This, being the morning after I did my live music performance at the SL16B Music Faire, seems as good a time as any to talk about how I got into Second Life. I may have told this story before; feel free to skip down if you've heard it.
In October 2006, I was in a long distance relationship. Christina and I had become acquainted a number of years previously via an online forum for people into music and audio recording (how we met there is a story unto itself, having to do with Tenacious D and a notorious Internet troll, but I digress). She was living near Seattle, WA at the time; I was a thousand miles south here in Redondo Beach, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles. We'd discovered our interest in each other, traded many thoughts via text, and had met for the first time in person earlier that year, in San Francisco in February. We were together again in Las Vegas in April. She visited me here in June. I headed up to Seattle to see her in July. In between those trips, there were constant phone calls and so on, as you'd imagine.
So we had a good thing going, but this constant traveling back and forth to see each other wasn't the easiest way to maintain a relationship. One day, my friend Mike Burns -- a guy I'd known since high school who'd been a close buddy and a bandmate -- called me up and asked if I'd heard about this thing called Second Life. I vaguely knew it was some online virtual world, but had no other concept about it. Mike was excited because Duran Duran had an island there (I had no idea what that could even mean) and that I should check it out. that evening, I happened to be on the phone with Christina as we often were, recounting my day and such. I mentioned this virtual thing to her, and she said we should check it out. So while we were on the phone, right then and there, we visited SL. Signing up at the same time, we were able to choose the same surname (back then, SL forced you to select between a preset list of last names, which was probably easier for their database maintenance at the time). We picked Claxton out of the available names. I chose to be Zak; she picked something that was already taken, and then went with her second choice, which was Kat.
What we found was that via SL, we could be "together" in a way that was more more tangible than being on the phone and writing text back and forth to each other. This idea of having some 3D representation of ourselves was pretty new and exciting at the time. We really didn't know much else about Second Life at all. During those early days, we'd get into world each night after work and go on little virtual dates... using the search function and finding places to explore and things to do together. It was really great; it provided a sense of togetherness in a way that wasn't possible for us in the real world at the time.
It was during one of those "dates" in fall 2006 that we looked at the events list and saw someone was doing a live music show. The artist's name, in case you're wondering about the very first SL show I ever saw, was Keiko Takamura. The venue was a small beachside camp spot; I don't recall the name. There weren't many people there, probably ten or fifteen. But I do recall my reaction, which was, "Wait... I can play live in this Second Life place?"
The rest is pretty much what you'd expect. I'd been a longtime performing musician and an audio/Internet technology person for years and years, so in many ways, SL music was made specifically for someone like me. I already had the necessary hardware, and it didn't take long to figure out the streaming software aspect. Before the end of that year, I was trying out my own shows... beginning at my own little parcel for audiences made up of friends, and then expanding into open mic events and little tips-only shows at little venues. Within a couple of years, I was performing very often for pretty good crowds in SL, and at the same time was writing new music so I'd have some more original material to do at those shows.
Kat eventually moved here with me in 2008, but the acceptance of those new songs by my SL crowds led to my decision to record an album that I released in 2009, with Zak Claxton having become more than just the arbitrary avatar name I'd picked, and instead being the stage name I'd continue to use for all of my musical endeavors since then.
Why the History Lesson?
It was in 2008 that I did my first performance at a Second Life birthday event. It was SL5B. Back then, the entire event was run by residents. In fact, at that point, Linden Lab seemingly had very little to do with SL at all, beyond running the servers and making the software. Each year in June, a team of volunteers put on an event that celebrated the anniversary of Second Life's beginnings. The event was smaller but not dissimilar to what it is now; a showcase of what makes Second Life cool and fun. I've been maintaining this silly blog for so long, I did document my SL5B shows that day 11 years ago.
Since then, I performed an an SLxB event a number of times. I did Zak Shows at SL8B and SL9B. Then, at SL12B in 2015, for the first time, Linden Lab got directly involved in their own anniversary event, and I was trepidatious about it... but it ended up going really well. They held an audition process -- which is really the right thing to do for myriad reasons -- and I ended up getting one of the performance slots. Upon their request a couple of years later, I did the SL14B show in 2017 and the SL15B last year.
And that brings us to SL16B, which just kicked off on June 20. The Music Faire (rebranded from its previous name of Music Fest), held yesterday and today, seemed to go extraordinarily well this year. It's like many things in life that repeat; as they happen over and over, they get refined and improve. There's a pretty tight process that they have for running these things, with a green room location for sound check and a system of having stage managers who teleport you around to various locations. They really have it down to a science. And yeah, there are still the same challenges from a technical standpoint... lag happens when there are hundreds of avatars in the same location, and so on. But it's really not a big thing, and I felt the show was really good.
Why I Play SLxB Events
On a personal basis, it's a great opportunity for me to play music for a bunch of folks who'd never heard of me before that day. I always try and make those SLxB shows pretty representational of what a typical Zak Show is all about, doing my usual combination of indie music, singer-songwriters, and original stuff that people will generally hear at most of my shows. I also use the opportunity to promote the messages and causes that are important to me. That might not be what everyone wants to hear, and that's fine; as entertainers, we have a responsibility to use those moments to reach a wider audience. A friend of mine, a very well-known musician who is outspoken on certain causes, once told me that, "The only reason people wouldn’t do it is based on selfishness and fear."
I made it a point yesterday to mention two topics that are crucial to me, each one associated with songs I'd chosen to play. First was the separation of families and treatment of detainee immigrants at the US southern border ("I Am a Child"), and the second one was equality of LGBTQ people ("She Keeps Me Warm"). I know for a fact that both topics caused me to have some of my audience depart who either didn't agree with or didn't want to hear about such things, and that is 100% fine. As per my famous pal, I am always willing to forego some tips or subsequent bookings for my own selfish purposes as opposed to keeping quiet when I have a literal stage to raise awareness of these important topics. As Elie Wiesel said, "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
SL16B Music Faire set list...
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
I Am a Child (Neil Young)
She Keeps Me Warm (Mary Lambert)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Crosses (José González)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
If You Could Only See (Tonic)
*SL16B Improv (Zak Claxton)
We had well over 100 people at this amazing special show, and I want to thank every one of you... with extra special thanks to the following who helped support the show!
LXIX Tomorrow, Alora Ascot, VioletSunflower037 Resident, Nina Brandenburg, swedishfox Ghost, Maeve Branner, Adara Tae, Alexis Fairlady, GaGaQueen Resident, Triana Caldera, Asimia Heron, badgerofzen Resident, go2smoky Resident,IndyanaJjones Resident, Cordelia Cerise, Diana Renoir, siouxsieincognita Resident, Bee Blackrain, Kat Claxton, Mika Rainfall, JoelleAshes Resident, Swan Elan, kromlex Resident, Michael Takakura, backstage coordinator SilvinaWild, stage manager CB Axel, and Linden Lab's Lead Community Manager who helps the whole thing happen, Xiola Linden!