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Blue Collar#8 - Gigs That Mean Something
By Mick Polich - 10/03/2007 - 10:39 AM EDT

Gigs that mean something….or NOTHING at all!

What was a good gig for you? Was the band tight? The music transcending from the band’s fingers, lips? Did you make alotta jing or hook up with a favorite little somethin',somethin' – whatever THAT might be – human, substance, etc.? What do you need to get the most out of a gig? Does that list change with time, age, and experience? Do you need five people or 50,000 people to play to? Where’s Rod Serling to introduce the “Twilight Zone”? (Sorry)

I think the questions are what every gigging artist – working for pay, gift certificates, loose change, or nothing – should ask themselves. Rarely does one spend an entire career playing one great gig per week or month, booking those puppies until they can’t, or won’t, do the jig no mo’ (consider the great Les Paul, father of damn near everything in recording techniques, electric guitars, etc. – all bow to Les! He’s held a New York club gig for YEARS on Tuesday nights….). But more importantly, what do YOU need out of a gig? Recognition? Lots of poundcake so you make your car payment? Respect? Ego feed? OR… a combo of the aforementioned (hold the peppers, pul-leeze)? Can you survive busking on a subway or street corner (done that a couple of times) for a little change and some faint applause?

What’s in for you, my friend?

Well, on my end, the bar has been raised and lowered many, many times to a point where I think I always needed to be at, but was too afraid to go to. Yaws, yessum, I looked to all things partially unsavory for satisfaction ( the Secondary and Capillary Laws Of Musical Involvement ), with my VH-1 “Behind The Music” episode happenin’ long ago. Again, being OLDER, maybe WISER (maybe not), I’ve really coupled my thoughts to what gigging and performing mean to me at this juncture. And, I think it’s harder when you’re older because if you've played music quite a bit like I did, you have the tendency to get pessimistic about things, and close your mind off to other possibilities of playing music. Hey, there are only so many lights that shine on so many stars, big and little, so it comes down to outlook and acceptance. Do you really need a bar band playing every weekend or week night to get the Full Monty out of your music? Do you need a street corner gig ( and, is it legal to busk like that in your city or town?)? What do you need every day to say, at the end of the day, it was worth it – either artistically, financially, creatively? Maybe you DON’T need to think about all these questions – “I’m cool, why the head trip? Music’s not a big deal to me, I just play when I want to”, “I need to make $____ to make it happen for me – if not, don’t bother calling, because I ain’t gigging! “

Like I stated earlier, the entire gig paradigm has changed for me over the past ten years.

I look back even ten years ago, and I feel differently about what I need from a music gig, probably due the evolution of my life and the directions it’s taken. The money – yeah, I need it, want to get pay, but I’ve invented other routes in the music biz to get there for that. The fulfillment of playing good music with good musicians - all very relative at this point. I mean, I can get a sense of joy and completion playing music with my students during lesson time as much as I can gigging with pros, semi-pros, and beginners out in the field. Again, I could wax on, and will always at some point, but time to get to the crux of the article.

I want to focus on a couple of events that happened to me musically that I found really said where I wanted to get to in a musical sense: the “Game Feed” gigs with my old band, Salmon Dave, our Atlanta church group heading into the heart of downtown ATL to play at a men’s homeless shelter, a post-Katrina gig in our old Alpharetta, GA. neighborhood, our experimental music band in Ohio, and our reunion gigs back up north in Iowa at the present.

There are a lot more (oops, forgot about the “Jazz In The Garage” parties – later date, sorry!), but what the hey, that’s why there’s a column to expound in…. 

Back in the day, in my ol’ home state, we Iowans of a certain age would have parties that rather exemplified the era of the 1970’s. And, like most cultural artifacts from an era, we tended to stretch things out a bit for a few years beyond the expiration date : fashion, music, lifestyles, etc. Well, living parallel lives to my little emerging - artist-existence in central Iowa were a group of folks known as the “Romulans”.  These small-town hippies/ blue collar toilers/ softball team (yes, they had a softball team called the Romulans, too!) liked to party in their off-hours (and probably on-hours, too) – all the usual ‘Good Ol’ Grateful Dead ‘ trappings, glorified for the time period and ENJOYED to the max!

Well, back in the late 1970’s, the Romulans decided to have a feast to conclude either their softball games, or the summer, or winter solstice (I believe the summer fests kicked it off in the beginning). Dubbed the Annual Romulan Intergalactic Deep Space And Wild Game Feed Party, it was a hippie event beyond description and counter-culture edification. Food, drink, and music, of course, ruled the day (the other stuff, well, I’ll just leave it up to you, dear, gentile and non-gentile readers, to codify into what was what….)  

