Sunday, July 21, 2019

Lavender Field/Feed-a-Smile 9th Anniversary (07.20.19)

It felt great to be back at Lavender Field raising some money to feed some smiles. Photo by Kat.

The first time I ever performed for Brique Zeiner's charitable organization in Second Life, Feed-a-Smile, was in September 2011, and on many other occasions since then, I've been happy to refill my karma bank balance by playing there again. It was just a few days ago that Brique messaged me on Facebook to find out if I could perform at the celebration of their ninth anniversary, and being that it was on a Saturday at an excellent time for me, I accepted immediately.

The brief description of Feed-a-Smile is as follows: Brique and her husband run a non-profit organization called Live and Learn in Kenya with the focus of feeding and educating poor children living in the slums of Nakuru, Kenya. It's an extraordinarily effective charity with the money going directly to the children with no corporations or middlemen involved. Brique also happens to also originally hail from my town of Redondo Beach, CA, so we had a connection right from the start. In Second Life, Brique set up an area called Lavender Field, and hosts fundraising music performances there with the simple message that L$100 (about $0.40 USD) gives one child one hot meal.

After one of my shows for Feed-a-Smile in 2011, I unexpectedly received a set of pictures from the kids that included the one of above, plus shots of them having a feast via the funds raised at one of my shows. I referred to it at the time as my proudest moment as a musician, and those pics were framed and hang on my wall still today.

The timing of doing a charitable show couldn't have been better for me. The world -- especially here in the USA -- has seemed filled with darkness and hate in recent times. Instances of blatant racism and fascism have been at the top of the news cycles. It's been my experience through much of my life that taking part in actions that help humanity as a whole are also what are most healing to me personally, be it in the form of protests, rallies, and marches, or more direct efforts like doing a music show for a charity in which I truly believe.

Star Trek: Picard Trailer
I'll resume telling you about the Feed-a-Smile show in a moment. It was awhile after the show that while poking around Twitter, I saw that "Star Trek: Picard", the upcoming new series in the Star Trek universe, was trending at #1. I soon found out why; San Diego Comic Con was in full swing, and they had debuted a new full-length trailer. I was already pretty interested in the series which is set to debut next year, but when I clicked the link, I didn't quite expect this...


Obviously, the series looks great and it's terrific to see Sir Patrick Stewart back in action; he's a treasure and it's good to know that we'll have some new stories coming from the iconic character of Jean-Luc Picard. But then, what blew the collective minds of every Trekker in the world was the unexpected appearances of Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine and then Brent Spiner -- possibly as the android B-4 (as opposed to Data). Is it a nostalgia trip for Gen X'ers? You betcha. Am I still enthralled at seeing members of the Next Generation and Voyager crews together again? Oh hell yes. I'm looking forward to this more than I would have possibly anticipated.

The Show
Okay, back to Feed-a-Smile. One sort of funny note. The artist performing before me was having trouble with his stream, and with a good 15 minutes left in his set, I wasn't at all prepared to go on (though fortunately, I did already have my music gear set up and ready to go). Next thing I knew, I had to jump in and start playing, but it all went just fine. It usually does.

Brique had put together a really good lineup of musicians, most of whom had played at the venue multiple times over its nine year run. All the people who played the show, like Quinton Whitman, Whirli Placebo, Bat Masters, Grace McDunnough, Max Kleene, Twinghost Ronas and others, are veteran SL performers, and all of them donated some of their time to be there for the event. It went great; the fundraising seemed to have gone very well, and we had a terrific crowd there the whole time.

One thing I've mentioned before: on the rare occasions that I do shows on weekends, I absolutely love playing at noon. It's the perfect time to have slept in somewhat, have coffee, shower and dress, have breakfast, have time to warm up and then perform, and then still have most of the whole weekend day ahead of me. Count me in for noon shows on weekends basically any time.

A lovely day to feed some smiles. Photo by Kat.

Our crowd was engaged and generously donating, as they tend to do. Photo by Kat.

Chilling after the show and listening to the other performers. Photo by Kat.

