So here we are. Blog #2. Ready to play? Press Start. Hahaha. ...Let's go.
I've had my fair share of IRL gigs throughout my time as a performing musician. I've played solo gigs and I've played gigs alongside other people, usually friends or family. And I've had the pleasure of performing on smaller, more focused venues and a few larger, wider-reaching gigs. And those experiences have been very enjoyable.
....and then I've played THOSE gigs. The ones that you cringe at when you talk about them...or the ones that leave a sour taste in your mouth when you thought it actually turned out ok...or the ones that leave you saying, "wait what just happened?" Lemme guess - you all are asking yourselves, "so is he gonna tell us about a gig that didn't work out too well?" And the answer is NO.
Just joking. Here we go.
So I played a gig in Arlington, Virginia. I parked on the side near one of the entrances because I couldn't find a parking spot. I grabbed my giant and heavy Harbinger loudspeaker and the rest of my gear and stumbled into the place, which was PACKED. And it was just like the last time I played there. Only that time, I played alongside a buddy of mine Mike Richards and another cool musician Burd Boonyoo because they hired Mike and he asked me to join him in playing the gig. The place wanted a 3-man band, I believe, so Mike gave them one. The gig was hype. Playing along with those guys...it was just a fantastic night. And so, coming back to this place made me think back to that gig and how fun it was.
There were lights along the walls and the ceiling, and the bartender were in a kitchen rotunda-styled bar. I've never seen anything like this and it was illuminated so the inside and the outside of it were lit so it could make the entire unit look appealing, even the steel chairs. As I stumbled into the place I had to walk through a narrow walkway - the space between the bar and a row of chairs next to the window facing the outside was VERY narrow, so I had to turn my body so I could shimmy through the people in that narrow space. Kinda inconvenient, but it is what it is. I found the spot where I would set up and got to it. It took me a bit to set up my gear because I haven't played a lot of IRL gigs at bars/wineries/etc. that have their own sound system primed for musicians to use. I didn't know how much this would screw me up until later on.
Once I set up my amp, guitar, and mic, I was ready to go. I started playing a song but then noticed that people sitting at the tables close to me and especially further away weren't even looking over at me. Not because they didn't want to, but because they couldn't hear me playing. That was kind of weird. A short time later, some people walked by. Probably at first to listen but then walked away to get more drinks. I also noticed that I was getting weird looks from both the bar owner and his assistant and even though I didn't have the exact reason why, I had my suspicions...and sadly, I was right about one of them: nobody could hear my audio. That is, it wasn't feeding through their audio setup so everyone could hear it. That was NOT good.
The assistant would come out at different times to ask me if I could adjust my volume and I tried to do it solo and got some help as well from the assistant and the bar owner. But they didn't know my gear so they couldn't really do too much. And I didn't have as much experience playing a bar/venue with its own sound system like a lot of my musician friends do (including my buddy Mike), so I honestly didn't know what to look for. And so, I kept playing for a little while longer until the assistant asked me to take a quick break so I could chat with her and the bar owner. They told me that my sound wasn't going through and they had to switch to their audio playlist so people could have some tunes to listen to. I was pissed, but not at them...I was pissed at myself. I couldn't believe I couldn't get my audio to work. And so, I said to them, "yeah, I understand." They told me they'd pay me half of what I was promised to be paid so that I wouldn't leave empty handed, which was very nice of them. They honestly didn't have to pay me anything, but it might have had to do with how well they knew Mike and the booking agent that got him (and me, by proxy) this gig, Amber. I nodded and went back out after they said go do one more song (which I think would be mostly for the ones that were sitting at the bar, which I was right across from.) I played a song from Audioslave - "I Am The Highway", I think? - and I made it like my last hurrah and put everything I had into it, even though very few people could hear me. I finished up the song with a bittersweet taste in my mouth (not literally, although it would definitely fit the vibe) and just feeling really embarrassed. A lot of things ran through my head at the time: "man, you just messed up this show", "I was switching my cables around...how come nothing worked?", "this show really went south, nice job -_-", "I can't believe I couldn't fix this", "well that chat with the bar owner was embarrassing, greaaat", "I just wanna go home", and lastly... "why didn't I ask my buddy who's actually played there before how to hook up my speaker to the bar's audio? Were you really THAT nervous to say I Need Help?"
It was a mess.
I packed up my things without trying to look at anyone. But I also had to keep in mind that this place was PACKED, so unless I closed my eyes, that's not gonna be very productive. Just like earlier, I had to shimmy around and through the people in the narrow hallway at least 3 times so I could get all of my gear into my car. Once I got back, I decided to stay. Now, one of my thoughts was, "I wanna go home", but I pulled up a chair in front of the bar. Why didn't I just leave? Well, as it turns out, as I played that Audioslave song, there was a guy (who was on the border between being buzzed and being drunk) who applauded my take on that song, saying that singing anything Chris Cornell is a challenge and I pulled it off. He also treated me to a cider. And so, I pulled up a chair and stayed in this place that I totally bombed.
He started talking to me about his life, including how he recently moved to that location and didn't know a lot of people in this area but he's trying to change that. There were a few other things he talked about and I just listened in because why not? The dude was cool, gave me some attention when other ppl wouldn't (or COULDN'T because my sound wasn't loud enough), and I needed to get my mind off of this gig as a whole. Eventually, he showed me a couple of songs to listen to and took note of them. I drank the last of my can of cider, set it to the side, and wished the guy well because I felt like he'd be hanging out there for a while. I thanked him as loud as I could so he could hear me over the constant chatter of people moving from one spot to the next around this narrow area. I got out of the chair, pushed it back underneath the spot I was sitting at, and made my way out the door.
In the beginning, I felt pumped. Then, I got worried. Then, crushed. It was like my stomach knotted up. I was embarrassed. And then, thanks to the dude that treated me with the cider, I felt a bit pleased. Glad that someone was able to enjoy the music, at least for a little bit. I realize I went into this gig with a "plug and play" attitude - that is, I could set up my loudspeaker and plug a few things in and just get right into the music. There's a little bit more that goes into it and I should have asked for help from someone who knew how to set something like this up. I don't know when or IF I'll be playing there again, but the next time I go back, I'll be leaving that place with a confident strut instead of one shameful step after the next to get to the exit. Gotta keep my hopes up, you know?