So how’s that music thing working out?

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You might remember that we had devised a plan to play music as a means to make money while cruising. The idea of sailing town to town and rocking the tiki bars to pay our way around the Caribbean was romantic and enticing.

So will it work?!!!

We’d been taking part in marina jams and playing songs with our friends at open mics on a weekly basis for a while, but the question remained, could we actually book a “gig.”

We got started in March with a St. Patrick’s Day show playing as a 4-piece band.

Then a small wedding followed soon after, which was an eye opener to how rough it is to play in 90+ degree heat and extremely high humidity. We played that one as a three-piece.

I managed to book a few solo acoustic shows, which isn’t really what I was looking for since Mary and I wanted to play together, but it was a good test to see how things went over when we stripped out the guitar solos and vocal harmonies provided by our friends.

Then we got invited to play a police fund raiser as a four-piece band, which was a fun experience.

Then we actually grew to a five-piece band for another show at our favorite bar before finishing off the year as a four-piece at a corporate Christmas party.

The gross income from our seven paying shows  in 2016 was $2050 (not counting about $200 in tips and $200 in bar tabs.) However, we had to pay out $750 to our other players. That puts us at about $1300 for the year.

So what did we learn?

Four hours is a long time: If you want to get paid in the Houston market, you have to play four-hour cover shows. When you’re playing by yourself with no instrumental solos or jamming, that is a lot of songs. I ran through more than 60 songs per night, and by the end of several shows I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for any song left to play. As we add more and more songs to the repertoire that won’t be as much of a problem, but working full time there is only so much time in the day to rehearse old songs and memorize new ones.

Equipment does make a difference: We started the year trying to mic the cajon with a Shure SM57. While it worked ok at the house when rehearsing, we could never get it loud enough at the bar without feedback. After a long debate, we finally spent the $239 to get a Shure Beta 91A that fits inside the cajon, and it solved all of our drum volume issues. This was a tough decision because the drum itself was only $175. It seemed absurb to invest more than the drum on a microphone for the drum, but in the end, it made a huge difference. I also retired my 20-year-old Shure SM58 vocal mic and replaced it with a $200 Sennheiser e945.

Good performances require rest: I currently have a wrist brace on my left arm. Practice makes perfect, but it turns out that too much practice makes for a pretty intense case of tendonitis. 12 hours a week seems to be my limit on guitar. Mary’s hands get quite swollen by the end of a show after slapping the cajon for hours. My voice also needs rest. Back in September I played four-hour shows two nights in a row, and my voice was already rough at the beginning of night two. By the end, it was really rough, which brings up the next thing I learned.

Not every performance is going to be good: Some nights nothing goes right. We’ve only had one show where things got really bad. It started ok. We had a nice group of friends come out to support us. The crowd was singing along. Unfortunately, I started losing my voice, and I ran out of songs. I thought I had a thick skin from my years in news and public relations, but getting a bad review and not being asked back to play a venue again really crushes the ego. There’s nothing to do except treat it as a learning experience and double down on the rehearsals, so that it doesn’t happen again.

We’re not going to make a living doing this: Yes, the dream is still to play live music as we cruise the Caribbean, but I have a hunch those bars pay even less than Houston bars. I think we were counting on competing against a smaller available talent pool in the islands, but that assumption may be wrong.

I’m not sure what our focus for 2017 will be. When we purchased our PA system we wanted something portable enough to fit in a dinghy to accomodate vocals, guitar and drums playing a restaurant or small bar. We’ve now got it maxed out with multiple vocalists, guitars, violin, bass, etc. While it’s a great portable rig, it’s not the right set up for a full band in large sports bars.

Hopefully we’ll get our foot in the door at some bars in Kemah closer to all of our marina friends.

Last but not least, we’ll be working on some new original music. Songwriting got put on the back burner while we crammed to learn enough cover songs to be able to fulfill our 2016 bookings. With that backlog of music under our belts, we’re ready to move forward with new songs in 2017.

If you have any song requests, please post them in the comments!

Looking for those bookings

As has been mentioned in previous blogs, one of our ideas to slow the burn on our savings while cruising is to play music along the way as a source of income. In preparation we’ve started playing shows in the Houston area to hone our skills, make sure we have the right equipment, and add a little bit of cash to the cruising kitty.

Last week I played a solo acoustic show at Little Woodrow’s in Katy, Texas. It was nice that our Gimme Shelter T-shirts had just arrived the night before.

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This was a very last minute booking, so I was lucky that with less than 24 hours notice I still had 10 friends and blog readers come out to see me.

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We’re currently trying to hard to book at least two shows per month for the rest of the year, hopefully some of which are in the Kemah area. As our schedule fills in, we’ll update the events calendar on our Facebook page.

Until then, here’s a new video of Mary and I covering Bubble Toes by Jack Johnson.

Concert review: Chris Isaak at House of Blues Houston

We don’t go to many concerts these days.

Actually, that’s not completely true. We see many, many live bands. In fact, as a live band, we even played our first wedding concert last month.

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However, we don’t go to many big concerts with famous artists.  A combo of the loud music, late nights, expensive drinks, and crowded venues keeps us away.