Feed-a-Smile set list...
Save It For Later (English Beat)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
I Am a Child (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Strawberry Fields Forever (Beatles)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)
Peace Love & Understanding (Elvis Costello)

Thanks to everyone who spent some time, money, or both on supporting Feed-a-Smile during yesterday's event! You are awesome!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Serenity Gardens (07.15.19)

Serenity Gardens is pretty much my "home venue" at this point; other SL musicians will understand that concept. I always feel good playing there, every single time. Photo by Kat.

There's something I often mention to my audience at Serenity Gardens in Second Life where I play every other Monday night. It's the idea that they should be extraordinarily happy, considering that my show starts at 6PM Pacific... a time that's further away from the worst aspects of Monday than any other time during the week. Assuming that we all survived the day, arriving at Monday evening means that you've got a long time to go until the next Monday that one must face. It's fucking goofy, yes, but it's still true.

I was in a pretty good mood for the show last night. My work day had been productive, I've been feeling physically and mentally well (not something we should take for granted), and I felt sufficiently warmed up and ready. It's slightly surprising, because in addition to my typical work and home responsibilities over the preceding 24 hours, I didn't leave a lot of time for music practice. Instead, I'd spent a chunk of my energy condemning the remarks by the president on Twitter regarding four women in Congress. Here's the Tweet in reference...


The full text of the Twitter thread:

So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!

It's a very old and oft-repeated racist trope... people of color should "go back home". As has been pointed out, of the four congresswomen in reference, three of them were born in the USA -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes in New York, Rashida Tlaib in Detroit, and Ayanna Pressley in Cincinnati. The fourth, Ilhan Omar was brought here at age 10 as a refugee from Somalia, and was a naturalized citizen at age 17. Ironic note: despite being much younger, Ilhan Omar has been an American citizen for longer than the first lady. In any case and by every legal and ethical definition, with all four people, their homes are here in the United States.

Left to right: Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, and Rashida Tlaib. Photo via MSNBC.com.

It was my expectation that nothing would happen as a result. America has been infested with racism since before we were even a country, and the only new aspect of this example was that a sitting president was so open about his blatant race-based hatred. So it was a pleasant surprise when, today, the House of Representative officially voted to condemn the president for these racist comments. It's a rather unprecedented move, and that's a good thing; never before had a sitting US president made such openly racist remarks, and to have it recorded for posterity is important.

Will any of this matter? It remains to be seen. There is a sizably large segment of the US population who is supportive of this exact type of racism, believing that non-white people simply don't belong in this country. That is most likely whom the president is courting with his racist statements. But the hashtag "#RacistPresident" and "#RacistInChief" were trending for two solid days after the president's Tweets, so I'd like to think that enough of the country is willing to fight back against these disgusting humans who are bereft of compassion and morality.

So How Was that Show?
With all this going on, I was pretty revved up and excited, and having a live show to perform couldn't have happened at a better time. I really prefer focusing my energies in positive ways, and what could be better than a solid hour of sweet-ass tunes?

We had a very solid crowd at Serenity Gardens, and I arrived somewhat early to hear Grace McDunnough doing songs before me. She is such an enjoyable live performer to listen to. This week, I'd updated my ancient pair of high-end headphones (I got some Sennheiser 599's, if you're curious) and some new cables for my guitars, so it took me a moment of fiddling around with levels and such until I was happy. But the show went fine, and I enjoyed trying out a Heart song for the first time ever (I know, right?), inspired by noticing that some friends had recently seen (or were going to see) the classic rock band on tour.





Serenity Gardens set list...
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
California (Joni Mitchell)
It’s Easy Like Walking (The Sadies/Kurt Vile)
*Straight On (Heart)
Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon)
Nearly Lost You (Screaming Trees)
Something Else (Zak Claxton)
She's Always A Woman (Billy Joel)
You Don't Know How It Feels (Tom Petty)
Everlong (Foo Fighters)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
*Serenity Gardens Improv #4,598 (Zak Claxton)

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

Huge thanks to the terrific people who hung out at Serenity Gardens to see the Zak Show, with super-duper thanks to the following who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Grace McDunnough, Kat Chauveau, Tyche Szondi, Katydid Something, Kat Claxton, Magnus Hoch, Nina Brandenburg, Alex Zelin, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee Resident, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Lights for Liberty Demonstration/Vigil (Redondo Beach, CA)


It was several weeks ago that Christina mentioned a possible protest that we might want to have on our radar. It was called Lights for Liberty, and its focus was the immigrant detention and child separation policies of the current US government administration. When we first looked into it, the event locations were scattered around in various large city centers, and our initial thought was to drive a couple of hours south to San Diego, close to the border and near some of the detention centers. That was going to require a little planning and forethought... and, like most people, she and I are just too fucking busy for just about anything outside of our already insane schedules of work and life.

