to play with me, and it worked beautifully! We had people dancing, some who paid us a lot of attention, and like always, we had the folks that just had a good time around us..... we like it all.

We also had a guest, Tommy, who really added to the sound, and he sure seemed to have a great time!!!

What a FUN night.....

Sunday, August 18, 2013


I used to use this space to document my feelings and fears about performing my music.

Then someone came along and criticized it...this blog.... because it was not 'professional' enough. Apparently, to be thought of as a serious musician, one must put forth an attitude of complete confidence, not admit to what you know are your weak points as a musician and promote promote promote.

As time goes on, though, I start to realize that I am who I am who I am. And there are other things that I am not. And I have forgotten about PRACTICE, working on the material you are going to ask people to spend TIME listening to.....

Last week, I worked the Hudson Music Fest. I did not put a lot of work into my set, after all, I play these songs here and there on the street, in the song circle, at home. Right.

Wrong. I got on stage unprepared. I delivered a set that I would have been proud of.... 8 years ago. I embarrassed myself and my friend who got on that stage with me. I tried, at the last minute, to get people to come up with me, I guess so that I had a reason to not sound tight. I am apologizing to all those people. You were smart. I was unprepared. I am sorry.

And this weekend, I played the Copake Farmers Market. Songs that were not written by me or Betsi, but we have been practicing. Practicing by standing on the street and playing each week. Figuring what works best, what sort of things make people stop for a minute out of their day to listen. Working out harmony. Fooling around the sounds we can make on our instruments so that the music is interesting. Arranging the songs so that the natural story is told and emphasized. Working, really. But having fun too, because if it is not fun for us, it won't be fun for the audience....

And this week, this past Saturday, we delivered. We had some bomb songs. We had a great many with tight harmonies, interesting musical breaks and right-on vocal deliveries. We tried some new songs and worked on some other songs. We watched people who stood at a distance and obviously paused to hear us, stopping later on to tell us it was pleasure to have us play.

We had a conversation about the search for perfection.... and how illusive it is. How serving the spirit of the music seems to work better for us than serving the search for the perfect note. I do have to admit that the search for expanded skills does give one the power to express more spirit, but it interferes with spirit when it is done in the vacuum of perfection. When I try to be perfect, the music lacks the living energy that makes it communicate with people. When I try to be correct, my anxiety produces more bad notes. When I am concentrating on the performance, the spirit leaves me dry. When I am thinking about me instead of the music, it rots.

None of that, though, means that one can get up on stage, zone out, and produce music that anyone else wants to hear. NO. You gotta woodshed. You gotta work out those kinks. Try out different ways to deliver that vocal, hit that string, keep that silence, to develop a piece that is worth a listeners time. No matter how well you think you know your material, you get stale if you don't work.

You'd think I would have learned this by now. I guess it is one of those things that goes deeper as you get deeper.

Guess I will go practice now......

Sunday, August 11, 2013


What a lot of great acts yesterday.... and I am SO TIRED!!! But the end of the night, though, I sorta got kicked out by the guys taking down the stage.... I felt RESPONSIBLE, they thought I was a problem....LOL.....

I would have been if I tripped over that cord again, though....

I like meeting and assisting musicians. Most are very appreciative over next to nothing, they are just glad there is someone there to answer questions, stand in the crowd to check the sound and contact the sound people if the need arises.... Then there is the occasional musician who is not happy no matter what you do for them, they will not accept the limitations of the equipment or they bring fathers who keep hounding staff for a solution to the bad sound (that ends up being the batteries in the bass).....

Musicians, don't be the one that the stage host is going to cringe over when they next see your name. It doesn't get you anywhere. The person you are treating like an ill mannered slave may be a musician too. And that person will either do their absolute best to make you sound as good as they can .... or they may just do enough to get by. And I can guarantee that you are going to get further with a smile, a please and a thank you.....

But enough commentary on rude people.... the day was over all great!!!! Some notes....

Holly and Evan, pictured above, was a great example of a very talented act. Great stage presense, good crowd interaction, talented musicians. They were also very nice and appreciative... to the crowd, to me, and to the folks approaching them after their set.....

My first act was the 'Exchange Act' with Jazz Illusion from the Hudson Music Festival in Quebec!! I am not often interested in Jazz, but they were really very cool!!!! Great players.

