Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Serenity Gardens (01.15.18)

Having a good show at Serenity Gardens before my annual hiatus from SL performances. Photo by Kat.

I awoke yesterday morning with no idea what kind of music I'd be performing at Serenity Gardens in Second Life for my scheduled bi-weekly Monday night show there. A few hours later, my set list was completely clear, due to both happy and sad reasons.

Last Show for Awhile
As I mentioned last week, I'm now officially on hiatus until after an upcoming business event. My next scheduled show is on February 12, so I wanted to make sure last night's show was a good one for the sake of both myself and my audience. There's this kind of weird paranoia among some SL musical performers that if they don't do shows constantly, they'll be forgotten or something. Look at it this way: in real life, bands don't tour 100% of the time. They tour, they work on an album, they have lives, and then they tour again. I actually think it's a good and positive thing to step away from doing shows in SL every so often. In my case, it's a forced but necessary decision, with a business event that eats my time (and then consumes my body and voice to the point where singing and playing just isn't an option for awhile). But each year, I find that my January hiatus works out fine, and leaves me with a renewed interest in doing my shows upon my return.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day
For reasons of the above-mentioned hiatus (which usually starts a bit earlier than it does this year), I don't believe I've ever before done a show on the MLK Day holiday. Once I realized the significance of the day, I wanted to be sure to perform some music that had a theme of Dr. King and the civil rights movement... something that's important to me on multiple levels. Most of the people reading this blog are likely aware that I'm a supporter of causes that promote equality and justice for all people, so I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to spread my message on such an auspicious day.

Dolores O'Riordan, 1971-2018
It was a few hours into the day yesterday that some heartbreaking news starting filling my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Dolores O'Riordan, the singer and main songwriter of The Cranberries, had passed away suddenly at age 46. Beyond being sad on its own, it made me aware that The Cranberries had an unexpectedly big musical impact on the early/mid-90s period. I'd previously only had one song of theirs in my repertoire, but I was well acquainted with many others, and decided to do a few of them in tribute to this good musician and lovely woman.

The Show
I never know what kind of crowd I'll get, or how well I'm going to perform. I really don't. Some days everything feels fine and then my hands and vocal chords decide to not cooperate, and other times the reverse happens where I think I'm unordered or not feeling physically perfect and then have a great show. Well, I'm happy to say that last's night's show at Serenity Gardens went well on all fronts. We had a nice audience who seemed to enjoy themselves, and I felt good about the tunes I did. The show kind of got divided into three parts... a tribute to Dolores, a batch of songs for Dr. King, and a mishmash of indie rock and original tunes. I think they all went pretty well.

Me onstage, looking out at my friends and fans. Photo by Asimia Heron.

My crowd at Serenity Gardens always seems accepting of whatever I choose to play, which is a good feeling. Photo by Asimia Heron.

Wrapping up my show and getting ready to change my brain mode from musician to music businessman... a very different mindset, I promise. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Zombie (The Cranberries)
*Dreams (The Cranberries)
Linger (The Cranberries)
Same Sun (Real Estate)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)
Runnin' Down a Dream (Tom Petty)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Pride (U2)
All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
Alabama (Neil Young)
*Goodbye Fans Improv (Zak Claxton)

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

Big ol' thanks to all who came out to my last show before my hiatus, with special kudos to the following who helped support the show!
ErikKottzen Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Sesh Kamachi, Asimia Heron, go2smoky Resident, Tyche Szondi, Lunette Kyomoon, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Islands of New England (01.09.18)

Enjoying a good show at The Islands of New England, with Lyndon Heart waiting for me on the wings. Photo by Thea Dee.

Pretty much every person in every kind of business has a "busy time of year". For me, that time is now. My career is in the musical instrument and audio products industry, and the big event in that business happens each January. You may have heard me mention and/or complain about it before; it's called the NAMM Show. This year, 2018, will mark my 25th consecutive year working at that show. I was a 23-year-old kid when I first worked at NAMM in 1993. It seems like a lifetime ago.

