Monday, February 23, 2015

Homes For Our Troops (02.22.15)

Not long ago, I wrote and posted a "Why bother playing live music in Second Life?" article. Actually, it was just one of my regular show reports, but it had been a fun show filled with friends, and I postulated that the primary reason for doing SL performances was just that: fun. Fun for yourself, fun for the audience, and giving you a possibility of connecting with people in a way that isn't otherwise possible.

Those things are all true, but I neglected to mention something very important: charity. You see, the platform of Second Life, with its ability to gather people regardless of physical location and engage them in a charitable act, is something that's another unique aspect of virtual music shows. Those of you who have been a friend/fan of mine for a long time period know that doing charitable benefit shows is important to me. After all, I'm never going to be some world-renowned rock star (nor would I want to). How can I then use my musical skills and talent to bring some goodness to the world, other than the momentary fun of the show itself? The answer is by doing fundraising shows for worthwhile causes, and I've done dozens and dozens of them over the eight-plus years I've been performing in SL. I'm proud to say my shows have benefited such organizations as the American Cancer Society, the National Kidney Foundation, the Autism Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research, and many others.

Sunday's show for Homes For Our Troops certainly qualifies as a worthwhile cause. My friend and fellow musician Frets Nirvana has been the point man for organizing shows that benefit veterans organizations in SL, and I've done previous shows for him in this regard. Before I talk about Homes For Our Troops and the show itself, I would like to mention something that I brought up during the show itself.

Anti-War Guy Supports Military: Why?
I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that I have a liberal political outlook. More specifically, I'm about as anti-war as anyone. While I'm not so deluded or naive as to not understand why war continues to be part of the human experience, looking at the bigger picture, it strikes me as incredibly barbaric that in 2015, we're still going around shooting and bombing fellow human beings for various reasons. I oppose violence in all forms. If it were up to me, every single military conflict that continues in the world today would end right this second. But it's not up to me, and it's a seemingly impossible idea, at least for now. That means we have to deal with the inevitable outcomes of war, which are never positive on the human level. For anyone who thinks that doing a benefit show that helps injured veterans is some kind of right-wing cause, allow me to retort: someone has to be there to clean up the mess that war mongers make. If the government lived up to its responsibility of taking care of the combat veterans who protect the country, there would be no need for silly musicians like me to have to participate in fundraisers for them. While I'm loathe to make this a liberal-versus-conservative cause (because it affects all equally), it's rarely the left wing who denies aid to veterans whose lives are forever impacted by the horrors of war. So, as far as I'm concerned, "supporting the troops" is as liberal as it gets. But for any hardcore conservative who ever put a "support the troops" bumper sticker on their truck, they should be equally interested in this cause, no matter who they vote for or whether their state is colored red or blue on a map. Enough said.

All photos by Kat

What Is "Homes For Our Troops"?
My previous shows that have helped veterans organizations have been to the benefit of more well-known charities like the Wounded Warriors Project. But sometimes, it's important to look deeply into the pathway of the monies raised by a charity. Frets Nirvana discovered that the mission of the Homes For Our Troops organization was more in line with his opinions on how veterans can best be served, and also found that a greater percentage of the funds raised goes directly to those in need. Here's their mission statement:

Homes for Our Troops (HFOT) is a privately funded 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization building specially adapted, mortgage-free homes nationwide for the most severely injured Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of these Veterans have sustained injuries including multiple limb amputations, partial or full paralysis, and/or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). These homes restore some of the freedom and independence our Veterans sacrificed while defending our country, and enable them to focus on their family, recovery, and rebuilding their lives. Since its inception in 2004, over 90 percent of donations to Homes for Our Troops has gone to directly support Veterans. HFOT builds these homes where the Veteran chooses to live, and continues its relationship with the Veterans after home delivery to assist them with rebuilding their lives.

