Posts tagged: Singer Songwriter

Shipe Tour day 1: Richland, WA (Bookwalter Wines)

New wineries are popping up all over Eastern Washington, and I intend to inhabit each and every one.

Last night it was Bookwalter Winery in Richland. Gorgeous place, complete with Bocci and Croquette.

In the last several years, these wineries have become the bread-n-butter gig of choice for singer-songwriters. The people who come here like acoustic music. They listen and tip well; they even buy CD’s (instead of downloading from iTunes.)

And they like original music. In the old days, you couldn’t even get this gig unless you were an easy-on-the-ear act playing jazz standards Either that, or a human juke box serving up James Taylor, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell. (I confess that I do, indeed, serve up sheepish versions of two light Van-the-Man songs.)

Summer still lingers East of the Cascades, so I was set up outside on this warm night. As I was settling into my stool, strumming the first few sound check chords, a table of elderly people was seated right smack in front of me. I could hear them wondering aloud about my potential volume. “Well,” joked one fellow, “If he’s too loud, I can just turn down my hearing aid. I don’t know what you’re gonna do.”

It’s a good thing I have box chock full of mellow tunes that I love to play — and I don’t get to play them often in the louder bars. And I respect my elders; so the first set was really lazy and soft. Later in the night, I ramped it up. (It blows my mind how many CD’s I sell when I play “Yellow House,” “Villain,” and “Jesus.”)

By the way, my wine of choice has become Riesling on the dry side — one glass during set-up, one glass per set, one glass while winding down with the staff. (That can end up being 5 glasses.) Since I’ve been playing gigs like this (and since my Hungarian friends in Florida, of Zemplen Oak Barrels, started schooling me), I’ve learned a thing or two about wine. No red for me, please; it gives me a headache.

Last time I was here, I chatted with the owner — J. Bookwalter — an appreciator of the Oregon-based McMenamins company. He frequently spends weekends revitalizing at The Edgefield in Troutdale, OR, which has inspired him to start building cabins on his own vineyard. So we can lounge and drink wine for days on end!

Shipe reviewed in Dutch (Rootstime, Belgium)

The first review of Villain is in, from Rootstime in Belgium. (Follow the link and poke around a bit, you’ll find it.) I gleefully quote from the last paragraph:

“One of the very most beautiful songs on Villain is ‘Hard to Believe,’ which John Shipe delivers as a duet with singer Halie Loren. This song reminds you of the best work by Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra, and it absolutely deserves a place in the Golden Book of Famous Duet Classics.”

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Shipe @ Back Alley in Fullerton

I was a bit worried when I booked the gig. On MySpace, Back Alley looks like an utterly raucous venue, specializing in theme nights, 80’s & Disco, DJ’s, rowdy stuff like metal/punk/swing, or tribute bands like Allison Chains. Why would they book a singer-songwriter into the 11:00 pm – 1:00 am slot? And they booked me instantly on the first inquiry! The thought crossed my mind that they were desperate. You know the old Groucho adage: “I never join a club that would accept me as a member.”
Or worse: maybe they were setting me up for some twisted anti-theme, “Make-Fun-of-the-Serious-Songwriter-Night. (What?! You don’t believe I really think thoughts like that?)
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Shipe @ Silver Moon w/ Emma Hill / Debut on Uke

It is good to be gigging in Bend, Oregon, a place I have sorely neglected of late.

Silver Moon Brewing is a terrific scaled down venue, filling a Central Oregon venue gap since the demise of The Grove some years ago. (Frankly, for acoustic music, it’s a better room, with a more intimate feng shui.)

A few words about Emma Hill & Her Gentlemen Callers: Two thumbs up. She brought only one of her gentlemen callers to this gig. (Brian, her pedal steel player/backing vocalist.) I prefer it that way. Emma has a gorgeous full voice–a charming, emotional performer, which might come through when backed by a full electric band. But in sparse format, you get the full dimension of her art. That’s a paradox for singer/songwriters. Less is more. You really hear and feel her wisdom, wit and honest emotion. Amongst many of the Northwest folk artists I’ve played with, she stands out in sheer intelligence of songcraft.

I particularly liked a song probably called “Keeper,” a brilliant, slightly jolly take on having the lower hand in a relationship. She sings, smiling: “I’m not your ‘keeper,’ but a little bit of you loves me.” She exhibits vulnerability without the dire, angst that threatens an audience’s comfort zone.

