There are few things that bring people together better than pizza and beer. One of those things, in my opinion, is music...and beer!
The Early Days
I’ve always been drawn to music, and over the years my musical taste has pretty much revolved around loud guitars and fast drum beats. Well, there were the years from 12 to 14, when I mainly listened to rap, and I was in a breakdancing group, but that is another blog post. As a kid I had my own record player, and I still remember the first single I bought was John Lennon, “Watching the Wheels.”
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, grunge music was in fashion. That’s when I picked up a guitar and taught myself to play a few bars of all of the popular songs. I pretty much stuck to the most memorable riffs, you know, to impress the chicks. I played the guitar regularly for about 10 years, but after having a few kids, that became less of a priority and I eventually sold my guitars and amplifiers so they could find more use than collecting dust in my basement. I would still listen to loud music and play air guitar to keep my chops up.
We’re Getting the Band Back Together
About five years ago, I was reunited with playing guitar when we were over at my friends’ house for game night. My friend Justin’s son had a little practice guitar, which barely stayed in tune. I picked it up and tuned it to a standard E tuning and started to play. He was surprised to find out that I knew how to play a guitar, and told me about how he used to be in a band in his late teens, which was pretty cool. I only played guitar behind closed doors, I’d never even jammed with anybody.
Not long after that incident, Justin’s friend and bandmate from his teenage years, Jeremy, moved back to Lincoln and the two of them got together regularly to play the “old stuff.” One of their coworkers played the drums and BOOM, they had a trio, which had Justin on bass and vocals, Jeremy playing guitar and Brett behind the kit. It only took about a year of them rehearsing for Justin to figure out he couldn’t play an instrument well and sing at the same time. And that, my friends, is where I came in!
Garage Days, So It Begins
One subsequent game night, Justin inquired, “Hey, you play guitar right?” And I said, “Well, yeah, kind of, you know, I used to.” He asked if I’d ever played bass, and I said, “No, but it’s a guitar, right? So, I mean, I probably could play one.” After that enthralling conversation he asked me to come to his place the next day. He had a bass I could use, and I could try out a few songs with them. He told me the band was named `Till Hell... and gave me a copy of a demo they had recorded back in their heyday.
I walked into the garage for my first introduction to the other guys. I was handed a few sheets of paper, on which Justin has scrawled out some rough tablature of how he played the bass lines, and we were off! I was terrible. I could barely keep in time with the music, consistently played in the wrong key and I didn’t hit a single tempo change. I loved it! I was finally a part of something so loud, it made my hearing fuzzy for about an hour afterwards. I was hooked and I couldn’t wait to do it again.
We had practice every week on Sunday for about three to four hours and I slowly started to improve, or at least sound like I was playing the same song as everyone else. That was it for about a year. We only played in the garage; rarely we had an audience of one or two people who just came over to hang out. Then we decided we should try to hit one of the open mic nights around Lincoln to make our debut to the masses.
Adrenaline and Alcohol
I’m not really one who likes to be in the limelight. I get nervous being in front of a group of people. I sweat and I shake. Needless to say I was a bit apprehensive, as I felt I needed just a few more practices so I could nail all of my parts. But I lugged my gear into that first open stage, nestled it out of the way, then made a beeline for the bar to grab a beer. We were pretty far down the list of performers, so I had plenty of time to watch the other acts and get myself prepared to get up there and knock their socks off.
We were up! My head was going crazy, thinking, trying to remember the songs we were about to play, trying to ignore the fact that I was up on a stage, in front of a group of strangers. The warm rush of adrenaline surged through my body and warmed my face. It was “fight or flight” time. We had to get a move on, or I was going to pass out. Then the music started, my hands instinctively started doing all of the things we had practiced for and we were doing it, performing music for a bar full of other performers. Our 15-minute slot went by so quickly, I could barely remember anything I played, but the audience erupted with applause. Not sure if it was because we were great or because we were done, but that doesn’t matter.
It was terrible and incredible at the same time! We realized we messed up a lot, we criticized ourselves pretty hard and we decided we were going to perform as often as we possibly could. We tried to perform at least one open mic a month, and eventually our efforts paid off. We were offered a weekend slot playing with some other local favorites. It was on Black Friday, but that didn’t matter. We were ready, we were available and we were on our way! Playing the Black Friday show actually opened up more gigging opportunities, as that same night we were asked to play a show at Knickerbockers with a couple of other bands.
The Rock and Roll Lifestyle
Now we have been playing shows for about three years, and we usually play out once or twice a month. Sometimes we play back-to-back nights between Omaha and Lincoln, and I have to say, it’s pretty cool. I have had the opportunity to see some pretty incredible acts, ones that are touring from exotic lands, like Wisconsin, Iowa and Wyoming. I’ve had the chance to perform in some pretty iconic locations here in Lincoln and in Omaha. It is always an adventure. Even though we play with the same acts regularly, I usually get to see an act I have never seen nor heard of before at each show. And the money, don’t let me forget to tell you about the money…
I don’t actually make any money performing. I’m a support person, one piece of a whole. The band makes money, sometimes, depending on how many people show up and pay the cover. A lot of venues pay the sound engineer from the door (the cover charge), and then split the remaining cash among the performers. Sometimes the band makes $5.00 and on rare occasions we make a couple hundred. Good thing we aren’t doing this for the money, right?
There are perks to playing out though. Drink specials and sometimes FREE BEER! Plus getting to go to a show for no charge is pretty nice too, even though I have to “work” at some point during the night. I am not as nervous now about messing up the songs; I know I am going to mess up, there is nothing I can do about that, I just have to get over it and jump back into the song. Actually, a lot of times the audience doesn’t even notice when it happens, and if they do, I blame it on the drummer.
The best part of playing is having the opportunity to share something I’ve put a considerable amount of work into helping create. Looking out into the audience and seeing people dancing and having a good time is the reward. I’m pretty content with my music career right now, and I’m not looking to “quit my day job” anytime soon!
Speaking of my day job, I am actually a newbie to performing compared to some of the other musicians here at the ‘Spring.
Dan Jenkins, currently performing in the band Halfwit says, “Few things compare to standing in front of a room full of people with your good friends and making an unholy racket, playing songs we wrote and worked on at practice, and that we think are pretty good. And then etiquette dictates that the audience applauds. Usually. And then you get paid. Usually. Applause or not, paid or not, it’s still better than just about everything.”
For Dustin Wilbourn of Manslaughterer, rocking with his friends is the best way he knows to cut loose. And Stacy Jack Saythany, bass player for HAPpy HAZARD, advises everyone to get out to shows and support local artists.
Take his advice, and maybe I will see your face out in the audience at one of our shows.