Thoughts on Playing Music in Public

This was where I set up guitar shop

This was where I set up guitar shop

A few weekends ago, I got to play guitar in front of complete strangers, most of which I did not interact with…except through song. Yes, I did another (paid!) gig, the opportunity of which was culled from that mysterious UCSD Musicians Referral List that somehow people find on the Internet and then use to possibly contact me via.

I’m number #2 on the list, which is alphabetical, right behind some guy named Joe, so I have a good chance of being contacted. However, he has a website listed, and it is a standard “I’m a working musician website” kind of deal, which is inviting. I don’t even have a website listed, nor do I really have one that fits the bill (I should tell the moderators of the list to add Stringing You Along, if nothing else (edit: and so notified)). What I’m trying to say is that I probably don’t come off as exceedingly pro, and that’s basically true. I’m a novice hired gun, based on experience playing live alone. I’ve been playing for 16+ years, though, and am competent, and I’m nice, and I’m cheap. These things work in my favor if I’m ever contacted, which is rare.

But! To bring this back around to The Point(tm), I was contacted, and I did perform, and it went pretty well. I played ~22 pieces over about 70 minutes. The setlist consisted of the following (italics denotes originals):

  • Plenty of Stuffing
  • Melloncollie (Smashing Pumpkins)
  • 316 (Van Halen)
  • Barnstormer 
  • Étude in E minor (Tárrega)
  • Romance Anonimo (Traditional)
  • Breezy (Uematsu)
  • Brother John (Satriani)
  • Grand Vals (Tárrega – Nokia/Intro)
  • Lagrima (Tárrega)
  • Lather Rinse Repeat
  • Blackbird (McCartney)
  • Midnight on the Veranda
  • Asturias (Albéniz – Intro)
  • Solopsis
  • Incensed
  • Tears in the Rain (Satriani)
  • Longer (Fogelberg)
  • Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)
  • Pleasure Dome (Van Halen – Intro)
  • Beloved
  • Tristram (Uelmen)

Playing guitar in public is not something I do much. The bulk of such experience is largely encapsulated by Pure Yellow Colour, and I at least had a partner in crime during that tenure. Anxiety is a daily part of life, and expressing myself creatively to people who may or may not want to partake conjures up a healthy dose of the stuff.

It’s a double-edged sword: I make and play music because I want other people to hear it and like it. The judgement inherent with such an enterprise brings anxiety, though. Being a nuisance is one of my worst fears. Playing at an event where you’re basically “background music” is great because the focus is not really on you, but it also means you’re kind of expendable. It’s one of those “enhances the experience, but does not make it” kind of situations. It’s a “as long as it’s complementary and not too distracting, it’s only really noticed if it’s not there”, catch-22 type of deals. It can be artistically (expressing creativity) unsatisfying on one level, while also being mechanically (playing an instrument) fulfilling. Weird, eh?

After all was said and done, I was thanked by the coordinator and the bride, and someone even asked for a business card, which I dispensed. It was great to just sit and play guitar, even if it’s sometimes hard to stay in the zone and not realize strangers are around. I kind of faded in and out of musical bliss, depending on the piece and its difficulty. Overall, it went pretty well and I think I played satisfactorily. It was a beautiful day and a pleasant venue, so I can’t complain.

As usual, it just makes me want to do it more often, so that the prospect causes me less anxiety and my confidence can actually stay at a decent level. Marketing/advertising is a hassle and I really don’t want to do it, though. For now, I will continue to coast along in relative obscurity until the next miraculous opportunity comes my way.

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