Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Islands of New England (11.28.17)

No matter how many people show up for the show, I always enjoy performing at The Islands of New England. Photo by Kat.

Even in the best of times, this period between Thanksgiving and New Year's is pretty hectic. But in this era that exemplifies the supposed Chinese curse of "May you live in interesting times," each time I look at the news is fraught with peril. What insane thing will my country's leaders do or say? Which beloved public figure will turn out to be accused of sexual harassment? What natural disaster will befall some area of the world? Where was the latest mass shooting?

It's enough to drive some people mad. I genuinely think that the people like me who perform live music have a more important role in this era on this crazy planet than we ever did before. The fact is, no matter whether it's a real life or virtual or other environment, music can pull people away from the focus of their stress for a little while. Music, as they say, soothes the savage beast. There's no direct evidence of this specifically, but imagine a person who is at the end of their rope, and could snap any second. Maybe they listen to a little Zak Claxton music and decide to put down the gun, or step away from the ledge. It's not impossible to consider this as a realistic possibility. From my position on the stage, I can't tell what's going through my audience's respective heads; I'm busy trying to play guitar and sing. But people have told me in the past that my music helped them through a rough time in their lives. It's a good feeling, and perhaps now more than ever, the simple act of putting on my guitar and stepping up to a mic might have a greater impact than at any previous time in my life.

Therefore, when I have a really good show like the one I did last night at The Islands of New England in Second Life, there's all the more a feeling of satisfaction when it's done and I'm turning off my audio stream. We can all enjoy music for music's sake alone, but we can also be aware that some people have it worse than others, or are going through a temporary but difficult time, and for those folks, music may be the one thing between themselves and despair.

People like the fact that my sets are eclectic. Why not hear more things than you expected? Photo by Kat.

Dancing and laughing are good ways to spend a Tuesday night. Photo by Kat.

I like when the venues decorate based on the season. Photo by Kat.

Am I the only person in SL playing bands like Wall of Voodoo? I probably am. Photo by Kat.

We had a great crowd of enthusiastic folks who seemed to be enjoying the show, which is good. I managed to put together a pretty cool set list that combined songs from several eras and genres, and fortunately, my voice and guitar were both behaving to an acceptable level.

The Islands of New England set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
Bang and Blame (R.E.M.)
Learning to Fly (Pink Floyd)
Same Sun (Real Estate)
I’ve Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Is She Really Going Out with Him? (Joe Jackson)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Words (Missing Persons)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Mexican Radio (Wall of Voodoo)

Massive thanks to everyone who came out to the show, and special extra thanks to the following who helped support it!
RansomTalmidge Resident, Stratus Mactavish, dstauffsl2 Resident, Sommer Shepherd, Radslns Hutchence, RoxxyyRoller Resident, Kiss Moonites, Caruso Hunniton, Aurelie Chenaux, Jeanne Schimmer, KB Byk, Tippy Wingtips, Old Bailey, Kat Claxton, TheaDee Resident, my lovely manager Maali beck, and the fantastic events manager of The Islands of New England, Christine Haiku!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Serenity Gardens (11.20.17)

Small crowd, good tunes, no worries. Photo by Kat.

In as much as I'm not a huge fan of holidays in general, Thanksgiving may be my favorite one. Think about it: I like cooking, and I like eating, and I like happiness. Thanksgiving is a good excuse for all of the above. This year will be a little bittersweet, as my dad, who passed away on September 8, had been coming to my place for the event every year for over a decade. Obviously, this year will seem a little quieter without his boisterous personality involved, but I'm still doing my usual stuff to make it a fun day for myself, Christina, and my son. Everything on my traditional menu -- turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, bread rolls, and pie -- will remain.

I figured with it being the week of Thanksgiving, I'd do my bi-weekly live music show at Serenity Gardens with an autumn music theme... not necessarily songs about autumn itself, of which there are surprisingly few, but just songs with the vibe of the season. However, as happens occasionally, Second Life wasn't fully cooperating with my plans. I already knew SL was acting up based on posts I was seeing on Facebook, with a big percentage of my SL friends talking about getting unexpectedly booted from being in-world and not being able to log back in. Hey, these things happen. When I went into SL to do my show, things were rather glitchy; I had to re-log three times and once I positioned myself onstage, tried not to move.

Just think how many people missed the chance to hear me cover Mariah Carey, something that may never happen again. Still, it was fun. Photo by Kat.

