Sunday, October 03, 2010

For the fun of it...


I think it was almost five months ago when my long time friend Bryan said to me, “Dude, you should join this Christian band I’m playing bass in”. “You know Joyce Gruschow? Well, she made this record up in Nashville and she wants to put a band together to do some shows behind it”, he added. I was aware of the record since Joyce and Michael had asked me to record a five song demo for it a year earlier, but that wasn’t going to change what my response was, “Why on earth would I want to do that?” He quickly responded, “Come on man, it’ll be fun.”

My concerns were many, but not least of which was the glaring fact that contemporary lite Christian music is really not my thing, but the caliber of musicians already recruited, including Bryan who is quite the accomplished player, was WAY above my ability. I could easily envision getting the stink eye from any and all of them as I stumbled my way through a myriad of arthritis inducing “hard chords” while dragging the whole sound into a garage band style morass. “Ah, no thanks…” I said, clerverly deducing that Bryan himself had been asked to join, and knowing him all these years, could not say no and just wanted a partner in his self created misery. I suspected he reported a different response back to the fledgling members of Joyce’s band, that my response was something closer to say, “Maybe”. This was confirmed when piano player Mike Fleisch pulled up to my house while I was leisurely applying a coat of wax to my car on the next sunny Sunday and said, “Why weren’t you at practice today?” So with EXTREME trepidation, I agreed to attend ONE rehearsal. The extent to which I had been played was revealed to me when, once Joyce determined she wanted three part vocal harmony, I was sent out to recruit my own sister Cindy and was dispatched to her place to deliver very the same pitch Bryan had speiled to me, her response was a familiar “Ah, no thanks…”. Ole Mike Fleisch paid her a visit as well and low and behold there she was nervously standing behind a microphone at our next rehearsal.

Flash forward to last night and there we all were, Pat and his sister Cindy along with all the members of Second Chance, Joyce Gruschow’s backing band in the opening slot for the “Your Not Alone Tour" on their Peachtree City stop at the Fredrick Brown Amphitheater. My friend Bryan was sort of set up in front of me during our performance and although I couldn’t see his face from my vantage point, I’m certain he wore a satisfying smirk at the success of his little scheme. Well played sir.

My first surpirse came as we worked through the first couple of twice a week rehearsals. It was after one of these rehearsals that it suddenly dawned on me what I had been missing all these years. It had been so long that I forgotten what it felt like. That being the enjoyment and satisfaction of playing music with real live people. That may sound funny to most, but for the last twenty years, any playing I did was to machines and/or pre-recorded tape in the studio. My personnel studio work through those years has all been small to elaborate overdub projects. Once I learned my parts well enough, and thanks to some of the kindest, patient, and encouraging musicians I've ever known, I found myself really experiencing that satisfaction long lost and the band sounded better and better with each passing rehearsal.

All this preparation was for our first gig as the opening act for the before mentioned tour. Regardless of genre, most bands first gigs usually take place in a small bar or restaurant. Nope, not ours. Ours was going to take place on the stage of an amphitheater with a huge stage and professional sound and lights. Nervous? It’s not a strong enough word, and after hearing all the tour bands sound check, I felt like I’d funneled five Red Bulls.

Anchoring my immediate fears early in the day was the mear fact that we were an opening act, and having worked a few crew jobs in my time, I’m familiar with how crappy the opening act is treated with regard to their setup, monitor sound, performance time, etc… hell, most of the time they don't even get fed. You wonder why opening acts sound like crap most of the time? It’s not by accident I assure you. But this was a Christian tour and the sound company catered to churches large and small. When I asked to hear more piano in my monitor during sound check I braced myself for some snidely punk guy at the monitor console to breathe a heavy sigh and mutter, “everybody’s a rock star…” before reluctantly turning the knob, but instead what I got was a quick and pleasant, “Yes sir”. That was the way it was all day. Pleasent, polite, and upbeat people everywhere.

As the date drew near, amongst the various worries were making sure our set stayed within our allotted time, but as we took the stage after the first band had cleared out and the stagehands had set our stuff up a new terror gripped my spine: NOT blowing it in the first song, an up tempo number the sort of features my guitar. As luck would have it, I fobbed a crucial part in that first tune and in the horror of fumbling the chords, I bit the hell out of my tongue which is still killing me as I type this. I managed to get back on track and finished the song following the rule that we all work by: when lost, stop playing until you know where you are and jump back in at the begin of a measure.

Then something amazing happened. With all those people cheering and while getting setup for the next tune, a calm fell over me and from that moment on I felt not an ounce of nervousness. Not just that, I was as relaxed as if I was by myself in the comfort of my home studio playing to tape. I began having the time of my life and made no major mistakes for the rest of the show (at least any I immediately recognized, the tape might tell a different story). No matter, we finished with our big epic number and the crowd responded well. I really cannot remember the last time I had so much fun. As rewarding: Watching my sister experience the magical gypsy like circus of a real professional live concert production. Naturally, I immediately began to feel guilty about enjoying myself while countless people had been working their asses off all day, for months really, and we really did nothing more than show up and play our set.

My mother and father somehow managed to keep secret the surprise visit of my youngest sister who flew down from Maryland to join my brother and my other sister to see the show. The after party at our house was EPIC, the last guest calling it a night a 2:30 AM. It was simply a perfect day from beginning to end.

I’ll be honest, some of the adoration that goes on at these shows is still a bit weird for me as a long fallen Catholic, but my wife, my kid, mom, dad, brother, sisters, and many of our friends turned up for the event. I hope we get to do it again real soon. More pictures up on my Facebook page if you’re interested.

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Joyce and all the members of the band who convinced me that this was something I wanted to do, and that includes my wife. When your head is as thick as mine, sometimes it's hard to concede that someone knows better.

Lastly, it may sound cliché, but a hearty thanks to every member of the crew and to the Knights of Columbus for their tireless work on this show.

5 Comments:

At 5:12 PM, February 03, 2011, Blogger Jackson said...

Dude, get a guitar strap....who are you? Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter or something? I'm telling.....

 
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