Friday, May 21, 2010
Feels like the first time.
Recently I watched the movie “Crazy Heart” starring Jeff Bridges. It’s about a tarnished, waning country- music artist who is still on the road abusing his body, relationships and stumbling into redemption. Not the religious redemption but the personal kind that makes rock bottom look like a ceiling. Seeing the scenes of New Mexico, where it was filmed and my home state, made it even more engaging and knowing that the songwriter Ryan Bingham who wrote the title song is from my home town I may be biased. Bingham and T Bone Burnett won a Music Oscar for their theme song. It makes sense though as New Mexico has long been a place where people come to convalesce after failure or just because they run out of money. When I lived in Albuquerque I met so many people who would say their car broke down and they just stayed or that they pointed blindly at a map and landed on New Mexico. Our sparse population, history of getting along, open, far as the eye can see landscape and active spirituality means you can heal here and be left alone to do it. We’ve found a way to enjoy life, friends and family on income parsed from odd jobs and low wages and tend to let eccentrics be.
The opening scene of Crazy Heart shows Jeff Bridges’ character, the aptly named Bad Blake showing up for a gig his manager booked at a bowling alley. He gets out of his truck, empties his piss jug and mutters something about the venue while cursing his manager. It is classic because any working musician has been there hundreds of times. There are some firsts that are part of the “paying the dues” like: 1 Showing up to your first paying gig 2 Hearing your song on the radio for the first time 3 Seeing a listing for you (or band) in the paper for the first time 4 Reading your first review 5 Handling your first CD and the first time you hear your voice or instrument through a kick-ass PA system. I remember them all. That Bad has been doing it for decades and still playing bowling alleys is the irony that sets the movie. I recognized that look well. The way you scan the venue in a detached way almost squinting, assessing in seconds whether or not they are expecting you by the little tells that only seasoned musicians know to do like if the flier you sent is anywhere in sight. New musicians are prone to freak out and expend energy getting frustrated or angry. I don’t do that anymore. I’ve showed up places where I was double or even triple-booked with other acts, left off the schedule all together even though there was press. Usually these happen because there is no communication or booking system. You take it all in stride.
I try to make every performance have some of that first-time excitement and enthusiasm and it takes some serious chutzpa, especially after driving 12 hours that day. Keeping newness about what you do will help you like few other things can. While many venues like to remind you how lucky you are to be there my mantra is “Don’t take anything personally and kick some ass through your music.” Playing at the Sundance Film Festival one of my sets was to the other musicians and the bar staff. The Next was to about 700 people who all had their back turned doing deals. Didn’t faze me in the least. Just do your job as well as you can that day.
Last weekend I played in Houston, TX performing at the Rothko Chapel. This is another first. People such as the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu have spoken there and to say it is an honor is understatement. I’m working with a trio including Jodi Roberts on Tibetan Singing Bowls and Stephanie Phillips on Viola both seasoned giggers like me. The stringent contract says we can’t perform as the same trio again in the Houston area for a year, can’t touch the walls (seriously, guards made sure we didn’t yelling, “Don’t touch the walls!”) can’t videotape or take photos of the show etc. They honor their mission strictly—I honor it too and while I’m humbled I also know I will show up rehearsed and do the best I can that day and hopefully connect with and move the audience. Here is a review of the concert: http://www.examiner.com/x-8993-Houston-Humanist-Examiner~y2010m5d17-Blend-of-cultural--spiritual-music-inspires-at-Houston-multifaith-chapel
Randy Granger, Jodi Roberts, Stephanie Phillips. Rothko Chapel Concert 2010
On the way here I stopped and camped in the Texas Hill Country at a place called Comanche Bluff along the Medina River. It was beautiful and I recorded a video. I played my flute in the canyon during the day and at night. I was blown away by the fireflies that danced and chirped. I had read about the ancient Teyas Indians and sang and drummed for about an hour listening for them. I was the only human there so that was awesome. I wasn’t prepared the humidity, heat, bugs and gusts that just about took my tent up to Kansas. As I was driving east to Houston I drove through Bandera in search of more coffee. I noticed all the trucks (pretty all there is there) have these huge aggressive-looking front grill guards and me in my little Honda Fit could be moved off the road like tumbleweed. I passed a scene that spoke volumes. A guy by his barn wearing a Cowboy hat, jean shorts with knee high Ropers putting gas in his truck with an old, red gas can while a lit cigar hung from his mouth. Yep, I’m in Texas all right. That is what I like about being on the road as a musician though. It takes me out of the comfort of home and festivals where everyone looks like you (well so to speak). Playing gigs in venues where not a soul knows who you are is something I love. I have to sell myself, be at the top of my game, prove their money was spent well and watch that transformation as the music touches people and you know you’ve done something real. Something about it being their first time to hear you makes it new all over again. Next weekend I’ll be in Santa Fe, NM playing at the Native Treasures Art Show, attending the New Mexico Music Industry Awards Banquet where I’m up for four awards, two in the Contemporary Native American category and one each in New Age Contemporary and World Beat. I’ll also lead a Native American flute workshop for the Albuquerque area flute circles. A lot to fit into a weekend but it’s what I do and that’s all good. Here is a video I made at the Comanche Bluff camping area. Enjoy.