Monday, September 13, 2010

Wax on. Wax off.

I got cocky this weekend. Or, rather, I should say, careless. New Roots Duo had two shows, one a.m. and one p.m., and I have no excuses for a poor showing in the morning. Okay, as usual, though not usually in a public forum, I am pretty hard on myself. I have spent much time on this blog expounding on the beauty of transcendent playing; the spiritual, existential, metaphysical, blah, blah, blah, experiential moments that occur in live performance. See my previous article here.

Now, I feel it is my duty to expound on the other extreme. I hadn't rehearsed, or even touched, the duo material since our last show together which was....I am not sure (still no excuse). When I opened my case, I had  to confirm that the baritone guitar still had six strings attached. This Summer, due to my familial and professional obligations, any rehearsal time that was allotted to me was spent on my solo gigs (still no excuse). See my previous article here.

But hey, no big deal right? Dan and I have tackled numerous gigs with zero run-throughs and always found a way to pull it off; often with exceptional results. I still believe in allowing time and space for the music to grow. Time away from the guitar can be very productive and valuable, but, not too much time. So, what's one more shot in the dark? A big miss. A fat zero. Fortunately, it was a very laid back show (a farmer's market), and the only people I was really letting down were myself, and worse, my musical compadre Dan. Sorry Dan.  (I would like to take a moment to ensure the readers that Dan played great at both events.)

From the moment we kicked off I was unfocused and really had very little idea what I was doing. I mean, a certain amount of muscle memory and a well trained autopilot can carry you through, but, that is just enough to get from the start to the finish; point A to point B without crashing. I did everything I could to get myself on track, listened, tried to concentrate, people watched, turned away and then toward the sun, tried to find amusement in toddler's dancing, engaging people who walk up and talk to you in the middle of a tune, "Hey, what tuning is that?!", a woman requesting her favorite tune from the CD, sitting down right in front of us to listen, then realizing it was the wrong tune, smelling the food, and, even watching my shadow for clues. That turned out to be the most useful device.

Dan was his usual easy going self, " Don't worry man, it's good to be on the edge. That is when magical things happen." I remarked, "Sure, that is true if you can ultimately pull it off." It can also be disastrous. Okay, I am being a little over dramatic. It was not that terrible. As I already mentioned, it was just a farmer's market. We often use such gigs as rehearsal (sorry music coordinators). But, still, a performance is a performance and I need to be there 100 percent and give it my full attention, my full effort, every time. That is what a professional does. It is not fair to Dan, in this sense, perhaps even more so, to myself, and even more so, to the music. Lesson learned. I guess I will never stop learning these so called lessons.

We (I) made it through and the morning was done. The great irony of it all was, we sold more CDs than we ever have at this particular farmer's market. It is a phenomenon I have experienced countless times over the course of my performing career; the worst shows always sell the most product. WTF? Just demonstrates how subjective this performing thing is, the internal perception anyway, and, I guess in all reality, I really have no clue.

Fortunately, the evening's gig was something else all together. My head was in the right space, still on edge, but magical things did happen. See my previous article on the topic here.

The rust was abated. Wax on. Wax off.

Time to get to work.


  1. Hi Ben,

    This is a great blog post. You honesty and sincerity really comes through! You are too hard on yourself.

    I had to laugh as I read this, as I have had similar experiences and emotions. I played an early morning farmer's market gig last month and I didn't feel like I had it together. Then, an attentive Willy Porter (really nice guy, we chatted a little) watches as I play 'Aerial Boundaries'. I didn't recognize him until halfway through the song, then I nearly crapped myself. You are so right about farmers markets; they really appreciate music. Let's not tell too many other musicians about that, though!

  2. Technically, if you're kicking rust off, shouldn't you use sandpaper instead of wax?

  3. Ha! Ha! Ha! Steve vewy vewy funny!

  4. Ben, just came across you on Pandora and I must say I am impressed. First, because your music is really very good but most of all I am impressed because I didn't know there were any Woolman's out there (and there aren't that many of us) that had any musical talent whatsoever. You must definitely be from a different branch than my family. Keep up all of the good work and best of luck.
    Scott Woolman