By the time I joined on board to the RomFest, it was the mid-1980’s, and I was playing in a band, Colt .45, with good buddies, especially one Mr. Don Myers, who is central to the spirit of this tale, especially the music standpoint. Don was pretty much de facto music leader, and between all the bands that he eventually brought to the Game Feed, his musical genius, along with a thread of musical communality, put the icing on the cake for not only myself, but several other folks, as well. I just wish I could have been to the Feeds when he had the Kilowatt Pioneers, a musical amalgamation of wide-reaching music styles (imagine going from the jazz/rock fusion of Jeff Beck RIGHT into Marty Robbins’ “Streets Of Laredo”, sped up in 3/4 time like a freaked-out polka!!!). But what I got from the Game Feeds was always a closure to the end of the year from a music standpoint, a sense of community (in a spaced, hippified sense, but nonetheless, community…), and a sense of giving back –it was always a non-paying gig, but what a captive audience (even on, ahem, controlled and uncontrolled substances…)!

The Game Feed invokes fond memories not just as a testament of time and youth, but a thread of community coming together (and those are conjuring up Grateful Dead images of ‘ tribal ‘ dance, food, and beverage, well, step right up and grab the prize, Maynard – you is correct!!!). To wit, the money don’t matter at the Feeds – the SPIRIT did, and certainly carries on for all involved….

The next Gig That Matters happened more recently in time – monthly gigs to a men’s homeless shelter in Atlanta during the months that those folks need shelter most – the winter. My wife had a UPS job transfer back in 2001, so from what Garrison Keillor calls “the gateway to the Midwest”, Ohio, we move to the New York City of the South, Atlanta. By now, I’ve learned a few things since the first move from Iowa, so I look at where our new community settles, and see who the music folk are. Luckily, our new church, St. Benedict’s, has a lot of excellent players (hey, Catholics CAN rock!!). Soon find out that my-now-dear friend, drummer, bassist, guitarist, and songwriter deluxe Jordan Coletta, has a group that heads down to play a downtown homeless shelter. So, I’m in, as well as cream-o’-the crop musicians from St. Ben’s. It was a real lesson in dichotomies – rich, poor, African-American, white, the old and new South, and all the influx of new cultures over the past 50 years. And, I can honestly state, as a middle-aged white man driving down from a pretty affluent neighborhood to give some music to my fellow man, yes, there was some bleeding-heart guilt that drove that. But what of the Baptism church members who cooked meals, the Presbyterian youth group that set up the tables and served the meals, and the Jewish congregation that put out the cots and bedding not just on the Saturday nights that we came by, but EVERY night from November to March? That’s the problem – it takes work to volunteer to help out our fellow humans; nobody wants to give time to someone who’s a ‘loafer’, underfed and clothed, hell, why should they have music,or ANYTHING, fer crissakes?? There are givers and takers in life, plain and simple – don’t matter if you’re making a dollar or $1.5 bil a year. The pure joy from watching these people dance, groove, and sing to our sound before and after supper time, right before they bed down for the night, and wonder what tomorrow brings – yeah, the basics of my religion were right, my dear ol’ dad was right – help your fellow person. The jewel in the crown was when a guy who I had seen as a regular for the past year and a half, came up to our group and said how much this music meant to him, gave him hope, and helped him move forward to find housing and a job. Umm hum, Lord , Lord, folks – how lucky we are to have this gift of music…….

I do have a ‘Hurricane Katrina’ tale, and I believe it’s a good lesson in illustrating a gig for humane reasons, such as the homeless shelter gigs. In September of 2005, our neighborhood banded together to house a family from, I believe, the 9th Ward in New Orleans. Now, could we afford to do this as a ‘hood? Good golly, yes –comparatively, people were QUITE well off in our neck of the woods, so helping others was right in line. The Kimbells offered their house that was on the market to house the family, which I think had up to 11 people. Dozens of folks gave clothes, bedding, furniture, time, and money. I went with a crew of other ‘hood husbands to pick and deliver the goods to set up the house.

 Now, one tenet of any basic religious, democratic, socialistic, and humanitarian belief – one that always seems to get overlooked if the church or organization is ‘well off ‘ – is helping the less fortunate. As I have come full circle in this thought, yes, there are moochers, sloths, and bottom-feeders that are and will continue to take the ‘free ride’ in any society set up with a welfare system, BUT an article of faith, and optimism is needed to move forward so that things get done. Gandhi and Martin Luther King again make more sense to me now, and clearer in thought, than 30 years ago – I’ve been extremely fortunate, but in nearly 50 years, you see a few things that turn your head about society, in it’s extremes of abundance and poverty. The start of this Katrina relief ended with a few wonderful moments – the grandma of the clan, “Big Mama”, cooked gumbo at the Linn’s house (and brother, it was something good – I still have my gumbo-and-beer- splattered t – shirt as a memento…) for a score of neighbors and their families. I kicked back and talked to Big Mama during her cooking and got a song channeled thru called “Big Mama”. Then, as a wonderful bookend, our annual “KreiFest” party, on the lawn of our former tennis coach and class act Bill Krei’s home, housed probably the best neighborhood band gig ever. I think kudos go out to my good friend Keith Siegfried, who was behind-the-scenes instrumental, as well as ‘hood president, in organizing the relief, and making sure that Big Mamas’ boys got plenty of sports time in with his own family of athletes. At least in my mind, and hopefully many folks who attended, there is a stirring, soulful rendition of Eric Clapton’s “Running On Faith”, with the intro by good, ol’ “Mr. Keef” that states,” This next song pretty much sums up the past weeks here – sometimes you just gotta run on faith.” Indeed…  

