The Joy of Performing

So I took a little trip this weekend up to my brother Rick’s place in rustic Jay, New York. Jay is a tiny burgh on the edge of the Adirondack Park, about two hours’ drive south of Montreal. He and my sister-in-law Sue live in a comfortable house on a dirt road with a group of cats and a dog named Julius Erving (Rick’s devotion to the Philadelphia 76ers is widely known if not widely understood.) Their next-door neighbors (they live a quarter mile down the road), Dave and Jean, have a sizable back yard with a pavilion, a fish pond, and a small stage. They frequently have mini-music festivals on weekends, including one every August devoted to the music of Neil Young. I was invited to the one they had last night.

It was a gorgeous drive through the turning foliage, and the lakes were an icy blue. I even pulled over once to shoot a couple of pictures. The air was quite a bit cooler when I got to Jay than it was in Syracuse, and adding a couple of layers over my T-shirt quickly became a necessity. However, the crowd gathered at Rick and Sue’s house was a friendly one, and there was plentiful beer, lasagna and chili, even before we set off for the bash down the road. My brother Pat, his wife Sonia and my niece were there, along with a bunch of their friends. Around 5:30, we made the trek down to Dave and Jean’s, and shortly thereafter the music started.

Several local musicians took turns on the stage before Pat and his group climbed up for their set. They graciously invited me to sit in with them, which was really pretty nice since they had rehearsed all the songs and I…hadn’t. The stage could comfortably accommodate two people; including me, the musicians numbered five. I stood in the back and watched Pat’s hands so I would know what chords to play. Fortunately, the set consisted of some old Grateful Dead songs like “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” that were fairly easy to pick up. Not knowing any of the lyrics, I didn’t sing but played rhythm guitar. There were three of us on guitar, one on banjo, and one on bass. Pat sang lead and played a lot of sweet guitar solos. The rehearsals have clearly paid off for these guys — their harmonies and solos were tight. I had a blast playing with them.

Around 45 minutes later, I went on stage for a solo set. I hadn’t played in front of an audience like this in years, and I was more than a little nervous. An extra bottle of Saranac Black & Tan helped calm the nerves a bit, but I didn’t settle on the song list until right before I went on. I considered The Beatles “If I Needed Someone,” Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” and Harry Nillson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” but didn’t feel confident that I would get the chords right. Instead, I went with the following songs:

What was especially cool was that, at some point in the second verse of “American Pie,” I heard the sound of conga drums being played behind me, then I noticed various members of the crowd banging tambourines, bells, and other various percussion instruments. I had invited everyone to sing along, but everyone played along, too. It was great.

I can see where performing live like that could be like a drug. Before the first set with Pat and his group, I was feeling a little sleepy. By the time I finished my solo set, I was wide awake and pumped.

All in all, it was a great time and something I should do more often. I will never be a rock star, which is just as well, but even with the big five-oh looming closely over the horizon, I can still make someone smile with a good song and a nice turn of phrase on my guitar, at least once in a while. And that’s a nice feeling.

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