Strange Things are Happening…Inside Too!

This post is part 2 of Strange Things are Happening

Inside Venue Music
Inside Venue Music

 Inside venues have their share of distractions too. Coffee shops with espresso machines whipping up frothy drinks when you are in the middle of a song or a drumming circle performing outside the door of the furniture store I played at for First Thursday in downtown Boise (That store is gone now.)

Of course, the strangest happenings aren’t usually caused by the venue itself but the people who come in.  There are those who want to help musically whether they are gifted or not.  Drumming on the table is a good thing as long as the person can keep time, lol.  Or if MY timing is off, what a cluster.  And how about the guy who walks in and asks to play along with you and has the instrument waiting in the car?  That would be fine if he had practiced with me before hand.  I guess he hadn’t thought it through that I’m hired to provide music background, aka entertainment as the heading ‘live music’ implies, so a jam session isn’t necessarily part of the deal.  Maybe it’s just a need for enlightenment, or a matter of not picking up on social cues.  If I knew without a doubt he could back me up with minimal pitchiness or wrong notes, then I could say, yes come sit in with me.  Not that I play flawlessly by all means, but I do need to run through the songs with someone first. :-)

On another note, I was completely flummoxed when I showed up to a venue one evening and one of the wait staff was acting frosty towards me. Usually the venue is happy to see me because I’m pretty friendly and, after all, they are the ones who invited me to come. But this time my cheery hello did nothing to quell the vibe I could feel as I proceeded to set up. “This is not good”, I mused, as I wracked my brain to figure out what I could I have done to cause bad feelings. Lest you wonder if I’m overly sensitive – no, in this case it was not the case; the hostility was palatable and certainly not conducive for merry music making. About a half an hour into my set, I finally decided to approach the server privately and ask him if anything was wrong. After all, I’d rather know what I did and try to fix it rather than suffer the entire night.  Turns out the waiter and the cook thought I was someone else who had called the venue repeatedly that week with questions about the house sound system which to them felt like harassment. Once realizing I was not that person, they laughed out loud and the waiter and I even hugged in relief! He filled me in on all they had endured and we agreed that the person had called too many times for what’s appropriate (another case in not understanding acceptable social norms).  After that, the whole night changed – hallelujah – and a nice time was had by all!  Good thing, because family and friends had turned out to hear me and to try out their wonderful menu!  What a bummer it would have been if there was something lingering in the air to make them uncomfortable and not want to return to the venue. :-(

Like I mentioned in Strange Things Part 1 precious children of a young age often want to come up and either dance or sing in front of me during the song or want to come help play the keyboard. This happens wherever children are.  I’m always grateful for parents who assess the situation and intervene.  The dancing and singing I don’t mind as much just because they are so cute! But touching the keys is off limits which most parents know.  On the other hand, there is the parent who plunks a really shy child down in front of the keyboard, and me, and tries to get them to sing or dance.  Or gives a slightly older child money to put into my tip jar from afar and instructs the shy child to walk the plank to where I am.  Sometimes a little drama ensues while I pretend not to notice 😮

Speaking of parents, you’ve gotta love the proud mother who sees a live musician as an opportunity for her child to perform.  Last month one such mother approached me in between songs and asked “If I put a few dollars in your tip jar would you accompany my daughter on What A Wonderful World?”  I told her I didn’t have that songs prepared on the piano but that did not detour her.  She said “Oh she can sing lots of songs – she’s really good!”  I said with friendly voice and face, “Wow! I bet she is!  But you know what? I’ve been hired to provide live music for today so I better get back to it.  If you are interested in talking to the gal who books the music here, I’d be glad to introduce you.” For some reason she didn’t take me up on that.  Hmmm, I wonder why?  But I do declare, some people have boundary issues!

Aside from all the weird stuff that occurs while playing music out and about, it’s really fun and I consider it a privilege to play for others.  The alternative is to keep my gifts to myself and stay home.  I guess these types of strange happenings add color to the experience and make me realize humanity is quirky and lovely at the same time.   And that’s why I even feel to sing my songs out in public – aside from the compelling desire to get out of my living room and be heard – it’s because I love the hilariously quirky us and you have to admit, it is anything but boring!

