Last night was our first Tuesday appearance at Java J’s. We planned to show up at 6:30 but actually arrived at 6:15—good thing, since we had some trouble figuring out how to get the sound working properly (Brandon Story had set it up at our first show). There were quite a few people for a cold Tuesday night, 23 degrees and snow flurries.
We start our sets on the hour. I had increased the number of songs in each setlist, figuring I wouldn’t be doing much MC work. And I didn’t; people were rightfully involved in their own conversations and paying little visible attention to us, so stage patter would have been awkward. We finished the first set around 7:50; the second set ran long, ending around 8:55.
As we were about to start the 9pm set, the main counter guy came by with a broom and asked, “Are you guys just about done?” Not an unfriendly question—the shop closes at 10, and they like to have the music stop with enough time for people to finish up and leave before then. We asked him what would work best for him, and he said that ending by 9:30 would be best. So we played the better half of the songs on our third list and called it a night. It took about fifteen minutes to pack, and another 25 minutes to drive home.
Even if folks are ignoring you, there are still many things about playing in front of them that can’t be replicated at home. For one thing, some of them might be listening, and that pushes you to do a better job. For another, there are lots of little things you have to learn about playing live on a stage—how and where to stand, how and where to move, how to set the tempo for a song reliably, how to work the microphone, how to play through mistakes, how to stop gracefully when a fatal mistake happens (e.g. Chris’s guitar strap coming loose).
And we weren’t totally ignored. During the first set a group of four high school girls watched us very closely, asked occasional questions—and pointed a cell phone at us while we were playing. It turns out that they are putting on a party for a friend who likes bluegrass a lot, and they asked us if we would be available to play at the party. (The friend was listening through the cell phone.) We said sure, and gave them a card in case they decide they want us. And there was another fellow who walked in, smiled to see us, and came and sat in a comfy chair so he could watch and hear us while he did some studying.
All it all, it was a good first Tuesday, and we accomplished some things. We hadn’t had time to practice specifically for the performance, and I deliberately waited until the last minute to put together the setlists, starting with the setlists from last time and changing about half the songs; I wanted to see how we handled a performance with minimal preparation. We also did three new songs that we need to have ready for Friday; they were rough, but it helped to try them out. And I wanted to see if we could be relaxed enough not to burn out when we play weekly.
And my back cooperated. In fact, it may have benefited from three hours of mostly standing upright; I felt no worse at the end of the night than at the beginning, and I feel pretty good today.