June 11, 2019
Over the last two months since I left off at "G" (Grateful Dead), I have continued my alphabetically-ordered musical odyssey almost every Wednesday night at the Queen City Brewing open mic events. (My review of Part I: from A to G was on April 17.) Playing in public with greater regularity, I am getting better responses from the audience.
H is for Hootie & the Blowfish: On April 17, open mic host Fritz Horisk instituted a new arrangement such that performers who arrive early get to play more songs than those who arrive later -- such as me, in this case. (Domestic chores often detain me.) That meant that I only got to do three of the four songs I had planned, but as you will see, that worked out for the best. Two of the songs were "first-timers" for me, but I did well enough and got good applause. I didn't use the harmonica on any of them, which is rare for me. HOOTIE!
* : first time in public
(This notation applies throughout this post.)
I is for Imagine Dragons: One week later (April 24) I was in a quandary, since the only suitable group I know that starts with "I" is Imagine Dragons, and I only know one song by them. (I ruled out INXS as way too loud for an acoustic instrument.) So, I began by playing the "left-over" song that I was unable to play the week before. That still left two slots open, and I was prepared to resort to one of my own modest musical creations (using the logic that I start with "I"), but that proved unnecessary because of the tight scheduling that night. With a full slate of performers, I only got to do two songs. Just as well. Both were OK, but I felt a bit uncomfortable doing "Radioactive." (Those are some thought-provoking lyrics, by the way: "This is it, the Apocalypse.")
J is for Joe Walsh: The very next week (May 1) I signed up in advance to make sure I got to do four songs. I paid tribute to the bad boy classic rocker who took the Eagles to new heights in the late 1970s. All four songs were "first-timers" for me, and I rose to the occasion by nailing them with technical accuracy and passion. I recently changed the way I playe "Rocky Mountain Way," and it sounded great with the harmonica filling in for the lead guitar. One guy wondered how I was ever going to get through the complex "Life's Been Good," and he was impressed that I pulled it off. That was a good night!
# : with harmonica
* : first time in public
(These notations apply throughout this post.)
K is for Kansas: I missed the next week mainly because I was exhausted from a busy day of chores, and it was just as well, because I really needed to polish the four songs by Kansas, which is very challenging material. They were one of the leading examples of "progressive rock" in the 1970s, along with Yes, Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, and Rush. By May 15 I was ready, and I played my heart out. The first and third songs were relatively easy and familiar to most of the folks in the audience, but the second and fourth songs were musically complex and apparently new to almost everyone there. I got polite applause, but I was a little disappointed I didn't make a bigger impact.
L is for Led Zeppelin: And speaking of "challenging material," I had a plate full on May 22, when I decided to tackle one of the best rock groups of all time. I began by noting that my previous week's set (Kansas) kind of went over like a lead balloon, a humorous segue into Led Zeppelin. I started with the mellow "Going to California," and then switched gears with a wailing harmonica on "When the Levee Breaks." Damn, that sounded good! I learned both of those songs relatively recently. The third and fourth songs were ones I have played many times, and they happen to occur in sequence on side one of Led Zeppelin IV! (Indeed, all four songs were from that album.) For "Stairway To Heaven" the harmonica did the flute notes in the introduction, and the lead guitar in the grand finale. It was one of the biggest risks I had ever taken, and this time at least I really pulled it off. Some parts weren't quite as "clean" as I would like, but the audience reaction was fantastic.
M is for Moody Blues: May 29 went a little easier for me, since I had done all four songs in public before, so it wasn't as hard to prepare. I was poised, and everything sounded fine. I use the harmonica for the flute solo in "Nights In White Satin," and even though it wasn't perfect, it was a vast improvement over the first time I played that song at open mic a couple years earlier. Once again, I got some very warm compliments from the audience and other musicians. In the days that followed, I learned to play another Moody Blues song: "Question," which has some very fast strumming (necessitating a light pick) and striking chord progressions. I look forward to playing that at open mic after I finish my alphabetical sequence.
N is for Neil Young: Likewise, June 5 was a relatively easy night for me, since I had done three of the four songs in public before. In contrast to the rock songs in which my use of the harmonica is rather unorthdox, for Neil Young songs, it is strictly conventional. "Harvest Moon" could have been a little clearner, but it was OK. I prefaced "After the Gold Rush" with an observation that Neil Young has a dual performing character: sometimes he is a sentimental romantic, and sometimes he is a stridently protesting prophet of doom. The last verse of that song involves a spaceship taking refugees away from an ecologically ruined Earth. As the finale, I really got carried away with the the harmonica on "My My, Hey Hey." Once again, folks really enjoyed it.
I am now officially half-way through the alphabet, slightly over, in fact. At my next musical outing (this Wednesday?), I will be on the letter "O," and anyone who knows me very well knows which group's songs I will play!
On May 18, Jacqueline and I went downtown to enjoy the last set of the first "Staunton Jams" street concert of the 2019 season. I greeted lots of people I know from church, from music circles, etc. The local rock group Sun Dried Possums was playing, but the amplifiers were too loud, so we retreated a half block away and enjoyed fine malt beverages at Shenandoah Brewing. (I played two solo shows there last year.) Hopefully I can get another gig there before long...