Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Serenity Gardens / The Internet (02.26.18)

Aurelie Chenaux sent me this screen cap while I continued playing despite having crashed out of Second Life. The show, as it must, went on. Note that I am literally not there in front of the microphone in the foreground.

Sometimes it's good to break out of a routine. It's usually preferable, though, when one chooses and plans to do so, rather then be thrown unceremoniously and violently without warning into a sea of madness, a whirling monstrous void of insanity and weirdness and technological blunders... perhaps I should back up and start again. Yes, that seems like a good idea. Here we go.

Those of us who've been in Second Life for over a decade remember the early days before the platform settled into some semblance of stability. It was rare to get through even a few shows without running into major grid problems... full crashes, payments not going through, disappearing inventory, and all that. I think that over the years, many of us take for granted the relative calm of SL from a technology standpoint. You go in world, it works most of the time, you do whatever you like to do there. Sure, there are some screw-ups here and there, but they're the exception rather than the rule.

So, that's most of the time. And then there are times like Monday night in SL. They're few and far between these days, as far as I can tell. But wow, and yikes. Via social media, I started hearing about people being unable to log in throughout a good portion of the day today. It's not what a performer likes to hear the day he or she has a show scheduled. And then not only were people not being able to log in; people who made it in SL were being booted out. This was not looking good. However, about a half hour before my show, I tried to log in and it worked. So far, so good. Made it to Serenity Gardens, where at least my manager Maali plus Serenity owner Ilsa and hostess Tilly were present. Things seemed to be going okay... until they weren't. I found myself unable to move or chat, and then poof! I was gone.

I was pretty much ready to call it a night right then and there. I was trading messages with Ilsa on Facebook, about to officially cancel the show, when she told me Tilly had made it back in. I logged into SL in the "last location" option, and what do you know? I was back on the stage, and people were arriving. Success! I started right into my first tune and launched into a second song when I noticed the crowd was being kind of quiet. Yeah... that was because I'd crashed in SL, which just took awhile to register on my screen.

To Quit or Not To Quit?
Once again, it seemed rather silly to keep going. I did glance at my audio streaming software, which was still chugging away. I knew that a) if any people were somehow remaining in Second Life, they'd still be able to hear me regardless of the fact that I wasn't there, so to speak, and b) if I took a moment to post my stream address on Facebook, others who'd been booted out of SL might be able to listen in as well.

As I told my friend Thea Dee after the show, there were a couple of moments there where I was having a "Schrödinger's Cat" gig, where I had no idea if anyone was actually listening as I kept playing. I'm still not even sure why I kept going during that time frame. Something just told me that there were still ears on the other end of that network of wires and satellites and various Internet platforms, but until I checked, much like the famous cat, my crowd was both there and gone while I continued to sing and play guitar. Finally, I pulled up Facebook in between my fourth and fifth songs, and my mystery was solved... there was a big thread of people commenting about the show! Some folks managed to remain at Serenity Gardens, amazingly. Most others had been booted out of SL, but managed to dial in my stream, and were chatting on Facebook as if it was the online chat in world. Either way, I still had an audience who, despite all the reasons to blow off my show and do something more productive and interesting, were still hanging out.

Over on Facebook, I wanted to give people who'd been looking forward to my show a way to hear it, even if SL was totally borked. I was responding over the mic to folks' comments there, just as if we were doing the show in a functional Second Life venue. Somehow it all worked out. Crazy.

That felt pretty damn good, I must say. Due to all the insanity, we didn't have time for a full show (and I had no idea if the venue in SL was going to try and keep going with other scheduled shows), so I wrapped up at 7PM as usual. We still managed to get nine songs performed in the midst of all that madness. While dealing with all the tech issues, I felt I'd been too distracted to actually do a very good show, but everyone was very positive about having enjoyed it, so somehow it all worked out. There was even a bit of a benefit; certain people are no longer able to access SL for a variety of reasons, and I saw several of them commenting on my "show thread" on Facebook. In any case, I really hate canceling shows, frankly. I take a good amount of time preparing my set, warming up and preparing in various ways, and to then not do the show is a massive disappointment, no matter the reason. The fact that we were able to have the show go on despite the many legitimate excuses for it to not happen is probably my favorite thing about the whole experience.

