I’ve just emerged from one of the most intense performance weekends I’ve ever had. I’m happy to report I have survived to tell the tale.
On Thursday, late afternoon, I land a dream parking spot outside of Station on Jasper, a large downtown venue putting on multiple live shows every day. I’m here to play Happy – their 5 PM -6 PM slot, often filled by local musicians like myself.
At happy hour, no is paying to hear me play. Most aren’t even expecting me. I’m surprise dinner entertainment, and hopefully they like these kinds of surprises.
The pay model for a Happy Hour performance is called “Nashville Hat”. There is a guarantee and the hat is passed around the crowd for tips. If the amount in the hat is less than the guaranteed amount, the venue makes up the difference. If the amount in the hat is more, I get to keep it all. My goal is always to beat the guarantee and I’m happy to report that I did just that.
After the gig, while I’m catching up with friends who’ve come to support me, I sell a CD to a man who works in the kitchen. For some reason selling a CD to venue staff makes me especially proud.
My son and his girlfriend are also at this gig, using up my food and drink tab for a free after-school date. It was my idea, and really my son’s presence was more a requirement than a request as my wife is working nights this week. I’m hoping being the happy hour entertainment makes me cool and not an embarrassment, but it’s pretty hard to tell with a 15 year old. I’m just going to assume it makes me cool and carry on.
Friday night I pull into the parking lot late and slosh through wet slush to stack multiple trips worth of gear inside the door of The Art of Cake. The reason I’m late is a whole other story, but again comes back to solo-parenting due to work shifts. This is the moment, embarrassed at my tardiness and feet wet with slush, I realize I may have taken on too much this weekend.
Thankfully this Art of Cake gig turns out beautiful, warm and welcoming like they always do here. The staff is so gracious. The crowds, again not paying cover and perhaps not expecting me, are generous with their tips. I play some new material that seems to go over well.
I’m also experimenting with a new guitar pedal I’ve rented for my Saturday gig. It’s packed with bells and whistles I barely understand. It’s mid-show when I realize my feet in shoes are clumsier than my feet out of shoes. I’m stepping on the wrong button and firing effects I don’t need or want at the wrong times. All in all, I survive and the show earns me some new fans.
I’m sent home with a cheque, some tips and a box of freshly baked sweets that will serve as family breakfast for the next two days.
Music life has its perks.
Finally, Saturday evening arrives and I wheel my gear in a Westin luggage cart up to the corporate event in the ballroom. I’m here to help celebrate the achievements of a local company with global reach. It’s their 20th Anniversary, and live background music will be more special than canned background music. This is their assumption, and I hope they are correct.
I know I play background music more often than I’d like to admit, but this is the first time I’ve been hired specifically for that task. I’m here to not be listened to. To create an ambiance with all the corners sanded down. To facilitate conversation and camaraderie, between the employees. To serve, and stay out of the spotlight. I’m here because a friend asked me and I’m here because the pay is good. I’m here because all the instrumental practice this gig has required has made me a better musician.
There are different gigs for different reasons. Some gigs get me new fans and some gigs get me a decent paycheque I can cash to buy that super-rare guitar that is being sold second hand and I may never get the chance to buy again. But that’s a story for another post.
At the end of the night I park my luggage cart and bring my silver platter out into the abandoned hallway. I enjoy a steak dinner and perhaps the best cheesecake of my life all alone, the muffle of an awards ceremony to my left and the city lights out the full-height windows to my right.
This moment, alone with a plate of fancy, free food, is the life of a professional musician.
This is a life full of unique experiences that leave me feeling alone until I get to share them with others at some later point. In story. In song.
This is a life that doesn’t always pay the bills but often leaves my plate full of steak and my fridge full of pastries.
This is a life that opens up pockets up time, after the tear down and before the drive home, to wonder if I’m right where I need to be. More often than not, the answer is yes.