Tea Lounge, Brooklyn NY

This show took a lot of time and effort to come together. When I booked it back in November, the booker asked if I’d like the opportunity to curate the night. Knowing that Tea Lounge is a generally well-regarded venue, and having so much time to work with, I thought this would be a good chance to put together a really interesting night of music that would encourage people to stick around from set to set. New York seems worse than many other places in that bands show up at their slot time, play, then pack up and leave, and their entire crowd goes with them. I wanted to create a bill worth sticking around for, at least once.

I knew that a night full of solo acoustic strummers is one way to guarantee the yawn factor, no matter how good the musicians might be, so I first resolved to avoid guitarists if at all possible. I started seeking out Brooklyn songwriters who used something else to accompany themselves. Before long, I found someone who seemed perfect – a violinist and singer with great tunes and a lot of experience playing locally. I dropped her a note and she wrote back the next day accepting the slot, and suggesting a friend of hers to play as the third act on the bill. I was already familiar with this friend, a very accomplished cellist with big ties in the new music world, and in fact am a fan of her stuff. This was gonna be great!

Unfortunately, the cellist soon wrote to say she couldn’t do it due to another booking. RATS. Still, the gig was months away, so I kept looking to find a third act to complete our bill. I found some interesting people – accordionists, more cellists, even a trombonist – who are doing cool stuff that relates somewhat to my song-oriented sphere (as opposed to, say, chamber music). I sent out five or six emails and Facebook messages, and people responded with interest, but everyone had a conflict that particular night. 

I searched again, found more folks (New York has no shortage of musicians, BTW), and shot out another round of messages. Again, the responses started coming back – interested, but not available. 

By now it was January, and it was high time I nailed things down. Just as I gathered another batch of names to approach, I heard from the violinist I had onboard; she had messed up her schedule, and had to back out of our performance. Oh…rats. Now I had nobody for the night and the Lounge was starting to ask for the final bill.

I started crawling through the calendars of other Brooklyn venues, looking for anyone – anyone – to join me. I still wanted to avoid other acoustic solo guitar players, but I was running completely out of ideas. I found a few more acts that seemed to fit the basic idea, and sent them a desperate message.

Miracuously, I heard back from one of the most promising people that had popped onto my radar, a solo acapella vocalist. And she was available, AND she said that she could find friends to complete the bill. Eureka! She was responsive to my followup emails, and we soon worked out a bill with not one, but two other acts – a freak-pop band, and a “cello-jazz guitar-drums” trio. A little different than what I’d originally imagined, but a complete bill of people who were happy to play.

I immediately wrote the Lounge, and at their request put together a blurb for each of the acts, digging through various Facebook, ReverbNation, and even Myspace (!) pages to gather info. They got it up on their site, and with barely two weeks to  spare, we had a night of music. Whew. 

I turned my attention back to booking my February tour, which badly needed some time investment, and moved February 8 to the back of my mind. But then, not three days after the confirmation, I got the bad news – the freakpopsters were backing out. I didn’t even try to suppress a hearty scream of frustration (good thing I was at home…), but almost instantly remembered a fantastic band I’d seen a few days before at Rockwood Music Hall, and whom I’d discussed a possible future joint gig. I dropped them a note, and they wrote back within an hour to confirm their involvement. Saved! The Lounge updated their site, and once again, I let the night go out of my mind. 

A few days into the first week of February, I began to hear conversations about an upcoming giant snowstorm. A hundred-year-storm, one for the history books. And it was due to whack New York City on the evening of…Friday, February 8.  Though I knew that snow could cut down attendance, I wasn’t too concerned – the fact that I had my bill solid for the night was all I really cared about. And one of my first shows in NYC was at Caffe Vivaldi during a blizzard, and it turned out to be a really fun show for me and the people who came out.