Adele and Jude described their sound as 'stomp and shout' and that seems to be a great description!!! Old timey and lots of fun!

I was a little nervous over the name 'Playing with Sound', as I expected experimental music, but they were women who sang and played with enthusiasm and the sound they played with satisfied!

Loni Pont, Matt (representing Nightmare River Band), Abby Lappan (local favorite) and Steve Mulvaney all delivered sets that were right up there in ability to draw a crowd from the hundreds of folks walking by..... with Steve closing the night with his rocking show!!!

And now, Sunday. I will be on stage at 413 Warren today at 2pm. I got a lot of hard acts to follow....

Saturday, August 10, 2013


I will be playing at 413 Warren Street, Hudson, NY at 2pm Sunday August 11.

But I am also working that stage.

I was feeling all day yesterday, that the last thing I wanted to do was stand in the rain 'hosting' a stage. I thought that most of the acts would not show, and the ones that did would be grumpy about playing in the rain to who?? people walking home from work from the hospital?? dog walkers?

I came late to my stage, the result of paying work, errands and hesitation. The band on first, The Cupcakes, were already there, already trying to set up and when they discovered I knew less than they did about the sound system, did get a bit grumpy.....

But Rob came and saved the day, gave me my [very quick] lesson on how to run the board and took off for greener pastures at Helsinki.... no rain and easily available food!!! lol..... and The Cupcakes turned out to be a talented, very cool group of ladies with extraordinary harmonies and good tunes. Thoroughly enjoyable....

And the sun came out.
And so did the people.

Now, I was reading Facebook here and there, and a musician I know classified the Hudson Music Festival as 'Hudson Music Walk', I imagine being sarcastic about the festival and likening it to the 'Hudson Art Walk' and possibly for similar reasons.....

But I happen to like that designation, particularly as a Busking Artist..... People stroll the streets and listen a bit here, a bit there.... if you are looking for a crowd to play to, the Hudson Music Fest isn't the place..... if you are happy with having the skill to turn some heads, get people to stop and talk to you, sing with you, thank you for your sound and move on to the next act, then you will be happy playing this festival......

The Cupcakes made a lot of friends in the hour they were on stage....

And so did the next act, The Levins.... a couple with, again, these fine harmonies, great stage presence and wonderful interaction with the walkers! Truly enjoyable act. Moved here from California to be able to live on making music full time.... and they are doing it and love it!!! I was very happy to meet these folks and hear their tunes....

Unfortunately the next act was late, but he was something to see!!! a pedal board with the ability to loop and process and you see a guy with an electric guitar, but you hear the sax and the piano..... cool act!!!

Unfortunately, as the night wore on, the walking traffic stopped and the last act played to his friends and me without getting attention from the few folks hurrying by..... he decided to stop and pick up, leaving me off early!!!!

So now, *I* get to see the festival!!! I headed down to the Food Court, since I heard that the bands were good and the Back Bar was finally open.... cool scene, but one beer and home was the way to go....

I am off now to eat a bit before meeting Betsi for a bit of street busking before manning my station at the 413 Warren Stage.... Find me there.... Looks like a good day for Music Walk!!!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Chatham celebrates summer - Hudson Catskill Newspapers: News

Chatham celebrates summer - Hudson Catskill Newspapers: News

In the paper again this week!!! Glad it is just for hanging out playing guitar..... the reporter even mentions NEIL: 'Mike Pagnani organized the marching band with Scott Langley and was playing an accordion. Later, he was playing guitar with his son Cymon and Marilyn Miller to the tune of “Rockin’ in a Free World,” by Neil Young. “We are among a bunch of musicians who will show up on command,” Pagnani said.'

Yes, when the music calls, we are there.....

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Notes on Making Music in Europe

I am now a couple weeks back from spending 20 days in Europe, ten Neil Young/Crazy Horse shows (six 'on-the-rail') in ten cities. I am tired but so happily satisfied with the music I heard and the music I made and the Spirit on the Road.....

This story is mostly about the music we made and the Spirit....

We did some experimenting, my friends and I..... I have had the opportunity here in the states to busk in various places as well as play guitar in pubs and hotel lobbies and my friends and I have been generally well received..... In Europe, however, and probably because we were singing Neil Young songs to people anticipating the next concert or still ringing from the last one, we felt like hits.  We also learned.... don't ASK, just PLAY. We were never sure how the sings were going to go over with the staff at places, but when the first bar we partied in, pre-show, said NO when we asked, we decided after that to just 'Play and See'. We never had another problem!!!

