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).

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