Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Serenity Gardens (07.17.17)

Every other Monday, you'll find me on this lovely stage at Serenity Gardens.

It's been awhile since I had a "regular" gig in Second Life like I do now at Serenity Gardens. In the world of music and other forms of entertainment, a regular gig simply means that there's a venue where one does repeating performances on a schedule. For Serenity Gardens, it's every other Monday evening that I make my appearance and do the things I do. Here's a coincidental point: looking back over ten years of playing live music in SL, my other regular gigs have also been on Monday evenings. I guess I'm Mr. Monday, and I like it.

Here's why: for a lot of people, Monday is a challenging day. It's the first day of a typical business work week (or school week). You've just spent a weekend doing things you presumably want to do, and now are back in a mode of doing things that you have to do. I have to give credit to the various venues who, purposefully or otherwise, brought me in to handle live music on Monday nights. I'm a pretty good guy for that slot. If you're like most people, your Mondays leave you in a mode where it's good to have something to take your mind off the stress of the day, and my form of entertainment is, if nothing else, light. Even when I'm performing "serious" songs, the overall vibe of my show is pretty breezy and fun. I like to imagine someone getting home after a rough day, filled with meetings and deadlines, dealing with traffic and so on, and then sitting down in front of their computer, maybe pouring a beverage of some sort, and turning up the volume. What do they want to hear at that point? Personally, I'd like some entertainment that took me out of that mode of serious responsibility, and let's face it: my shows are never billed as a serious evening of music. I try and make things fun and relaxing, which I think is what most people like on Monday nights.

Everything Old Is New Again
As per my mission of the past few shows, I filled last night's performance with songs that were deeper in my musical repertoire that what I'd been doing for awhile. A couple of examples: the last time I did "Sister Golden Hair" was in September 2012, while my last attempt at Neil Young's "Alabama" was in February 2014. It's not been a conscious decision to not play those songs, I promise. Like anything else, music is something that becomes a routine, and once something falls out of the regular rotation, you find that out of sight does equal out of mind. Unless I make the conscious effort to go deeper into my list of 400-plus songs, they remain buried in there. I'm happy that people seem to enjoy these songs; my fan base fluctuates enough that some people who come to see me often now probably have never heard me do some of those tunes at all.

One song that absolutely no one had heard me do previously -- since I'd never done it before -- was the live debut of "Box by the Cliff", a little ditty written by my pal and bandmate Bunny Knutson for the next They Stole My Crayon album. We actually originally intended "BBTC" to be on the first Crayon album, but it wasn't quite ready to take into the studio at that point, and it's only been recently that we resumed the process of refining it. As a result, it was on my mind, and I worked out an acoustic guitar arrangement that was good enough to get the vibe of the song across to an audience. So I did, and it went well.

I thought this was super cool. The official Second Life Twitter feed re-Tweeted my promo notice for this show to their 50,000+ followers. I have to say, especially in recent years, I've found the folks at Linden Lab (the makers of Second Life and other virtual worlds) to be tremendously supportive of my musical activities in world. Many thanks to them.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks)
Sister Golden Hair (America)
*Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)
Alabama (Neil Young)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Save Me (Aimee Mann)
Swing Low Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
On a Plain (Nirvana)
Pulling Mussels from a Shell (Squeeze)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
It’s Good to be King (Tom Petty)

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

Huge thanks to all who came out to my Monday night show at lovely Serenity Gardens, with a special tip o' the Zak Hat to the following who helped support it!
ScarlettSabina Resident, Turn Pike, RoxxyyRoller Resident, Kenzliie Resident, Richy Nervous, RansomTalmidge Resident, Tyche Szondi, Christine Haiku, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Serenity's fantastic management team of Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Triana's Music Trivia 12th Anniversary Special (07.09.17)

Friends and fun, every Sunday night at Triana's Music Trivia. Photo by Kat Claxton.

I've told this story before; I'll almost certainly tell it again.

Back in 2006, my lady Kat (aka Christina) was living in Seattle and I was down here in the LA area. On October 12 of that year, my pal Mike Burns called and mentioned a virtual world called Second Life, which I told Kat about, and we joined that very evening while on the phone together. We checked it out and thought it was pretty cool, especially by 2006 standards. But frankly, there didn't seem to be a lot do actually do there. We explored a bit, learned about building our own content, and so on. It was fun being able to "hang out", which we couldn't do in a long distance relationship except for the times we could physically visit each other. But it's pretty likely we would have abandoned SL relatively quickly if not for finding a social event that we both enjoyed a lot. It was called Triana's Music Trivia, and was held each Sunday evening at 7PM local/SL time. Right from the start, it became part of our weekly routine.

Skip ahead to 2017. Triana has been hosting her TMT events now for 12 straight years (and in fact had just turned 13 years old in Second Life, ancient by the virtual world standards). Every year going back to 2007 or so, I've done a live performance at her special event to celebrate TMT's anniversary, and that's what I did once again last night.