And I also want to thank all the tapers and recorders, who still need to go under the wire and be anonymous.... you documented some amazing shows and I am very glad to know you!!!

The vacation started at a private party in Berlin, where I finally got to play with Johnny, a musician I have looked up to since the first time I saw him on the OPL stage, years ago. I hope he feels as I do, we made some fine, energetic music together, Johnny, Ron, Harry and I! Thanks!

Now, I missed a whole story right here in the beginning of the trip..... the after the show party at the pub near the venue.....I am reminded " Kalle brought a guitar to the Pichelsberger Krug after the Berlin show, and we shared it on the porch until the cranky and outrageously slow bartender screamed "Musik ist aus..." which is an incomplete sentence but seemed to mean, "knock it off" at which point Kalle and friends continued to play across the street by the S-bahn station.
and, Ron says "They had only one server who washed each and every new glass from the box and then poured from the single tap... thank goodness for the kindness of Paul or I might be standing in the beer queue still! Wolfgang, Uwe and I were singing *lead riffs* to Johnny's solo-acoustic Over And Over...
I was also gifted. Standing in the queue for the beer and it was just SOOOOOO long. Then Kalle came with the guitar, and You know where I wanted to be.... and it wasn't in that stuffy hallway! After what seemed to be yet another very silly reason to NOT serve people with money, I lost my temper and left the line, joining the music. Very shortly after that Heike brought me a beer. And that very nearly made me cry.

 My buddy from stateside, Ron ,and I, busked in two public areas in Berlin, Germany. Later in a pub before the show, we were recognized by a guy who told us he enjoyed what we did that first day.

During our  second street performance, we met a couple who listened for quite a while and then insisted on photographs with us. Cool.
I also went to the Hamburg, but had to catch the train and left before Neil's oncore for the sleeper and then there was.......

Amsterdam!! That is where things really took off. We busked in a public park but soon headed to a place where we could drink and eat.... the hotel where some of us were staying. A group of us (Harry, Roel, Ron, Tyler oh, the memories of who -was -where-when is fading!!!) set up outside and played mostly Neil Young songs to our party, which grew larger with the addition of 'civilians' who just wanted to listen to the music we made! Great time..... and YES, as intense as it looks in this picture!

In Paris, we tried to play in the GA line (waiting to get 'on the rail' right under the bands feet!!), and it was hard, separated by a fence as we were, and the heat, and ticket issues, and my cold which was catching up to me!

However, one of my favorite memories of the trip was the next day, Canal St. Martin, where we relaxed and shared tunes and beer for hours in a beautiful place!!! Rusties came and went and we just soaked up the sun..... Rusties such as Uwe and Jacqueline and others already named serenaded the walkers.

A fine musical moment happened there on the canal when Nan and Tyler played together...maybe Vampire Blues? It was COOL!!!

Oh, BRUSSELS!! No personal musical experience, but what an amazing time I had with RUSTIES!!! I had a ticket mishap that made it look like I would not be ANYWHERE near the rail, after standing in line since 1pm (yeah, Neil came on about 9pm), but because of the kindness and generosity of Rusties and other NY fans, I got on the rail (RIGHT in front of Neil) AND was gifted with a Ralph Molina drumstick, thrown by him to my new friends, the Haram sisters.

 I will cherish that stick because it is Ralphs, but even more so because of the friendships made and nurtured at that show..... Terri and Donna, thank you for all the laughs!!.... and Uwe and Tyler, who saved me a spot at Neil's feet on the rail!!

Newcastle. Now things start to get really hazy, so if I start to confuse things, set me straight. After that show, we played in the bar at the Travelodge. Yes. The decor is sort of 'american old-school cafeteria'..... plastic tables, bright lights and tile floor..... but I met my new partner in music, Alison, there and we played Neil Young songs until we couldn't anymore...... many many folks hung around, also having been to the show, and sang and smiled and laughed, and at one point the bartender caught my eye, smiled very wide and gave me a thumbs up!!! So we kept going, and it was good!!!! I think I made the acquaintance of several people that night, but again, everything is hazy (I was still sick, but now getting better) and I am not 100% sure of who.....  And I almost forgot the guy who wanted to play my guitar, but I told him I would play and he could sing a song, and he picked 'A Horse With No Name', thinking that was we did it anyway!!!!

