Monday, March 19, 2018

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (03.17.18)

It was a long time ago, maybe in 2010, that I decided to branch out from my virtual world live music performances and try doing them on live video. From the start -- and for reasons not recalled at this time -- I called my live video performance the "Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show", and I did them on many different video platforms including StageIt, StreamJam, Ustream and more. Here in 2018, it seems pretty obvious that doing Facebook Live is a good way to grab audience members quickly and easily. The downside was that Facebook Live seemed to only want to function via a mobile device (phone/tablet) interface, and there was no good interface for my my audio gear that allows me to not sound, well, like I was performing over a phone.

I did a little searching and found an app for the Mac called Livedesk for Facebook Live. Despite it looking slightly sketchy, the trial download (limited to five minutes of broadcast time) was free from Apple's App Store, and seemed to work. The full version with unlimited time was under $20, so I got it, and it really seems to work just fine. The software immediately saw my USB-based audio interface and camera, and had no problem connecting to my Facebook account. So, on Saturday -- which happened to also be St. Patrick's Day, hence my green t-shirt -- I set up my microphone, plugged in my Takamine acoustic, fired up my camera and did a little show. I didn't do much to pre-announce it; I wanted to be sure the software was stable and the quality was acceptable, and everything turned out great. I think it's likely that future episodes of the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show will be done on this platform. Hopefully it continues working as advertised; it's always a concern with third-party apps involving social media that something will change and the API will no longer function, but hopefully this developer is on top of things.

Facebook does keep an archive of live videos, so if you want to spend an hour watching me play music and be silly, you can.

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show set list...
Save It For Later (English Beat)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
It's Easy Like Walking (The Sadies w/Kurt Vile)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
From the Beginning (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
It’s Choade My Dear (Connan Mockasin)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)

Big thanks to all the folks who tuned in live, or watched the video afterwards, or otherwise checked out my little show. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Serenity Gardens (03.12.18)

Another great night at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

The music has been flowing in a big way here in Zakland. I'll tell you about last night's show at Serenity Gardens in a moment, but first I want to make the first official mention of an upcoming new song and a new collaboration between myself and a terrific Second Life musical artist whom I've long respected.

Introducing Claxton & Larson
It was a number of years ago that I was at an SL music event and heard a performer that blew me away. Much like real life, the really impressive talents in SL do stand out among the rest. His name in Second Life, I found out, was Mulder Watts, but he performed and recorded under his given name of Jon Larson. I could tell by listening to Jon's music that we shared many of the same influences, and he was performing original songs that were very impressive. He often did dual-streaming SL shows with Voodoo Shilton, another really outstanding guitarist. I made a mental note at the time that I'd definitely take advantage of any opportunity to do something musical with this guy.

Fast forward to fall 2016, when Kat and I attended the Twin Cities Jam in Minneapolis. We met Jon and his lovely wife Alecia there, but it was only in brief. The larger SL Jams can be hectic, and you never seem to be able to spend enough time with any given person. Jon and I spoke afterwards and said that next time we were in the same place at the same time, we'd be sure to do some tunes together. That opportunity came along in February, when we both went to Arizona for a mini-Jam. While we were just relaxing one evening, Jon and I had our guitars out and the idea came up of quickly trying to write an original song. Sometimes those things actually work; sometimes they don't. But in the space of a few minutes, Jon and I managed to put together a little chord progression that included a verse, chorus, and bridge. It wasn't anything spectacular, but I thought it sounded pretty good. After we returned to our respective homes (Jon lives in Northern California, while I'm about 400 miles south of him here in the LA area), I spent some time on a weekend fleshing out the song with some added instrumentation, and showed Jon the results. He then came up with a melody and we started building the song together, going back and forth by sending audio files to each other as we got inspired and recorded new parts.

Jon and I in Arizona, just starting to create the song we're going to be releasing soon. Photo by Alecia Larson.

The real turning point happened when Jon told me his idea for a lyrical theme. He and I seem to share outlooks on social and political issues, and Jon asked if I'd be okay with the song being about the madness of gun violence and school shootings. I replied that I'd be 100% behind any message he wanted to offer in that regard. It just so happened that the horrifying mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida had occurred the day before our Arizona trip, so the subject was certainly fresh in both of our minds. On Saturday of this past weekend, Jon delivered the first pass of his vocals with the lyrics, and I added a harmony part. Our voices complement each other very nicely, it turns out, and the song is becoming more impressive with each refinement.

