I got my first gig when I was 16 years old. My mother had to come along because it was a bar and I was underage. I got paid $75 for 3 hours. It was a tiny place and easily filled. What caused an introverted, shy kid like me to make that leap? I’m still not sure I can explain very well. The muse? Somehow, I found the guitar or it found me and I finally had a voice. I attended one open mic night in Selinsgrove to try out some of my songs. I was so damn nervous I was visibly shaking. But there it happened, young punks, old hippies, all kinds reacted in the most positive way I never could imagine. If that never happened, I’d never have that confidence to keep sharing. And if I didn’t keep sharing, I’m not sure I could have made it this far. Success is not what I mean, this far meaning just living. Alive. Communicating. Creating. Being something. Sometimes that takes a lot of fucking courage. I know these kinds of kids today. There is no drama. It just is.
Since I started performing almost 15 years ago, I’d been told by so many older artists that I was “Musician’s Musician.” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant at the time. My mentor, Bruce Barr, assured me that this label was a good thing and I never questioned it. I still find pride in that designation. If you Google that phrase, it boils down to “a kind of musician other musicians would admire.” I can dig that.
People write songs and play music for so many reasons and I’ll never try to invalidate any of them because songwriting has so many ways to heal and connect. If you’re looking for popularity and some kind of level of “fame” you’re in the wrong business. But when you don’t have the audience or local popularity (and/or beyond) it goddamn makes you question yourself at and after every shitty gig.
The thing is, I never wanted to turn into one of those crotchety old timers who talked about how music “used to be good” and “they ain’t paying their dues” these days. Well yeah, as far as paying dues go, the “enviable acts” are most likely not paying their dues and they’ve got connections. Where you can’t lose sight is that, they had to change themselves for that. And you know, there is nothing wrong with that. Being jaded about how much better you are or how they sold out doesn’t do you a damn thing. There will always be good music, but it won’t be as popular as you think it should be. The next new thing is going to gather sales beyond your calibrated worth of those tunes. Sure, you’ve got a whole lot of intellectual reasons why that music “sucks” and you know better bands and musicians (who you’ve known long before they were famous). Sure, the radio stations and record companies perpetuate pay for play. If you only care about your craft, there is no reason to care.
What I’m getting to (I think) is that while I’m happy to play for a near empty room or have only one out of 10 (or 20) gigs have a connected audience, the lack of attendance makes me question sharing this stuff all the fucking time. We singer/songwriter folk can make ALL kinds of excuses “they just don’t get me,” “they’d rather pay a million dollars to sit in the nosebleed section at Springsteen,” “ the venue didn’t do much to promote,” etc. These can be valid, but at what point do you drop your ego and start questioning your validity in this scene? And it really doesn’t have much to do with talent or promo most of the time. I appreciate talented DJs. The part that scares me is that there is most often ONE person making the music and ability to join in is unavailable. Jazz is complicated but anyone can try. Blues…is the blues, anyone can moan away. Folk songs, let me tell you about those. There is reason it’s called folk. Because ALL DAMN FOLK can sing along!
Conclusion, I get it. Not many folks want to hear some wordy folksinger with small pedigree. And I ain’t going to shame you for being “uncultured” or such. Hell, no. What I want to revive is the community action of getting together and sharing our music. This can be a “church” to folks trying to make something come out of their fingers or their throats. Writing and performing music used to be reserved for the elite. Let’s not go back there. Forget about fame and wealth being the only reason to play music. Football is nice and all, but can’t we make playing music together just as important.
WARNING: Written after a poorly attended gig in an amazing venue and a couple of drinks.