So this all sounded good to me, and I was happy to jump in and lend a hand. The show was held at the Second Life US Military Veterans Center, and while I was happy to do it for all the reasons described above, I knew well before the show started that we shouldn't expect a big crowd. Why? Well, there was this little event going on at the same time called "The Oscars". Hey, things happen. But two things surprised me: we did get about 15-20 people to come out during my portion of the event, and (much more importantly), those people were generous beyond belief. We raised about L$45,000 during my one-hour set, which is somewhere around $200 USD. Look, that's not going to buy an injured vet a home. But it's more than a drop in the bucket, and I have to say how proud I am of my friends and fans who contributed so generously to this great cause. I should note that this was only for my portion of the show; my fellow musicians Jimmyt49 Dukes, Noma Falta, and Frets Nirvana did sets after me that undoubtedly added a lot to the amount raised in total.

Homes For Our Troops set list...
Pigs on the Wing -- Parts I & II (Pink Floyd)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
*Congregation (Foo Fighters)
It's Choade My Dear (Connan Mockasin)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Allentown (Billy Joel)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

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

Massive thanks to everyone who came out to the show and helped buy a home for a deserving military vet. I thank you, and I thank you on their behalf!

Monday, February 16, 2015

2015 SoCal Second Life Jam (02.06.15 - 02.08.15)

For almost as long as there has been live music in Second Life, the people who create it have also gotten together in their real lives, in various ways. It's kind of a natural aspect of being a musician; while the wonders of performing remotely for people around the world can't be understated, musicians love the act of being in the same place at the same time to create music on the fly. The first SL Jams were casual get-togethers when a few musicians realized that they lived reasonably close to each other. I believe it was in 2009 that the first organized SL Jam happened (in Dallas, if I recall correctly). Since then, there have been dozens of SL Jams across the USA and around the world.

I've managed to attend three of them. My first was in San Diego in 2011, followed by Nashville in May 2014, and then last weekend, Kat and I made the very short trip from here to Santa Ana in Orange County to go to the 2015 SoCal Jam. Each Jam has its own vibe that seems to be a combination of the musicians, the fans, the size of attendance, the location, and other factors. Each of them has been very fun for both Kat and myself, each in its own way. I'd say the aspect of the 2015 SoCal Jam that was particularly outstanding was everyone's willingness to jump up and lend a hand for everyone else's performances. That happens at most SL Jams, of course, but this one in particular seemed to have as many possible people onstage at all times. It truly was a Jam in the real sense of the word, and I loved it. Here's a brief diary of my experiences (yours might be different from mine, but I'm not you).

The entire SoCal Jam group photo by Gwampa Lomu (Bruce Lomasky).

It would have been nice to be able to take the day off and head right down to Santa Ana, where the Jam was being held in a Quality Suites hotel next door to John Wayne Airport. Alas, that wasn't possible for Kat and I. We both had to put in most of a day's worth of work at our respective jobs. By the time we were ready to go, it was about 3:30. We were hoping we'd beat the traffic; with clear freeways, it's only about a 45 minute drive between where we live in Redondo Beach and the jam location. But since it was Friday, it seemed that everyone was taking off early from work, which happens around here. We got on the 405 South and it immediately turned into a parking lot for a good portion of the trip. Were we bummed about this? Hell no. We put on some good tunes and talked and laughed the whole way... at least until the end of the trip, when traffic got ridiculous. Even so, we were on no specific schedule, and we ended up rolling into the hotel at about 5:30.

After getting our room and unpacking, we immediately followed our ears to the jam room, which was located directly next to the pool area. It was really an ideal spot for a jam, and before I continue, I want to give kudos to Eric Steffensen and Gretchen Capalini for having selected a great spot for this event. You have to understand, there are a lot of things to consider when choosing a location for an SL Jam. Are the rates affordable for attendees? Conveniently close to an airport for people flying in? Is there an appropriate room in the hotel for the jamming? Will loud music be an issue? Can food and alcohol be brought in and served independently of the hotel? I think they made a perfect choice with the Quality Suites.

We spent most of Friday evening giving hugs to old friends who we see far too rarely, and starting to meet new folks (several of whom had never been to an SL Jam before). In my typical fashion, once settled into the jam room, I grabbed the first available instrument and did some tunes with whomever was playing at the time. We arrived in time for dinner, and enjoyed a nice Italian feast before getting back to the jamming. I recall playing some laid back bass doing a Joe Cocker song with Rosedrop Rust and Lyndon Heart that night, as well as a cool rendition of "Wicked Game" with Gina Stella and a motel crew of players. By the way, I will make no attempt here to list every single one of the songs I played at this Jam; there are dozens and dozens, and I probably don't know the name of half of them anyway.