Despite the high degree of importance both of us feel about this cause, I think we'd pretty much put aside the possibility of being involved. We weren't sure about the details of the San Diego event, which would have required stopping work early on Friday, driving 120 miles, participating in the event, getting a hotel, and so on. It seemed a little much. But a few days ago, I took another look at the Lights for Liberty site, and noted that the list of local event locations had ballooned... and that there were two events that were mere minutes away from our home. Well, that was a whole different thing. We decided that the one just a couple of miles down the road, at Veterans Park just south of Redondo Pier, would be great as long as people were showing up.

Well, the best way to have a good turnout is to show up yourself and be a part of that crowd you're hoping for. We were aware that this event came together rather quickly, and that mellow Redondo Beach wasn't exactly the biggest hotbed of political activity in Southern California. Still, since Christina and I had been involved in several other protest events in the area, we knew that there's always a segment of the local populace who are awake and involved... and like us, don't want to deal with driving into downtown LA and finding parking. The local events in which we participated in 2018 -- March for Our Lives, Families Belong Together, and Nobody is Above the Law -- were all inspiring and fulfilling. We're proud residents of the South Bay, and I think it's very good that events like these have a presence in the suburbs as well as the inner cities.



As per the aforementioned being busy, we didn't head down to Veterans Park until about 7PM. When we arrived and miraculously got a reasonably close parking spot, we didn't see many people and at first were disappointed that the event seemed to have died on the vine. However, as we looked aways down the park area, we could see a number of people gathered, so we joined them. The day had been lovely, and there was a nice breeze coming off the ocean as the sun started to go down and more people began to arrive. The crowd -- comprised of all kinds of people of all ages including many families -- swelled to about 150, most people with signs expressing their support of the cause in various ways. Per the theme of the vent, everyone carried lights of various kinds. Christina and I used some cheap-ass LED flashlights that I purchased at Dollar Tree earlier in the day.

After the sun went down, the organizers decided that we needed to be a little more attention-grabbing (an idea I strongly supported), so we marched the short distance from the park to the entrance to the Pier, shouting things like, "Close the camps!" and "Immigrant rights are human rights!" and so on. As the somewhat experienced protestor that I am by now, I'm happy to say that I helped cheerlead a few of these chants. We got to one of the Pier entrances, but I encouraged the group to go no further; the aspect of being on private property without a permit would be problematic to say the least. So we stayed there a short while, and then marched back to the park. People seemed to be energized and somewhat optimistic, as is often the case at these events.

There were a few moments of short improvised speeches by a few of the attendees, and then we went off into the night. Christina and I stopped for food on the way... it was about 9:30 by then and we had yet to eat dinner. But we both agreed that we were glad we'd gotten involved in supporting this important human rights effort in our home town.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Serenity Gardens (07.01.19)

Enjoying another Monday night at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Happy July to you all! 2019 is already half over, I've already lived half of 100 years, and half of this post is going to be about my show at Serenity Gardens, I swear. If the next section annoys you, go ahead and skip down to the section below and you can read about the important topic of my playing live music as a cartoon in a virtual world.

Protest the Camps
The other half is this short statement about the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers at the US southern border. Look... I'm not in favor of open borders, I promise. When I talk about immigration reform, it's to better allow us to legally process people who want to live in the USA, and to facilitate their lives to becoming good and productive American citizens, as so many have done before them (almost certainly including your own ancestors).

But until we have a better process, we have a responsibility to treat immigrants in a humane fashion. I'm sure you've heard about and/or seen the conditions at the Customs and Border Patrol processing facilities. Children are being separated from parents, people placed in overcrowded and jail-like conditions, and worse. The things is, the conditions at the CBP camps -- and the reported abuses by ICE and CBP agents -- are not an accident. They are designed to terrorize and punish people who have committed no crime other than wanting to be American.

treating humans with dignity and respect should be the goal of any civilized society. Photo from news article "'Help': Photos show hundreds of migrants, children crammed in overflowing border facilities"

I therefore recommend that you keep abreast on information about what's happening at the border, and make your voice heard to your government representatives that you will not tolerate this practice, and will not vote for any politician who allows or confines it. Today, in fact, is a nationwide protest effort to help raise awareness and start the process of restoring dignity to the process of accepting immigrants... learn more here. And that's all I'm gonna say about that. For now.