When Friday came, the city was beginning to batten down the hatches for the storm, which still promised legendary proportions. A couple of the other acts called me to be sure the show was still on, and I reassured them that it would be going on as scheduled (the Lounge had already told me they’d be open all night, come what may from the skies). The weather experts predicted that the peak of the snowfall would arrive around 10 or 11, but I figured by that point. everyone would already be inside, and we’d have a nice cozy little jamboree.

By mid-afternoon the snow had started to fall, very gently. It continued on as I prepared to leave home close to 8, with the wind picking up a bit and perhaps a inch or two settled on the ground. I stopped by my friend Pauline’s place near the Lounge, to rehearse a tune we’d planned to play together (she’s a great violinist). We blew through the tune a few times, then just as I was putting my boots on to go, I got an email from the headlining band. They were worried about getting home after the storm, and were bowing out.

I hadn’t considered this possibility, that a band would choose not to appear, at the last minute. I personally can’t imagine canceling a show for any reason other than emergency personal hospitalization. And if you’re actually promoting a show, you have to consider that you’re disappointing the people you invited to come. Worse, they had promised to bring half the drumkit for the night, which was going to affect the first band. But the show must go on, so I trudged over to the Lounge, thinking that, at least, I might be able to extend my set a bit.

The wind was now blowing pretty hard, and plenty of snow was falling, though there still wasn’t more then a few inches on the ground. I ducked into the Lounge to find people at most of the tables, sipping tea, plugged into laptops, or just chatting. A very welcoming sight. I began to set up, and soon members of the first band started to arrive, another happy event.

This first band, who were scheduled to do a short 20-minute set before the rest of us, was the only one I hadn’t heard personally, and which had been described to me as “jazz guitar, cello, and drums”. The first thing I noticed was that these were clearly a bunch of rock n’ roll dudes, and when the frontman plugged in his guitar, there was nothing jazz about it. He was rocking out. I didn’t see a cello in sight, either, and when I casually asked about it they had no idea what I was talking about, though the bass player admitted that he played an upright sometimes, maybe that’s what our friend in common had noticed. Oh well. The show, you know!

Just at that point, I got another email, from the solo vocalist (the one who’d set up the first band). My heart in my throat, I opened it up, and saw what I dreaded to find – she, too, would not be appearing this evening. She claimed she’d had the flu all week, and while that’s an excuse I could consider valid, hearing about it a few minutes before showtime is not, like, very cool. And right then, after all that had happened this gig, especially so.

So there we were, after all that, my grand night had boiled down to a power trio that knew four songs, and me. But, if I need to say it again, the damned show must go the hell on.

A nice little crowd of my friends had arrived by this point, as had some pals of the band. After scrambling a bit to put together a full drumset, the fellas plugged in and launched into a loud, grunge-oriented set, ending with a bruising cover of NiN’s “Hurt”. In truth, they were pretty good at what they did, but I was finding it hard to appreciate them. This band just were’t at all what I had imagined as part of the bill (I was picturing Clogs, and was getting Soundgarden…), and my resentment over the way things had turned out lingered on. But the last thing I was going to do was to put on a lame set, so I steeled myself, plugged in my guitar and put on a smile.

After a song or two, everything else melted away, and I started to thoroughly enjoy myself. I was playing pretty well and people were listening, what else could I ever want? Pauline joined me with her violin to cover “Gold” from the Once musical/movie, dedicated to a friend, and my enjoyment went even higher up the scale. I did another solo tune to finish up (a new arrangement of “House”, an old favorite), and my contribution was done. A good feeling, after all of that.

A friend of the first band had volunteered to play a bit of solo guitar afterward, since there was nothing else going on, so I had a welcome beer and enjoyed some of his drone-based music while catching up with friends. Then a few of us lit out to find food in the neighborhood. Pushing open the front door, we saw a winter wonderland, one of those amazing times when the city emits no noise and everything is white. The wind was nasty, and the snow had accumulated to at least six inches, but it was great fun stumbling through the piles, and when we found an Italian place open with good pizza and great wine, we had ourselves a perfect end to a pretty good night, after all.