Even though I played first, I must have benefited retroactively from the vibe she created. I loved playing for her audience. Generous and responsive, used to paying attention. They indulged me in my debut on ukele–my latest original “The Beast is Back Again.” (I’m loving this new song of mine, influenced by Leon Redbone, about falling off the wagon after 10 long years of boring clean soberiety.)

There’s nothing like a gig where they face the stage, listen to your stage banter (even your pretentious navel-gazing), listen to the music & lyrics, laugh at the funny parts, and erupt into applause after every song. Lovely.

The reason a fellow goes solo-acoustic is to explore subtleties–particularly in the downward dynamic. But you only get that when the audience is willing to go quiet right along with you.

Another word about Emma, native Alaskan daughter of a bush pilot: The highest compliment I can pay to a fellow artist is when I pull out my notepad and start jotting down lyric ideas during her set, which I did. It means she has put me in “the zone.”

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Booking in L.A. Area

With my impending relocation to L.A. comes the task of booking gigs and working up a circuit within a 150 mile radius of the City of Angels. (I’m am old-fashioned road warrior-type minstrel.)

I’m soliciting guidance from friends and fans in the area. The internet has made the world pretty small, and they can help me simply by passing the good word to anyone they know in the Biz. I’m looking for:
Openers at performance halls
Coffee Houses
Openers at amphitheaters
Bars & Taverns
Bands to open for
House Concerts

Any and all help is greatly appreciated.


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.

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!

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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!)

Northwest Folklife

I just played my ½ hour set at Northwest Folklife in Seattle. An indoor stage called Folklife Café.

Now I’m drinking a Pepsi in the Performer Hospitality building. There must be a hundred folk musicians in here from around the country. I’m surrounded by the sound of banjos, mandolins, fiddles, and twangy Appalachian-style vocalizations, coming from all directions. I love this part of festivals like this. Between the stages, behind tents, behind the scenes. You get this at Oregon Country Fair, High Sierra Fest. Folks will jam all night on blue grass, old-timey, gypsy, etc. It’s enchanting.

I confess that I am musically envious. My own singer/songwriter art barely qualifies as “folk.” It has some rural leanings at times, with a modicum of storytelling, but there’s a lot of so-called “composition,” and elements of pop. (You know, the umpteenth generation of ubiquitous Beatles influence.)

I could jump into these jams and hang on for dear life. I know the music, I love the music, and, yes, I have a few chops to play it. But I prefer to sit by and let the people who live this stuff do it without my hack intrusion.

Someday, I’ll practice up, get my Django down, and then I’ll joyfully participate.

My own set went well, although I was worried at first. I went on after a nylon-plucking guitarist who had the place riveted with his expertise, specializing in Italian and flamenco flourishes. With only 5 minutes of set change, the room was still full of the virtuoso’s exotic and exhilarating vibe when I was introduced. What are you gonna do, but do what you do best? I kicked it off with the story of falling in love with my wife in Seattle and broke into “Hours Go By.” Call it sucking up to the Seattle-ites, but people seem to like that song.

I brought out a new song that I only just finished on the drive up. “Villain.” It used to be called “Leni Riefenstahl.” I would like to say that it’s the only song of its kind. That is, a song that name-drops women associated with Nazis. But David Lindley already has one. It’s called “He Would Have Loved You More than Eva Braun.” As much as I love David Lindley, I think that’s a dubious way to tell your sweetheart what you think of her. (“You’re so special, Hitler would have taken you as his mistress.”)

No, I think that if you’re gonna talk about Nazi women and romance in the same song, it’s unlikely to travel in the sweet-n-light direction. That’s why mine is called “Villain.” It’s about the frustration of good men who are eternally losing out to the bad guys.

The chorus:

Eve Braun, Leni Riefenstahl/You seen one, you seen them all./Beauty loves her beast, and she’s always willin’./Some girls can’t help it; they love the villain.

Yeah, the song is sort of funny. But like all my “sorta funny” songs, it’s not meant to make people laugh. It’s actually quite sad. The audience liked it, but I could tell they didn’t quite know what to make of it. (Maybe because they don’t know who Eva Braun and Leni Riefenstahl are… For the record, they are Hitler’s mistress and Nazi Germany’s main filmmaker.)

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