But the secondary result of SL being wacky was that we simply didn't get a lot of people at the show. As a live performer, regardless of the legitimate circumstances of not pulling a big crowd, it's natural to feel a little disheartened when your audience is maybe 20% of the size you expect. However, I've been doing this for way too long to get genuinely concern about a poorly-attended show or two. There are far too many circumstances that aren't in the control of the artist to take that stuff to heart. Keep in mind, this stuff happens in real life as well. Few musicians I know haven't had a gig scheduled and then some unplanned event... a road closure, a flooded street, an electrical outage, and so on... derails the possibility of getting people there. You can't allow yourself to assume that no one likes you any time you don't have your ideal audience. It's simply not logical.

I will say that in some ways, it's too bad that we didn't get a lot of people there, because I think it was a particularly good show. My voice and guitar were both performing very well (with one hilariously notable exception, when I simply couldn't make my hands do what I wanted on Elton John's "Daniel"), and the set list came together even better than I'd hoped.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Allentown (Billy Joel)
Day After Day (Badfinger)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
After the Goldrush (Neil Young)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
*Someday (Mariah Carey)
Here I Land (Nicholas Stevenson)
Daniel (Elton John)
In My Time of Dying (Traditional)

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

Thanks to the people who did make it to the show, with special thanks to those who helped support it!
ErikKottzen Resident, Tricia Funizza, Tyche Szondi, TheaDee Resident, RoxxyyRoller Resident, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Get Ready to Surf the Blue Wave

I don't spend a bunch of time on political talk, but I do recognize when important things are happening, and I'm smart enough to know that yesterday's election results sent a clear message to everyone. I thought it might be nice to document a few things that happened on November 7, 2017.

Trump Supported a Loser and Then Immediately Stabbed Him in the Back
Perhaps the biggest news from the election was the defeat of Ed Gillespie (R) by Ralph Northam (D) as governor of Virginia. Gillespie had been being supported by Trump before the election.

As it became apparent a few hours later that Trump's choice was going to lose by a substantial margin, his tune changed.

One thing that the folks in America's heartland can all understand: no one can respect a person who is two-faced or disloyal. Trump's endorsement almost certainly helped cost Gillespie the election, and then Trump's treatment of the man he'd supported after the loss shows that he cannot be trusted under any circumstances. He has no qualms about throwing his supposed friends under the bus, and that's something anyone can see (and will continue to be more and more apparent as the Russian election interference investigation continues).

Shockingly Great Democratic Victories
A few of the many Democratic and Progressive winners from yesterday's election. Top row: Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax, Wilmot Collins. Middle row: Danica Roem, Andrea Jenkins, Melvin Carter. Bottom row: Jenny Durkan, Vi Lyles, Ravinder Bhalla. Photos via Twitter.

As I've mentioned occasionally, the legacy of the Trump presidency is going to go in directions that no one could have anticipated. Previous to Trump's election, if you'd told me any of the following, I'd never have believed you. I think the very backlash to Trump and his regressive policies is what spurred America to make some of the following choices. It's heartening to see a wider group of voters putting aside their prejudices and giving these worthwhile candidates a chance.

• Joining Ralph Northam in Virginia's leadership is new lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax, who defeated Republican Jill Vogel.

• The new mayor of Helena, MT is an African refugee from Liberia and progressive politician named Wilmot Collins. The incumbent he beat had been mayor for 16 years.

Danica Roem was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. In addition to being that state's first transgender delegate, her opponent was Bob Marshall, the self-proclaimed "chief homophobe" who created the infamously discriminatory "bathroom bill" legislation. Talk about sweet justice!

• She wasn't the only transgender person elected. Newly-elected Minneapolis city councilperson Andrea Jenkins is both black and transgendered. Also in Minnesota, the city of St. Paul elected its first black mayor, Melvin Carter.

• Manchester is the largest city in New Hampshire, and their incumbent Republican mayor Ted Gatsas was just defeated by Democrat Joyce Craig, the first woman to hold the position in the city's 266-year history.

• It's notable that Charlotte, NC chose Vi Lyles, the city's first black female mayor in its history. In less surprising but still great news, Seattle's new mayor is an openly lesbian woman, Jenny Durkan.

• I am very happy for Ravinder Bhalla‏, Hoboken, NJ's new mayor. There were flyers being distributed during the election that implied this Sikh man was a terrorist because he wore a turban. I think this kind of tactic will continue to have the opposite effect of its intention as more non-white, non-Christian, and non-male candidates seek election.

