(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Musings, Review - Jester Jay

6 March 2009, Catalyst Lounge (Ft. Collins, CO)

I'm not planning to make a habit of reviewing my own shows. I still want to talk a bit about how it went and I also thought it would be interesting to write about my performer's perspective on all of this. If any of this triggers anything for you, please drop a line in the comments. Actually, you should feel welcome to do that under any circumstances.


I was scheduled to play a couple of sets from 7-9 pm. I started a little early and ran late, which is always a good thing because it means more music. I got a tremendous turnout from my friends, both on my regular email list and other people I had mentioned it to. So, there was a big crowd there and everybody seemed to be having a pretty good time. Maybe it's true that I sound a bit better if you're drinking but I think people were just ready to have a relaxing Friday evening out on the town. The positive energy was invigorating. I had so much fun playing.

The show was particularly interesting from a technical perspective. I've had a Boomerang phrase sampler for a while, which lets me do some simple looping. I've played with it a fair amount at home and I've brought it to a few gigs before. This evening's attempt was fairly challenging for me. There's a lot to coordinate at the same time. For several songs, I used it more extensively than before to record my rhythm guitar and play it back while I played lead over the top. I also used it to do some more interesting stuff where I built some song arrangements around loops of rhythm guitar, bass, and other fill guitar parts. I wasn't completely sure how this would go over. I worried that it might seem like a gimmick but the audience really responded well. It encouraged me to branch out more with this in the future. I also decided to play electric guitar for this show rather than the acoustic because I thought it sounded better with the bass.

Bottom line, it was a success: the audience was happy, I was happy, and the bar was happy.

Oh, I suppose I need to mention the beverage pairing. That night, it was Russian River's Pliny the Younger (a strong triple IPA) on tap. Not much while I was playing, though.

Now come the musings

This really makes me think about the elements for a great show. There are two main things that come to mind. The first is the one that a performer has the most control over: providing quality entertainment. It seems obvious but people want to be entertained. Each performer needs to think about what they bring to that. In my case, it's a mix of original songs, interesting cover songs, stories that share my musical history and process, my technical skills, and even the occasional gimmick or two (Boomerang!). In some of my previous bands, it's also included some crazy stage antics. Whatever it is, it's the return that people consciously expect from any show they go to.

The second thing, social connection, is at least as important as entertainment. That's a big reason why people like to go out to bars and coffee shops. They want to connect with their friends, with the performer, and even with the larger group at hand. That was fundamental for why the Michael Franti show I reviewed was so good. My brother's last band anchored their success by creating a welcoming in-group, starting with their friends but building beyond them. One of the ways they encouraged this was through creating shared rituals for the crowd, like calling "Social!" for everyone to toast. My old band, Cool Runnings, also had this nailed. The same crowd came out to see us but also to see each other. The ambiance of the venue can help or hinder this but spotting those opportunities is key. The performer also needs to find ways for people to connect with them. Through their lyrics, their between-song patter, and even their body language, they need to give their audience a reason to care about them and their music. Forming that connection creates a circuit where the crowd's energy feeds into the performer and back out again.

Still more musings

I was really excited to get out to play this gig. My last real public performance was last fall at the Drake Road Farmers' Market. That was fun and I'll be playing there again this season. On the other hand, my R&B/classic rock band hasn't gigged since last May and hasn't rehearsed all that much either. So that hasn't been much of an outlet. I could easily promote myself more and get some coffee house gigs but a couple of years of that have demotivated me. My crowd has never made it to those gigs in any real numbers (but I thank all of those that did) and I didn't connect with new fans either. Even though I'm not playing to make a living, money is another factor. At some level, I think that what you put out there is often valued by what it costs people. The coffee house gigs weren't paying me anything and I didn't feel particularly valued by those venues.

In contrast, this gig was very satisfying. I got lots of validation from people who enjoyed my music and from the bar. I don't have an ego problem (although I do have a healthy ego) but it's still nice to get recognition for my writing and playing. More to the point (echoing the comments above), I got a great social connection with my friends and some new people I met. In a way, it was like hosting a party. And all my work at promotion, building a big repertoire, practicing, and loading equipment paid off. I had fun playing and talking to people. And that's what it's all about.

What do you think?


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  2. Sounds like a lot of fun - I think that when I come out for a visit I should plan my trip around one of your gigs (which means you should play more gigs so I have more opportunities :-)

    Curious as to which covers you played, as I actually thought you made a pretty effective case against covers in one of your previous posts. I still think a good cover can be like a surprise present to a crowd of people who are probably not super familiar with your original songs.

    Anyway, as William says, "Rock on, freaky bro'!"

  3. You're right, you should catch a gig. If I have some warning, I can even schedule one.

    Regarding the covers -- as I mentioned, there are songs I just love to play and I often try to do something a little more interesting with a cover if I can. I have a nice arrangement of Drive by Incubus where I use the Boomerang to build a whole lot of parts into a sort of funk groove. I also play a lot of obscure covers. I think you're right that they can serve as a touchstone for the audience.

    So at this gig I played:
    - Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits
    - Triad by Crosby, Stills, Nash
    - Alison by Elvis Costello
    - No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley
    - Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
    - plus more obscure stuff by Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, Doug and the Slugs, and Captain Beefheart.

    It was probably about 30% covers, all told.

  4. Oh, and the Captain Beefheart song (Upon the My Oh My) has a section where I throw in Papa Was a Rollin' Stone, too;-)