There are very few that I would pay to see. Then there’s Chris Isaak.

I saw him a decade ago at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, and it was an absolutely amazing show. When I heard he was coming to House of Blues, and I might get to see him in a much smaller, more personal venue, I was quite excited and pitched the idea to Mary.

Her response was, “I don’t think I know who that is.”

She was not excited. Her only reference to Chris Isaak and the Silvertones was the fact that I cover Wicked Game … but only when we’re jamming with the “Dock Boys.” I’ve heard it murdered way too many times by way too many cover bands to ever perform it at an actual show. (#nevertrustthefalsetto)   Pleeeeease don’t let the band name “Dock Boys” catch on. 

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I put the show out of my mind and went on with my life. That is, until Ticketmaster announced a huge settlement, and I discovered I had many, many discount coupon codes in my Ticketmaster account since they essentially scammed concert-goers with exorbitant “handing fees” and “UPS fees” all through the 90s and 00s.

I decided to check back into the Chris Isaak concert and found there were a few front row tickets still available. I once again pitched the show to Mary and this time she reluctantly agreed. I can’t believe I almost didn’t!  I normally hate concerts.  

We were standing in line along the third floor balcony outside the House of Blues waiting for the doors to open when a guy in sunglasses and a polo shirt holding a white dog came walking down the line kind of whispering to everyone. He was saying things like, “I heard this guy puts on a great show.” and “Oh, I heard it’s going to be a really good show tonight.”

He was already halfway down the line before I realized it was Chris Isaak. He turned around, waved at everybody and went inside. He looks so different off stage, like a normal person.  Not all dreamy like he looks while he’s playing.

I really wasn’t sure if we had front row seating as claimed on the Ticketmaster seating chart or if the entire downstairs of the venue would be standing. Once inside, I was excited to see that we did indeed have front row seats. There would be no tall people standing in front of Mary blocking her view all night. Whenever people start to stand up at a concert I might as well be at home listening to the radio. I can’t see anything. 

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The band came out strong and played a few songs before Chris stopped to introduce everyone in the band and thank the fans for supporting live music. He jokingly promised a “semi-professional state fair quality show.” Then he grabbed a wireless mic and left the stage to sing the next two songs as he strolled through the audience, pausing to sit down with people, so they could take selfies with him as he sang.

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After making his way up through the balcony and back down through the audience, he climbed on the stage, made a few more jokes, and went back to playing guitar.

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I know most of his songs, but Mary only knew one or two. However, I think we both enjoyed the music. The sound was clear and balanced, and his voice was phenomenal. Not only does he hit all the high notes live, he actually went even higher in some songs than he does on the records, and his sustain is unbelievable. The man can hold a note for 12 measures with not so much as a waver in the tone.

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We had made the mistake of ordering a couple of Bud Lights before the show started thinking that they’d be cheaper than the really overpriced craft beer. What we actually got served were $11 Bud Light 40 oz. cans, so Mary had to make a run to the bathroom mid concert. Unfortunately she decided to go right before they played Wicked Game, the one song she new, so about the second verse she came running back.

For what I guess you’d call the second set of the night, the stagehands quickly moved a drum and stool to the front of the stage as one song was ending, and as the next song began, the band transitioned seamlessly to sitting along the front edge as they played some softer, bluesier numbers. Then, when Scotty, the keyboardist pulled out an accordion, they even did a Tejano number in Spanish.

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Fun fact, Kenny Dale Johnson, the drummer, grew up in Borger, Texas and went to high school with my mom and two of my aunts. I think he’s probably the most famous person to come out of Borger.

Chris made a point to recognize this week’s passing of Scotty Moore, Elvis’s original guitarist and a great rock pioneer. The band then covered a couple Elvis songs and Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire before returning to their own material.

They left the stage to the sound of a standing ovation and when Chris returned to start the encore, he was wearing his one-of-a-kind mirrored tuxedo.

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You know, to make this a “legit” review, I should have kept a list of the songs they played, but I didn’t. I was way too into the show. In fact, I wasn’t even going to snap any photos except that a House of Blues employee came by passing out flyers encouraging us to snap photos and post them to Instagram with #HOBIsaak.

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The energy stayed high and everyone was out of their seats the entire encore.

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To end the show, Kenny once again came up to the front of the stage to sing some fantastic harmonies on one of the new songs from the First Comes the Night album.

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As the lights came back on, Mary, who really had no idea who Chris Isaak was at the beginning of the night, said, “I think this is the best concert I’ve ever seen.”

I really loved the show.  The jokes were really funny, the outfits were great.  The guitar and bass player kept doing hilarious little dances, and you could just tell everyone was having fun on stage. It really felt like a show, not just a concert. There were a lot of quiet romantic moments as well that really made this a nice night out just the two of us.  

That’s a pretty good review.

Gimme Shelter’s first “gig”

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When the idea of cruising comes around, you start analyzing all of your skills and talents in hopes of identifying something that might be profitable enough to indefinitely sustain your cruising kitty or at least “slow the burn rate” as Patrick Schulte says in his most recent book, Living on the Margin.

