Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Islands of New England (06.26.18)

People enjoying my show at The Islands of New England. Photo by Kat.

I was having a typical day yesterday when The Islands of New England event manager Christine Haiku contacted me. Before I tell you what she said, perhaps I should tell you what a typical day in Zak Land is like.

For the past 15+ years, I've worked for myself. I have a little firm that does marketing communications for the musical instrumental, professional audio, broadcast, and media technology industries. That means I do a lot of creating. I write, I do graphic design, I do web content and maintenance, I handle social media, I make various sorts of advertisements, I create and distribute press releases, and am also involved in putting together marketing strategies for a variety of companies.

Therefore, I get up early in the morning, and spend my entire day doing these things, and since I'm pretty good at what I do, I'm never not busy. I spent the first 10+ years of my career doing similar duties as an employee, and let me tell you: people who are successfully self-employed work harder and longer hours than any internal employee, period. And yes, since I work from my home, there's no commuting involved, and I have a little more control over the scheduling of my life, but as the old joke says, self-employed people have complete flexibility in life... we can work any 14 hours per day that we choose. And even that is not entirely true, since we still need to be in meetings and interact with companies during their business hours.

Anyway, that's my typical day. Despite being near-constantly busy, I like my job and my life. It also allows me to really appreciate the non-work things I do, which includes doing stuff with my family, being active and involved in social/political matters, and, of course, playing live music when I can.

Rocking with a Canadian
That brings us back to yesterday, when I got messaged on Facebook by the aforementioned Ms. Haiku. Apparently my pal Lyndon Heart had been scheduled to perform after me at New England, which is always nice, but had to cancel. Side note: I find that Christine is excellent at pairing artists who perform at her venue. It's something that not every venue owner/manager thinks about, but makes a big difference in how much of the crowd stays from one act to the next.

What Christine wrote was, "Since Lyndon had to cancel... I found a good back-to-back for you. Bringing the bromance back to life between you and Joel."

How I responded was as follows: "YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

Joel Eilde (as he's known in Second Life), aka Red Heaven (his band's name), aka Joel W Corey Tamas (which I assume to be his birth name), is a Canadian dude with whom I share many qualities. We were born with a couple of weeks of each other, so we share many cultural similarities that age influences. Despite living a few thousand miles away from each other between our respective locations in eastern Canada and the US's west coast, we interact pretty frequently on social media and have become friends. There have been a few times where we've played in consecutive sets in SL, and I always make it a point to do something silly to poke at him when the opportunity arises. This time, I referred to him as Canada's most cherished musician above such people as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and so on... and then performed his country's national anthem in a quite sincere way.

Me, freaking out because I'd convinced myself my guitar volume was turned off (it wasn't). Photo by Kat.

My view. Photo by Kat.

A look from above, if you were flying by while I sang "O Canada" for Joel. Photo by Kat.

What a great place to experience live music in the virtual world! Photo by Kat.

I should mention that we had a fine crowd at TIONE, and I noted during my show that nearly the entire audience was comprised of green name tags, which is the SL indicator that these people were my friends. It's a relaxed and warm vibe whenever I play shows there, and it ended up being the perfect venue to cap off my recent series of Second Life shows. I also hung out for most of Joel's show, as he's really a good performer whose music and vibe I personally enjoy.

One final note: since I'd recently been messing around with my audio/streaming systems, I had a bit of an issue just as I started the show. Without getting into tech geek detail, I usually perform with headphones on so I can hear a reasonable approximation of what my audience is hearing. However, there was a routing problem that was causing a little delay in my phones, which would have really hampered my ability to play well. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to just do my whole set with no monitoring at all, which apparently worked fine except for one moment when I panicked and mistakenly thought that I'd done an entire song without my guitar volume being on. After I freaked out and then my audience told me to calm down and chill the fuck out, I stopped worrying and just played, and everything, as it turned out, was fine. It usually is.