My shows for Triana are different than my usual shows. In fact, heh heh, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want someone to hear my set for the first time and assume that all of my shows were similar to my TMT performances. They're certainly not. First, I often have at least one song that's done in a silly fashion that I know Triana herself will find funny. In the past, that's been things like a version of Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues", but sung by Elmer Fudd. Or, I've claimed that Bob Dylan has joined me in my little studio, and created songs about Triana with the pseudo-Dylan singing them. Other songs, while performed seriously, are those that I know Triana finds annoying, and I do them to purposefully tease her. However, not everything I do at TMT anniversary shows are a joke. I often will put together a little musical theme which forces me to find songs to debut, and it's often that the songs I first perform at TMT will find their way into my regular set list.

Rocking a bunch of new tunes. Photo by Kat Claxton.

The lovely Triana Caldera, flanked by TMT regulars Alchemy Epstein and Nakira Tennen. Photo by Kat Claxton.

Playing house parties takes me back to my youth, when those were the only kinds of gigs I could get. Photo by Kat Claxton.

For last night's show, we ended up with a good crowd at the event, which is held in Triana's SL home. I think of it like a house party, which it essentially is. The trivia event is held downstairs, while the music portion of the evening happens in her upstairs attic area. It's intimate and fun, and we had a combination of my Zakster fans and regular TMT attendees in the audience. In addition to messing with Triana via her detested song by Hootie & The Blowfish and doing a short, rather silly acoustic folk version of "Baby Got Back", I decided to continue my '90s theme -- being the era where Triana was in high school and college -- and did a ton of songs I'd not played before, along with a few I do only rarely (including Triana's namesake tune). I'd say it went really well, and was fun for people who were familiar with my repertoire and got to hear a set made up almost entirely of stuff I hadn't done before.

One final note: in the past few days, we've been hit by a wave of humidity here in SoCal, and it was at 99% while I was doing my show. Needless to say, while I sweat a lot while performing music even under nice weather conditions, I was an absolute mess by the end of this show. I wrapped up, put down my guitar, and went immediately into the shower.

Sweaty Zak is sweaty.

TMT 12th Anniversary set list...
*Only Wanna Be With You (Hootie & The Blowfish)
I Like You (Zak Claxton)
*Hand In My Pocket (Alanis Morissette)
Bag of Nothing (They Stole My Crayon)
Bein’ Green (Kermit the Frog)
*Low (Cracker)
You’re Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
*Possession (Sarah McLachlan)
Bunny You Got It Goin’ On (FOTC)
*Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart (Stone Temple Pilots)
*Baby Got Back (Sir Mix-a-Lot)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Triana (Zak Claxton)

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

Many thanks to all of my great friends from our Sunday night fun times at TMT, and everyone else who came to the show, including the following who helped support it!
Nakira Tennen, Alchemy Epstein, Tyche Szondi, Samantha Poindexter, Kat Claxton, TheaDee Resident, and of course, most of all, my wonderful friend for life, Triana Caldera.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Feed-a-Smile 7th Anniversary (07.08.17)

Strumming some songs, feeding some smiles. Photo by Kat Claxton.

The first time I played live music for Brique Zeiner's "Feed-a-Smile" charity was in September 2011. At the time, I really didn't think it much different from any of the other charitable organizations I'd played for, which ranged from the American Cancer Society to the Kidney Foundation to benefits for animals, autism, and more. But as time went by, I began to develop a better understanding of what Feed-a-Smile and the Live and Learn in Kenya foundation that Brique helps run are all about. One thing I like very much is that there's no middleman; Brique physically goes to Kenya and works with the children, and makes arrangements for their feeding and educational facilities. But, somewhat selfishly, it was the second or third time I'd played there, and was surprised by a set of photos showing the kids eating the meals that my show had provided, and a blackboard drawing of me in avatar form with thanks given from the kids, that I really began to think of Feed-a-Smile as something special.

The other nice thing about it is that it's a super easy concept to understand. L$100 (the equivalent of about $0.40 USD) buys one meal for one kid. Want to donate enough for ten kids to get hot meals? That's L$1000, or about four bucks. Easy. People who visit Lavender Field where the Feed-a-Smile events are usually held think of their donations in terms of numbers of meals, and the charity does very well with their fundraising via Second Life as a result.

My view from the stage. Photo by Kat Claxton.

Joined by my buddy Lyndon Heart as I wrapped up my set. Photo by Kat Claxton.

A happy and generous crowd makes for a good day at Lavender Field. Photo by Kat Claxton.

This show happened to be the seventh anniversary of Feed-a-Smile, and two of my fellow performers who are managed by Maali Beck -- Taunter Goodnight and Lyndon Heart -- were scheduled before and after me, which always makes for a fun day. We enjoy each other's material a lot, so it's great to have a good reason to hang out and hear each other's shows. We all had nice-sized crowds during our respective sets, and from what I could tell, the donation kiosks were lighting up pretty constantly during the three hours we played.