Rocking Serenity
I arrived for my show and was happy to see and hear my friend Grace McDonnough doing her set before mine. It puts me in a good mood whenever she's on stage before me, which seems to be each Monday night I play at Serenity Gardens.

I've been having a bit of a problem with the joints on my fretting (left) hand. I suppose that 40+ years of playing guitar might be the culprit. But, I'm happy to say, despite having done shows on both Sunday and Monday evenings, my hand wasn't too complainy during or after the show. I'm sure it's probably the onset of some kind of arthritis or similar disorder, but it's not enough for now to inhibit my playing.

A lovely evening of live music in a virtual world. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Me. Photo by Triana Caldera.

One thing I did enjoy doing was a little Americana-based mini-set in the middle of my show. I don't necessarily plan those things, but when I'm pulling out ideas for my set, I think often there's a subconscious aspect where I'll be leaning toward some specific area based on my personal vibe of the moment. Anyway, that worked out just fine. Beyond that, we had a good little crowd of people who seemed to definitely be enjoying themselves, and as usual, I also had a good time along with them. What more can you ask for on a Monday night?

Serenity Gardens set list...
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
Hand In My Pocket (Alanis Morissette)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Big Empty (Stone Temple Pilots)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
Shock the Monkey (Peter Gabriel)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)

Thanks to all who came out to my bi-weekly Monday festival of fun at Serenity Gardens, with special thanks to the following who helped support the show.
Nina Brandenburg, AaronCabottJones Resident, Trouble Streeter, Tyche Szondi, TheaDee Resident, Triana Caldera, hynesyte Harbour, my manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Triana's Music Trivia (06.30.19)

Rocking with great friends at TMT for possibly the last time. Photo by Triana Caldera.

All things must pass. It's a pretty depressing thought, isn't it? But really, from the smallest to the largest levels in the universe, it would seem as if nothing is truly permanent. As opposed to living in some kind of fantasy land of denial, perhaps it's better to come to terms with the fact that people are not immortal, places change over the course of time, and even the stars and galaxies, on their massive scale that we can barely even comprehend much less relate to, have finite existences.

It's no surprise, than, that all things are ephemeral in varying degrees. Second Life, the online virtual world which I've enjoyed being a part of since 2006, is a good example. People and places come and go. Some last a short while; some -- like Triana's Music Trivia, which I'll talk about in a moment -- have lasted almost the entire length of the platform's existence. Last night, we celebrated TMT's anniversary as we do each June, with the weekly event having been running continuously for 14 years since it started in 2005, making it SL's longest-running regularly-scheduled event by far. Moreover, Triana Caldera, a woman who's become one of my closest friends and definitely the person for whom I am most grateful having met purely through SL, is about to celebrate her 15th rezday, having joined Second Life in 2004, barely a year after the entire platform got off the ground.

If you can imagine her effort at having put on this event each week for that length of time, almost completely on her own, it's amazing that it's lasted as long as it has. Most people would have burned out on doing it long ago. We're talking about putting together content for over 700 unique events. So when Triana announced earlier this year that she was finally ending TMT, it couldn't have been a shock to anyone (though it's obviously sad for those of us who've enjoyed this social gathering and the friends we've made as a result). Last night's trivia event and accompanying Zak Show are the final ones, at least for the foreseeable future.

Find Your Dream Woman
Coincidentally, I was on YouTube over the weekend, casually chilling and watching some videos in my rare down time. I've seen ads for SL before; I recall a campaign that they ran a number of years ago where they showed people in real life next to their digital avatars. I thought it was effective in that it imparted the essence of Second Life... a creative zone where people were provided tools to construct a world of their own making.

So, while watching some science and interview videos, I got served some banner ads from Second Life. Before I continue, let me tell you a thing that will add some helpful context to the opinion I'm about to offer. My career in real life is in the marketing realm... specifically, marketing communications, which covers advertising and PR and the overall positioning of companies and brands. My area of expertise is in the musical instrument, professional audio, broadcast, entertainment, and related industries. When I talk about this stuff, it's with the background of over 25 years of having been immersed in it.