Just the Start
While this wave of Democratic victories is highly encouraging, it's only a small step on the road to getting our country back to where it should be. Next year, in 2018, is when the most crucial part of the process happens. Due to the anti-Trump backlash, the midterm elections have a strong chance of flipping congress to a Democratic majority. As my congressional representative Ted Lieu wrote last night...

I'm with Ted. Let's kick some ass and keep getting people out to vote at every opportunity.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Serenity Gardens (11.06.17)

Monday nights at Serenity Gardens are always good. Photo by Kat.

It’s the first Tuesday in November today, which means that it’s been exactly a year since a good chunk of the USA went to the polls, confident that they’d elected the first female president of our country. I was really feeling pretty upbeat that day; while I wasn’t a huge fan of Hillary Clinton (I’d been a supporter of Bernie Sanders), I thought she’d do a relatively good job as America’s leader. It was later that night that I, along with a whole lot of others, watched in disbelief and then dejection when Donald Trump -- while losing the popular vote -- won the presidency based on electoral votes.

To say it’s been an interesting year since then is a hideous understatement. By nearly all definitions, it’s been awful. In addition to the horror of Trump’s complete lack of understanding of the job of POTUS and the growing evidence that he and his campaign colluded with Russia to get elected, we’ve faced a series of natural disasters and several of the worst instances of gun-related mass killings in modern history (not to mention our first nuclear saber rattling in many years). On a personal level, both my father and Christina’s father passed away in consecutive months, in September and October. It's been rough.

Good Times Coming Soon
I’m not here to dwell on those negative aspects of the past year. In fact, there are some tremendous positives that have come from all this. People who had previously been mild and complacent are now active and involved. So many important issues that had been pushed under the rug are being brought to the forefront... racism, wealth disparity, sexism, sexual assault, foreign influence on our elections, the needless buildup of our nuclear arsenal and much more. These topics are more out in the open than they'd ever been before. As part of the investigation into the Russian issue, we're also finding out more about the wealthy using offshore tax havens, and that's an issue that crosses all political outlooks. It's also quite possible that the outing of powerful sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein wouldn't have happened if people hadn't adopted a new willingness to fight injustice as has happened over the past year.

While it’s terrible to see our country going through these difficult times, my honest opinion is that without this opportunity for bringing our problems out into the light — many of which were problems long before Trump arrived — we’d have kept going on with these issues as business as usual. How ironic would it be for Trump’s presidential legacy to end up being almost the exact opposite of his intents? He’ll claim that was his plan all along, of course, and that’s fine with me. In the meantime, I do the things that I can do to help make life a little better for those around me, and one of those things is playing live music.

Crazy times got you down? Live music can't fix the world's problems, but it can help some things feel better for a little while. Photo by Kat.

Rocking Serenity
Last night was a great show at Serenity Gardens. I don't measure the greatness of shows based on the size of the crowd, ever. I base it on two simple factors: a) did I play good songs and play them well? and b) were the people who were there truly enjoying the show? The answer to both questions was definitely "yes" at my show last night. I did a couple of tunes I hadn't done before and enjoyed playing both (which truly were "new" songs, both having been released in the past few months). I pulled some other tunes from the deepest recesses of my repertoire, and those were fun too.

The people who own and help operate Serenity Gardens are super nice, and extremely supportive. I can tell you, having performed at about 100 different Second Life venues over the last 11+ years, these are people who know how to do it right. They're well organized, well staffed, and treat both the artists and the visitors with respect. I hear these crazy stories of things happening at other places, and think to myself how glad I am that there are places like Serenity that truly live up to their name. I do feel a sense of serene calm while I'm playing there, and it's truly a pleasure.

Serenity Gardens is truly a nice and relaxing place for live music in SL. Photo by Kat.

My view from the stage. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Love Ain’t for Keeping (The Who)
Mexico (James Taylor)
Linger (The Cranberries)
*Same Sun (Real Estate)
Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac)
Into the Mystic (Van Morrison)
Nearly Lost You (Screaming Trees)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Six Underground (Sneaker Pimps)
Plush (Stone Temple Pilots)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
*Intercontinental Breakfast (Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile)
Saved by Zero (The Fixx)

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

Big thanks to everyone who came to the show, with special super thanks to those who helped support it!
ErikKottzen Resident, XdazedserenityX Resident, go2smoky Resident, Mikes String, not4gods Resident, Tyche Szondi, TheaDee Resident, Kat Claxton, my most awesome manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!