Thursday, August 9, 2012

Playing without a net

I never play shows by my own self any more. And when I say never I mean hardly ever.  Between my schedule and the kids and life...playing my own music has taken a low spot on the priority list.

I play so infrequently by myself, without the comfort of the machine that is Asleep at the Wheel, that I have to take an entire day just to get ready for a gig. I need to check and make sure the pickup on my acoustic guitar works, make sure all my chords and strings and pics are available and functioning, triple check that I actually have CD's to bring to the gig. I have to run songs, some of which I wrote, just to remind myself of the words and the changes. Because it's not second nature to me anymore. Not this music. Not my music.

I'm out of practice at band leading. For the majority of the last seven years,  I've been sidemanning it; which means I show up and play and let Ray make all the decisions.  But at my own gig I had to find out about the P.A. and load in and about if we were being fed or not and I had to decide what songs we'd play and when and in what order. So many bases to cover -- bases that, in the Wheel,  are covered by road managers and stage managers and office managers and business managers and my boss. I often overlook or forget to ask about major things.

Last night I got to play an actual Elizabeth McQueen gig thanks to the Mothers' Milk Bank of Austin. It turns out it's World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month and they wanted to have an event to celebrate breastfeeding and get the word out about the organization.  Here in Austin we have one of the few places that collects, pasteurizes and dispenses breast milk to premature and ill infants who need it (thanks to the Mothers Milk Bank website for that wording!)

It's an incredible organization, and when they asked me if I had some free time in August, I said yes, of course! I called my friends/favorite musicians and set the date for last night.  And I knew I'd have a good time.

But like I said, I'm out of practice. At everything. Like promotion.  I got the word out on Facebook and other digital mediums, but really I could have, should have, done more. Time is passing at such a rapid pace these days and every day seems so full to brimming that I get overwhelmed.

And then I got nervous. Well, actually, I always get nervous before my gigs about whether anyone will ever even show up. This gig was no different. Between worrying about what I was or was not forgetting, I was worrying about attendance. It was a festival of worry.

So yesterday at about 7:04pm I was nervous and anxious and feeling kind of out of sorts.

But at 7:05pm that all disappeared.

Because playing with those guys is easy (perhaps easier) as Sunday morning. After more than a decade playing together it's practically cellular.  It flows and it's right, even when we forget where we are or how it should be.

And people showed up. Friends I hadn't seen in ages, kids I who were babies the last time we met. People I just got to know that night. Some were donors or former donors to the milk bank. Everyone believed in the power of breast milk, which makes for a good party.

There ended up being a kid led dance extravaganza on the floor.  And I've officially decided that kids are the best audience ever. Sorry adults, but you need to up your audience game. I say more unbridled enthusiasm, creative interpretive dance and dances where everyone holds hands!  To make it all that much cooler, my own kids were at the gig -- dancing along, singing, and (in Lisel's case) sitting in with the band.

After the first set a girl named Lily approached me and asked me if she could sit in with the band. She wanted to sing Adele, but we didn't know it off hand, so she said she's sing it acapella. It was a gutsy move, and I appreciate gutsy girls, so I said she could get up during the next set.  When she opened her mouth, our collective jaws dropped simultaneously because the girl could sing. She had a seriously serious voice. So good that I wished we had know "Rolling in the Deep," though her acapella version was probably more impressive for it's standalone unexpected awesomeness.

The night continued with dancing kids and Milk Bank fun (did you know that only 40% of donated milk in our Milk Bank comes from Austin?  Come on Austin! We need to up that percentage!). At the end of the night I felt lifted up; exhausted from a day spent in anxiety and a night spent outside playing, but lifted up inside.  It's good. Good to shake out the dust and fire up the synapses and exercise muscles that have atrophied a bit.  It makes me a bit crazy, but what the hell. Crazy often leads to fun. And last night? Last night was just fun.


Jenn C said...

You were FANTASTIC at the show! I have been missing my EMQ and The Firebrands (although I was lucky enough to see you perform w/ AATW and Willie a couple Christmas' ago). Thanks for putting on a great show. :-)

EMQ said...

Man Jenn, thanks for coming out! So much fun!

Suze said...

We had a great time! You know, minus the whole full-body tackle on the dance floor, but such is the life of a young toddler. I was SUPER pumped to hear some old Firebrands tunes! Y'all are awesome.