Birmingham. Ramada Inn. Another great after the show gathering!!! Another questionable type of 'venue' for our song making, but as I was learning, it is not the environment so much as the people gathered that make a wonderful time!!! We had two guitars, and they were well shared. I met Sean, Keith, and even handed my guitar over to Jules!! Lots of fun sharing songs and singing along, although we also had civilians not so happy with the Neil tunes and requesting lots of OTHER songs...... so I did 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' before leaving for my room. I heard that the party continued on with more rusted music until after 3am!!! Fantastic!

The next city Neil played in was Glasgow. In 1976, Neil busked with his banjo in the entrance to the Glasgow Central train station, and it was a goal to go there and do the same. Alison and I did so, and, after watching us for a while, a man approached and said, Do you know, it is exactly right here that Neil Young busked in 1976??? ah, YEAH, we did..... LOL LOL.

After the show in Glasgow we went to another hotel and played, but it was not planned and I did not have a guitar. I think others did, and I sang. Help me remember more about that night, folks.....

And yes, my memory has been assisted!!! That night we had guitars from Alison and Pauls backpacker and again, shared them, out and about. Alison played a wonderful version of Silver and Gold, and Ian gifted us with a couple of his originals... fine night!

I think my favorite city was Dublin. Nan and I came into the city center and got a little confused on where to get the bus to our hotel and in the meantime, found a GREAT little pub with some FINE beer and wonderful food!!! We even went back the next day!!. However, this is a post about music making, and I will concentrate on that.....I can say that while in the city center, I bought strings and a wooden spoon thing that I am having fun with here at home!!!

After the Dublin show, we went back to the hotel where Nan and I stayed, which was right across the street from the venue. A large, comfortable, loud, bar. However, unlike here in the states, pubs do not blare music so loud you can't hear yourself think (unless they were 'american' style places....), it was loud because of all the people, talking excitedly. If you follow such things, you may know that Neil did not go over very well in Dublin (they apparently expected an acoustic show, based on local advertising). Again, we had only one guitar, and my friends and I played for quite a while, struggling to hear each other singing.....

But, some folks noticed and started making requests. The guitar started to get passed around to likely candidates for songs. More and more people were paying attention and singing and smiling!!!! Before long, I looked up during Rocking in the Free World and saw many many folks watching and dancing and singing and smiling and having a GREAT time, and I gotta tell you, you haven't lived as a street musician until you have lead a spontaneous, loud, joyous sing along in a Dublin pub!!!!

Finally, the last stop.
Before even going to my hotel, I went to the rustfest.
No WiFi.
No maps, nobody who could help....

Except of course, Rusties, who, when called and asked (THANK YOU PAUL!!!) gave clear complete directions and I ended up at the Canterbury Arms, Brixton, London. There, we had the room to ourselves, several guitars and some players who finally gave us more than a piece of a tune here and there.....Paul and Scott!!! SO GOOD to hear you guys!!!! Honest Burgers for supper with fantastic chips (thick cut steak fries for you stateside folk). Good friends, lots of laughs, and wonderful songs/vocals/ leads from Ian.

Again our hotel was very near the venue, but I am tired, I have been on the rail five times, and although my roomie was gonna make sure she got right under the bands feet that night, I decided to hang at the pub at the hotel and party, relax and sing with rusties in that welcoming place.....

Ian was first on the scene and we had a brew. Before too long, he got a call from Paul, "They are telling us they will watch the guitars for you during the show, bring them and play here!". Well, with an invite like that, who can resist?? So Ian and I left the pub (yep, more people came to the pub after we left, and it was a cool fest, I could tell when I stopped back to bring back my guitar... I just couldn't leave it at the venue with security after all!!!) and headed over to the GA line, which was surprisingly small. Ian and I took turns leading songs and entertained the line for a couple hours, I think.

We got a lot of thanks for making the time pass better, a lot of people singing along (again..... you see the theme here?---- not 'performance' so much as SHARING the music out and about..... THAT is my LOVE), a lot of smiles, and AGAIN, my spot on the rail.

