It’s been a rather interesting month. Jam-packed with all sorts of events, so I’ll start with the first half here and write about the second half soon!
A couple weeks ago, there were a couple of sudden deaths in the community. The heart attack father of three, a week before his youngest daughter’s wedding was terribly sad and a great loss of a good man. The suicide of a young mother, not even 30 years old was tragic and shocking. Not many would suspect that she was suffering from depression. So a lot of sadness and questions memorials and important conversations going on in town & on Facebook.
Along with that, I’ve had two bigger shows in the space of a week - I was the feature artist at the Cafe Paradiso open mic, and also played the open mic at The Mill in Iowa City. Both nights were so great for me!
The Paradiso show was the first time I’d played a longer set in a while. I’ve always enjoyed playing 2 or 3 songs at open mice, but getting to play 7-8 is a whole different story! I really got to settle in, to establish a connection with the audience, create a bit of a through-line between songs to tell the bigger picture of my story. People were really listening, eyes closed sometimes even! And afterward I had some nice conversations about being inspired and going for your dreams! Success! If I can do it, anyone can.
It’s really good for me to remember that just a few years ago, I was sitting with a group of fellow Artist-Way-ers, all standing up in turn to declare our artistic dreams. I can’t remember if I was even able to get to my feet, but I remember shaking and feeling so nervous sick that I could hardly mumble out that I wanted to make a CD. Now not only do I have a recording I’m mighty proud of, I’ve got more copies than I know what to do with! (Oh hey, do you have one yet? :D) I reconnected to that story that night partly because I was in the same room where I’d experienced it, and partly because of the songs I was singing, that were about working out that process.
After riding that high of the longer set and fanning the flames of my desire to play more in more places, I was really excited to have a slot lined up at The Mill in Iowa City. The format there is you book in advance and then get about 20 minutes or so to play. The Mill is an institution, maybe even legendary in some circles - great artists like Greg Brown have called that stage home. I’ve seen Melissa Ferrick, Erin McKeown, Girlyman, and Coyote Grace all perform there. So I was just the tiniest big star struck to get to play on that stage.
When I got there, my name was on a poster, which is always exciting.
A gentleman with a guitar arrived just as I was on my way in, he’d obviously played the gig before, and showed me where the Green Room was, complete with pictures of several people I knew on the walls!
After stowing my gear and checking in with the host, my new friend waved me over to his table and introduced himself as James. He was from New Jersey and had been coming to Iowa City every summer for a while for the creative writing program. Playing The Mill open mic was part of that tradition for him.
It was hoooooottt, I don’t know if there was no AC or it was just functioning poorly, but especially up under the lights I was sweating in my boots! I still had a blast singing to a new crowd. The Mill serves food and drink, so it was not a 100% attentive all the time type of audience, but they were definitely listening and appreciative, which is what you want!
After my set, throughout the night, I talked with a bunch of folks, handed out a bunch of stickers. One of the other performers, Jeremy & I connected over capos and the creative process and just getting out there more. James told me more about his family and how he plays for weddings, funerals and other church events back home, and how he gets through the intense emotional moments.
I wasn’t able to stay till the end, since I had an hour to drive home and work the next day, but getting to play another longer set, getting to meet new people who appreciated my music and my story was so energizing and fulfilling.
I’ve been getting kind of down on myself lately for not creating more new songs more often, feeling like my story has an expiration date and that I was somehow failing as an artist for not doing the next big crazy thing. There may be a portion of truth to that, especially in this internet age, but the other side of the coin is that there are a lot of people out there who I haven’t met yet. A lot of people to connect with, and my year in Austin is and was and always will be an inspiring thing that I did that no one can take away from me. 16 years ago I rode my bike all the way across Iowa during RAGBRAI. I’m still mighty proud of that, and it still reminds me that I have access to a certain strength and determination to get big things done when I set my mind to it.
So, not that I should rest on my laurels and stop reaching. Not that I shouldn’t set new big scary goals and chase them down. Not that I shouldn’t find a way back to more frequent writing. As they say in improv, “Yes, AND…” The amount of fulfillment I got from those two shows, and the number of folks I talked to afterward who were inspired to do their own creative work is enough to remind me that I need to keep playing as much as I can, the songs I have now! For my sake and for others! AND keep writing!
In my next write-y blog post I shall have to tell you about my last minute trip to Florida, and probably about how my In The Round show at Java Joe’s goes tomorrow!