Friday night dinner, surrounded by friends. Photo by Gwampa Lomu (Bruce Lomasky).

Kat and I had been up since before dawn, and we hit a wall at about 11:30. We headed to our room, perchance to dream of the next day's jamming.

We awoke the next morning with plenty of time to go try out the breakfast of the Quality Suites that we'd heard about, and for a free hotel breakfast, it completely kicked ass. They have cooks standing by with a set menu, but you can order eggs any style, omelettes, hash browns, sausage, bacon, toast, plus coffee, juice, and so on. It's free and fast and really pretty damn good. Our little brigade of Jammers were coming and going in the breakfast room (which was actually our Jam room, at least after 12PM). After eating, I went back to my room and grabbed my guitar. Who needs to shower and dress when there's music to be made and friends with whom to make it? Still wearing my sweats, I wandered back to the poolside area and sure enough, plenty of the Jammers had the same thought. We meandered around in the morning sun, many of us holding guitars, and chatting and occasionally strumming things.

Saturday morning poolside fun. Photo by Gwampa Lomu (Bruce Lomasky).

Q: How do you get a guitar player to stop playing? A: Put sheet music in front of him/her. Thankfully there was none around. Photo by Gwampa Lomu (Bruce Lomasky).

Kat and I with Celtic. Photo by Gwampa Lomu (Bruce Lomasky).

I should mention that like all the good Jams, the organizers had us sign up for specific time slots for half-hour shows. This is a good thing, and I'll tell you why. Some people (cough... me... cough) will hog all the stage time in the world, while other, more shy folks might not have the nerve to jump up there on their own. Giving everyone a specific time slot ensured that every musician who came would have a chance to perform the tunes they wanted to do.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the SoCal jam was completely awesome in the aspect that every performer got a little help from his/her friends. It was extremely rare to see someone standing completely alone on the stage area. All manner of people hopped up to support their pals, filling in on bass, drums, keys, vocals, and whatever else seemed to add to the tunes. It was a complete blast, watching these random music groups form for a tune or two and then morph into other groups as people came and went. In any case, my assigned time slot was 2PM on Saturday, and this time I actually did prepare a set.

2015 SoCal Jam set list...
What's So Funny Bout Peace Love & Understanding (Elvis Costello)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
You're So Vain (Carly Simon)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)

I should note that my performance of "Blew The Dust Away" with Kat was the first time that any They Stole My Crayon song was performed live in public by two-thirds of the band. I'm happy that this milestone happened at such a fun event. Also, perhaps for the first time, I took a request at a Jam when Gwampa's grandkids (heh) asked me over the stream to do Space Oddity. I happily complied, with Gwampa acting out the song in his own interpretive dance routine.

Mali's kids, minus Sassy. Taunter, Lyndon, and I had so much musical fun together over the weekend, it should have been illegal. Photo by Gwampa Lomu (Bruce Lomasky).

Both before and after my set, I spent the majority of the day in the jam room, though Kat and I did duck out to grab lunch at some point. Later that day, it was time for the "random pairings" part of the Jam. Selecting names from a hat, all performers were paired with another for two sessions of songs. My random pairings were CelticMaidenWarrior (who I've known for years and years) and Bluerose18 (aka Lila, who I'd just met the night before). Celtic and I quickly decided to do "Leather & Lace" by Stevie Nicks and Don Henley. Finding common musical ground with Lila wasn't nearly as easy, but not long before we were supposed to go on, she asked how I felt about doing "The Best of You" by Foo Fighters, and I felt mighty good. We did a quick rehearsal and then did the song, and it went great.

There were other performers all day long, and that night they had a catered Mexican meal. All quite fun, and just being able to hang out with my great friends from the SL live music community was, as usual, the best part of all. After dinner, Grif Bamaisin did his rock set, so after Krell Karu jammed for awhile, I stepped in on electric guitar and spent as much time onstage laughing as I did playing, doing a memorable stage tango along with Lyndon. The whole day was a blast, and Kat and I slept soundly that night once we made our way back to our room.