This time, on the rail, I stood in front of Poncho, and we eventually made eye contact as I sang the songs with the band and started pantomiming lyrics to My My Hey Hey, ending with Poncho trying to toss me a helmet and two sets of pics, none of which reached me. Thanks, however, to my rustie friends Dave and Ian, I did take home a Neil pic and a Poncho pic!!!

One more note, talking now about being a FAN, Nan and I flew the same plane as Los Lobos out of Glasgow. Nan thanked them for their music and mentioned my travel guitar, which I then had (of course) to take out and show them. Both of the guitar players strummed it, impressed with the ability to stay in tune, the compactness of it in the backpack, and the tone, MUCH to the dismay of the woman trying to load us onto the plane!!!

Later, in the customs line in Dublin, Nan went first, talked and laughed quite a bit with the customs fellow and when I went through my questions were....

You with that woman? (pointing to Nan)
And you are here to see that band? (pointing to Los Lobos folks)
(STAMPs passport, big smile) Have a great time!!

AND------ I did.

(Many, many, many thanks to all the folks I met and traveled with for the FANTASTIC times I will remember forever..... and thanks also to all the folks who took the pics/videos I shared above....)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Singer for Hire!

I would love to play songs for you at your summer party! My rates are reasonable and my goal is to have a good time and make *sure* your guests have a good time! I play classic rock and folk songs and/or originals, and can work solo or with a small group. Your options if you hire me include 'background' music, leading sing-alongs, and/or performing concert style to do all originals, all classic rock/folk, or all Neil Young or any combination..... your choice! Let's talk!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Middle of the Night

Last Sunday, I got so bored that I wrote a song. I shouldn't wait until I am bored to write, but that is how that one happened. I had recorded a little snippet of an easy chord progression with a melody a few weeks ago, fooling around in the morning on the guitar..... I have lots of these little riffs/melodies/progressions/ideas on my phone, computer, tablet.

Sometimes they turn into songs.

My favorite way of writing a song is to have one of those little riff/melody things going around in my head until I start hearing the words or a phrase that fits the feeling of the music..... I have written a few songs that way, by LISTENING to the music tell me what it wants to say.....

Sounds crazy? maybe it is...... and maybe all art is crazy....

But my new song is 'Middle of the Night', and what really was fascinating about the process of writing the song is that that phrase fit PERFECTLY into the original melody that I was singing a couple weeks ago.... and I wrote the song in less than an hour. It has had a couple tweaks, but over all, I think it will continue as it is. I played it at the Folk Jam in Malden Bridge this past Friday, and got some real nice comments, so it goes into the 'keeper' category.

I did record it, but there are some embarrassing mistakes in the recording (made just for me to remember the song when I am old and can't recall so I will have to do it again..... or maybe it will have to wait for the next record.... yep, gotta start planning that too......  :)

LISTEN HERE (changed my mind about re-recording it)

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Gosh, at least it LOOKS like spring out there...... going out there is another story though... my yard is desperate for cleaning and I really should be raking.... but here I sit, in my warm house, typing on my blog about music again.....

Last night I had the experience of meeting a 'fan'. I thought I knew all my 'fans', since they are mostly my friends and family and people with whom I make music. Of course, I have always HOPED I had real fans (people who I don't know, but who know about me, follow my music, and talk about it to other folks) but I never KNEW until last night.

I played at the Open Mic at Peint O Grwr in Chatham last night.... I bet it has been over a year since I last made it to that OM. It is unique in that there is a house band who will back you up and generally do a great job of it (However--last night I had the experience of being backed up by people *I* didn't know and neither did the other musicians that I DID know..... note to myself:  If people want to back you up but they look at you with blank stares when you are going through your chords before the song, have the guts to say 'Why don't I play it alone this time', LOL!!)

As always though, people at that open mic are kind and supportive and complimentary as you get off the stage, and, well, it was what it was.....

So back to my story...... My friends and I stayed until another beer would have been too many and we saw most of the show and we gathered up our things and walked out.....

On the sidewalk is a young woman who stops me and says 'Marilyn! NO! I saw you in there and was just telling my friend here about how you sing Neil Young songs and I really wanted to hear you and you are LEAVING?'  Turns out she was a frequent flyer at REV Song Circle nights and had noticed they were gone and was wondering, and SO GLAD to maybe hear me again, and so on..... so I told them about the Song Circle at Red Dot and listened to her again tell her friend about my songs, how I love Neil Young, where I have traveled to see him and play Neil Young songs with other people out in California, and all sorts of things that it never occurred to me that people who don't KNOW me would know ABOUT me!! I literally do not remember ever seeing or meeting this woman, but she knows so much....