Serenity Gardens set list...
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (The Police)
*So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry) (R.E.M.)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
*Blue Shadows on the Trail (Randy Newman)

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

I really have no way of thanking all the people who made crazy efforts to remain in my audience for last night's show. Below are the few and the proud who somehow managed to stay in SL and tip me. To the rest of you, all the folks who jumped over to Facebook and the ones who listened in whom I have no way of knowing who you are, I can only send my most sincere thanks.
Tyche Szondi, Aurelie Chenaux, not4gods Resident, Trouble Streeter, my manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Jamming with SL Friends in Arizona

Every once in awhile, a little change of pace is welcomed and needed. It was sometime in the Fall when our friends Jess and Deb suggested the idea of a little get-together in the Arizona desert. It was the birthday weekend of Deb's husband Rob, and being in mid-February, a great time for several of our friends who live in cold weather states to enjoy some southwestern sunshine. I, having just wrapped up my busiest time of year work-wise, was completely onboard with the idea. The way we thought about the event was something akin to a Second Life Jam but much, much smaller, and placed in a more intimate setting than the typical hotel-based SL Jam environment.

Folks started looking around for an appropriate venue, checking out rental properties in the Phoenix area. The first place that was selected fell through, but after a brief scramble, Kat stumbled on what seemed to be the perfect spot. It was a large and beautiful home in Scottsdale that was attached to an Arabian horse ranch, and it was available on the dates we required. The size of the place dictated how many people we could accommodate, and while it would have been fun to open it up to anyone who wanted to come, we were limited to about 10-12 folks in terms of bedrooms on the property. Not wanting to disappoint potential attendees, we kept the event on the down-low, and discreetly asked around with folks who we thought might be into the idea.

Before we knew it the date arrived, and on Thursday February 15, Kat and I boarded a short flight from LA to Phoenix. Jess picked us up at Sky Harbor Airport, and drove us up to Scottsdale where we got to view the place in person for the first time. It was, in a word, magnificent. Some of the attendees had already arrived, and we were greeted warmly by everyone as we settled in. In addition to me, Kat, Jess, Deb, and Rob (I will be using real names and SL names interchangeably here, so hopefully it won't get more confusing than necessary), guests for this Arizona mini-Jam included Krell and his lovely lady Vette, Jon and his wife Alecia, Leni, Lita, and the wonderful woman who manages the live SL performances of myself and Deb, Maali. The original plan also had Lyndon Heart joining us, but illness sidelined him at the last moment, so his spot was filled by Rob's sister Brigitte.

We got settled in and took a look around the place. First, I guess I hadn't realized that the horses would be right there on the property. There were dozens of amazing Arabian thoroughbreds romping around in various stables and rings. The decor of the interior and exterior was tasteful and beautiful. The surrounding environment was the classic Arizona desert, with large saguaro cacti silhouetted in the red sunset. It was exactly what I'd hoped it would be and more. In the mornings and evenings, groups of rabbits and quail would meander through the back yard. Each day when I awoke and lazily strolled outside, the only sound was a symphony of mostly unfamiliar bird calls from every direction combined with the occasional whinny of a happy horse.

R&R in 'Zona
One evening, I actually managed to work out a new song with Jon Larson, aka Mulder Watts in SL, who is very adept at being improvisational and the song came out in mere minutes, as most good ones do. We captured a quick demo on my iPad, and I look forward to fleshing out the track with him (something that's quite possible to do remotely these days by sending audio files back and forth as we create and record new parts from our respective homes).

I won't give you a play-by-play of the entire weekend. On a general basis, when people felt like picking up instruments and playing music, we did. When we were hungry, we ate. When we were tired, we slept. I know this is starting to sound like Forrest Gump describing his run across America, but it really was that casual, and it was perfect in that way. We did have one event planned that most of us attended, which was Friday night's dinner at Fabio on Fire, an outstanding Italian restaurant in Peoria owned by a friend of Jess. I had the lobster ravioli, if you're interested in that level of detail.

We also had a number of guests stop by during the weekend, including fellow SL musician Art Martin who came and jammed with us on Friday, Deb's elderly dad Harold who was an extremely nice guy, and Jon's nephew and his girlfriend, who live locally to the area. Maali's husband joined us for dinner on Friday night, and it was nice to meet him as well.

While the event actually ran through today (Monday February 19) with some of the people able to take advantage of the Presidents Day holiday, Kat and I had to split on Sunday evening. It was a terrific four days, and was exactly what I'd been hoping it would be... a fun time hanging out with great people and making good music.

