Monday, June 30, 2014

Wounded Warrior Benefit (06.29.14)

Last night, after I'd done my show at the US Military Veterans Center in Second Life, I was standing on my front porch with Kat, enjoying the coolness of the evening air. I mentioned, "You know, I've actually done quite a lot of different charitable shows over the years in SL," and she agreed. We began to count the different organizations for whom I've performed to raise funds and/or awareness.

• Relay for Life (American Cancer Society)
• National Kidney Foundation
• Animal rescue organizations
• Autism Society
• Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
• National Down Syndrome Society
• Live & Learn in Kenya

And now, I've done a show to aid injured military veterans. Shortly after making this list, a glowing halo spontaneously appeared over my head, and we emailed the Vatican to officially apply for sainthood.

All kidding aside, I'd like to note that one of the best things that musicians can do is to use their talents toward making the world a better place. It's fantastic making the art of music purely for the sake of the art itself, but if you have the opportunity to do what you love doing, and help people in the process, it's about as good as it gets. I'll never meet the military veterans who might be helped by the show we did yesterday, but there's a sense of having done something for the greater good of humanity that is inspirational for me. Purely on a selfish basis, doing that kind of thing puts a smile on my face. I honestly hope it helps someone in need, even if it's just to a small degree.

Another note about charitable shows. I don't accept every request that comes in for me to play at a fundraising event. I do my share of research, confirming that the organization for whom I'm performing is a recognized non-profit. I also limit my performances to causes in which I personally believe and support. In the case of the Wounded Warrior Project, I already have interaction with them based on support that my business clients have given. Still, that didn't stop me from reading up and learning some facts. One in particular stood out, and made me understand why we have such a large number of military vets who need care.

With advancements in battlefield medicine and body armor, an unprecedented percentage of service members are surviving severe wounds or injuries. For every US soldier killed in World Wars I and II, there were 1.7 soldiers wounded. In Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, for every US soldier killed, seven are wounded. - Wounded Warrior Project Site

That makes a lot of sense. Previously, so many soldiers died on the battlefield that we didn't have the ongoing issue of helping them heal. In any case, since so many of my friends know that I am about as anti-war as a person can be, they may be wondering why this is a charity I choose to support. It's very, very simple. In my view, any government who sends young men and women into combat is responsible for anything that happens to them as a result. Today, governments are running into a dose of harsh reality: they don't have (or aren't willing to use) the resources to ensure the potential life-long care of the increasing number of injured military personnel. Many of these people simply aren't getting the care they need, and should get help from somewhere (since the entity that caused them injury in the first place doesn't always come through). Perhaps in the big picture, this situation, as sad and wrong as it is, is another aspect that is a deterrent to war in general. It's too damn costly to take of the survivors.

I couldn't have asked for a cooler, more generous crowd at the Wounded Warrior benefit. Photo and top photo by Kat.

It was a great Sunday evening for some mellow tunes and successful fundraising. Photo by Kat.

I tend to go with the theory that benefit shows can be fun as well as focused on the goals of fundraising. Photo by Kat.

I look quite happy after wrapping up my show (and listening to the great music Voodoo Shilton who followed me). Photo by Kat.

Enough soapbox speaking. Onto the show! I had been approached by Frets Nirvana, another longtime SL musician, to play at his recurring event that happens on the last Sunday of each month. It took a couple of months to align the schedules so I could participate, but I'm very happy I agreed to do it. These events include multiple artists over the course of an evening, and I opened it up at the 5PM hour. We had a really good-sized crowd, and more importantly, we had a very generous crowd. Over the course of my 60-minute show, we raised over L$50,000, which is more than $200 USD, and the event donations totaled at more than L$120,000. Really, that's spectacular. I'm proud to have been a part of this event, which also included other great musicians like Voodoo Shilton, Noma Falta, and Frets himself. I kept my set themed in a mellow mood that seemed appropriate for the occasion.

