Oct 192008

Yesterday a friend told me about seeing a musical duo perform twice within a short time, where the first gig was amazing but the second was rather dull. That conversation reminded me of another friend who told me the same thing a few years ago. That guy went to see one of the legendary flatpickers, and he really had his life changed. Then he dragged a friend along to see the same picker a year or so later, and the show was just slow and boring, as he recalled it.

Those stories reminded me of what I wrote here yesterday, about our band’s performance that was fun for us but maybe not appreciated much by the folks at the event, at least from what I could tell.

What does it mean? I don’t know. I guess you win some and you lose some, as a performer.

I started performing my songs back in the summer of 1989. I had only played my original stuff once or twice when I was asked to sing at some sort of pep rally to kick off the new school year at United Wesleyan College, where I was a senior. The agenda turned out to be a surprise. There was some group singing and praying, since this was a Bible college. Then at some point the school’s acapella quartet performed several numbers. These were four music majors who had been performing together all summer at churches and camps to recruite new students. They were tight and awesome, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed them as usual. Then came stupid old me to close the whole thing. Man, I was up there with my guitar, harmonica around my neck, and one microphone, in a gym. I was supposed to follow up those music majors–ugh. Who the heck decided to put me there, anyway?

I first told the audience, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was supposed to follow them. They were so great. I really don’t think I can do much after that.” (I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was an apology of that sort.) I wasn’t a slick musician. I wasn’t a music major. I didn’t know how to sing, and I couldn’t stay on key. Good greif.

Then I sang a simple prayerful song that I had written. It was one of the first songs I ever wrote, and it wasn’t all that great. But I stood there, blew my harp, mumbeled and sang through my song, then walked away to put my guitar in its case. The audience applauded, which made me feel good. At least I hadn’t totally messed up the whole thing. I put my guitar in my case, then something felt weird. What was going on? I looked up from the side of the gym bleachers, and they were giving me a standing ovation. I was shocked. Oh well, you never know.

Afterward several people told me that my song was the best part of the program. One guy, a very sweet and hip youth pastor, told me that he liked my delivery and that it reminded him of Dylan. So something I did really worked that day.

About six months later, a friend and I went to play at the open mike at Godfrey Daniels in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We had been writing songs like a lot of Bible college students do–a few good ones here and there, and then a lot of preachy crap quoting Bible verses and trying to make a hard-hitting statement about something. My friend was a much better songwriter than I was at that time, but neither of us had a clue about taking our goofy songs off-campus. We thought we were the Christian answer to the Indigo Girls.

There we were, playing our four-song preacher-boy set at the open mike. The only people in the room besides our various friends and girlfriends were the other open-mikers and a couple making out in the corner. And we sang away about the end of the world and looking for God’s love, or something like that. The guy running the open mike actually apologized to the room after we were done, saying, “Well, you never know what people are going to do at an open mike.” So no one booed, but we realized that we weren’t the next Larry Normans.

I am glad that I had a surprising success and then a surprising flop when I started performing back then. I think that those weird situations taught me to keep a level head and to know what the audience wants. Don’t give them Resurrection Band when they want James Taylor. And don’t be surprised if people sometimes like your songs. I still find that some gigs go well, some don’t, and I just keep plugging. I don’t do so-called Christian music anymore, so I don’t have the extra pressure of performing to meet a specific religious agenda from the audience.

I like to follow the old line that a lot of baseball managers and hockey coaches give: Don’t get too high with the highs, and don’t get too low with the lows.

Adios for now.

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