We've decided to release the song to the public when it's complete. Additionally, Jon suggested, and I heartily agreed, that it would be the right thing to donate any proceeds from sales of the song to a cause that is focused on eliminating gun violence and school shootings. More information will be coming soon on this exciting news, but I can tell you the name of the song and show you the artwork we developed for its release.

Coming soon: "Beacon" by Claxton & Larson.

And Now, The Show
As you may recall from a couple of weeks ago, my last show in SL didn't go so swimmingly due to Second Life being in the midst of a massive DDoS attack. I'm happy to say that everything was back to its usual stable self in SL for my show last night at Serenity Gardens. We had a nice crowd, and as I've been prone to do recently, I made sure to include a couple of songs I'd never done previously. Both went really well.

I think "Baker Street" will definitely find its way into future set lists. Cool tune. Photo by Kat.

I was happy to see Mavenn having the slot to perform after me at Serenity. She's a cool lady with a killer voice. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Take Me With U (Prince)
1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)
*Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty)
Woodstock (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
What I Got (Sublime)
The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)
*You Make Loving Fun (Fleetwood Mac)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to the show, with special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
Aurelie Chenaux, Tyche Szondi, fabilene Cortes, taryn Adasia, RansomTalmidge Resident, TheaDee Resident, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Serenity Gardens / The Internet (02.26.18)

Aurelie Chenaux sent me this screen cap while I continued playing despite having crashed out of Second Life. The show, as it must, went on. Note that I am literally not there in front of the microphone in the foreground.

Sometimes it's good to break out of a routine. It's usually preferable, though, when one chooses and plans to do so, rather then be thrown unceremoniously and violently without warning into a sea of madness, a whirling monstrous void of insanity and weirdness and technological blunders... perhaps I should back up and start again. Yes, that seems like a good idea. Here we go.

Those of us who've been in Second Life for over a decade remember the early days before the platform settled into some semblance of stability. It was rare to get through even a few shows without running into major grid problems... full crashes, payments not going through, disappearing inventory, and all that. I think that over the years, many of us take for granted the relative calm of SL from a technology standpoint. You go in world, it works most of the time, you do whatever you like to do there. Sure, there are some screw-ups here and there, but they're the exception rather than the rule.

So, that's most of the time. And then there are times like Monday night in SL. They're few and far between these days, as far as I can tell. But wow, and yikes. Via social media, I started hearing about people being unable to log in throughout a good portion of the day today. It's not what a performer likes to hear the day he or she has a show scheduled. And then not only were people not being able to log in; people who made it in SL were being booted out. This was not looking good. However, about a half hour before my show, I tried to log in and it worked. So far, so good. Made it to Serenity Gardens, where at least my manager Maali plus Serenity owner Ilsa and hostess Tilly were present. Things seemed to be going okay... until they weren't. I found myself unable to move or chat, and then poof! I was gone.

I was pretty much ready to call it a night right then and there. I was trading messages with Ilsa on Facebook, about to officially cancel the show, when she told me Tilly had made it back in. I logged into SL in the "last location" option, and what do you know? I was back on the stage, and people were arriving. Success! I started right into my first tune and launched into a second song when I noticed the crowd was being kind of quiet. Yeah... that was because I'd crashed in SL, which just took awhile to register on my screen.

To Quit or Not To Quit?
Once again, it seemed rather silly to keep going. I did glance at my audio streaming software, which was still chugging away. I knew that a) if any people were somehow remaining in Second Life, they'd still be able to hear me regardless of the fact that I wasn't there, so to speak, and b) if I took a moment to post my stream address on Facebook, others who'd been booted out of SL might be able to listen in as well.

As I told my friend Thea Dee after the show, there were a couple of moments there where I was having a "Schrödinger's Cat" gig, where I had no idea if anyone was actually listening as I kept playing. I'm still not even sure why I kept going during that time frame. Something just told me that there were still ears on the other end of that network of wires and satellites and various Internet platforms, but until I checked, much like the famous cat, my crowd was both there and gone while I continued to sing and play guitar. Finally, I pulled up Facebook in between my fourth and fifth songs, and my mystery was solved... there was a big thread of people commenting about the show! Some folks managed to remain at Serenity Gardens, amazingly. Most others had been booted out of SL, but managed to dial in my stream, and were chatting on Facebook as if it was the online chat in world. Either way, I still had an audience who, despite all the reasons to blow off my show and do something more productive and interesting, were still hanging out.