These new banner ads from SL were pretty simple. They read "Find Your Dream Woman" with the call-to-action text of "JOIN NOW!", had an image of a female avatar, and the Second Life logo. See below for two examples.

Two banner ads from Second Life that were served to me on YouTube this weekend.

Here's what I perceive as a person who a) has a great understand of Second Life and b) is an experience expert in brand positioning and advertising strategy: marketing Second Life as a meat market is a terrible mistake, and I can tell you why.

Tone Deaf and Dangerous
It's really pretty simple. There's no organized aspect of Second Life as a dating service. What that means is that now any woman who participates in Second Life should consider herself part of this marketing campaign. A woman might go into SL for any number of reasons... to create art, as a musician, a builder, a fashion designer, or for platonic social interactions and many other reasons. But as a result of this campaign, it's completely understandable that certain men who respond to this ad will have the expectation that women in Second Life are there for hookups. The company itself is saying that the women in Second Life are part of the product (or in this case, the service) it sells.

Doing that in a point in time where women's rights are under siege, and where we've been tackling the issues addressed by the "Me Too" movement against unwanted sexual interactions, shows that Second Life and its maker Linden Lab is either tone deaf toward the direction of society, or is simply in so much trouble financially that it is resorting to the lowest possible denominator by openly sexualizing the platform to grab new business.

Are there sexual and romantic relationships in Second Life? Of course there are... and when these things happen organically between consenting adults, I'm all for it. SL, like every other part of Internet-based communications, has its share of sexually-focused content, and that is fine with me. People can choose to view or participate in those things just as they can with Internet porn, if that's where their interests lie. They can visit adult sims in SL that are specifically made for those interactions. No problem. Enjoy yourselves. Awesome. Have fun.

But when the platform itself is being advertised as a medium for people to connect online similar to a sex-based dating service, and it's happening without the consent of the hundreds of thousands of female users... that's where I have a problem. When there's an uptick in the amount of inappriopriate behavior and harassment toward female residents of Second Life, the fault now lies completely on the purposeful efforts of Linden Lab. It's disappointing, to say the least.

The Last TMT Anniversary Show
Enough on that. I doubt Linden Lab will make any changes to this campaign; as an advertiser, I can attest that the act of being lazy and using elements of sex to get customers is always tempting (since it's easy and requires little thought or strategic planning), and it will likely result in new memberships from the types of men who are looking for cheap and easy online sex (as in, a free masturbation tool), and there are plenty of those kinds of men out there.

Me on the little stage at Triana's I've enjoyed so many times over the years, wearing a festive red leather jacket for some reason. Photo by Triana Caldera.

I'm sure going to miss this silly fun event each Sunday night. Photo by Triana Caldera.

For now, I'll fill you in on the final TMT show, at least for the foreseeable future. I've played TMT's anniversary on many occasions, going back more than ten years to the first time I did it in 2008. TMT isn't any kind of live music venue; it's much more like friends getting together at a house party. I tend to play things there that are very specific or meaningful for Triana and the folks who hang out at her trivia event. It's always a good time. My musical theme was, understandably, the end of the TMT era. We had a few folks there who came back into SL last night specifically for the event; some are old friends who participated in TMT since its early days, even before we discovered it shortly after joining SL in 2006.

Triana's Music Trivia Grand Finale set list...
Mary Jane's Last Dance (Tom Petty)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Doin’ Time (Sublime)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
Bring On The Night (The Police)
Leggy Blonde (Flight of the Conchords)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Triana (Zak Claxton)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

Huge thanks to all of our great friends from TMT over the years... we may not see you every Sunday night, but we'll always love you!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

SL16B Music Faire (06.21.19)

Rocking the residents of Second Life at SL16B Music Faire. Photo by Kat.

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.

Kat and I in an SL skybox circa 2007.

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.

Being a noob at SL5B in 2008. Photo by Kat.

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.

Me, doing what I do, at SL16B Music Faire. Photo by Kat.

The main stage at SL16B Music Faire used a '50s diner vibe, per the theme of the event. Photo by Kat.

Nice crowd. Photo by Kat.