Wounded Warrior set list...
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
*Wakin On A Pretty Day (Kurt Vile)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Mexico (James Taylor)
Perfectly Calm (They Stole My Crayon)
Daniel (Elton John)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)

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

Huge thanks to all who came to my show and supported this excellent cause. You rock!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Islands of New England (06.25.14)

Before I start telling you about my insanely good show at the Islands of New England in SL, let me throw out a couple of groundbreaking recent events of both personal and global significance. First, my son had a birthday this week, and I got him a powerful new graphic card for his PC that drastically improved his experience in killing thousands of people in massive multiplayer first person shooter games. I'm not sure if this makes me a great dad, or if I should be charged with some crime, but he's happy. Second, this week a federal court has ruled that a same-sex marriage ban in Utah is unconstitutional, which marks the first time that a federal appellate court has upheld the right of gays to marry. That's a massive historical moment that's on par with the civil rights movement of my parents' generation. I will always support the equal rights of all people everywhere, so this makes me a happy Zak.

So, let's get to the show. It was a Wednesday evening at 5PM that I was scheduled to perform at the Islands of New England, where I've played many times previously. It had been a little while since I'd been there, and last time, things didn't go so hot. I mean, the show I did there on April 30th was fine, with the exception of my laptop having blown up and my not being able to actually attend the show while I played it. Therefore, it was a pleasure just to pop up at the venue last night and do my usual kind of show. Anyway, a Wednesday at 5PM is typically a pretty tough time to draw a decent crowd. You've lost most of UK/Europe due to the time difference, and the West Coast is still at work or commuting. I didn't have great expectations of pulling a decent number of people to the show (not that this is my main priority, but it's nice when it happens).

Imagine my surprise, then, when about 10 minutes into my show, and the place was already filling up. By the time the show finished, it may have ended up being my largest crowd at IONE ever. Why? I have no idea. I do know there were plenty of other shows going on at the same time, including big-draw names at places like the Boom Pony and Key West. I can't offer any explanation; I didn't do anything differently as I always do in terms of announcing and promoting the show. Perhaps the fact that I'm performing more rarely in SL these days means that I get more people attending each show. I really have no idea, and I'm not going to analyze it. In any case, the crowd wasn't only large, but it was also an active and engaged crowd... my very favorite kind, whether it's three people or 3,000 people.

It's not the size of the crowd; it's how you use the crowd. Wait, what? Photo and top photo by Triana Caldera.

This picture looks so innocuous, you can hardly tell I'm singing about highly inappropriate things. Photo by Triana.

One note about the Islands of New England: it is managed by my friend Christine Haiku, a lady who I absolutely adore. There's an aspect to performing at a venue run by a close friend that allows me to abandon my already low levels of self-consciousness and restraint, and be about as crazy as I naturally tend to be. Earlier that day, sitting here and giggling like a loon to myself, I decided to prepare a tune for Christine that I was pretty sure was a) totally inappropriate and b) completely fun, and the fun factor won out. Also of note: I found myself with about two minutes left at the end of my final song of the night... not enough time to start another full tune, but too much time to jump off the stage. That's a dangerous moment for a guy like me, who has no problem improvising music but has almost no filter on what will come out of my semi-decrepit brain via my mouth. So, I made up a song on the spot to my friend Corey Tamas, who records and performs music as Dragonfly.

