A couple weeks ago, I got a text. Mike, the if-it-has-strings-i-play-it guy, wanted to know if I would like to help him out at ‘The Lighthouse Gig’. I jumped at it. A few years ago, I answered a request on facebook for someone to come and play at the Hudson/Athens Lighthouse for a gathering of donors. It was one of my very favorite gigs.
Now, Mike and I do a lot of songs together. OK, rather, Mike knows a lot of the songs I do. I don’t know any that he does, mostly because he is primarily a bluegrass artist. Hmmmmm….. What exactly does he want me to do, now that I said yes??
He isn’t sure. Jam with him and his friend, Brian. Ok. Jam. I can do that. Wait, jam WHAT???
Jam bluegrass. And sing. It is easy. Three chords.
Mike and I had been getting together with Scott to practice music for the bed races, a gig we had the weekend after the lighthouse gig. We figure that if Brian comes along, we can merge those two set lists and practice for both gigs. Mike sends me 3 or 4 videos of songs he wants me to do with them. I spend an evening learning them….. Because that is all the time I have. We gather on my porch, Screendale, and play….
Bluegrass is almost always three, maybe four chords, played in one of several patterns. How hard can that be????
PLENTY hard. Bluegrass is played really fast. Sometimes I feel like my hand just can’t strum that fast. They (thankfully) ‘just’ want me to play rhythm guitar, something that I can do ok…. But even the rock songs I play usually are nowhere near as fast as Bluegrass. And no, playing every other beat does not work for Bluegrass, it slows it down and doesn’t give enough support to the lead players. And Bluegrass players say odd things, like ‘this melody goes AABA’. You are expected to keep your balance while you kick your foot up to signify ‘i am done now’. I really do want to go to the lighthouse, though, and we practice the few songs Mike sent me. We are, however, expected to fill 4 hours with music and Mike sends me several more videos the next day. I have time to listen to them and do, but no real time to actually practice. Oh oh..….
And then, there is the issue that I don’t swim. As they are bringing me over in the small boat, I let them all know, I don’t swim. And I am petrified. I tell them if I end up in the water, just knock me out to rescue me, but please do rescue me. They smile as they assure me there are no plans for anyone to land in the water, just sit and enjoy the ride.
Well, it is not just the ride. I have to navigate from the boat to a floating platform and then to a floating staircase that moves and rocks as I climb up to the main deck of the lighthouse. The folks who are transporting us do a fine job of telling me where to put my hands and feet and they bring my equipment up with them so I can concentrate on myself. Luckily, we are not amplifying, so all I have are my guitar, music stand and tablet.
It is a windy day and the area we plan to play in is a triangle jutting out into the river with picnic tables in front of us. It soon became apparent that space was at a premium and we had to store our books and cases and equipment behind us, secured so that it would not blow away. Just something else to be anxious about!
We are finally set up and people have already gathered to hear us. We play a song or two and I don’t know about Brian and Mike, but I am feeling like we are not in the same groove, and so, don’t sound so good. Mike assures me everything is fine. ‘You are just so used to everything being perfect now.’ Me? Really? Perfect? I don’t think so, at all, but I don’t argue. It is time to do the next song.
As the songs go on, the people start responding. We get requests (I am learning not to take a request as an indication that people are not happy with what you are playing. Most of the time, they are very happy and just want to hear your take on one of their favorites). Some dance, especially to the bluegrass tunes. If I can’t follow, I drum on the back of my guitar. If I can’t find the harmony line, I sing the melody line. Mike and I have voices that blend well together and I know that singing at all sounds better than just one voice on the chorus. And we start to fall into a groove, if not at the beginning of the song, certainly by the second verse. The audience response is increasing. People are smiling at us, clapping, listening, and so obviously enjoying. Every so often, we throw in a classic folk/rock tune and I get to sing lead and play a song I really know!!! The audience participation and appreciation really brings up our game and the energy is flowing well between all of us. We finally stop for a break and a bite to eat.
I know a lot more folks in attendance than I thought I did, once I get a chance to walk around. Of course, everyone is very kind. I am finally starting to really relax. I walk around this very historical lighthouse. However, I can’t go up into the light… too far up a narrow, scarey stairway….. Yep, there are my fears again….
By time we start up again, we, and the attendees, are all feeling pretty loose. Loose is generally good for music, and the music is centerstage as we share some more songs. People like to dance to the bluegrass and sing to the classic rock songs. We pull out California Dreaming and 20 or more folks are all singing it at the top of their lungs, holding on to each other, smiling in front of us (right in front of us too…. There is no space and the band is actually part of the crowd!!!)!!! At the end of the song, one of the nearby woman hands me a wad of bills. ‘That is for that song, and any others you got like it.’ I turn it over to Mike, who has already been paid because they took up a collection earlier. We keep playing until they tell us to shut down early, they want to take us back first to the clubhouse and we can set up there and sing until we can’t anymore.
And we do.
I left that night feeling like we had gotten out of the way of ourselves and let the music play. In the beginning, as you can tell from the start of this story, I was so concentrated on *MY* performance and how *I* fit in with these two players who knew what they were doing. I know better, but my insecurity got the best of me. When I just let the music flow and speak-- to truly make music and make art and bring people together-- it is magic. Learn the changes and then let them play. Think about the songs and what *they* want to say, today. Smile. Let go of fear of all kinds. Let the music and song speak for themselves.
When I left the club that night, too tired to drive home but having to anyway, I looked back…. There were still 10 or so people, sitting listening to Mike continue to play songs, in a small circle of light, and everyone was smiling.
Thank you to Mike and Brian for including me in the Magic.