Feed-a-Smile set list...
Low Key (Tweedy)
If You Could Only See (Tonic)
California (Joni Mitchell)
I Am a Child (Neil Young)
Teach Your Children (CSNY)
Bertha (Grateful Dead)
Cat's In the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Every Day I Write the Book (Elvis Costello)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
Across the Universe (Beatles)
*Lyndon Heart is a Beautiful Man (Zak Claxton, improv)

Massive thanks to the people who generously donated to the cause during my show, and all year 'round. You are awesome heroes.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Serenity Gardens (07.03.17)

The Zak Shows keep getting better at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat Claxton.

Last night, after I wrapped up my third bi-weekly Monday evening show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, my manager commented about it on Facebook.

Maali Beck:
SO fun! What a great crowd!
Zak Claxton:
Zak Claxton:
I think I'm having an SL comeback.

I wasn't really being serious, although my recent shows have seemed particularly well attended. As most SL musicians will tell you, different days and different venues will have different crowds, and it's every bit as silly to take some meaningful measurement of popularity based on one good show as it is to despair over another show with a small audience. As people who are close to me know well, I really don't measure the success of a show based on how many people were there. I've had fantastic SL shows for an audience of 7-8 people, and really terrible shows at places where the sim was maxed out at 80+.

But I will say that after a few performances, I seem to have hit my stride at Serenity Gardens. It's a good combination of things; I feel very comfortable playing there, and we seem to have developed a very steady, good-sized crowd of people who like to see me there every other Monday evening. I'd be happy if this trend continues.

Music, Friends, and Fun
I can be pretty objective about myself as a musician and live performer. Let's imagine an alternate universe where my shows are musically identical to the ones I do today, but where I don't spend any time engaging with my audience. I arrive, I do every song that I do now in the same level of skill, but there's no chatter in between the songs, and I don't notice or acknowledge people in the crowd and so on. I have no false modesty; I know I'm a competent (though not outstanding) guitar player and singer, and a pretty interesting songwriter occasionally. I'm capable of being entertaining purely as a musician. But a huge part of a Zak Show is what happens on a separate level from the music itself.

If you're not having fun at my show, I'm doing something seriously wrong. Photo by Asimia Heron.

Being the day before Independence Day here in the USA, people were enjoying the virtual sparklers provided by the venue/host. Photo by Kat Claxton.

In real life, Kat was having to frequently leave the room due to coughing and sneezing from her cold. In SL, she kept dancing away, and didn't light her hair on fire, which is nice. Photo by Asimia Heron.

People come to my shows because it's a good time. My SL shows were described early on by someone who said that they were more like a situation with friends sitting around a campfire, or chilling with an acoustic guitar at a house party. People are free to talk, to be silly, to have fun. It's not a serious situation where 100% of your attention needs to be focused on the performer, and I am certainly not out to be super impressive with my playing or singing skills. My only goal is for people to enjoy themselves, and it's very rare that I don't get that feeling of people having fun while experiencing my show. Many of the people who come to my shows have subsequently become friends of mine, and friends with each other. It's a good feeling to be aware of that. On the biggest picture, if music is something that can make the world a better place in which to live, then my shows use music as one element that helps people (including myself) enjoy life a little more for a little while. What more could I ask for?

Yeah, Serenity Gardens is working out just fine. Photo by Kat Claxton.

Reaching Deeper
As I recently mentioned here on this very blog, I am trying to challenge myself more to play material that is less easy and familiar for me, and that I play less often as a result. I think doing that is to everyone's benefit. Last night's show was the first opportunity to head down this path, and I'm happy to say that I did. Of the entire set list, there are only a couple of songs that I've played at all in recent times. Last night's show included a couple of songs that I'd only played once or twice before in the last 10+ years of doing SL shows, and one tune that I'd never played before at all. I'd really like to continue doing that more often at subsequent shows.

Me, being me. Photo by Kat Claxton.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)
*One Headlight (The Wallflowers)
Cassidy (Grateful Dead)
I’ve Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Peaceful Easy Feeling (Eagles)
Leggy Blonde (Flight of the Conchords)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Doin’ Time (Sublime)
Tribute (Tenacious D)
Loser (Beck)

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

Many thanks to all who help make my shows at Serenity Gardens excellent, including the following who helped to support the show.
go2smoky Resident, RoxxyyRoller Resident, Alex Zelin, RansomTalmidge Resident, Asimia Heron, Tyche Szondi, Lacey MacMoragh, Aurelie Chenaux, ErikKottzen Resident, Kat Claxton, TheaDee Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, my fill-in host Sharky Shark├┤nnya Rhode, and Serenity's excellent management, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.