Strange Things are Happening…

Art & Roses June 2014
Playing music at Julia Davis Park

When I play my music in public, strange and funny things happen to me that either put me “on tilt” or to throw me for a loop. Since there are so many I’ll divide this blog between outdoor and indoor happenings, so let this be Part 1.

Funny things can occur when playing music outside in a park or farmers market. Nice people walk over to me to start a conversation, which would be great if I wasn’t in the middle of a song! So I usually just smile and nod – and keep the song going – hoping they will realize – “oh ya, she can’t talk yet”. Last week when playing at Julia Davis Park by the Rose Garden, the nicest gentleman came up to give me a large bag of popcorn while trying to tell me something, but I was singing. I did the smile and nod thing so he kindly set the popcorn down in my CD tote. So generous and sweet of him to give so openly and freely! Later I absent-mindedly ate a little of it between songs remembering too late that dry stuff gets stuck in a dry throat. Thankfully I had some water bottles on hand! When the Stuart Family came by on their bikes, I shared the popcorn with the 3 teenagers! Yay, a chance to pay it forward – a gift that keeps on giving!

When I first started playing out I’d get cotton mouth and my lips would invariably stick to my teeth before the song was over. After time I became more comfortable and now so it’s not so bad. However, I’ve learned to hydrate more than usual the day of the gig and try to avoid too much coffee. Also vitamin B12 helps AND I am now never without my trusty chapstick!

The same park day of Nice Popcorn Man, while singing my song Dark Night of the Soul, I kept hearing little bursts of whistling behind me – little staccato notes. At the songs end, I turned around to a beautiful little sprite that looked like what Joni Mitchell must have looked like when she was a girl. I told her “Wow, you are a really good whistler; I wondered who was doing that! If you had been off key I would have had to ask you to stop but you were actually pretty spot on!” She smiled sprite-ly and whistled again for me but her parents may have talked with her because after that she only danced through my songs – even the slow ones :) I should have taken her picture!

Speaking of children, I’ve had some burst into my space to help me play the keyboard which doesn’t work out too well. Scanning the crowd for the parent, I explain to the child that it’s MY turn to play right now. For the most part, parents are great about retrieving the child once they see what’s happening!

Kids are great though. Depending on their personality, they will either stare at me with big round eyes without blinking, or will clap and sachet through a song. It’s really cute to watch, but can be a challenge to stay on beat when the clapping is off. This is when I could use a percussionist by my side, lol.

Another incident at the gig by the Julia Davis Rose Garden was when tiny white worms were falling from the canopy of trees above me into my space, which was just a little creepy. The duo who played before me warned me about this upon my arrival. I asked if the worms bite and they said “no biting, but they are annoying.” Thankfully I had worn a hat that day, but I did worry about the creatures damaging my keyboard which led me to think seriously once again about learning to play guitar. Guitars aren’t as heavy as pianos either. Anyway, as I set up, I watched the little critters plop onto my keyboard and amps. They were so small that no one but me noticed, but a distraction nevertheless; when one would land between the piano keys, I felt compelled to try to fish it out without making mistakes in the song. Finally I just ignored it and hoped for the best. When loading my gear back into the car, I noticed the ones on my amp had died and dried up so I was thankful our home wouldn’t be inundated with unwanted house guests. Since then I haven’t noticed any piano keys sticking or anything so no lasting effect I guess.

Flies, during the season of the little black fly, can be an annoying distraction while trying to keep a song going. I was playing for 3 hours at a farmers market last year and the flies were landing on my arms and legs – yes I did shower that morning – even landing on my mic windscreen (the cover for the mic that helps with noise etc). I was a little worried I’d inhale one accidentally, but fortunately I didn’t. Bees – yellow jackets – also can be a nuisance. I’m glad I finally outgrew the crazed fear I had of them when I was a child. Still, if I ever randomly scream into the microphone just know I’m not venturing into hardcore punk, but something terrible has happened.

That’s all that’s coming to mind today, but stay tuned for Strange Things Happening Part 2 – more wacky details of my music life – indoor happenings. Next time you enjoy a musical offering whether it be inside or outside, just think, more can be going on than what you see and hear!

By the way, if anyone else has a peculiar incident to share whilst playing live music, please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you so I can be encouraged that I am not the only one who goes through this stuff!