Featured image credit: Sean O’Halloran – www.ohallorancreative.com
I generally try to have a little reward of some sort waiting for me backstage at the end of a show. I like to think that I do this because I truly love playing guitar and don’t particularly look forward to the performance coming to and end, but I suppose it’s equally likely that it’s just a remnant of my childhood… you know, getting the Capri Sun and Oatmeal Creme Pie at the end of a little league game sort of thing. In my case, it’s generally a nice glass of scotch or a chocolate chip cookie, if there are any available. Sometimes I get BOTH.
Before I get my reward though, there’s always the load out that must be completed. Most musicians who do not have the luxury of a personal tech to assist will have a mental checklist of things to pack to ensure nothing is left behind or out of place.
My capo goes in the acoustic case…
…then the slide, which goes in the top pocket of the gig bag…
…don’t forget to take the whammy bar off of the Strat…
…AHH I FORGOT THE MIC STAND PICK HOLDER FOR THE 40TH TIME
And so on… you get the picture.
It becomes a pretty automated process after you’ve done it thirty or forty times, and it’s pretty easy to go on “autopilot” when you’re in the midst of it (gotta earn that cookie, after all).
So there I was last night, in the middle of my checklist – preamp goes in the velvet bag… coil the cable… over, under, over, under… when I notice him: a skinny fella about my height, light denim shirt tucked into his Wranglers behind a sizable buckle, nervously clutching a beer about 4 feet from the stage. He was peering in our general direction, not at any given person exactly, shifting his weight from foot to foot a bit as he stood. He did not speak or make any motions.
I continued my packing for a couple more minutes, looked behind me and he was still there. Finally, I said something.
“Hey man! Are you waiting for someone in particular?”
“Well, no, not really… I was just wondering… will any of them be coming back out?” (he was referring to the artists who had been on stage that night)
“I’m honestly not sure. Is there something I can do for you?”
“Well, I was just wondering if one of them would sign my hat…” and motioned to the off-white cowboy hat his was wearing.
Chris (our bass player) and I took the hat and got it signed, then returned it to the fellow, who was absolutely beaming to see that Sharpie ink drying on his cowboy hat. We thanked him for coming to the show and finished our load out.
I came across this quote online a few weeks ago and it has triggered a surprising number of memories for me. When I was younger, I LOVED going to concerts. I would stand at the gate outside shows I wasn’t old enough to get into. I would show up hours early to standing room shows to ensure I would be in one of the first couple of rows when the first downbeat was played. I idolized the guys on stage fantasized about one day being in a band myself.
When the show was over, I would always linger a bit. Perhaps I could find a pick on the floor, or grab a setlist from the stage if I was fortunate… or maybe the guitar player would come back out and I could meet them! My dad had always told me the story of seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Knoxville Coliseum and watching Albert Collins pack up his own guitars after the show. It seemed to be one of his most treasured memories… perhaps I was chasing one of my own.
Every so often, one of the guitar players would actually come back out to pack his things after a show. And I… well, I would freeze. I looked up to these guys so much, but when I had the chance to actually speak to them, I couldn’t find a single word to say for fear of annoying or offending them. They seemed like such giants… and I was just some kid.
So in most cases I would just watch, awkwardly shifting my weight a few feet from the stage, until the moment had passed… much like my cowboy friend from earlier.
You see, it’s easy to notice the person in the front row yelling at you to come take a picture with them, or the person who wants to buy you a drink after the show. And who can ignore the attractive girl batting her eyes at you half the show? (This happens to our bass player far more often than me, although I’m a definitely a hit with the elderly clientele)
But who notices the teenager a couple rows back who just started to play guitar?
Who notices the aspiring songwriter who was inspired by our music but is afraid of looking amateur by saying something?
Who notices the lonely folk who just want someone to talk to, even for a couple minutes?
I’m not generalizing people here; I have been all of these at one point or another.
So that’s one of my new goals when I step on – well, off – stage: to not only take care of those who demand my attention, but to seek out and love on those who are afraid to. Because that’s who I was once upon a time, and I remember the few who took an extra moment to speak to an awkward teenager with a pimply face and rock star dreams (Darin Favorite, Eric Schenkman, David Wilcox – if any of you ever read this, thanks a million).
My challenge to all of us – not just musicians – is to notice those who are in the margins of our lives. It doesn’t matter what your profession is – I promise you that someone looks up to you and wants to be noticed by you. Someone you can invest in and share what wisdom you’ve gained on your journey thus far.
You don’t need to reach a particular level of success before you can do this. As a kid, I remember being just as enamored by the guy playing Jimmy Buffett covers at the pool bar in the summer as I was staring up at Mark Tremonti of Creed at the first arena show I ever attended. (Judge me all you like, you hypocrites – we ALL went through that phase.) It doesn’t matter where you are right now, there’s always someone out there.
For those I’ve ignored in the past – forgive me. I promise I’ll do better.
For those I haven’t met yet – come see me. Let’s hang. The scotch and cookie can wait.