I'm solo on a tour that was not supposed to be solo, that was supposed to be a duo show, a show that we'd wrapped our guitars and voices around and were just getting the groove of it all when --at the last minute, unexpectedly (and totally understandably)--the duo tour was not to be and rather than cancel and leave holes in schedules the decision was made to soldier on solo. Which is fine. I do this all the time. Most days, rather nights, of my life. And its not like I don't have files of set lists, lists of songs, songs in groupings, lyrics and charts and new ideas for sets, all on a file on my desktop here on my Mac. Its not like its the first time at this rodeo...
And yet, tonight, honestly, it felt like the first time at the rodeo and the bull kicked my ass. My clown ass. My unpadded, big shoed clown ass in the afternoon show.
This isn't a bad thing. This is not a complaint. Its just rare to have done something for a long time and then have a moment where you feel like its your first time out there, naked and unknowing and uncertain and flying on hope and faith alone. Rare.
I had a weakly attended show. I'm not too proud to admit that. I have had great luck in my life. I've played to thousands. Tonight, I played to about 6 people. It started out as 2. A couple who came in and paid the door price, got their beers and sat charmingly in the center part of the 2nd row. And I began. Introduced myself and got their names, because hell, who wants to pretend in that case. It was them and me and Joe on sound and the owner and the bartender. So at this point, I look at my carefully crafted set list and think through my well-thought out banter and say ---
-- I ask the couple how they got here and they say they listened to me online and liked my lyrics. So I said, "Cool. Thanks for coming. I really appreciate it. Do you mind if I throw out the 'show' and just play songs that make me happy?" And as I went through the songs that make me happy, a few more people dribbled in. The thing is, I was playing a guitar I rarely play with a sound I'm unused to. I was singing through a new microphone. I felt exposed. As if I was up there naked with no makeup. Warts and all. Nothing sounded clean. Nothing was easy. Nothing was polished. I kept thinking of what Neilson says to me -- in a gesture where he circles his gut with his hand -- which is to signify, give them truth. Fuck the sheen. If you don't believe it they won't. And I kept trying to push away the fear of the naked, and just thought to myself, 'I love this. I love singing even if my voice feels faraway. At least I'm not behind a cubicle.'
And I got through and I sold CDs and I played for 90 minutes and played some new songs and served the old ones and I don't think it was that bad and I don't even think the owner was that miffed at the lack of big turnout, considering this was not to be the show.
But driving away I thought of how uncomfortable I felt up there. Awkward. And I remembered something Pema Chodron said in one of her lectures about leaning into the awkward. Not running away from what's uncomfortable but staying with it and allowing it to teach you something. And so I stayed there until a clear memory of my closet from Williamsport came to me and I remembered the contents: a pair of Keds, flip flops, hiking boots, a pink satin "Pink Ladies" jacket my Mom sewed the cast of "Grease", 2 debut gowns from my cousin's debut in Argentina that I wore for District Choir. And the mural on my wall. And the shag yellow carpet. And then at midnight I woke my mother up calling her because I just wanted to hear her voice and hearing her voice made me miss her and my Dad, really miss them, and when I hung up I realized I was crying a bit. And I went through the cycle of insecurity: Do I suck? Do I need to take time off to learn guitar? To improve guitar? Write better songs? Write funny songs? Learn a different instrument? Am I wasting my time... all the insidious questions that like to peer inside our little brains when we allow a bit of space for doubt. And then I righted myself and thought:
You had an off night. It happens.
And kept driving alone with my scary book on CD talking to me until I started getting sleepy near Flat Rock and got a highway motel to sleep for a few hours.
So what did I learn? I did learn that I would like to improve my playing and learn some new covers. I learned I can perform solo, but that I don't always want to. I learned I sometimes miss the band I was ok with leaving behind. I miss the friendships and the laughter. I learned that some towns won't have throngs come out for folk music on a 98 degree summer weeknight.
And I learned when to stop. When to stop leaning into the uncomfortable, just give into the sad, and then shake it off, and stop to sleep.