Things like sewing and mechanic work instantly come to mind, but Mary and I are also musicians. (Well, at least one of us is a musician … the other is a drummer. #InsertYourOwnDrummerJokeHere #DrummerJokesNeverGetOld)

The idea crossed our mind that perhaps we could supplement our income, or at least lessen our expenses, by playing music at marinas and bars throughout the ICW and the Caribbean.

Recently we met a couple from New York through Facebook who were already cruising and playing music as they went. Their band, Stell and Snuggs, does some interesting stuff. Reading their blog also brought up some important issues. Considering that most bars in the US pay musicians in cash, we hadn’t even thought about needing work permits just to play music outside the US, but apparently you do.

While we were having nice marina jam sessions every weekend, the question still remained, could we get paid? Therefore, we finally booked a show to test both our equipment and ourselves.

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However, most of the bars really wanted something more than just a duo, especially on weekends. Now, in Houston we have quite a few musician friends, so fielding a full band for St. Patrick’s Day was no problem, but I think Mary and I are going to have to step up our game when playing by ourselves.

We prepped about 50 songs, and we ended up rolling through a four hour show with music to spare. My voice was raw and Mary’s hands were swollen, but we did it.

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And yes, we did get paid. For our first show we got $300 cash and a $50 credit on our bar tab. (We also found a whopping $1 tip in our tiny tip can.) Would that help supplement our cruising if we could play one or two shows per week? Absolutely! Is that anything comparable to what a bar might pay in Fort Myers, Florida or Dewey, Culebra? I have no idea.

A few lessons learned:

  • People enjoy top 40, but they get up and dance to oldies
  • We’ve got to further minimize our equipment or we’re going to have to buy a HUGE dinghy
  • Tip jars should be very large, well-labeled and right out front in the middle of the stage
  • We need to record some of our original songs and get them on the blog or on iTunes, so we have somewhere to send people when they ask about it.
  • Don’t forget the important harmonica!

A big thank you to all of our friends, blog readers and Facebook friends that came out to the first show. We haven’t scheduled any more shows at the moment, but if we do, I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. Feel free to post your favorite drummer jokes in the comments!

 

A little music for your weekend

We spent Thursday night hanging out with all of our musician friends at Jive Bar & Lounge Open Mic, and I shot a few videos this week. I’ll post some songs by Cerveza Road, Kristian Davis of Kollective Minds, and Jesse Avila of Poly Seude when we get back from the marina Sunday night after I have time to do some editing. Until then, I hope you’ll enjoy our cover of The Weight with our friend Justin Guy on bass.

Out on the town in Port St. Joe

We didn’t spend all of our time in Florida on the beach. Each evening we made it back to the rental house just in time for sunset — and what spectacular sunsets they were.

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While the downside to our rental is that it wasn’t within walking distance of the beach, the upside is that it was just a few blocks from downtown Port St. Joe.

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We walked into town Friday night for dinner at Provisions, which came highly recommended by all the locals. I sampled the paella while Mary tried to seafood pasta. Both were exceptional.

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Afterwards we stopped by The Thirsty Goat, which seemed to be the center of Port St. Joe nightlife, for a cold brew and some live music.

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The Bo Spring Band played Friday night, and they were phenomenal.

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Saturday morning we tried both the Bin4Eleven coffee shop and the No Name Cafe, which are just a few doors down from each other on Reid Avenue. Both had very decent coffee, but the No Name Cafe was a bit more austere and half the price.

Then we took a stroll through all the art, decor, and antique shops. Despite all the interesting paintings, knick-knacks and dead starfish we saw, we only made one purchase all weekend. We bought Dixie Belle a new sailboat collar at Bow Wow Beach. She was quite excited to wear it when we got home.

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Saturday we picked up dinner from Joe Mama’s Wood Fired Pizza. Joe Mama’s is a chain in Florida, but we’d never heard of it. The restaurant was absolutely packed when I went in to pick up the order, but the pizza itself didn’t quite live up to expectations. The flavor wasn’t bad, but the crust was very soggy and floppy.

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Our rental was just across the street from the United Methodist Church, and Sunday morning we could hear the hymns floating over on the breeze. We made another trip into town for coffee and maybe some breakfast, only to find that aside from the gas station and fast food places, there is absolutely nothing open Sunday mornings in Port St. Joe. Since we had to drive back to Tallahassee anyway, we thought maybe we could stop in Apalachicola for breakfast, but we only found one place open there. Sunday morning breakfast was a bust. I guess when it comes to small town Florida, either be prepared to cook on Sunday mornings or head over to church for the free coffee.

Tiny Desk Concert Contest

What do you do when it’s 39 degrees and raining outside? Stay in and play music, of course.

Mary and I just finished writing and recording Write You a Letter, our entry for the NPR Tiny Desk Concert Contest.

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Note, as the contest requires we have a tiny desk, and Mary even uses a typewriter as one of the percussion instruments.

Whether or not we win, we figured the world can always use another song about sailing away.

Thanks for taking the time to listen, and I hope you enjoy.