What a freaky (and yes, complimentary) situation.... it does kinda twist the head around a bit.

Well, the sun is shining out there, the yard is calling, and I really should get out there and work. Hope that you all have some interesting, freaky, complimentary situations this weekend to add a little zip to your lives....

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Song Circle LIVES!

Thanks to Alana at Red Dot, we will be continuing the Song Circle! Monday, starting March 18, 2013, we will move to Red Dot, 7-9pm! Yeah!!!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Breaking Heart

If you can't tell by my last blog, I love the Song Circle. However, right after I wrote that blog entry, we were contacted by ASCAP and the owner of the venue had to decide to stop all the music there. So, the Song Circle is looking for another home.....

So, my final word of advice.... if you start a circle, advertise locally, avoid the internet, particularly 'VENUE listings' like on Reverbnation or Sonic Bids.... or pick a venue that already has licenses....

We will survive, anyway....

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Song Circles.... Start your own!!!

A lot of people have commented to me about how lucky I am to have a place to go every week to jam with like-minded people who share my love-- of the music, of the song and just the PLEASURE of making good sounds.....

I have also had people write to me from other places asking if I would come and start something like the Song Circle at REV where they live, so that they can have the FUN of making music with other folks.

If you can't FIND a place to go to make music with other people, than DEVELOP a place to go and make music with other people. Here is my story, and suggestions to YOU for starting up a place where you can meet other musicians, learn skills that you will not learn alone, and JAM.


When I first began the Song Circle, I was probably the least skilled in the group of people who were coming, so you do NOT have to be a great player or singer. You DO have to be welcoming, encouraging and hard working to get the thing going. It also helps to leave your own ego at the door and be open to new sounds. Be patient with people less skilled than you, and thick-skinned with people more skilled. Having the philosophy that all people can participate in music making, that making music is primarily an act of love, and should be FUN, will set the stage for some amazing moments in the journey.....

I believe very strongly that music is for sharing, both with an audience as well as other musicians, but I also know there are a LOT of folks out there wishing to find people to play with...... as a matter of fact, I said the same thing a few years ago, and went looking to try and find musician friends.

At first, I thought that going to Open Mics would help me find folks to play with, and it did, but in a very limited fashion. There were OMs where networking was easy, and then there were the ones that felt more like a contest with the rivalry tension overriding any joy in sharing the music (except, of course, for the folks on top the But, overall, the purpose was to perform, not collaborate, and that certainly has its place in the musical community. I was looking for people to play WITH, though...

People told me about the Spencertown Acoustic Jam, and I started to attend monthly. I really wasn't ready at that time for the level of playing that happened there and felt out of place and embarrassed over my lack of skill related to the other attendees. However, the folks were welcoming and encouraging and I have to say, I always had a great time!! That jam continues, although it was moved to a new location and I haven't been there in a couple years..... BUT-- I based the Song Circle at REV on what I learned there.


The Song Circle at REV was originally an unamplified Open Mic on Mondays, run by some really cool young people. In time, though, the number of attendees dwindled and it looked like the thing was going to die. I offered to take it over if I could run it my way (I admit it....I AM a control freak), changed the day to Thursday (a day I thought most people would more likely come out, but not have a gig) and the format to the Song Circle, or hootenanny.

At the song circle we take turns. I have people sign in on a board..... I can't remember names well and this way I get to learn names quickly and I won't pass over a quiet shy person inadvertently. When it is your turn, you can play a song (and it is ok to request that everyone just listen and not play along), request a song from someone else (often to learn a song they do well, for example) or PASS. We go around until time is up!

Benefits of a song circle over an open mic include turn-taking that is ONE song at a time. At an open mic, there are many people who only come for their own performance, arriving late and leaving as soon as they are done (allowing some time to schmooze, of course, to get a gig from the owner of the venue).  At a song circle  you will rarely come across a person who only pays attention when it is their turn to play. Overall, at song circles,  the concept of going around the circle and taking turns encourages folks to participate in collaboration, in listening to each other, and in conversation about the song presented. 'What chord was that in the chorus?', 'Did you write that? COOL!', and 'That song Fred did reminded me of this song' are the sort of conversations that start and are the basis of friendships and musical collaborations that continue beyond song circle nights. As a matter of fact, one of the difficulties in leading the circle is allowing enough conversation without interfering with the reason people are make music!!! I try to make sure that everyone gets at least three songs in regardless of the number of people there.