We'd been having such a great time that Sunday arrived much too quickly. But we still had plenty of time for fun. Once again, Kat and I headed over to the breakfast line and enjoyed a hearty morning meal. Like a repeat of the day before, I got my guitar and stood around the pool with friends old and new, and played a bit and chatted as well. By noon, everyone was raring to get back onstage for one last round of music before the Jam wound to a close.

There were some scheduled performances, but betwixt and between, people were also doing random songs here and there. It was great. I hopped around from instrument to instrument, occasionally handing bass, drums, keys, guitar, or vocals on various tunes. I led a few tunes, and also did some with Max, Lyndon, and others. It was all too fun, and for whatever reason, I never was concerned about impressing anyone with my playing skills or performance. I screwed up a number of times; few noticed and none cared. It was that feeling of musical camaraderie that I think I enjoy most about SL Jams. It's hard to find in any other environment, musical or otherwise.

Sitting in with Max. While piano was my first instrument, it's always a challenge to play keys when I on;y do it a few times a year (as opposed to the guitar that's in my hands daily). Photo by Gwampa Lomu (Bruce Lomasky).

My lovely Kat with the always friendly and talented Max Kleene. Photo by Gwampa Lomu (Bruce Lomasky).

At about 2PM, Kat and I knew that we had to take off; we didn't want any chance of dealing with the same traffic we'd had on the way down, and had some non-Jam things to do before the weekend was done (including Kat picking her mom up that evening at LAX). There was a flurry of hugs and kisses to all of our friends; leaving a Jam is never easy, especially with the awareness that it might be a long time before you're in the physical presence of these people again, if ever. Nevertheless, Kat and I were all smiles as we pulled our Jeep out of the parking lot and headed home (which, by the way, took only about 45 minutes with a wide open Sunday afternoon freeway). The 2015 SoCal Jam was wonderful, and I have many great memories of the entire thing. Here's to the best jam ever (until the next one).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Islands of New England (02.04.15)

It's only taken me a week to post this blog after my most recent SL show, which was at The Islands of New England, and it was a great show, and I want to talk about that. Before I do, though, I want to say a few things about why musicians should bother performing in Second Life at all... and it's probably not why you think.

I used to be emphatic about the tangible reasons for doing SL gigs. As one of the somewhat earlier people who took to SL for the purpose of doing live music (though not nearly one of the first; there were dozens of pioneering live musicians in SL before I started in 2006), I even wrote a couple of published magazine articles about it early on. You can still find them online, if you want. Back in March 2008, I did this article in Electronic Musician magazine, and did another in 2011 in Live 2 Play. My reasoning at the time was pretty logical, and it still stands today: SL allows for people to expose their music to listeners around the world in ways that have yet to be duplicated via other platforms. For people who for whatever reason are incapable or unwilling to physically tour around the world to perform live music, SL accomplishes a similar result. I have fans of my music in places like Australia and The Netherlands and Brazil who would never have possibly even heard of me without SL. Also, as I stated in the articles, it's possible for a musician to actually make a small amount of money as a performer in SL, via fees paid by venues and tips from the audiences.

All that is still true, and still valid. But those are not the reasons you should perform in Second Life. The reason is clear via a fast and easy analysis of the results; there has yet to be a single musician who initially gained notice via SL that became a popular musical star in the real world. Why? First, the grand majority of musicians in SL don't play original music at all. The most popular SL artists, understandably, are those who do covers of current popular songs. And as you already understand, on a general basis, people don't get famous from doing covers. But even if the greatest songwriter and musician in the world jumped into SL and wowed audiences, it's still unlikely that it would translate to popular success outside of SL. The fact is, by nature of being in a virtual world, there's a disconnect between the performer and audience (in both directions). I can anticipate that eventually, the technology will catch up to the point that every facial expression, every muscle movement will be translated into the digital realm. Until that happens, the audiences will constantly be reminded that what they're experiencing doesn't match up to even the person strumming cover tunes at their local bar. And, in the other direction, the performer will never get the kind of feedback they receive from an audience made of flesh located in front of them.

