Saturday, December 24, 2011

Casablanca Ballroom (12.23.11)

'Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and just a couple of days earlier, I had no idea I'd be performing for the first time at Casablanca Ballroom in Second Life. However, my good pal Taunter Goodnight had to cancel her scheduled appearance there, so our mutual manager Maali Beck asked if I'd like to do the show in her place, and I happily agreed.

My view from the stage at this sumptuous ballroom setting at Casablanca. Photo by Kat.

Looking down from on high. Photo by Triana.

I like any good reason to pull out some new tunes, and I also knew that there would be no other opportunity to do a Christmas-themed show for another year. I didn't have a lot of time, but I chose some songs that sound much better in December than in, say, July. Casablanca is quite a bit more upscale than most of the laid-back places I play in SL, and that also gave me and my Zakster fans a good excuse to dress up in our nicest virtual fashion. I wear a tux in SL about as often as I do in real life, which isn't very frequently. Still, it was fun to look out from the stage and see such swank surroundings for a change.

As a whole, the show went really well. For one thing, I had no idea until I arrived that my friend Max Kleene was playing directly before me, so it was nice to get to hear some of his set and have him and some of his fans hang out for a good portion of my show. It's always exhilarating to play tunes that are new for me, so having five fresh songs (and a few more that are rarities for me) made it exciting, hopefully for my fans as much as me.

Another close-up of me in my happy holiday mood (and not in jeans and sneakers). Photo by Triana.

My darling Kat, dressed to the nines. Photo by Kat.

Everyone seemed to be enjoying the season's spirit and my rare tunes. Photo by Kat.

Casablanca Ballroom Set List...
*Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth (David Bowie & Bing Crosby)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
*River (Joni Mitchell)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Long December (Counting Crows)
*Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Blane/Martin)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
My Heart (Neil Young)
*Christmastime is Here (Vince Guaraldi)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
†The Rainbow Connection (Williams/Ascher)
*God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Traditional; arr. Zak Claxton)

*Indicates my first performance of this song in SL.
†My only other performance of "The Rainbow Connection": June 27, 2010

Thanks to all who helped support last night's show at Casablanca, and happiest of holidays to all Zaksters around the world!
donnamarie Mistwalker, BuffaloMike Hammerer, Steven Hynes, Aisha Convair, Triana Caldera, Diana Renoir, Maximillion Kleene, Alexis Fairlady, Krissi Paule, Horizon Darkstone, Kat Claxton, TheaDee, my wonderful manager Maali Beck, and Casablanca owner DeanGrant Caproni!

Friday, December 16, 2011

My proudest moment as a musician

As you may have read earlier this week, I performed for the second time at Lavender Field in Second Life for Brique Topaz's "Feed-a-Smile" charity, which supports the Live and Learn in Kenya program. It allows kids to get food and education in an area of the world where no such things are guaranteed.

Well, little could I have imagined that through a simple act of performing music for an hour -- something I love to do regardless -- I would be paid in priceless riches. That came today in the form of an email letting me know that the kids celebrated a "Zak Claxton Meal & Party", and included several pictures. Looking at them, and feeling my eyes fill with tears, is the absolute proudest moment I've had in over 35 years as a musician. Beyond any other triumph of creative output or kudos from my peers, this was the first time I knew beyond all shadow of a doubt that through my music, we did something significant that affected someone in an important way.

I'm happy to share those pictures with you here. On top, the kids gather around a chalkboard that they drew, featuring a pretty nice sketch of me and the following message:

Dear Zak,

Thank you to you, Kat, and all your wonderful fans for putting food on our plates and smiles on our faces. Bright holiday blessings and a happy and healthy New Year.

The Live and Learn in Kenya kids in Nakuru, Kenya

Honestly, all the credit really goes to Brique for her tireless efforts, and to my fans and friends who came to the show and added their support. All I did was chip in a few bucks and perform music for an hour. But regardless of who gets credit, the effect is tangible, and can be seen below in the smile-inducing sight of these hungry kids sitting down for a big meal.

