Once I’ve lugged my guitar across 12 blocks of early-winter downtown Calgary, I’m going to play.
I’ve never been to Mikey’s on 12th (used to be Mikey’s Juke Joint) so I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know that the open jam I’ve brought my wife to on our weekend getaway is actually a blues jam. I don’t play the blues.
I don’t know that most of the people in Mikey’s are a decade or two older than me. Or five.
We grab a table at the very back and I slide my acoustic guitar under it before I out myself as a naive folk performer.
Maybe I won’t play after all. I hum and haw and look to my wife for confidence. Her kind encouragement pairs well with a pint of liquid courage.
Mikey and the house band warm things up as he wails away on his sax. A young guitarist in the indie-toque uniform steps up the mic and howls in a pitch two times higher than I expect.
We order fish tacos. Whether I play or not, this is a good time.
Soon Ted starts dancing. A few couples start dancing, actually. All of them are old enough to be grandparents, but Ted could be a great-great-granddad. He’s 91, in high-waisted pants and a Bavarian shirt and hat. After this he’s heading out to an Octoberfest. After that, a rock show. We know this because Ted comes over and introduces himself between dances. He used to be a professional dancer. He used to dance with his wife in competitions.
Throughout the afternoon, Ted will dance with several women here. Including my wife, who does not dance.
Watching Ted lets me loose. I figure I’ve come this far – worn out my right arm slogging my axe – and If I don’t at least ask to play I’ll regret it.
Mike gives me a slot and it hits me that a fair bit of trust is at play here. Mike’s never heard me before. I might totally bomb. I might not be the this crowd’s cup of tea, even if I slay on some other stage. Mike lets me up there anyways.
I ask the guitar player to join me and a keyboard player offers, too. The drummer is out for a smoke.
I want to play Move With Me, because I want to watch people dance to this country waltz. Most times I play this, no couple takes me up on the invitation to dance. Here is a room of dancers. I do get a couple, but not Ted. Ted tells me he doesn’t slow dance. There’s just not enough for this 91 year old to do in a slow dance!
Next comes You Could Stay and by the time we wrap with my cover of the Taking Heads’ This Must Be The Place, a drummer and bass player have joined the band. The beat kicks in and Ted shows up on the dance floor, my wife in hand.
The next five minutes are pure joy.
The band is smiling. I let loose on the high notes. The room is grooving and Ted is taking off his hat to twirl beneath my wife’s upheld arm.
I learn a lot from Mikey’s.
I’m reminded that the risk is worth it. I’m emboldened to cold-email two dozen Alberta venues and try to land a show or two on the road. You never know what kind of special music communities are out there – even at 3 PM on a Saturday afternoon. Some of them might take a risk on me.
I’m working on touring right now. These fearful introductions to a new scene are about to become commonplace. The welcomes won’t always be so warm or the sets as successful. I’m bracing myself.
There won’t always be a 91-year old Ted to dance my anxiety away, but on this, my early foray into unknown, there was.
PS. Know any Alberta venue doors I should knock on? Relationships rule this world so I’d be grateful for any connections you could lend a bowtie rocker like me. You can comment below or email me here.