The Islands of New England set list...
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Fly Like an Eagle (Steve Miller Band)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Everlong (Foo Fighters)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
*If You're Into It (Flight of the Conchords)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
You're So Vain (Carly Simon)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
What I Got (Sublime)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
*Improvised Homage to Corey Tamas (Zak Claxton)

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

Huge thanks to every person who came out to the Islands of New England and had a great time with me, with special thanks to the following folks who helped support the show. you are awesome!
Atiya Rajal, Bigfoot Hendrassen, Charlize Bellic, mayaeight Resident, Jemma Bonne, TheaDee Resident, Gooch1435 Resident, Triana Caldera, Asheranna Resident, Richy Nervous, Aurelie Chenaux, GypsyW1tch Resident, Lynnie Michigan, Diana Renoir, my lovely manager Maali Beck, and most of all, IONE manager and my wonderful friend Christine Haiku!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Triana's Music Trivia (06.22.14)

Last night, I had the pleasure of performing for my friends at Triana's Music Trivia for their 9-year SL anniversary, as well as Triana's personal 10-year rezday. My experience with Triana's Music Trivia is well documented. In fact, a number of years ago, I even wrote a song about it. The opening lines of "Triana" tell the tale just fine.

I remember when Kat and I were new
Looking 'round SL for something to do
But Sunday evenings would never be the same
After we found Triana’s Music Trivia game
Flashed the buzzer and made some friends
Crashed SL and logged again
Oh, the fun it never ends

So, literally, Kat and I were told about Second Life in 2006, and we checked it out and enjoyed it. Had some fun trying our first building and scripting adventures. Went to some live music shows, when we found artists we enjoyed. But just a couple of months in, we were already asking the now-typical question: what is there to do in SL? We might have even left the platform (as many others have done for similar reasons) if we hadn't connected with Triana and her weekly Sunday night music trivia game.

I feel a need to brag a bit for my friend Triana, since her polite Midwestern upbringing doesn't allow her to do it easily for herself. Triana's Music Trivia (TMT) is Second Life's longest continuously running trivia event. She does an incredibly good job coming up with topics week and week, year in, year out. As a musician who has to think through and prepare sets for each of my shows, I personally know that there's always more work putting together any kind of event than the people attending it see on the surface. Triana is one of those "get it done" kind of people, and she handles TMT so well that it's invariably a cool and enjoyable event. Every Sunday night at 7PM SLT, she prepares two different trivia topics for the crowd to choose from, promotes and hosts the entire event, and even handles the thankfully rare briefer with aplomb.

Our crazy friends. Not sure what I'd do without them, and I'm glad I'll never have to find out. Photo and top photo by Kat.

My darling Kat and the lovely Triana herself rocking with me. Photo by Kat.

As most of my readers know, Triana (or Jess, as we call her in the fleshy world) has become a great friend to Kat and me, and we've been able to hang out together on a number of real-life occasions. Performing at TMT a couple of times per year is the least I can do to tell her how thankful I am of her friendship. Every June for the past six+ years (as you can see here, here, here, here, and here), I've played live at TMT's anniversary celebration, and it's always fun. One reason is that since many of the people who attend TMT have seen me play so often, I use the event as a special occasion to perform songs I've never done before, as you'll in the set list below.

TMT 9th Anniversary set list...
*Bowie (Flight of the Conchords)
Tribute (Tenacious D)
*Easy (The Commodores)
I Like You (Zak Claxton)
*Rich Girl (Hall & Oates)
†This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Fly Like An Eagle (Steve Miller Band)
Stonehenge (Spinal Tap)
*You're So Vain (Carly Simon)
††Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
*Pumped Up Kicks (Foster The People)
Triana (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†I tend to do silly versions of songs at TMT. This was my own song, performed country style by my fictitious cousin from Kentucky, Bobby Jack Claxton.
††Kat joined me for harmonies for the first time we did this song live together.

Huge thanks to not only Triana, but to all the TMT people with whom we've been great friends over these many years together! As the song says, "There's nothing trivial about you!"

Sunday, June 22, 2014

LC Live! (06.21.14)

It's nice to see some things that are supposedly gone forever suddenly reappear. In Second Life, that's always a possibility. Case in point: Tyro Hollwood's Lost Coconut sim and LC Live! venue shut down in 2010, and for the last four years has been in the digital dust that makes up the plethora of come-and-gone locations in SL. But a couple of months ago, my manager Maali Beck put a booking on my calendar, and sure enough, Tyro was re-launching LC Live! with a grand re-opening day of music. If I must say so, he picked some good performers for the event, which in addition to myself included people like TerryLynn Melody, Max Kleene, AMForte Clarity, Saintess Larnia, Jase Branner, and others.

