I had an unusually reasonable bus departure time, and was able to sleep in and enjoy a relaxed morning before my hosts dropped me at the Greyhound station in Cleveland. Boarding the bus with a small handful of co-passengers (sometimes I wonder how all of their daily runs make money..), I was disappointed to see that this was one of the older buses, which has yet to add electrical outlets and Wifi. But I did some offline writing and stared out the window, which never ever gets old, and arrived in Pittsburgh before I knew it.
It was an overcast day that was quickly becoming nasty as I walked the ten blocks to the Backstage Bar, and when rain started to drizzle down I took shelter in an accommodating lunch joint for an honest-to-goodness salad. No matter where they go, tours tend to be heavy on the alcohol and heavy on the food, and sometimes my body cries out for something fresh and simple. I devoured the pile of greens, admired the beer list without giving in to temptation (I always wait til after the show, thank you very much), and waited in vain for the skies to clear. But the rain got worse, and finally when it was only ten minutes before showtime I knew I had to bolt for it. I arrived at Backstage Bar soaking wet, and with nobody in the place (not even a bartender).
I was glad to have a moment to myself to change shirts and ensure that my new guitar bag was truly waterproof (it was, thank goodness), but shortly the staff straggled in, followed by my co-performer, Eve Goodman. The show was originally to feature my old friends and beautiful songwriters Heather Kropf and Keith Hershberger, but they had to cancel at the last minute due to (very painful) circumstances beyond their control, and Eve was extremely gracious to step in.
This is a nice place to play and I really wanted the bar to do well this night, but the rain was making a crowd unlikely. Thankfully, by the time Eve and I had gotten acquainted and set up the PA, a few handfuls of friends showed up, so at least there were a few people besides bartenders to play for. Eve started up, and I sat down with a Shirley Temple to enjoy her excellent fingerstyle work, sprinkled with spicy jazz chords. As in Chicago, it makes me extra-excited to play when co-performers really know their way around a guitar.
We were trading short sets back and forth, and by the time I went onstage for my first tunes, the place was starting to feel lively, with a few damp regulars and some classy-looking theatre-goers filling the seats at the bar and most of the tables. Though the buzz of conversation was constant. as I made my way through the first set I was able to pick out at least a few listening faces, and every tune brought a nice wave of applause, so I felt like I was part and parcel of everyone’s good time, if not entirely the focus.
By the time Eve finished her second set, the joint was jammed. It was absolutely not the deep listening atmosphere that I’m always trying to find, but there were enough people paying attention and showing appreciation that I didn’t feel offended at being largely relegated to the background. I brought my set to a close, sat down with a beer and some new friends, and within a few minutes the place was empty again as the handful of adjacent theatres opened their doors. It’s a place that serves a certain crowd and a certain function, and it was a pleasure to be part of it all tonight.