People learn to listen and contribute rather than overpower each other.... It quickly becomes apparent to most folks that less is more and supporting the leader of the particular tune is much more satisfying than running over him. I have only rarely had to address 'loudness' or 'rudeness' issues (always in private). My experience is that if people are not in tune with the concept of the collaborative song circle, they generally just stop coming. I feel bad for them, and hope that they learn to lose the ego and/or the insecurity that prevents them from just enjoying contributing to the community rather than needing to be the 'Star'.

Another little detail is that I include a time towards the end of every evening for 'Announcements', and encourage people to promote their gigs and support each other when schedules allow. We are building a Musical Community, and support is important!!!

As people get to know each other, conversations get a little more meaningful and it is common now to hear folks giving constructive comments on technique, songwriting, theory, rhythm, etc in a friendly, helpful manner. The evening is FUN, you make FRIENDS and FANS and it is EDUCATIONAL to boot!!!


If you want to start something similar, you would need a public place willing to host the evening, a good day for your community and some promotion or friends to help you get the idea off the ground. 

Coffeehouses are good places because people who are drinking alcohol are often not really interested in paying attention and there are far more distractions, but your community may have a watering hole that is conducive to the format. I have seen song circles on stages, in public places such as libraries and town rec centers, in non-profit art type buildings, at guitar repair shops and music stores, etc. If the place you are approaching is a business, point out that you will be bringing in paying customers (and if too many of the attendees are not buying, remember to advertise the great products of the generous host to the attendees!!) The place you choose should be comfortable, have adequate space for people, equipment and audience and be convenient to get to! Get out there and start looking, talk to people, and you will find a place.

For the day chosen, think about your community and when most of your target musicians would be available. Thursday work really well for Song Circle at REV.... the attendees are generally folks who work during the week and gig on weekends. Thursday is a good time for them to rehearse for their gig, try out that new song before the gig, warm up for Friday night, etc.... You may find a better day for your group. If you can't draw folks out, change the day and you may be surprised. Another thing to think about is doing the circle once a month, every other week or weekly. I choose weekly so that people had more chances to come out and get 'hooked' on the circle, but again, your mileage may vary....

Finally, promotion. ~sigh~

There in lies the rub, really. Is it a circle if no one comes?

I was lucky to take over an apparently dying open mic, so there were people who knew about musical activity in the venue, and I was able to approach people I had met there to get the idea started. If you know NO ONE, it will be difficult. However, if you have just a friend or two who promise to show up, particularly if you have chosen a venue with people naturally coming and going throughout your time there, with patience you will grow.

At first, the Song Circle at REV had just a few people, and a couple times I played alone for the circle, but we attracted attention and a small group started to show up regularly. Those people told other people and we grew. Now we average about 7-10 folks playing on any given evening, which is perfect for the space. There are about 20 people who are 'regulars', but only a few come every week. It is very important to ALWAYS be there, even if you are alone, because the worse thing will be if a musician shows up to 'check it out' and there is no one there..... you just lost him and all his friends too.... 

My first advice on promotion is WORD OF MOUTH. Gain a good reputation among both skilled players (FUN!) and beginning players (WELCOME!) and you will have a group interesting to a broad range of musicians. Make sure your local music store knows about you. Put up signs around town, take advantage of public service announcements on radios and in newspapers and don't forget the internet!! Facebook is where I do most of my promotion work, but I have also gotten some really interesting folks by doing a Meetup Group (google it....if you start the process then stop before paying, they will email you in a couple days with a greatly reduced rate for starting the group.... and six months may be all you will need to kick start your evening). I also worked at getting listed on the various Open Mic lists on the internet, as well as local internet listings (google is your friend!!)

Remember that every person who walks in through the door will talk to other people about the evening, both musicians and audience, and try hard to make it interesting, fun, welcoming to every single attendee. YOU will set the mood of the evening and people will return if they get what they came for. 

HAVE FUN, it is contagious!!!!