My show was at 3PM -- a tough time to draw a big SL crowd on a summery Saturday -- and while we didn't get the sim-busting crowd I'd have liked, I still felt the show was cool and fun for everyone who was there (including me). The venue was just as I remembered it... a nice, wide-open field-like parcel with a stage at one end. Tyro was a great host and it felt good to be able to rock at a place that I assumed would never be seen again.

Onstage at LC Live!, doing what I do. Photo and top photo by Kat.

People seemed to be having fun. I ask no more than that. Photo by Kat.

I'll say one thing: you won't feel claustrophobic at LC Live!, in its big open space. Photo by Kat.

LC Live! set list...
Doin' Time (Sublime)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Frigid Spring (Chairlift)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
On A Plain (Nirvana)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

Many thanks to all who helped support my show, and congrats to Tyro on re-opening LC Live!
hazelsnowflake Resident, DupliCat Resident, Corkie Houston, Mikalis Karas, Harry Wheeler, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, Saintess Larnia, my manager Maali Beck, and LC Live! owner Tyro Hollwood!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Key West (06.11.14)

Sorry for the tardiness with this report from my show at Key West last Wednesday. I do have a valid excuse for my late homework, though.

On Wednesday night, I played at Key West in Second Life, but the following day was my son's graduation from middle school. I was thinking that it would be a boring affair (as I recall from my own graduation ceremonies). But they did it very well; the speeches were short (and thankfully delivered almost entirely by students, rather than school administrators). They funneled 350 kids through the line to pick up their certificates in record time. I was impressed. The whole thing took about an hour, and I was proud of my kid for having made it this far, as well as being ready for high school next fall. I enjoyed it very much.

Friday was a day so filled with work that my head barely stopped spinning over the weekend. Then, that night, my Los Angeles Kings hockey team won the Stanley Cup in a double-overtime game that is already being mentioned along with some of the greatest games of all time. Saturday included a brunch with my family and my dad, and then Sunday was Father's Day, and now here we are on Monday morning. As I said, I have a valid excuse.

Back to Wednesday night. I had the 5PM slot, and usually am the "opening act" at Key West at that time. There's nothing wrong with that; it just means that there's not already the benefit of an audience present at the venue, so it's up to you as the performer to get the night rolling. I generally do fine in this role, and Key West is very helpful at bringing in people who might not come just for the specific purpose of seeing me play. But on this night, there had been a scheduling mix-up. I was originally slated to play on June 6, but that was my and Kat's birthday, and we were in the Mojave Desert at that moment, far away from computers and broadband streaming. So, the show had been rescheduled about a month previously, but it still ended up that my pal Winston Ackland and I were listed at the same time. Winston kindly took the 4PM slot instead, so it was nice to have some of his friends and fans around when I kicked off my show.

The show itself was great. I'd normally have some pics to show you, but Kat (who usually takes them) was at work. Even so, sometimes I'm fortunate enough to have a fan or two send me pics unrequested. I probably should have asked one of them to, but no worries. I felt like I played and sang well, and I was also inspired to have fun with my pal Gravey Jones performing after me. All in all, Key West was its usual excellent self, and consistently lives up to its reputation of being one of the best places for live music in all of SL.