It's both pride-inducing and humbling to be a small part of an effort like Live and Learn in Kenya. I find that the payment I received in the form of seeing these pictures and the kids' message to me is more than I'd ever expect in return for the small act of playing some guitar and singing. It's one of the best Christmas presents I ever got in my life, and as I told Brique, you can bet your bottom dollar that I'll be at Lavender Fields again in 2012.

If you want to lend your own support to Brique's efforts inside Second Life or otherwise, contact her now. I'm sure she'd appreciate anything you can offer.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lavender Field/Feed-a-Smile (12.12.11)

There's no better feeling than getting to the end of a long day and knowing you did something that actually mattered. Sure, most of us do lots of things that allow ourselves and our families to survive as comfortably as possible damn near every day, but I'm talking about the rare occasions where you have an opportunity to go above and beyond the norm and do something that really makes a difference.

That's why I've had a smile on my face all day after performing for the second time at Brique Topaz's Lavender Field, the Second Life venue that supports the Feed-a-Smile organization. Feed-a-Smile is a benefit that funds Live and Learn in Kenya, and they sponsor education for kids in Africa who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to go to school, and to make sure those kids are fed well enough to be in a position to learn. Brique has worked it out so that every L$100 spent (about $0.40 USD) in donations at the shows allow one kid to get one hot meal.

It makes me happy to say that we raised enough money for 109 meals during my section of the show, and the single day's events at Lavender Fields raised a total of 254 meals (i.e., L$25,400), with artists Steveeolio and Taunter Goodnight performing before me. We had a terrific crowd the entire time, and everyone seemed to be in a generous mood so that the day was a huge success.

During Taunter's last song, I hopped up and "accompanied" her. Photo by Triana.

The new performance area at Lavender Field is low-lag and high-fun. Photo by Kat.

We had a good-sized crowd of very generous people. I couldn't ask for more. Photo by Kat.

As I usually do at these kinds of events, I tried to choose a list of songs that were all appropriate, or somehow meaningful to the cause. For the most part, I feel pretty good about the musical side of things on this fine day for a worthy cause.

Lavender Field/Feed-a-Smile Set List...
Rock and Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield)
Do They Know It's Christmas? (Band Aid)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Teach Your Children (CSNY)
Go Easy on Me (Zak Claxton)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Just LIke Starting Over (John Lennon)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
I Am a Child (Neil Young)

Massive thanks to every single person who helped support the Feed-a-Smile events today! And thanks to Brique for being a hero all year long!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Molaskey's Pub w/Lyndon Heart (12.08.11)

Yesterday marked the fourth time that Lyndon Heart and I performed together via dual-stream at Molaskey's Pub in Second Life. The overall result was a massive amount of fun, but it took going through a few hoops of fire to get to that point.

I'll start by telling you that I was under the impression that Lyndon was to start the show at 6PM, followed by our performing together from 6:45-7:15, and ending with my solo show from 7:15 until 8:00. I'm not exactly sure why I believed this to be the case, but it was obviously wrong; due to his work schedule, it's impossible for Lyndon to even arrive at the venue by 6:00. So anyway, here was the result: instead of arriving at the venue as I usually do, with a good 20+ minutes to casually get ready for my show, I sauntered in at 5:58, expecting to hear Lyndon starting his set. Instead, I was greeted by a nervous Maali Beck (my manager), who had been wondering where I was.

But wait; it gets better. A few seconds later, I was in a near panic, trying to get everything setup and ready in the next two minutes. At the same time, I was wondering where the hell everyone was; only Maali, me, and one fan were present. Turns out the others were all in the place where the show was supposed to be, which was on the Molaskey's Ice Skating Rink rather than their beach stage, meaning I had to pick up the stuff I'd laid out and once again get my stage ready in another location. At this point, it would probably help to explain what "getting set up" means for an SL musician, especially for a dual-stream show like Lyndon and I do together.

