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My first time playing live November 29, 2019

me, playing music for people

Every year, my local bike shop does the "Movin for Mallory" spinathon to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis research. I've ridden the spin bikes out in the parking lot for many years, really enjoy the event. They always recruit local musicians, and set up a PA in the back of the store to entertain the participants and Black Friday shoppers. I've been told numerous times that it's a great "first place" to play live.

I've been playing guitar on and off for over 30 years, but never with any discipline and never in front of an actual human audience (except for once accompanying my daughter at one of ther first violin recitals). I've been practicing since the summer with the goal of finally getting my guitar out of the living room. Step one was playing after work on Thursdays with Allan, a co-worker on my team who shares my love of 90's grunge and 80's hair bands. Step two was playing a few songs with him at a team party. Step 3 was signing up for one of the musician time slots at Movin for Mallory.

Allan can sing, and he's been in front of a microphone before. For me, this was all a new experience. Singing while playing is hard, and took a lot of practice just to be able to move my mouth and fingers at the same time. Eventually, I could make it completely through a few songs, so I recorded myself and cringed. The guitar asn't terrible, but my vocals needed some serious help. I set up a sing-a-long play list for my commute to work to try strengthen the gimpy singing parts. I also tried to practice with a microphone, and discovered just how hard it was to keep your mouth in one spot while playing.

As the day approached, I played my 4 song set every chance I had. Then, I walked in with my guitar, plugged in, faced the crowd of a dozen or so, and did my best to be entertaining.

Stone Temple Pilots: Big Empty, Atlanta and Plush

Def Leppard: Photograph

I started to get more comfortable after Atlanta. Plush attracted a few onlookers, and Photograph had a bit of actual audience sing-a-long. It wasn't the best I'd ever played them, but I did it!

What I learned:

  • It sounds weird behind the PA. There were no monitors facing me, so I wasn't sure how loud or soft I was for the audience. I heard myself reflected back with a little delay, which threw me off a little at first.
  • Microphones are hard. Am I too close? Am I too far? Trying to see either of my hands around it can be troublesome, and there's a few tricky parts I still can't play without at least glancing at the fingers.
  • Slow down. I played everything just a little too fast. While I was playing, it felt like I was playing too slow. Time and space apparently warp a bit when playing live... noted.
  • I was shaking a little. This made it hard so sing and harder to pick. Gotta relax.
  • My guitar sounded tinty. I was jacked straight into the PA, and could have probably used a little bit of digital effects love - nothing crazy, but a little bit of chorus and light reverb like my amp has at home do wonders to enrich the sound. My little thin-body Ovation doesn't quite have as much richness as those big expensive dreadnoughts.
  • I definitely want to do this again! If I can get Zoe to help her old man out with and do the solos on her violin, that would be even better.