Some Pics
Here are some pics. I took some, others took others, and some are screen captures from various videos streams.

Ready to catch our plane to Phoenix.

Kat and I are rarely this smiley at LAX, unless we're headed somewhere fun. We were.

Playing some tunes with Krell in the living room.

Mulder Watts and Zak Claxton, live from the patio.

We had some super fun jams while just chilling in the backyard.

The venue was about as peaceful and relaxing as could be... a perfect spot to chill and have fun with friends.

Downstairs in the jam room, rocking with Art Martin.

Is jamming fun? You bet your ass it is.

Jess gets extra credits for having chauffeured Kat and I around town while we were there.

Friday night's dinner at Fabio on Fire. Maali, Kat, me, Lita, Brigitte, Krell, Vette, Leni, Art, Rob, Deb, Jess, and John.

This foal was born while we were there. The horses were all extraordinary.

With the lovely Jess, one of my best friends in the world.

I'd met Jon Larson at the Twin Cities Jam in 2016, but this was the first time we had a chance to really hang out. He and his wife Alecia are lovely people.

Giving a goodbye hug to Leni as we prepared to head back to LA.

What? You mean we have to go home and work and be responsible and stuff? Boooooo!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Serenity Gardens (02.12.18)

I'm back! Photo by Kat.

Oh, hello blog reader. What's that, you say? It's been a month since my last post? Yes, I believe I explained that I am MIA for awhile each January and early February due to events beyond my control. I could have posted about various other things in the time frame in between, but... I didn't. I suppose that it's kind of nice to walk away from this blog in the same way it's refreshing to take a break from performing live shows for a little bit. I always enjoy both things more upon my return, and hopefully you do as well.

Going to Arizona
Before I write about my show last night at Serenity Gardens, I'll write about something I mentioned during said show. On Thursday, Kat and I are heading to a rental place north of Phoenix for a few days along with a number of other friends from Second Life. Let me note right away, this is not, I repeat, not an SL Jam. It's just a small group of folks who all happened to be ready for a little vacation, and know each other through the SL music scene. A few of us are bringing acoustic guitars, and we're all looking forward to some very mellow times, with no big events on the schedule. I try and do something to get away and reset my brain after my busy work events each January, so the timing of this was perfect. I'm sure I'll have some good stuff to reflect upon and share after we're back. Stay tuned for that.

Darwin Day
Yesterday was the birthday of one of my heroes. I started studying the work of Charles Darwin when I was a little kid, and have been fascinated by the science of evolution ever since. There are people who seem to feel the work of Darwin is a personal affront to them, since it contradicts many of the basic creation myths espoused by most religions. I don't care about that. I believe that as time goes by and the science of DNA study continues to be more and more refined, the fact that all living things are related will be more apparent to all. Perhaps in some future era, humanity can move beyond its behavioral patterns of greed and war and environmental destruction simply through the recognition that everything alive is part of the same family. I try and remain optimistic about these things.

The Show
I've noted before that when I take a break from performing, I don't really know what to expect when I return. Will I be able to sing and play guitar well? Will my audience want to come see me? These concerns are always for naught. Last night at Serenity Gardens was a good example. I did my typical warm-up routine, we had a nice-sized crowd, and everything went fine. I will say that right toward the end, I started getting some cramps in my left (fretting) hand, but with both singing and playing an instrument, it's a physical activity that requires both strength and muscle memory to do well. The more often you do it, the more you can count on your body to do what you want. I'm sure that for subsequent shows, as I play and sing more often, my hands and voice will have no problem holding up better over the course of a full hour-long show.

I purposefully dug a little deeper into my song list for this show, pulling out a few tunes that I've been doing less regularly in recent times. That's always a purposeful effort by me, making sure that both my audience and myself avoid burnout.

Serenity Gardens is such a nice, open space that I find I enjoy the act of playing there all the more. Photo by Kat.

"I'm a China toad, and I'm in reckless mode." Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Bring On The Night (The Police)
Alison (Elvis Costello)
Shock the Monkey (Peter Gabriel)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Big Empty (Stone Temple Pilots)
Court & Spark (Joni Mitchell)
It’s Choade My Dear (Connan Mockasin)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)

Huge thanks to every person who came to Serenity Gardens to see my show, with extra-special thanks to those who helped support it!
ErikKottzen Resident, RoxxyyRoller Resident, dls Falconer, TheaDee Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Tyche Szondi, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!