September 24, 2021
Hey y’all…and by “y’all” i mean “probably just me” since I write this more as an outlet than to get any sort of news or recognition out to the world. So if you are reading this and not Me then Welcome To My Outlet.
It’s been a bit eh? Lots of change. Season is rapidly coming upon us. Ski passes bought, skis tuned, gear purchased.
Had a bit of a crisis with my music. You see, I have been playing a lot of acoustic shows. I updated my guitar (the beautiful sounding and versatile Fender acoustasonic telecaster).
I updated my pedal board and have been practicing more. However, after all of this I came to the conclusion last night after playing to another empty bar with half hearted applause by the 15 or so patrons that I feel like I am losing the passion to entertain at this level. After literally 25 years of playing out, scraping for gigs, playing to so many drunk patrons for little money and free beer I found what I really like to do is sit around my tiny place, fiddling with sound, writing lyrics noone will hear, and being able to get up and stop when I like.
I like having a glass of wine or take a puff without worrying about forgetting lyrics or hitting bad notes. In short, I like playing for me. I have forgotten the eight year old in my parents basement banging on drums to old Kiss albums just for the sheer joy of it all.
Music is life to me. It is pure unadulterated joyful energy.
I’m not talking about a particular song or genre, mind you. As Miles Davis said, “There are two types of music: Good and Bad”.
Anyone that knows me knows I have an eclectic taste in music. Sometimes it gets a bit annoying for my less Musically Inclusive friends when I play James Taylor too much and comment on his amazing chord progressions, and then turn on Sofie Tucker and bang out EDM for some pre-ski powder influence, or Rage Against the Machines whole first album as my workout music of choice.
When I put it out there at a bar and play a song I have rehearsed several times only to have it fall flat I get the feeling it isn’t affecting people or changing lives the way Good Live Music does for me. I realistically should not hold people’s love of music to a standard that only a few understand or appreciate. It’s not fair. Most people just want to have a chat with a member of the opposite sex, a few drinks. and just be left alone. They don’t want to hear some stranger singing Althea at them in a bar.
Any musician who plays out long enough knows that feeling when they walk into a crowded restaurant to play as background music. Guitar on your back, gig bag full of cables and what not, tiny amp and pedal board and various stands in tow. We charge into the abyss, Gig Face on. Smiling at strangers, saying hello to the waitstaff, bartenders, and managers. You start to set up in a corner and keep your head down, focusing on pedal board connections, proper mic stand placement, etc. You get a routine, a rhythm, to your setup. Sometimes you look up and see a couple at a table eyeing you with distrust and contempt, adamantly trying to get the waitress to bring them a check before you pluck your first note.
Needless to say, it’s a bit disheartening. You cannot please everyone.
I live in a tourist destination: Park City UT. As a result you get a revolving door of tourists. For the most part my band of almost 13 years, Rage Against the Supremes, packs the bars and pleases the guests and employees alike. We make no bones about what we do: We are a party band. We have three rules: the song has to either be rowdy, danceable, or a sing along. That’s it.
I have played Sweet Caroline literally hundreds of times. Consistently having to do it with gusto and fervor. My God, poor Neil Diamond. Every time I see my Red Sox play i run out to get a beer before the 8th inning to avoid hearing this song. It haunts me BUT I know I have to play it. It pleases people.
It’s a completely different vibe playing in a Cover Band than going it alone as an Acoustic Background Player:
- Cover bands usually starting later at night to a drunker, younger crowd with Party Music Everyone Knows.
- It’s harder for drunks to get your attention, or get right in your face demanding you play their song
- You have a crew with you as opposed to being alone. This also makes it harder for drunks to interject their dumb requests
- When someone yells “Freebird” or “Wonderwall” at a band it’s usually shot down harshly and with great vigor by the band, the employees, and the patrons.
- You have a great chance of meeting groupies in a band. There, I said it.
Going it alone has it’s own ups and downs. Usually:
- You get paid more. You get all the tips and don’t have to share
- You start earlier, play quieter, get less attention and cannot swear as much.
- You had better have a huge arsenal of tunes that pleases everyone if you want to get gigs. Yes, that means playing shit you hate more often than not. And smiling through it all like it’s the first time (this applies to both cover bands and acoustic gigs)
- You are gonna fuck up songs. You have to roll with it. You are playing 3 hours of music and if you don’t have a loop pedal or cannot play solos that means 2-3 minute long songs - that is about 20 songs an hour, don’t be too hard on yourself. Know your limitations.
- If you sing in Eddie Vedder range and someone wants Led Zeppelin range, you have to adjust. It’s the way it is. Better to give it the old college try and laugh about it than pretend to not know and be like, “nah never heard of Led Zeppelin who are they?”
- When someone yells “Freebird” or “Wonderwall” (which they will) you are expected to play it. Sure, these same patrons who saw your band the night before who had the pitchforks out on the guy who thought it was funny when he shouted Freebird, will be expecting you to suddenly play it. So, here is a tip to fledgling acoustic players: learn Freebird, even the lick with the slide, but then belt it out like the drunkest Bob Dylan ever. That will show them!
- You are the equivalent to a wedding DJ in the groupies eyes. You are not loudly posing on stage but stuffed into the corner of a restaurant. You aren’t getting groupies.
- You are all alone. Remember that when Affliction shirt guy from LA demands to play your guitar or sing Wagon Wheel with you. Sure you can tell him to fuck off, or get his own gig if he’s so good, but do not under any circumstances make any enemies. However DO NOT allow him to play your guitar. What kind of asshole does that? (side note: the perk of being left handed is nobody can play your $2000 Fender but you).
- Don’t get into an argument or a fight at your gig. Don’t get political. Don’t pick a sports team unless you are playing to a particular sports teams crowd (hint: go with that one, not their opponent). You are there to lift people up, not get into a tiff about some political or sports team garbage. You are the Bringer of Joy. Remember that. You’re better than that baby.
- Nobody cares about hearing the abstract B side tune you love from Radiohead that nobody knows. Don’t play it at a bar. Keep that shit in your car for the ride home.
I hope this helps. Now if you will excuse me I have to go set up my gear at one last acoustic show for a while. Countdown : 3 hours to go and many free beers.
Written by Corey Smaller Follow me on Instagram