As I'm sure is true for many others, NAMM gives me mixed feelings. I do enjoy getting together in person with many friends and acquaintances that I tend to only see in person at the show. On the flip side, there's a tremendous amount of work that goes into making the show successful for my clients, and I'm extremely busy throughout the multiple days of show itself. It's a pressure-packed environment, and being what it is, it's constantly loud and crowded. For someone like me who really prefers quiet and somewhat isolated environs, it can be nerve-wracking and difficult at times to handle.

Why am I writing about this now? Simply because we're getting close to the time of year where I need to take a hiatus from live music shows due to a) being too busy while doing final preparations for the show, b) working the show itself, and c) allowing my body and voice (and brain) to recover sufficiently after it ends to be able to perform again. Officially, I am on hiatus from Second Life shows from January 20 through February 1, but after my next and final show before the break on Monday of next week, I don't currently have a show scheduled until February 12.

I find that little break I am forced to take each year to be a good thing. Granted, I enjoy performing and miss it when I am forced to stop for awhile. At the same time, like anything in life, you can start to take it for granted, and that sometimes leads to a performer not putting the highest level of effort and focus into each show. Ennui kicks in, and audiences can tell when a musician is just going through the motions. I'd also prefer to do less shows, but have each one be something I can enjoy and be proud of, and hopefully my audiences recognize that fact.

Getting Classic at New England
One of the side results of being so busy this time of year is that the amount of time I can spend preparing for each specific show is lessened. I'd been making a strong effort to include new material at nearly every single show in recent months, and I've enjoyed doing that. However, what's required to allow me to do that confidently is a lot of work in really learning a song well enough to perform it at a professional level; I simply won't add a new tune and then do a shitty job with it. It means I'm rehearsing the song a bunch of times, making sure I know the chords, the vocal phrasing, and figuring out any little performance tricks I can throw in to best represent the arrangement on solo acoustic guitar.

Well, I didn't have that kind of time for my show last night at The Islands of New England, so I make some lemonade out of that musical lemon, and chose a set that was nearly entirely classic singer-songwriter songs that I've heard many, many times, and most of which I've performed many times over the years. Whether you're a musician or actor or dancer, the key element of good performance is being completely confident that you know the material, and since I wanted to do a really good show despite having minimal time to prepare, I wasn't going to throw in stuff that I was learning while onstage.

The last thing I want to add is that it's always a pleasure when my musical buddy Lyndon Heart performs before or after my set. He's a great player and singer and all-around entertainer, and I enjoy him as a fan almost as much as I do as a friend.

It always feels like hanging out with friends when I perform at TIONE. Photo by Thea Dee.

The Islands of New England set list...
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
Help Me (Joni Mitchell)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Cat’s in the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Alison (Elvis Costello)
From the Beginning (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Lost Cause (Beck)
New England Is Fun Improv (Zak Claxton)

Big, big thanks to everyone who came out to be there at my show, with super duper thanks to the following people who helped support it with their patronage!
Keiko Zoon, RansomTalmidge Resident, Brianna Beresford, RoxxyyRoller Resident, ChipLoose Resident, Alexis Fairlady, DeaBella70 Resident, Sommer Shepherd, Tyche Szondi, CadenceBlue Resident, TheaDee Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, and New England's extraordinary event manager Christine Haiku!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Serenity Gardens (1.01.18)

Starting a new year the right way, with a great show at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

2017 wasn't a great year for most people, and while I did my best to maintain my optimistic outlook as usual, losing my father unexpectedly on September 8 (and then Christina losing hers the following month) made it particularly difficult for both of us. Combined with the dismal leadership the country has been forced to deal with under Trump, I was more than happy to bid that year goodbye... more than any other year of my life, frankly.

So, as the end of the year approached and I was immersed in trying to make the holidays fun for myself and my friends and family, I noticed on the calendar that my scheduled bi-weekly live music show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life fell on January 1, aka New Year's Day. I wasn't positive that the venue would definitely be open to host the show on that day, so I sent a message to its lovely owner Ilsa Flanagan. I got a fast response to assure me that the show was on as scheduled, which made me happy. What could be a better way to start 2018 than to play a live show in front of an audience literally on the first day of the new year?

