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The Fifth Course

A Few Lessons from a Spring Outdoor Gig

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I am writing this and posting it largely to remind myself of the following lessons. Perhaps those of you who also play out will benefit from it.

The Gig:
• Outdoor gig at a Farmer's Market in a small town in California's central valley.
• Four sets.
• One hundred dollars for the band plus tips.
• Sunny and breezy with gusts up to 25mph
The Stage
• A dirt median strip in a parking lot
• Awning provided for shade
• No electricity
The Gear
• Gary Vessel F5 mandolin
• Shure SM-57 and SM-58 microphones
• Carvin all-in-one PA unit

Lesson #1: Most people who hire musicians are not musicians. (Otherwise they’d probably do the gig themselves.) This means that they have not thought about what accommodations or conditions musicians will need in order to create music. You need to roll with it, do your best to get your basic needs met, and make do about the rest.

The awning was no protection against the wind. There were no bathrooms, or even a place to sit down and relax during a set break. No access to tap water. No access to electricity.

Our band leader is either a Boy Scout from way back or knew about the electricity in advance. We powered the PA with a spare 12 volt car battery.

Lesson #2: You will never have the all of the right equipment for every contingency.

I could have used a windscreen for the SM-57. I have never needed on before, and I likely need one again in about 15 years. But on May 5, 2010, I needed on badly. We found an old T-shirt in the car and wrapped the microphone in it. Worked like a charm.

Lesson #3: A trio is probably too small a group for a 4 set gig.

Maybe the elements played a role, but I could have used some help in the melody department. Every song or tune had a guitar lead and a mandolin lead in it. I was pretty wiped out by the middle of the fourth set. My left hand was getting stiff and tired. A fiddle player would have taken half the solo work from each of us, me and the guitar player. That would have saved me enough roll right through the fourth set.

Lesson #4: People dig what you are doing even it they do not or cannot show it.

Smiling and making eye contact goes a long way to creating good will and getting a little positive energy back.

We only made about $20.00 in tips, but the produce vendors across from our stage came over at the end of the fourth set and dropped a couple of pounds of fresh, ripe strawberries on us.

Dessert tonight at family dinner is on me.

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  1. stevewise's Avatar
    this is such a good post. this is what they call 'paying your dues' - the only way to learn this stuff is go out there and do it - make the mistakes - and learn from them.

    we just did an outdoor gig in bakewell, derbyshire, UK. we had power, and a gazebo as protection from the weather - except that we bought the gazebo in NC and it was designed to keep out bugs, not derbyshire rain - so off we go to buy some plastic sheeting to keep the rain out. And we've been doing this for 10 years or more! being willing to adapt is the key - and having fun with it.

    I like your comment about eye-contact with the public. It's really important to connect with the audience - probably the most important thing, and the hardest to learn.

    I love the tips you get when you play - a friend and I busked in Asheville NC and were rewarded with 2 jars of jam from the vendor who was set up just across the street. Somehow it tastes better when you earn it like this!
  2. Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
    Thanks Steve!
    Doesn't anyone in the UK make gazebos?
    Plastic sheeting. Brilliant. If I had been on top of my game we would have done that too! There was a hardware store at the end of the parking lot!