Here's the short version: first, you need to get your avatar self to the location of the venue. Fine. Next, I usually get my SL situation squared away, which involves putting on a guitar and throwing down my tip jar. Assuming SL is functioning correctly (cough), this is pretty easy, but of course, you need to make sure you have the proper group tag that will allow you to rez items on the property. Hopefully you've squared that away well in advance of your show. Also, you need to work out which stream is going to be used. At various places, I either use my own (meaning I need to confirm that the venue owner has this info) or use the venue's (in which case I need to make sure it's properly set up in my broadcasting software).

Next comes my real life setup. I place a music stand near my computer with sheets and sheets of lyrics for the songs I'll be performing. Again, if you're well prepared, you've already pulled out your lyrics and have put them in order of a set list. Next, I put out two microphones (one for my guitar, and another for my vocals). After getting my avatar positioned onstage in SL, I then put on my real-life guitar, and start up my broadcast software. At that point, I'm ready to play.

And yes, that was the short version, and I didn't even include the time spent before all that in warming up one's voice and instrument.

In a dual-stream show, there's a whole other batch of activities... you have to get the stream address of your fellow performer, get it plugged into iTunes, route the signal through your mixer, set the levels, and so on. Now, when you're familiar with this process as I am, it can all be done in a few minutes. However, most musicians I know really prefer not being rushed through their setup process, no matter what the performance environment is.

So, in a long-winded way, that's why I spent my first few songs at Molaskey's being about as discombobulated as I've ever been at the beginning of a show in SL. Still, as soon as we got underway, things went just fine, as they tend to do. Look, I love playing live music, warts and all. As a live performer, if you expect things to be smooth sailing 100% of the time, I have some swampland in Florida you may be interested in purchasing. It's just not realistic to think that with all the technical setup and logistic issues, everything will go exactly as you want it each time you get onstage. I'm fortunate in that 90% of the time, I don't run into any of these problems.

TOP: Lyndon and I get to rocking. PIC 2: During my set at Molaskey's after overcoming the insanity. PIC 3: People seem to be having fun on Molaskey's ice rink. PIC 4: My Kat enjoying a sweet treat. Photos by Kat.

Back to the show. Once I got rolling, things switched from "stress mode" to "fun mode" relatively easily. I pulled out a few songs that were seasonally appropriate, and I really enjoyed the stuff that Lyndon chose for us to do together.

Molaskey's Set List...

Solo Set:
†Do They Know It's Christmas? (Band Aid)
††Long December (Counting Crows)
Every Day I Write the Book (Elvis Costello)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Look Out for Me (Zak Claxton)
Big Bad Bill (Van Halen)

With Lyndon:
*Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Into the Mystic (Van Morrison)
*Stuck in the Middle with You (Stealer's Wheel)
For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
*Oh, Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison)
*The Joker (Steve Miller)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†Last performance of "DTKIC?": 12/09/09.
††Last performance of "Long December": 12/20/10, at Molaskey's.

Massive thanks to everyone who came out to Molaskey's and rocked with Lyndon and me!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Weirdness of December 8

Looking back through years and years of this blog, I was surprised to see that I'd never before written about my one true superstition. I do have one, and it has nothing to do with black cats, walking under ladders, breaking mirrors, or spilling salt (I have no problem with any of those). Rather, my idiosyncratic superstition is an odd one, since it's based on a date, and that date is today... December 8.

Before I even tell you anything about the significance of this date (or lack thereof), let me explain something. You know that phenomenon that makes it seem like "ever time I look at a clock, it says 9:11"? The point is that you glance at a clock many times during a day, but significant patterns of numbers make you take notice more. Well, that's how it is for me on December 8. Odd things happen to me throughout the year, but since I seem to have had an inordinately large number of meaningful events happen on this date, I've become aware of it over the years, and therefore tend to take note of things.

So that's really the deal; December 8 isn't necessarily a bad day, per se. Just a weird one, with a seemingly high proportion of significance. It all goes back 31 years ago, to December 8, 1980. I was 11 years old, and it was the day of my very first guitar recital. I was excited and nervous as you'd expect a kid to be, but it went very well. If you're interested in the details, I performed "Spooky" by the Atlanta Rhythm Section, and "Honesty" by Billy Joel that night. But then, on our way home, my dad turned on the radio, and we got the news that John Lennon had been shot and killed in New York while I was playing my first gig.

