Monthly Archives: July 2012

Pagoda gig on an island in the woods

The San Francisco Marathon goes through Golden Gate Park, and the organizers hired musicians to make it festive. The Joy Drops got booked. The band was standup bass, trumpet/french horn, and guitar/mandolin/singing. Racers start early, so the gig went from 6:45 AM to 10.

The organizers put us in a Chinese-style pagoda on a small island on the far edge of a marsh beside the road, in woods a few hundred feet from the runners. It was such an odd location that as we were setting up we thought we might actually be lost.

We didn’t know we were in the right place until a couple runners escorted by police went by on the road, off in the distance. There was mist on the water and almost nobody in earshot during the first few songs.

It was like being paid to play by ourselves far away from any listeners.

Gradually the number of racers increased, the mist burned off, and the band heated up. Runners would look around to see where the noise was coming from , turn and gawk, and give us a big whole-arm wave.

On the island a few people happened by. Parents with strollers stopped off for their kids to watch us. An older Chinese couple came by and stayed a while, the woman clapping very loudly as if she was communicating something.

It was an epically easy gig since nobody heard us for longer than a few seconds. Like playing for amnesiacs, the people who heard us weren’t in a position to know whether we sucked most of the time or just at that moment. We skipped around the set list, repeating songs that needed practice, trying out new tunes that we had never rehearsed before, telling jokes and laughing a lot.

We swapped stories about bad gigs. Ryan the bass player won: he played a swingers party on Valentine’s Day. There were tarps on the floor for the couples. He kept his eyes on his sheet music as much as humanly possible and during the breaks kept his distance from the hors d’oeuvres.

It was cold in the early morning so I wore a silly coonskin cap.

At 10 AM we were done playing for the day and I had a coffee at the boathouse nearby. The last stragglers were still passing.

getting less worse all the time

I’m a better musician now than ten years ago. A lot.

Ten years ago I thought I had taken my abilities to the limit of what my talent would support, but what I’ve learned since then hasn’t changed my native talent, it’s all practical stuff that I could have acquired at any time before.

Ten years from now I suppose I’ll be able to repost this verbatim.

I thought talent was my main bottleneck rather than just time spent playing. The reason was that I didn’t have any idea of how much time it takes for each little increment in ability. Just playing and playing makes you better and better, but a tiny bit at a time. You need to play and play and play and play to improve enough to have something easily visible.

One of the big things I’ve learned is how far work will take you as a musician. If you shed every day of your life, you’ll get pretty decent.

For example there was a spot in a song that called for a solo and my solo just sucked. So I doubled down on that spot and tried out a million possibilities until I finally had a good idea for how to approach it, and then the solo played itself just fine. In the meantime my wife nearly left me because of the horrible racket, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

gig shots

2 out of 3 Joy Drops played Art Ark Gallery in San Jose last night. Good people watching – the women seemed to be competing for most outrageous shoes.

Tomorrow we’re playing by the pool in a park in San Rafael. I love summer gigging.