Shipe in Sandpoint – Eichardt’s

Most of the night, the patrons sat at the bar with their back to me. I was really givin’ up for them too, singing with particular passion on this night, exploring the emotions in my songs. But I don’t know… Every once in a while, I started to get the feeling that I was in one of those absurd moments where the corner-of-bar performer is competing with the clientele’s obstinate inattentiveness.

If you walked into the place at, say, 10:32 pm, you would have seen me looking quite professional on a nicely lit stage, playing good tunes, and singing with great conviction. You might have said to yourself: “Wow. That guy is really into himself, and nobody’s listening. He must really suck.”

I couldn’t let it faze me, though. ‘Cause my good friends Cindy and Dave were there requesting old faves like “Spontaneous Combustion” and “1968.” And right now, I’m preparing for upcoming recording sessions. So each one of these gigs is like dress rehearsal. Producer Ehren Ebbage is expecting me to show up with my shit together, so I’m holding nothing back, no matter how enthusiastically the people ignore me.

(Damn, I’m glad I’m not a stand-up comedian. They actually get booed, not merely ignored.)

Come to think of it, I might be over-estimating the quality of my performance. I did slip a Vicodyn before the show; back pain had come on after I spent the afternoon walking around beautiful Sandpoint in the sun. Maybe I was in the throes of drug-induced euphoria, under the illusion that I was creating something beautiful, while hacking my way through mediocre strummin’ crap, wailing at the top of my lungs, annoying the crap out Eichardt’s.

Strangely, though, I received a ton of tips, relative to the size of the tiny crowd. So I couldn’t have been that bad… Unless they just felt sorry for me.

I tease myself, just to make sure that I don’t get any strange ideas about being so important to Western Civilization. But the truth is, I think the new material is working well, and I’m finding new places to go with my singing voice.

Shipe on Coeur D’Alene Moon Time

Woke this morning to see that “Honky Tonk Romans” is on a playlist I haven’t seen yet: Barely Darker Than Air. A good resource for East Coast community.

Last night was one of my better Moon Time gigs. The place was packed. (Iron Man Triathalon is in town.) Even though they were typically noisy on Dollar-Pint Night, they were listening. applauding after every song, tipping, making requests, and buying CD’s. I tested their attentiveness by directly soliciting tips–announcing that my local hotel of choice had raised its rates by 40 percent. They responded. I would not have done this had I not been sure that I was playing well, already making a warm connection by virtue of the performance. One does not resort to playing on the audience’s sympathies for the poor starving traveling troubadour. One only asks for voluntary compensation after providing solid entertainment. (Speaking of compensation, I thank Moon Time for paying their solo artists well. It’s always a reassuring way to start a tour. And the comped meal is spectacular.)

I mentioned that folks were making requests…

Read more »

Chatty Wine Bar – Idaho Falls

Good looking people hang out at Vino Rosso in Idaho Falls. And they’re more interested in each other than whatever musical act is hired for the night. But I’ve learned a thing or two about playing in these noisy bars. I’ve learned neither to fight for their attention, nor to crawl into an uninspired self-hole pretending we’re in two totally different rooms.

Sometimes they don’t look like they’re listening, but they hear just enough to appreciate that something fine is going on in the corner of this wine bar, in the vicinity of this fellow with the Breedlove guitar and the singing voice.

The question is: Do you play soft unobtrusive stuff, bland mid-tempo background music, or loud aggressive acoustic rock to be heard over the conversation? The answer: Play it all, just like would any other gig. The dynamics and trajectories are what people respond to, whether they’re listening passively or focused. Furthermore, do it with as much emotion and intensity as you always do. (That’s what you’re being paid for.) If you are afraid to appear really “into it,” just because you’re sort of in the background for the time being, you will appear bored & bland, and you’ll be written off as an amateur. They will likely feel sorry for you.

However, if you “go for it,” at all times, no matter what–earnest and emotional when you’re soft, aggressive when you’re rockin’ out–they’ll take you seriously. People are smart; they know what’s going on. Unconsciously, they respond to good music, and they do look at the stage (or corner) every once in awhile to acknowledge the competent artist.

But don’t isolate yourself. Be available to the mood, and change with it. Be ready to interact. If you’re playing 3 sets over 4 hours, you can’t expect walk-in clientele to treat the night like a 90-minute headlining act in a performance hall. But you can grab those 10-20 minute segments of artist-audience rapport. (Several of those per night is a pretty good record.)

And if you get a heckler, that’s a good thing!

Read more »

Pocatello Thursday Night

My usual gig in Pocatello is Sandbagger’s. As a touring act, you wouldn’t think of this place first when booking through an Idaho college town. It’s away from the college, and it’s not in old town, where people might go looking for brew pubs or internet cafés. It also has a sports atmosphere–not usually conducive to a music venue ambience.

But in recent years, I’ve been surprised by places like these. This one in particular. The difference is in the people who run the place. Judith is a smart music lover. (Her son is currently writing songs for bands like Good Charlotte.) And Ross, as serendipity would have it, used to be in a fellow road band called U.S. Blues, crossing paths with The Renegade Saints back in the day. (They would call the venue where we were playing and have trays of Jaggermeister brought to our stage. Hmm… Come to think of it, maybe they were just sabotaging their competition.)

Sandbagger’s pays the artist decently, and they welcome me with hospitality and answers to my questions. (Note to other venues, after a long drive to play music all night for your establishment, it means a whole hell of a lot when the staff greets me as though they’re expecting me.)

Sandbagger’s has a nice stage set up outside in the beer garden, away from the sports bar atmosphere, like a venue unto itself. It’s an early gig—7-10. Three sets. So you play as the sun goes down, your last set under stage lights. I like there, sell a lot of CD’s, get a lot of tips, and make some friends.

Tonight, weather was a problem, so I had to play indoors. That could be worrisome, surrounded by televisions with swirling images of basketball, baseball, track, soccer, football, boxing, NASCAR, etc. And the increasingly intoxicated, rooting fans. I used to have a strict rule about never playing sports bars. But like I said, I have been surprised lately. At first, I always feel strange busting into my first few songs, like I’m interrupting something, begging for the patrons to pay attention to me. But gradually, the vibe changes.

And here’s something really important for an artist: Katie the barmaid turned the giant flat screen TV off that was directly behind me. (Note to other venues: All TV’s in the direction of stage should be off. Do I need to describe how awkward it is to have people looking in your direction, but not at you, alternating cheering and jeering?)

As result of the artist-friendly attitude bestowed by the Sandbaggers staff, I had quite a good a gig. I wasn’t sure folks were listening at first. But applause increased, and people started putting money in my box, and I sold more CD’s than usual. (And this all during the Lakers/Celtics basketball championship Game 4!)

Between sets, and after the gig, a number of patrons expressed gratitude for my being there, engaging in good, charming—not drunken, sloppy—conversation about music and travel (…and the Oregon Duck football quarterback’s recent run in with the law. Sheesh! Every time I play there, something thuggish happens in Duck football. Last time, I watched the star Duck running back punch a Boise State player in the face. Come on boys, I’m trying to represent our state here!)