Over on Facebook, I wanted to give people who'd been looking forward to my show a way to hear it, even if SL was totally borked. I was responding over the mic to folks' comments there, just as if we were doing the show in a functional Second Life venue. Somehow it all worked out. Crazy.

That felt pretty damn good, I must say. Due to all the insanity, we didn't have time for a full show (and I had no idea if the venue in SL was going to try and keep going with other scheduled shows), so I wrapped up at 7PM as usual. We still managed to get nine songs performed in the midst of all that madness. While dealing with all the tech issues, I felt I'd been too distracted to actually do a very good show, but everyone was very positive about having enjoyed it, so somehow it all worked out. There was even a bit of a benefit; certain people are no longer able to access SL for a variety of reasons, and I saw several of them commenting on my "show thread" on Facebook. In any case, I really hate canceling shows, frankly. I take a good amount of time preparing my set, warming up and preparing in various ways, and to then not do the show is a massive disappointment, no matter the reason. The fact that we were able to have the show go on despite the many legitimate excuses for it to not happen is probably my favorite thing about the whole experience.

Serenity Gardens set list...
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (The Police)
*So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry) (R.E.M.)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
*Blue Shadows on the Trail (Randy Newman)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

I really have no way of thanking all the people who made crazy efforts to remain in my audience for last night's show. Below are the few and the proud who somehow managed to stay in SL and tip me. To the rest of you, all the folks who jumped over to Facebook and the ones who listened in whom I have no way of knowing who you are, I can only send my most sincere thanks.
Tyche Szondi, Aurelie Chenaux, not4gods Resident, Trouble Streeter, my manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Jamming with SL Friends in Arizona

Every once in awhile, a little change of pace is welcomed and needed. It was sometime in the Fall when our friends Jess and Deb suggested the idea of a little get-together in the Arizona desert. It was the birthday weekend of Deb's husband Rob, and being in mid-February, a great time for several of our friends who live in cold weather states to enjoy some southwestern sunshine. I, having just wrapped up my busiest time of year work-wise, was completely onboard with the idea. The way we thought about the event was something akin to a Second Life Jam but much, much smaller, and placed in a more intimate setting than the typical hotel-based SL Jam environment.

Folks started looking around for an appropriate venue, checking out rental properties in the Phoenix area. The first place that was selected fell through, but after a brief scramble, Kat stumbled on what seemed to be the perfect spot. It was a large and beautiful home in Scottsdale that was attached to an Arabian horse ranch, and it was available on the dates we required. The size of the place dictated how many people we could accommodate, and while it would have been fun to open it up to anyone who wanted to come, we were limited to about 10-12 folks in terms of bedrooms on the property. Not wanting to disappoint potential attendees, we kept the event on the down-low, and discreetly asked around with folks who we thought might be into the idea.

Before we knew it the date arrived, and on Thursday February 15, Kat and I boarded a short flight from LA to Phoenix. Jess picked us up at Sky Harbor Airport, and drove us up to Scottsdale where we got to view the place in person for the first time. It was, in a word, magnificent. Some of the attendees had already arrived, and we were greeted warmly by everyone as we settled in. In addition to me, Kat, Jess, Deb, and Rob (I will be using real names and SL names interchangeably here, so hopefully it won't get more confusing than necessary), guests for this Arizona mini-Jam included Krell and his lovely lady Vette, Jon and his wife Alecia, Leni, Lita, and the wonderful woman who manages the live SL performances of myself and Deb, Maali. The original plan also had Lyndon Heart joining us, but illness sidelined him at the last moment, so his spot was filled by Rob's sister Brigitte.

We got settled in and took a look around the place. First, I guess I hadn't realized that the horses would be right there on the property. There were dozens of amazing Arabian thoroughbreds romping around in various stables and rings. The decor of the interior and exterior was tasteful and beautiful. The surrounding environment was the classic Arizona desert, with large saguaro cacti silhouetted in the red sunset. It was exactly what I'd hoped it would be and more. In the mornings and evenings, groups of rabbits and quail would meander through the back yard. Each day when I awoke and lazily strolled outside, the only sound was a symphony of mostly unfamiliar bird calls from every direction combined with the occasional whinny of a happy horse.

