It’s funny how much of life goes un-chronicled these days. I’ve kept a journal since I was young, and I’ve been on obsessive blogger for a decade or so. But these days even the notable events pass without as much as a mention. I suppose I finally got it through my head that it’s more important to live a life than to document details of what happened in it.
With that said, though, I feel compelled to mention a short performance I did last night at J.J.’s Café & Bar in Ybor City. It came about because of an invite from local great Lee Pons, who initially contacted me about Windhaven performing. Victoria didn’t feel like Windhaven should do it and we didn’t have time to prepare anything, so I wound up doing an acoustic set of original music. The quality of that performance is debatable, but nobody got hurt and nothing was thrown at the stage.
The night started off with a performance by Lee Pons. He played four or five songs, as brilliantly as ever, and set the bar pretty high. I imagine there are few musicians who would not be intimidated to take the stage after the mighty Lee Pons. So when Lee left the stage and asked me if I wanted to be next, I wasn’t sure whether I’d be taking the stage or slinking out the front door. But I took the stage.
I wish I could say that I had a brilliant performance of my own. After I was set up, I looked out into a room that was empty except for the handful of other musicians who had come to play. Victoria was attentive. As was Lee. The group of three or four guitarists who had gathered on one side of the room talked loudly among themselves and seemed to take little notice of anyone being on the stage (a theme that would continue through the other acts).
I had a few things I wanted to say before I got rolling, but really didn’t see the point. So I jumped right into my first song, which was a new one titled “The Weeping Buddha”. I played it too fast but had fun singing it, and eventually found my way to the end. At Victoria’s and Lee’s prompting there was applause, so I soldiered on. The next song was a Bluesy tune called “The Way It Should Be”, which I didn’t think worked too well. It was written against a bass line, and it felt obvious that the bass line was missing. In the middle of the song a group of five or six twenty-somethings came in, talking loudly and laughing among themselves, oblivious to the fact that anyone was on stage. I didn’t take offense. They ignored everyone who came after me, so it didn’t feel personal. I soldiered on and played “This Old Dawg” (too fast), Avett Brothers’ “Head Full of Doubt” (probably the only one I got right) and a juked version of “Ten Feet Tall” (which I also played too fast). By the time I finished the last song my fingers were giving out on me (the 12-string is a demanding mistress and I was out of practice). Lee Pons asked me if I wanted to do a few more, but I considered the disinterested twenty-somethings and the disinterested guitarists and decided to just call it a night. Lee made sure I left the stage to the sound of applause, and I packed up my stuff and joined Victoria as Lee played a few more tunes.
After Lee, the guitarists started taking the stage. I say “guitarists” because these guys clearly studied the art of guitar (whereas I could probably be better described as a “singer/songwriter” than as a guitarist). I didn’t catch any of their names, but all of the guitarists were amazing. First a duo performed, with one guy singing and playing nice Jazz voicings on his guitar while the other played some tasty leads on an Ibanez guitar that seemed suited for some serious shredding (the guitarist clearly reined in his ability to shred with the best of them, but always seemed just on the verge of breaking out). They played four or five songs together, and then a few more, and then a few more, to the delight of the other guitarists, and then the rhythm guitarist left the stage so that the lead guitarist could do his own short set. After him the other guitarists took the stage one by one for short sets, each one as good as or better than the one before. It was an impressive display of guitar virtuosity that reinforced my belief that there is a dizzying array of world class talent in the Tampa Bay area. Any of these guys could be on festival stages anywhere in the world backing up the best professional acts.
After the guitarists, Lee Pons played a few more songs, most notably a rendition of “Georgia On My Mind” which seemed like a musical answer to one of the guitarists who had played the same song. Victoria and I definitely preferred Lee’s version. After that, Lee introduced a group called The Johnston Conspiracy (I knew I would remember that name the moment I heard it).
The Johnston Conspiracy turned out to be an acoustic based band that wasn’t playing at full strength, but had on stage a female singer, a male singer / acoustic guitarist, a gentleman on percussion and an electric bass player who, after a few songs, convinced me that he was holding back. I enjoyed their set and made a point to “Like” them on Facebook.
The night seemed to end earlier that it should have. But after Johnston Conspiracy, the evening came to an end. Victoria and I hung around for awhile and talked with Lee. Victoria, a graduate of the North Carolina School for the Arts, found ever more respect for Lee when she discovered that he had attended Julliard. For me, getting to sit around and talk shop a bit with someone as talented as Lee Pons was the highlight of the evening. As someone who’s had to make it up from scratch, musically, my whole life, I’ve always been a little intimidated by musicians who have had the time and opportunity to really study and perfect their craft. So for someone who has always felt like he’s faking it, it’s a pleasure to sit around and pick the brains of people who actually know what they’re doing.
I apologized to Lee Pons, because I felt like my set was uneven and rushed. Lee, who clearly has a generous heart, told me “No, you did good”. And while I suspected he was bullshitting me a bit, he said “I knew you would be good, but I didn’t know you would be THAT good.” Whether he meant it or not, it was appreciated.
Lee invited me to Safety Harbor to do the same thing next Wednesday. I plan to go and see if I can get it right the next time. The only way to nail these songs down is to perform them live. And next week I won’t be as nervous. Last night represented a line that I needed to cross. It was the first time in my life I’ve ever performed alone on stage, and I probably made that more significant than it had to be. Hopefully I can soon get Victoria to jump in. If not next week, then at some point down the road. I’m more interested in Windhaven than I am in Wicasta Lovelace.
Anyway, it was a fun night. The writer in me always loves watching people interact, and J.J.’s Café & Bar in Ybor City, Florida, certainly had no shortage of characters last Thursday night. I appreciate Lee Pons extending an invite, though I know he was thinking more of Windhaven than me doing a solo thing. We’ve had to turn down so many invitations due to this or that, I was pretty determined not to turn this one down.
Whatever impression, if any, I made upon the people who heard me play, I know I’ll be tightening it up. If nothing else, it was pleasure to get up on stage and play mostly my own songs (for a change). That’s been a long time coming. Now I just need to get Victoria up to speed on some of these new songs so we can get Windhaven back in the water. Then I think folks will really get to hear something.