I started, with a few students and Polich Electronic customers back in Westerville, Ohio, an experimental music band called the Electric Wellspring Music Co-op. The idea was to take an alarming numbers of diverse music influences – jazz, ambient, noise, rock, electronica – and mash ‘em together to create new paths and music airwaves. Long time left-of-center music lovers and par excellent musicians Frank Anelick and Mike Gill were customers and students –we would set up multi-track recorders, microphones, and instruments to meld together our funk-metal/jazz – rock hybrids with ambient, dreamy and dark synth and drum loops. This was the late 1990’s into 2000, so electronica was almost thru with it’s imprint on pop, club, and underground music. Frank and Mike had played in some progressive metal bands – Rotting Souls and Glueben – but their tastes, chops, and ideas went far beyond this, I felt. We even had a Wellspring  ‘playbook’/bible, with philosophies, theories, axioms, and music ideas. Usually, on a Friday eve, we would drag equipment up to Bernie’s Grooveshack, a local record store, pull some record bins back, and set up for a night of recording all the jams that we came up with (almost always with a small audience in tow). Got a pretty good CD review at the Aural Innovations website(check it out). Hours and hours of tape ensued, which I’m still re-mixing to CD!! For me, and for hopefully all in attendance, it represented the spirit and drive of music creation for the hell of it – on the spot, spontaneous, edgy, dangerous, and fun!

Finally, it seems I’ve hit the point where my old homies invite me back for ‘reunion’ gigs back in Iowa – been this way for a few years now. I guess in a sense it started when Mary and I left Iowa in 1994 to Ohio – a great send-off party and gig (captured on video, no less), family and friends in attendance, excellent music, wonderful. THAT spirit led itself to more ‘sit–in-when-you’re–in-town-gigs’ with old friends and their new bands since then. The depth and scope of it all – everything we had collectively been thru to make music and eek out a living, began to come to full realization a few winters back for a reunion gig at a state park just north of Des Moines. Whatever your spiritual incline, if there is one, the hand of God certainly touched us all that night – it was like time hadn’t passed, and all the fire and fury of youth just blazed thru our instruments; some of us hadn’t played together for close to 15 years. It was a blessing, truly – as like, “You all now have the wisdom to enjoy this, so do.” More than a few stories popped up over drinks in between songs, must all of them ending with a breath of relief, and a phrase such as, ”How in the @#$% did we make through THAT???!!” Of course, the waywardness of our past and youth – stupid stuff involving drinks, drugs, parties, staying out beyond reasonable sleeping hours, pursuit of the opposite sex, the gig, the lofty road to a Possible Record Deal, the money, and the Muse, of course-always revolving around the Music Muse, the great goddess that she is, enchanting and all-evasive, aloof, yet accessible. And yet, back to Des Moines on a recent trip, I was lamenting the fact that none of the documentation of that first winter reunion gig came thru, audio or video. Then Ron Kennebeck – the pop-fueled, soulful voice and keyboard behind a lot of songs I had written for my self-released records and tapes of the 1980’s, simply said, “You know, some things are just better left to everyone’s memory – some gigs should just stay up here.”, tapping his head and smiling. Yep, Zippy, point well taken….. 

I could go on – there are certainly plenty more gig memories and examples. Yeah, at one point, I did make more playing six nights per week than I did at my day job (so, with a day job at a music store for a young man in his twenties, that was a pretty good ride.), but if you could tell from the column, emotional and musical satisfaction reigned over monetary means for my examples (but, I couldn’t have survive without the jing from those early gigs – hey, I’m a bloody capitalist and damn proud of it, sport!)

What’s in a gig for you, in the short term, and down the road? Something to think about – might spare you some time, effort, grief, money, business connections, once you decide to see what you need as an artist and musician at this point in your life (and what really makes sense – if you’re 45 years old, and waiting for the record deal, uh, hmm, maybe re-think that portion, sonny……).

To quote the late, great, and lamented Warren Zevon, ” Enjoy every sandwich!”

Adios, kids!!!

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