R&R in 'Zona
One evening, I actually managed to work out a new song with Jon Larson, aka Mulder Watts in SL, who is very adept at being improvisational and the song came out in mere minutes, as most good ones do. We captured a quick demo on my iPad, and I look forward to fleshing out the track with him (something that's quite possible to do remotely these days by sending audio files back and forth as we create and record new parts from our respective homes).

I won't give you a play-by-play of the entire weekend. On a general basis, when people felt like picking up instruments and playing music, we did. When we were hungry, we ate. When we were tired, we slept. I know this is starting to sound like Forrest Gump describing his run across America, but it really was that casual, and it was perfect in that way. We did have one event planned that most of us attended, which was Friday night's dinner at Fabio on Fire, an outstanding Italian restaurant in Peoria owned by a friend of Jess. I had the lobster ravioli, if you're interested in that level of detail.

We also had a number of guests stop by during the weekend, including fellow SL musician Art Martin who came and jammed with us on Friday, Deb's elderly dad Harold who was an extremely nice guy, and Jon's nephew and his girlfriend, who live locally to the area. Maali's husband joined us for dinner on Friday night, and it was nice to meet him as well.

While the event actually ran through today (Monday February 19) with some of the people able to take advantage of the Presidents Day holiday, Kat and I had to split on Sunday evening. It was a terrific four days, and was exactly what I'd been hoping it would be... a fun time hanging out with great people and making good music.

Some Pics
Here are some pics. I took some, others took others, and some are screen captures from various videos streams.

Ready to catch our plane to Phoenix.

Kat and I are rarely this smiley at LAX, unless we're headed somewhere fun. We were.

Playing some tunes with Krell in the living room.

Mulder Watts and Zak Claxton, live from the patio.

We had some super fun jams while just chilling in the backyard.

The venue was about as peaceful and relaxing as could be... a perfect spot to chill and have fun with friends.

Downstairs in the jam room, rocking with Art Martin.

Is jamming fun? You bet your ass it is.

Jess gets extra credits for having chauffeured Kat and I around town while we were there.

Friday night's dinner at Fabio on Fire. Maali, Kat, me, Lita, Brigitte, Krell, Vette, Leni, Art, Rob, Deb, Jess, and John.

This foal was born while we were there. The horses were all extraordinary.

With the lovely Jess, one of my best friends in the world.

I'd met Jon Larson at the Twin Cities Jam in 2016, but this was the first time we had a chance to really hang out. He and his wife Alecia are lovely people.

Giving a goodbye hug to Leni as we prepared to head back to LA.

What? You mean we have to go home and work and be responsible and stuff? Boooooo!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Serenity Gardens (02.12.18)

I'm back! Photo by Kat.

Oh, hello blog reader. What's that, you say? It's been a month since my last post? Yes, I believe I explained that I am MIA for awhile each January and early February due to events beyond my control. I could have posted about various other things in the time frame in between, but... I didn't. I suppose that it's kind of nice to walk away from this blog in the same way it's refreshing to take a break from performing live shows for a little bit. I always enjoy both things more upon my return, and hopefully you do as well.

Going to Arizona
Before I write about my show last night at Serenity Gardens, I'll write about something I mentioned during said show. On Thursday, Kat and I are heading to a rental place north of Phoenix for a few days along with a number of other friends from Second Life. Let me note right away, this is not, I repeat, not an SL Jam. It's just a small group of folks who all happened to be ready for a little vacation, and know each other through the SL music scene. A few of us are bringing acoustic guitars, and we're all looking forward to some very mellow times, with no big events on the schedule. I try and do something to get away and reset my brain after my busy work events each January, so the timing of this was perfect. I'm sure I'll have some good stuff to reflect upon and share after we're back. Stay tuned for that.

Darwin Day
Yesterday was the birthday of one of my heroes. I started studying the work of Charles Darwin when I was a little kid, and have been fascinated by the science of evolution ever since. There are people who seem to feel the work of Darwin is a personal affront to them, since it contradicts many of the basic creation myths espoused by most religions. I don't care about that. I believe that as time goes by and the science of DNA study continues to be more and more refined, the fact that all living things are related will be more apparent to all. Perhaps in some future era, humanity can move beyond its behavioral patterns of greed and war and environmental destruction simply through the recognition that everything alive is part of the same family. I try and remain optimistic about these things.

