Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Serenity Gardens (09.07.20)

Beautiful Serenity Gardens. What a lovely spot for live music in the virtual world! Hopefully, this wasn't my last show there for awhile. Photo by Kat.

For some reason, throughout my time performing live music in Second Life (which is going on 14 years, incredibly), I've had a disproportionate number of my shows on Monday evenings. Going back to the late 2000s when I was doing a Monday night show at Crystal Sands all the way through my recent years doing my regular bi-weekly at Serenity Gardens, for some reason Monday has been my night. Unlike real life, where many live music venues are quiet or closed on Mondays, it's a really good night to play in SL. Think about it. In pre-pandemic times, lots of people go out and do things on Friday and Saturday nights, Sundays are often times to chill with family, or watch video entertainment and so on. So Monday is a time where they've started up the work week, and enjoy getting into some virtual world fun to take their minds off reality for a bit.

Labor Day... What Is It?
Anyway, as a result, I often find myself performing at the tail end of a holiday weekend, as I did last night on Labor Day. What is Labor Day, other than a reason for a three-day weekend and the symbolic end of summer (although, I should add, it's been hot as hell lately and feels nothing like fall, and summer doesn't actually end for two more weeks)? 

In the late 1800s, leaders of trade unions in the USA decided that there should be some official recognition of the year-round work of the laboring classes. It became a federal holiday in 1894 and has been celebrated ever since. Contrary to popular belief, I am not any kind of communist nor a socialist in the traditional sense, but I can tell you this: if it wasn't for the efforts of those union workers, you'd have no such thing as a weekend, much less a holiday dedicated to the working class. You'd also have no child labor laws nor any legal rights as a worker, so I applaud the efforts of those early union leaders to greatly improve the lifestyles of all Americans since then.

Let's Talk About Thomas Dolby
I'm a sort of minor-level expert about pop music history and its effect on culture. One thing that I see over and over is the mistaken application of the label "one-hit wonder" to certain artists. Here's the thing: first, it's often wrong. Artists may have had one really massive hit that everyone remembers, but also had some others that were just lower on the level of mass public recognition. Here's another thing: that artist may have created other music that while not being commercially successful for them, was highly influential and was the inspiration for other music the you know and love. And here's the final thing: that "one-hit wonder" artist or band may indeed have done other things in music that you have no idea about until you dig in a little deeper to their contributions.

So... Thomas Dolby. English musician, big in the early '80s. Obviously (to me, anyway) super interesting, with a unique and identifiable sound that combined synth pop with art rock with dance pop. Especially here in the USA, the majority of people who know him at all do so through his very catchy, bouncy, quirky new wave hit "She Blinded Me with Science", which had a popular music video that MTV played in high rotation.

Thomas Dolby's debut album The Golden Age of Wireless was definitely impactful for me when I was in 10th grade. He seemed to be making music that was much more interesting than other pop stuff that was big at the time.

You should note right away that on his first couple of albums, he also had some other somewhat popular songs like "Europa and the Pirate Twins" and "Hyperactive!", so that kind of ends the validity of the "one-hit wonder" label for Dolby. But because he didn't have a very long-lasting career as a pop star, he's rarely recognized as such form this vantage point of some 35 years later. But Thomas Dolby had some other stuff going on. First, he was a hugely in-demand session musician. He played synths and keyboards on a wide range of music from artists and bands like Thompson Twins, Whodini, Foreigner, and Def Leppard. But in his post-pop career, he also formed a music technology company that allowed for polyphonic tones to be delivered over cell phones, and was a very early innovator in the world of virtual reality... something that obviously impacts me directly as a musician who primarily performs in the 3D virtual world of Second Life.

Why am I telling you all this? Simply because last night, for the first time, I performed one of my favorite lesser-known cuts from Thomas Dolby... "Airwaves", off his debut solo album The Golden Age of Wireless. It's a lushly beautiful song that's been a favorite of mine for many years, and I was glad to finally try a rendition on it (though I must say, doing Thomas Dolby's synth-focused music as a solo acoustic guitar artist is challenging to say the least).

Serenity Gardens... Is This the End?
I have no idea if what I'm about to write will be true or not. Since Spring 2017, I've really enjoyed my bi-weekly Monday night shows at Serenity Gardens. In fact, with my schedule of life being as busy as it is, that show at SG is literally the only regularly scheduled show I've done in Second Life over the past couple of years, which is exactly as I prefer.

But as we all know, a) the world has been in the grip of a pandemic for most of 2020, which has had a huge economic impact, and b) it can be expensive and time-consuming to run a live music venue in Second Life (or, really, any life). Via discussions I've had with Serenity Gardens owner Ilsa Flannigan, it may be the case that the venue will be forced to undergo a longterm hiatus, perhaps through the end fo 2020 or longer. If that's the case, I completely respect Ilsa's decision.

The two ladies above have, for me, been the center of my 100+ shows at Serenity Gardens: my hostess Tilly Rose (left), and SG owner Ilsa Flannigan (right). They both do excellent work to keep that place appealing and welcoming for all who visit. Photo by Kat.

However, as of yet, she's made no formal announcement of this, and it's impossible to predict how things will go. My only reason for writing about this now is that it's been a terrific run there for well over three years -- a long time by SL standards -- and if it were to end now, I'd have nothing but good feelings about Ilsa and her lovely venue, and the people who host shows there and come there to be entertained. It's been great all-around. I've often said, and meant it, that I've never had a bad show there.

Me, onstage and masked as a reminder to anyone who thinks they can resume normal pre-pandemic life. It's still gonna be quite awhile before that's true. Photo by Kat.

Another super fun night at Serenity Gardens. Beautiful place in every way. Photo by Kat.

My view from the stage. Photo by Kat.

The Show, Though
No surprise... the show itself on the Monday evening of Labor Day went great. We had a nice and enthusiastic crowd, and in addition to the Thomas Dolby song mentioned above, I pulled out a classic Jethro Tull tune that I hadn't done before. I always enjoy surprising people with new material that I choose to do in advance of my shows.

Serenity Gardens set list...
It's Easy Like Walking (The Sadies w/Kurt Vile)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
*Cross-Eyed Mary (Jethro Tull)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Doubt It (Zak Claxton)
*Airwaves (Thomas Dolby)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Waiting for This (Zak Claxton)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)
Who Do You Love? (Bo Diddley)

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

Big thanks to everyone who came to the show, with special giant thanks to the following who helped support it!
Trouble Streeter, AaronCabottJones Resident, Kat Chauveau, Lauralynn Foxtrot, ColdAsh Resident, Grace McDunnough, RenoJones Resident, Natasea Resident, Gloriana Maertens, Alex Zelin, Kat Claxton, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

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