Key West set list...
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Six Underground (Sneaker Pimps)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Rubbing It Out (They Stole My Crayon)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
*Thought Ballune (Unknown Mortal Orchestra)
Things Behond the Sun (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)

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

Big thanks to all who helped support my show at Key West!
heavenlei Lexenstar, Toxic Darkmatter, Kite Bravin, Heather Couturier, Effie Emmons, Awgidawda Gazov, daallee Resident, Owl Dragonash, GraveyJones Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Kiki Szetey, Asheranna Resident, Simon Linden, TheaDee Resident, Bronsin Resident, Winston Ackland, Diana Renoir, my manager Maali Beck, Key West hostess Coreopsis Bluebird, and fantastic owner Liz Harley!

Monday, June 2, 2014

News of The Crayon (06.02.14)

Welcome to June. June has remained one of my favorite months of the year, going back to when I was a tiny tot. My birthday is this month, along with the long-past joy of school getting out for summer. So, it's fitting that some of the activities going on with They Stole My Crayon are really ramping up here at the beginning of this most excellent month.

What the hell is up with that album preview sampler on SoundCloud?
This is a question we started asking ourselves immediately on the morning of Friday May 30. Kat called me and asked if I'd looked recently at our 3-song album preview sampler that we'd put up on SoundCloud. I said I hadn't, and recalled that about 200 people had played the file. She told me to look again... and the number had jumped to 1,200 overnight. Throughout the day it kept growing, and we knew something was mighty weird. I mean, we're good, but the numbers didn't add up. We're not trying to promote the little preview sampler in any way; we only put it out so some of our friends could get an idea of the types of music we're working on.

So, as the numbers continued to climb to 2,000... 3,000... 4,000... 5,000 plays, it could be safely said that both our curiosity and skepticism grew as the weekend went on. Finally, we got in touch with SoundCloud. They were unable to confirm anything with certainty, but for reasons that are still unbeknownst to us, it would seem that the numbers are coming from a service that promotes plays. Why? We have no idea. This could be based on some mistake they made, whoever they are (they seem to be based in South Korea, but the location is irrelevant). They probably meant to promote some other band, and accidentally picked us. Anyway, as weird as it is, it actually inspired us to put the pedal to the metal on some Crayon-related work we'd been meaning to do. It's good to be inspired. Thanks, random Korean promoters!

On Thursday May 29, this album preview had 191 plays. As of the writing of this post on June 2, it has over 7,500. Legit or not (and we know it's not), we're perfectly okay with it.

The Crayon on Facebook, and elsewhere
Per above, we decided to go ahead and launch a Facebook page for The Crayon. We actually now have Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and SoundCloud pages in addition to our web site. It's almost (but not quite) like we're an actual band at this stage. Much of this is semi-pointless for now; we won't have music to sell for months yet, and we're certainly not planning any tours or the like. But I suppose it's cool building a community of people who might enjoy our tunes, when we finally get around to finishing and releasing them.

Massive song productivity
Even before our SoundCloud numbers started making us look like the most popular new band on the planet, we'd already decided that it was time to devote some real effort toward finishing the songwriting and demo recording aspect of this album. I'm glad that we found ourselves inspired to do some much-needed work on our tunes. While these titles will be meaningless to most of you, we did some additions and new mixes on "Take The Ride" and "Some Things I Can't Say", and then did some recording and a new mix on "Blew The Dust Away". We did all that on Saturday, and on Sunday still found time to start refining "Box By The Cliff". At the moment, the as-yet-untitled Crayon album has the following tracks for sure:

Longing On
Take The Ride
Things Under Trees
Perfectly Calm
Some Things I Can’t Say
Box By The Cliff
Better Reasons
Blew The Dust Away

There are several others that may or may not make the cut, but I'd say the songs above are pretty safe in appearing on the album. It's getting closer, in any case.

Heading back to JTree
Joshua Tree, that is. This coming Friday, Christina, Bunny, and I are heading back to one of our favorite places on Earth. Once again, we're getting a cabin at the Desert Lily Inn, and we have great plans for the weekend that involve food, nature, and music (three things we all enjoy greatly). But moreover, we'll have some time to rest, relax, and explore some ideas with our music and plans for wrapping up the album. Can't wait!