The Show
I've noted before that when I take a break from performing, I don't really know what to expect when I return. Will I be able to sing and play guitar well? Will my audience want to come see me? These concerns are always for naught. Last night at Serenity Gardens was a good example. I did my typical warm-up routine, we had a nice-sized crowd, and everything went fine. I will say that right toward the end, I started getting some cramps in my left (fretting) hand, but with both singing and playing an instrument, it's a physical activity that requires both strength and muscle memory to do well. The more often you do it, the more you can count on your body to do what you want. I'm sure that for subsequent shows, as I play and sing more often, my hands and voice will have no problem holding up better over the course of a full hour-long show.

I purposefully dug a little deeper into my song list for this show, pulling out a few tunes that I've been doing less regularly in recent times. That's always a purposeful effort by me, making sure that both my audience and myself avoid burnout.

Serenity Gardens is such a nice, open space that I find I enjoy the act of playing there all the more. Photo by Kat.

"I'm a China toad, and I'm in reckless mode." Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Bring On The Night (The Police)
Alison (Elvis Costello)
Shock the Monkey (Peter Gabriel)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Big Empty (Stone Temple Pilots)
Court & Spark (Joni Mitchell)
It’s Choade My Dear (Connan Mockasin)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)

Huge thanks to every person who came to Serenity Gardens to see my show, with extra-special thanks to those who helped support it!
ErikKottzen Resident, RoxxyyRoller Resident, dls Falconer, TheaDee Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Tyche Szondi, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Serenity Gardens (01.15.18)

Having a good show at Serenity Gardens before my annual hiatus from SL performances. Photo by Kat.

I awoke yesterday morning with no idea what kind of music I'd be performing at Serenity Gardens in Second Life for my scheduled bi-weekly Monday night show there. A few hours later, my set list was completely clear, due to both happy and sad reasons.

Last Show for Awhile
As I mentioned last week, I'm now officially on hiatus until after an upcoming business event. My next scheduled show is on February 12, so I wanted to make sure last night's show was a good one for the sake of both myself and my audience. There's this kind of weird paranoia among some SL musical performers that if they don't do shows constantly, they'll be forgotten or something. Look at it this way: in real life, bands don't tour 100% of the time. They tour, they work on an album, they have lives, and then they tour again. I actually think it's a good and positive thing to step away from doing shows in SL every so often. In my case, it's a forced but necessary decision, with a business event that eats my time (and then consumes my body and voice to the point where singing and playing just isn't an option for awhile). But each year, I find that my January hiatus works out fine, and leaves me with a renewed interest in doing my shows upon my return.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day
For reasons of the above-mentioned hiatus (which usually starts a bit earlier than it does this year), I don't believe I've ever before done a show on the MLK Day holiday. Once I realized the significance of the day, I wanted to be sure to perform some music that had a theme of Dr. King and the civil rights movement... something that's important to me on multiple levels. Most of the people reading this blog are likely aware that I'm a supporter of causes that promote equality and justice for all people, so I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to spread my message on such an auspicious day.

Dolores O'Riordan, 1971-2018
It was a few hours into the day yesterday that some heartbreaking news starting filling my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Dolores O'Riordan, the singer and main songwriter of The Cranberries, had passed away suddenly at age 46. Beyond being sad on its own, it made me aware that The Cranberries had an unexpectedly big musical impact on the early/mid-90s period. I'd previously only had one song of theirs in my repertoire, but I was well acquainted with many others, and decided to do a few of them in tribute to this good musician and lovely woman.

The Show
I never know what kind of crowd I'll get, or how well I'm going to perform. I really don't. Some days everything feels fine and then my hands and vocal chords decide to not cooperate, and other times the reverse happens where I think I'm unordered or not feeling physically perfect and then have a great show. Well, I'm happy to say that last's night's show at Serenity Gardens went well on all fronts. We had a nice audience who seemed to enjoy themselves, and I felt good about the tunes I did. The show kind of got divided into three parts... a tribute to Dolores, a batch of songs for Dr. King, and a mishmash of indie rock and original tunes. I think they all went pretty well.

Me onstage, looking out at my friends and fans. Photo by Asimia Heron.

My crowd at Serenity Gardens always seems accepting of whatever I choose to play, which is a good feeling. Photo by Asimia Heron.