So, back to the question: why perform in SL? Because despite all of the shortcomings, it allows you to have a lot of fun and make friends with people who appreciate what you do, and guess what? That's reason enough on its own. Speaking of which, I'll now tell you about my show at The Islands of New England last Wednesday night.

I knew that a couple of days after this show, I'd be heading down to Orange County for my third SL Jam (which was great and I'll blog about soon), so it was good that I had a show or two beforehand to warm up and prepare for some real-life music performances. It used to be that at TIONE, I was fine playing for smaller audiences, but it seems that my more recent shows have had the place pretty well packed. I don't need big audiences to feel like a show went well, but it is a good feeling knowing that a lot of people are enjoying your music at once, from time to time. And again, referring back to my earlier point, having a house full of some of my closest friends in SL makes it all worthwhile.

All photos by Kat.

The Islands of New England set list...
What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love & Understanding (Elvis Costello)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Cat's In The Cradle (Harry Chapin)
Antiphon (Midlake)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
*Avalon (Roxy Music)
Sleeper In The Valley (Laura Veirs)
Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
Big Empty (Stone Temple Pilots)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
*Improvised Outro Song (Zak Claxton)

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

Massive thanks to all who came out to see me play at TIONE, especially the following who supported my show!
Cicadetta Stillwater, Funkyfreddy Republic, Sesh Kamachi, Gideon McMillan, Bonita Denimore, GMetal Svartur, Kandy Roussel, Kat Claxton, Alexis Fairlady, TheaDee Resident, Joel Eilde, Aurelie Chenaux, my great manager Maali Beck, and most of all, TIONE manager (and my lovely friend) Christine Haiku!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Key West (01.30.15)

Hey, lookee here: I managed to do one live show in Second Life and two whole blog posts in the month of January 2015. Go me! I have an excuse for my absence, your honor. You see, apparently there's some kind of limit to human productivity and creative energy and all that good stuff, and every January for the past 22 years, my brain gets sucked into a vortex of a huge business event for the industry in which I work. It's called the NAMM Show. I'm not going to spend any time writing about that event here. My entire life has been preoccupied by it for months, and now that it's over, suffice it to say that while it went fine and I didn't die or anything, I'd prefer to spend my time telling you about the show I performed Friday night at Key West in Second Life.

I've played there dozens of times over the past four years or so, and it's just inarguably one of the best places for live music in SL. Friday night, for my first show back in SL after a seven-week hiatus, it couldn't have been better. I was wedged between two superb SL artists, Samm Qendra and Max Kleene, and had a nice built-in crowd for the whole set. As usual, I had legitimate concerns about the fact that the music I choose to play is way less mainstream than most of my fellow performers in SL, but my purposes for playing live in SL may be different than those folks as well. I really don't know. I do know that I do hear from people fairly often who say that they enjoy the more alternative, off-the-beaten-path songs and artists I cover, so while my type of show is never going to have as wide appeal as some others, I think I fill a certain niche of tastes in SL that people don't get elsewhere. So, then I feel good again, and play what I want regardless.

Excellent photos above and below courtesy of Cicadetta Stillwater.

Since it had been so long since my previous show, I made sure to throw in a few previously-unperformed tunes in the set. I will say -- not as an excuse but simply a statement of fact -- that my voice has not entirely recovered from my trade show last weekend, and wasn't quite at the level of goodness that I expect. But it was good enough, and people seemed to enjoy the show. All's well that ends well.

Key West set list...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
*Big Empty (Stone Temple Pilots)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
*It's Choade My Dear (Connan Mockasin)
Low Key (Tweedy)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
On A Plain (Nirvana)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Here I Land (Nicholas Stevenson)
*(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding (Elvis Costello)

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

Big thanks to all who came out to Key West on Friday night, especially the following who helped support my show!
Bonita Beyaz, JennaLusch Resident, Syd Baddingham, dls Falconer, Blues Heron, Aurelie Chenaux, Richy Nervous, Cicadetta Stillwater, Shannyn Fall, TheaDee Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, and Key West owner Liz Harley!