Playing for Tips: A summary of Days 3 and 4
Its a daunting thing to show up to a coffee shop, somewhat unrequested by the current guests, and begin performing your music on any sort of genuine level. You worry, "Am I too loud? Am I bothering them? Would they rather I was a chill indie rock record softly blaring over the speaker system? Are they trying not to make eye contact with me, so they don't feel obligated to "drop coin" into my little jar?
I had some poignant advice given to me in Abilene by the gentleman we discussed previously. You remember Doc? He told me to turn up after my first set and said, "Man, you never wanna be like 'hey, I'm sorry I'm playing. Don't mean to bother you or interrupt the goings on of your time in this establishment." He told me the trick is to be loud enough so they can here you over their talking...
When I showed up in Lubbock at this coffee shop named Gatsby's, it really hit me that I was playing for free. I knew this when I booked it, but when you walk in and the staff doesn't really know whats going on and just sort of tells you to "start whenever, and play however long you want, maybe in that corner over there," you kinda realize what you've gotten yourself into.
My couchsurfing host, Grant, came along so I knew I had at least one attendee who was there for me. I went ahead and got started at about 9pm, which was on time. Now, I'm not sure if you personally have ever seen me perform live, but depending on my mood, it can end up being a sort of roast of the crowd. I introduced myself and proceeded to dig into to my first targets; these two chatty folks sitting in the corner.
To give you some perspective, the room in which I was performing was fairly well separated from the rest of the shop. It was all but designated as an "enter at your own risk" performance area. These girls walked in once I had already begun setting up. After I finished my first song, the consistent rattle of their keys against the table gave me enough of reason to intervene. "Ok everyone, there are a few rules here for this music show and absolute silence is just one of them. We'll get to the rest as we progress through the evening. So yes, that includes mindlessly rattling your keys against the table."
They didn't mind being reverse heckled and ended up graciously contributing to my "live the dream" fund. I had some other folks wander in as the night progressed, and I sort of repeated the process. It kind of worked, again. Eventually though, my nervous nagging of my potential fans lead into a more genuine interaction. I could tell I had listeners intent on hearing what I had to say. By the end, I had made some money and, more importantly, some friends to enjoy the evening with.
Its incredible how similar the progression of the evenings in Lubbock and Amarillo were. When I got to The 806 in Amarillo, I sat on the couch and began to wonder, how am I gonna continue to make this work. Its somewhat emotionally exhausting to essentially ask people for money. I began my set in a very similar fashion, slowly digging into the crowd. People were smiling and laughing, but I was feeling a bit down. Its hard to keep that energy up while balancing a line of playfulness that can quickly turn into, "Who the fuck is this guy and why is he bothering me?" While I didn't have anything that resembled that sort of reaction, my playfulness started to fade as I began to consider the vacuum that was my tip jar half-way through the first set.
I began to take a more serious, put your head down and go to work, type of attitude as I continued. I played out the rest of my first set and took a break, trying to find the positive in what I was doing. As I wandered aimlessly around the shop, I received enough replenishing support and kindness that I entered my second set with a renewed vigor.
I closed my eyes and played a few songs through, not expecting much. When I began to reengage with the audience, a group of guys had sat down and all but given me the entirety of their attention. Its difficult to explain how powerful this gift is for a performer to receive. Interested and invested attention. It completely fueled me and breathed life into my music. Its hard to continue to play when no one cares. Its easy when even just one person does.
After each show, in Lubbock and Amarillo, I had made real connections with these groups of people who sat there and listened. Just when I began to question the purpose of me setting out and playing my way out of obscurity, I received just enough encouragement to warm my heart and begin to share again. To my friends Ryan and Ian in Lubbock, and to my friends Bill and Eric in Amarillo, thank you for caring.