Looking back through this blog, in addition to a number of the expected New Year's Eve shows, I find that I'm fortunate to have spent a number of years playing live right as the year began. In a way, it sets a tone for the year. Think about it this way. First, in performing live, I'm doing something I love and that I'm good at. Second, I'm pushing past any fear that people typically have of singing and playing an instrument in front of a crowd. Third, I'm doing an activity that brings happiness to others. If I can take those three aspects of doing live music and apply them to all areas of my life in 2018, it will be a fantastic year. And, as long as we're making a parallel between live music shows and the rest of life, I made a point of doing several songs I'd never done previously, which perhaps equates to my willingness to continue to be open to new actions and ideas. Some people seem to avoid trying new things well before they get to my ancient age of 48. I'm glad I still find excitement in the challenge of the unfamiliar.

A brief side note to all of this: my avatar has remained virtually unchanged over the 11+ years I've been in SL. Perhaps 2018 will have me seeking some changes in that regard... but don't hold your breath. Photo by Kat.

Playing new tunes and being optimistic on January 1 at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Take Your Punches and Keep Fighting
Another analogy between doing my my show and experiencing the coming year: it's never easy. It takes time and effort to properly prepare to do a live music show of which one can be proud. It may seem effortless to outside observers, and that's good... but it's really not. I spend time thinking through my set list, preparing lyrics, rehearsing ahead of time, and warming up before I play.

2018 may be very similar for a lot of people who are hoping to make changes this year. There's an old cliche about being a fighter you've probably seen in many films; it's not about how well you can hit; it's how well you can take a punch and keep going. The last year may have felt like a barrage of punches of the face and kicks in the nether regions to many people. What lies ahead is a lot of opportunity to make the world a better place to live, not just for yourself but for literally everyone on the planet. It's not going to happen by itself; it's going to take planning and work, and a lot of folks already feel pretty beat up. The choice to either give up or keep fighting is one we all make every day. I'm here to tell you that I predict your efforts will pay off in 2018, perhaps in ways you can't even imagine right now.

The Show
Ah, yes, the show. It went really well. I looked back on some of the shows I've done previously at the start of a new year, and saw that I'd made it a point to perform multiple new songs as a theme of sorts. I did so again last night, and all went well. We had a good crowd there. I wasn't sure that people would be up for coming out to see a show after a night of partying that many have on New Year's Eve, but my concerns were for nought. With few exceptions, my shows at Serenity Gardens every other Monday evening have gone very well. It's a nice place that's well staffed and makes people feel welcome to be there. I feel very comfortable there at this point, and really look forward to each performance there.

Beautiful venue, cool crowd, happy Zak. Photo by Kat.

Chilling after my show with Triana and Kat. Photo by Kat.

I should make note of something I mentioned at the show last night. When I did Lionel Richie's 1984 ballad "Hello", it was inspired by one of our four cats. Pan, the cute little cat, was frightened of everything when she first got here in June of 2016, and over the last 18 months has gradually warmed up to interacting with people (if it tells you anything, her original name was Panic). One thing I started doing was to sing the word "hello" at her when I was reaching out to try and pet her, and it seemed to make a big difference in her willingness to be touched. So, I wanted to give some credit to little Pan Pan for inspiring me to do that tune.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Wonderwall (Oasis)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Rock and Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield)
*Hello (Lionel Richie)
The Worst (Rolling Stones)
Frigid Spring (Chairlift)
Dusty Rhodes (Lotus Plaza)
*Fall In (Pixx)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
*Right Hand Man (Joan Osborne)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)

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

Big thanks to all who came out to the show last night, with special mention of the people who helped support it!
ErikKottzen Resident, Triana Caldera, Kat Claxton, DianaConway Resident, TheaDee Resident, and Serenity Gardens's great management team of Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!