Wrapping up my show and getting ready to change my brain mode from musician to music businessman... a very different mindset, I promise. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Zombie (The Cranberries)
*Dreams (The Cranberries)
Linger (The Cranberries)
Same Sun (Real Estate)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)
Runnin' Down a Dream (Tom Petty)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Pride (U2)
All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
Alabama (Neil Young)
*Goodbye Fans Improv (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Big ol' thanks to all who came out to my last show before my hiatus, with special kudos to the following who helped support the show!
ErikKottzen Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Sesh Kamachi, Asimia Heron, go2smoky Resident, Tyche Szondi, Lunette Kyomoon, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Islands of New England (01.09.18)

Enjoying a good show at The Islands of New England, with Lyndon Heart waiting for me on the wings. Photo by Thea Dee.

Pretty much every person in every kind of business has a "busy time of year". For me, that time is now. My career is in the musical instrument and audio products industry, and the big event in that business happens each January. You may have heard me mention and/or complain about it before; it's called the NAMM Show. This year, 2018, will mark my 25th consecutive year working at that show. I was a 23-year-old kid when I first worked at NAMM in 1993. It seems like a lifetime ago.

As I'm sure is true for many others, NAMM gives me mixed feelings. I do enjoy getting together in person with many friends and acquaintances that I tend to only see in person at the show. On the flip side, there's a tremendous amount of work that goes into making the show successful for my clients, and I'm extremely busy throughout the multiple days of show itself. It's a pressure-packed environment, and being what it is, it's constantly loud and crowded. For someone like me who really prefers quiet and somewhat isolated environs, it can be nerve-wracking and difficult at times to handle.

Why am I writing about this now? Simply because we're getting close to the time of year where I need to take a hiatus from live music shows due to a) being too busy while doing final preparations for the show, b) working the show itself, and c) allowing my body and voice (and brain) to recover sufficiently after it ends to be able to perform again. Officially, I am on hiatus from Second Life shows from January 20 through February 1, but after my next and final show before the break on Monday of next week, I don't currently have a show scheduled until February 12.

I find that little break I am forced to take each year to be a good thing. Granted, I enjoy performing and miss it when I am forced to stop for awhile. At the same time, like anything in life, you can start to take it for granted, and that sometimes leads to a performer not putting the highest level of effort and focus into each show. Ennui kicks in, and audiences can tell when a musician is just going through the motions. I'd also prefer to do less shows, but have each one be something I can enjoy and be proud of, and hopefully my audiences recognize that fact.

Getting Classic at New England
One of the side results of being so busy this time of year is that the amount of time I can spend preparing for each specific show is lessened. I'd been making a strong effort to include new material at nearly every single show in recent months, and I've enjoyed doing that. However, what's required to allow me to do that confidently is a lot of work in really learning a song well enough to perform it at a professional level; I simply won't add a new tune and then do a shitty job with it. It means I'm rehearsing the song a bunch of times, making sure I know the chords, the vocal phrasing, and figuring out any little performance tricks I can throw in to best represent the arrangement on solo acoustic guitar.

Well, I didn't have that kind of time for my show last night at The Islands of New England, so I make some lemonade out of that musical lemon, and chose a set that was nearly entirely classic singer-songwriter songs that I've heard many, many times, and most of which I've performed many times over the years. Whether you're a musician or actor or dancer, the key element of good performance is being completely confident that you know the material, and since I wanted to do a really good show despite having minimal time to prepare, I wasn't going to throw in stuff that I was learning while onstage.

The last thing I want to add is that it's always a pleasure when my musical buddy Lyndon Heart performs before or after my set. He's a great player and singer and all-around entertainer, and I enjoy him as a fan almost as much as I do as a friend.

It always feels like hanging out with friends when I perform at TIONE. Photo by Thea Dee.

The Islands of New England set list...
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
Help Me (Joni Mitchell)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Cat’s in the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Alison (Elvis Costello)
From the Beginning (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Lost Cause (Beck)
New England Is Fun Improv (Zak Claxton)

Big, big thanks to everyone who came out to be there at my show, with super duper thanks to the following people who helped support it with their patronage!
Keiko Zoon, RansomTalmidge Resident, Brianna Beresford, RoxxyyRoller Resident, ChipLoose Resident, Alexis Fairlady, DeaBella70 Resident, Sommer Shepherd, Tyche Szondi, CadenceBlue Resident, TheaDee Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, and New England's extraordinary event manager Christine Haiku!