Yup, that'd be an SL audience. Always fun. Photo by Kat.

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."

The opportunity to get to know some new folks and have them hear my music and my message is always a positive moment for me, and hopefully for them as well. Photo by Kat.

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!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Serenity Gardens (06.17.19)

Me doing what I do at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Here's something I've noticed. When people make the otherwise noble effort of stepping up to defend the rights of others, there's an interesting and specific phenomenon in regard to the LGBTQ community versus other marginalized groups who experience discrimination. Here's what I mean... you often see phrases like, "I'm not gay, but I am in favor of same sex marriage," or perhaps, "I'm straight, but I am an ally to LGBT people and will support them."

Seems like a nice thing to do, and it is. But... why the need to clarify up front? I mean, no one says, "I'm not black but I support equal rights for African-Americans." Why? Because in most cases, people can look at you and see you're not black. You also tend to never read, "I'm not a woman," or "I'm not an endangered species of butterfly," but regardless of their great intentions, people really do feel the need to be absolutely clear about their own sexual orientation before offering their support for gay/lesbian/trans people. I suppose the reasons are obvious. Despite their willingness to state their support, it's at least equally important to most folks to not be mistaken for someone of a different orientation than their own. There's no external indicator that someone is gay... no skin color, no particular set of facial features, no flashing neon sign. Furthermore, going back a long, long time, being mistaken for being gay could lead to dire consequences, and in some cultures still can. Homosexuality has been condemned and discriminated against for so long that the very idea of someone thinking you are gay is frightening to many, and I suppose you can't blame them.

But I don't do that, and I'll tell you why: I don't care if anyone mistakes my sexual orientation. If someone wants to assume I'm gay, or straight, or otherwise, that's their prerogative. And if someone asks, I'm happy to tell them. But I don't feel a need to make a big announcement about it every time I want to offer my support. If you don't need me to say that I'm not a fish when I state my opposition to polluting the oceans, you should feel the same about how I support equality of sexual orientation.

All that being said, I'm sure that the important aspect is the support itself, and if you do feel that need to clarify your own orientation, that probably doesn't bother anyone at all. As I said, I just found it interesting from a standpoint of human behavior. And why am I even talking about this? Because it's June and in the spirit of Pride Month, I decided to perform some music at each of my shows this month that honored the courage of the openly LGBT community, and I did so last night at Serenity Gardens.

Rocking the Grid
I should once again mention that for these past few shows at Serenity Gardens, having Grace McDunnough playing before me is a huge pleasure. I adore her as a person and her music is fantastic. My show went well, and really, they all do at that venue. I pulled out two songs that were previously unplayed by me... the Gordon Lightfoot classic "Sundown" -- a song with a darker theme than I'd previously realized before playing it -- and a light pop song by Mary Lambert called "She Keeps Me Warm". That was the song I did to acknowledge Pride, since Mary is an LGBT artist who first composed the song as the hook for the massively popular Grammy-nominated hit "Same Love", and then re-did it as a full solo song. It's lovely, and I enjoyed the opportunity to perform it.

A lovely summer evening for whipping up that live music. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens is such a nice, laid-back vibe. I always enjoy it. Photo by Kat.

Ow
One other note. I don't think it's a big deal, but last night after I finished the show, I had a hand that was in pretty serious pain. It came without warning, this pain that was focused around the knuckles of my index finger of my left (fretting) hand, and the knuckle was kind of inflamed and red and not happy at all. Musicians are understandably paranoid about problems with their hands, and I iced it last night and it seems quite a bit better today. I'm hoping it's nothing serious or anything that will continue to affect my playing in the future. Think good thoughts for me, please.

It's mostly better today, but like most serious musicians, I get a little freaked out about my hands.

Serenity Gardens set list...
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
*Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
The Arrangement (Joni Mitchell)
*She Keeps Me Warm (Mary Lambert)
Everyday I Write the Book (Elvis Costello)
Rocky Mountain High (John Denver)
Norwegian Wood (Beatles)
Don't Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Perfectly Calm (They Stole My Crayon)
Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)

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

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to the show, with special thanks to the following who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Diana Renoir, Lauralynn Foxtrot, Trouble Streeter, Tyche Szondi, Kat Claxton, jhd2909 Resident, Barbara Mixemup, Celeste Ewing, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.