The events of that evening encapsulates many of the subsequent December 8 days I've had since, though none were quite as drastic as that. Some years have been quite benign, and I shrugged at the end of the day upon realizing that nothing much had happened, and it was for the most part like any other day. But other years, I've had girlfriends break up with me, lost jobs, gotten promotions, had minor car accidents, been arrested, and -- in a less personal way -- have seen news events happen that affected me. Have these kind of things also happened on days other than December 8? Sure, of course. But much like my clock example from above, when things do happen on this day, I tend to take notice. "A-ha!" I proclaim to myself. "The curse of 12/8 strikes again!"

Last year's December 8 (2010) was mostly good; we celebrated the 30th anniversary of my first live performance by having Bunny come over, and we put on a live video/SL show that went well. However, in doing so, I missed my son's performance with his band at school, so once again, the dichotomy of goodness and badness tempering each other was consistent with other years.

So, that's my only real superstition, and even I don't believe in it, being the cynical and scientifically-minded bastard that I am. We'll see how this December 8 turns out (it's not even 9AM while I'm writing this post, so the day is young enough for just about anything to go down). Meanwhile, I'll try not to be the purposeful instigator of any oddness, consciously or otherwise. I am looking forward to a show tonight in Second Life that I'm playing along with my pal Lyndon Heart, and hopefully that goes well enough that I start forgetting my unfounded apprehension about this silly day.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Always Tomorrow" (Lyrics Video)

Filmed and edited a lyric video for "Always Tomorrow" on this lazy Sunday afternoon. Enjoy!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Moonacy/IndieSpectrum Radio (12.01.11)

There are so many reasons why I perform live music in Second Life. Some of them are purely about the fun of making music, and the camaraderie I feel toward my fans and fellow musicians. Some, I must admit, are based on earning a couple of extra bucks in an economy where it's appreciated. But perhaps the #1 reason why I started playing live in SL was to expose people to my original music, which isn't an easy task for any independent singer-songwriter.

Feeling good, rocking some original music at Moonacy. Photos by Kat.

That's why I'm always happy when I get an invitation to play at one of Moondoggirl Moonintoog and Fox Reinsch's "Moonacy" events. What they do is put on an evening where six artists take 30 minutes each to do original music at one of Moon's amazing sims in SL, and then Fox simulcasts the show live on IndieSpectrum Radio. In terms of exposure, there aren't many better opportunities in SL; last night, we had about 20 people hanging around at the show, but close to 100 more people listening in on the radio. Of course, the great thing about Internet-based radio is that you're not confined to the area capable of receiving the broadcast; we're talking about people from all over the world.

"It looks cold outside... through the window pane..." Photos by Kat.

Last night's show had a good lineup that showcased a variety of different artists, each with their own styles. It started at 5PM with PonDman Haalan, and then the always amazing Phemie Alcott played at 5:30. I had the stage from 6:00 to 6:30, and then Starflower Orbit, RB Hamelin, and Moondoggirl herself wrapped up the evening.

One other thing about the Moonacy shows: Moon's sims (she has a bunch of them) are all designed and decorated superbly! I loved the vibe of this snow-covered lodge, both inside and out. Photos by Kat.

First off, let me say that it's always a great pleasure hearing other SL artists perform their own music. As I got ready to do my show, it was difficult to focus on my own warm-up routine, since I was enthralled by the "Joni Mitchell meets Tori Amos" sound of Phemie. It's been awhile since I last heard her play and I'd forgotten just how good she is, and I've made a note to see more of her shows. Anyway, by the time I did my set, I was feeling inspired, and I think it went quite well (despite some scratchy throat issues). Oh, and by limiting the amount of blabbering I usually do between songs, I actually wedged seven tunes into my half hour slot. Funny how that works.

Moonacy Set List...
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
The Other Way (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)

Big thanks to everyone who came to the show, who listened in on IndieSpectrum, and mostly to Moon and Fox for their efforts in putting together these terrific shows!