TIONE set list...
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? (R.E.M.)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Someday (Mariah Carey)
Trouble Child (Joni Mitchell)
Happy Birthday to You (Traditional)
*Play With Fire (Rolling Stones)
*O Canada (Traditional)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Alabama (Neil Young)

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

Big thanks to all who came to last night's show, with special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
Alexis Fairlady, go2smoky Resident, Joel Eilde, Radslns Hutchence, Kat Claxton, TheaDee Resident, Asimia Heron, not4gods Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Triana Caldera, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and the always-lovely events manager of TIONE, Christine Haiku!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Triana's Music Trivia 13th Anniversary (06.24.18)

Fun with friends at Triana's Music Trivia 13th anniversary party. Photo by Kat.

One could say that it's been a busy time in Zak Land lately. I'm not complaining, and I'll tell you why: while some relaxing time off will be greatly appreciated whenever that comes around again, I am a small business owner whom, if not working, is not making income. Busy is good in that regard. Also, frankly, I'm not very good at doing nothing. When I have time off of any sort, you'll usually find me traveling, making music, or being active in some way. But I will tell you: my last full day off of everything was on June 3, and that's probably too long to go without downtime for any human.

In the meantime, some great stuff has happened. My son graduated high school and had a birthday this week. We got to spend some good time with family at a Lobsterfest event this weekend. Some less-than-good stuff has also happened, like our Jeep breaking down for the first time since we got it in 2011. Again, I could look at the negative side (and it's still to be determined why it conked out in the middle of driving), but the fact that we've driven it for over seven years with nary a problem is something to be glad, not mad, about.

By coincidence, I've also had a bunch of live music shows to do in SL... much more than my usual 3-4 per month. But that's okay too, because each show has been very different between last Monday at Serenity Gardens, Friday at SL15B Music Fest, and last night's show at Triana's Music Trivia, celebrating the 13th anniversary of this fun event. I've performed at the TMT anniversary event every year since 2008. It's much more like a house party than a typical live music concert I do in Second Life. The audience is filled with longterm friends whom we see in-world nearly every single Sunday night, and the hostess of TMT, the titular Triana Caldera, is a lady who has become one of the best friends in the world to Christina and I.

I like Triana so much, I actually played Eagles music for her (shudder). Photo by Kat.

When I play TMT anniversary shows, I have a tradition of doing a) tunes I'd never done before and b) tunes I'd never do anywhere else. They're not always very representative of me as a musical artist, but many of the folks there already know what I sound like at a typical show. This is intentionally different, and often ridiculous. Example: one year, I sang Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues", but did it using the voice of Elmer Fudd. I've done TV themes, show tunes, bands I normally never consider covering, and more at TMT special events. Why? No one knows, not even me. I guess it's because in an environment where one is surrounded with friends who are silly and non-judgmental, it's okay to be a little insane.

Kat and I "... bend a blues riff that hangs over everything." Photo by Triana Caldera.

The Claxtons rocking. Photo by Triana Caldera.

One thing I occasionally do at TMT events is to have Kat perform along with me. I'd genuinely like her to do that more often, but she's usually not even here during my shows, and it's only something I want her to do if it will be fun for her. We did something that was pretty cool last night, and it was something I'd never done before at any SL show. Telling the audience that we'd invited a full band to perform with us (jokingly; I'd never purposefully mislead a crowd in that way), we set up some backing tracks that I'd created for a jam cover of a Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile collaboration, and with me on live guitar and Kat and I on live vocals, we did a performance backed by full instrumentation. These were tracks that I'd personally recorded, so it wasn't like the musical equivalent of karaoke or anything like that. Never once in my nearly 12 years of performing in SL have I done that, and frankly it was kind of cool. I might, at some point, do a full show that way. On a general basis, I prefer the free-wheeling aspect of playing 100% live as I've always done, but it was kind of nice having some musical backup. I did the same thing for the final song of the night, my tune "Triana" that I wrote about our friend and the trivia event she's graciously hosted for so many years now.

TMT 13th Anniversary set list...
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Beatles)
You Oughta Know (Alanis Morissette)
Tribute (Tenacious D)
*Growing Pains Theme (B.J. Thomas)
*Family Ties Theme (Johnny Mathis/Deniece Williams)
*New Kid in Town (Eagles)
I Dreamed a Dream (Les Miserables)
Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty)
You’re Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Our Lips Are Sealed (The Go-Go's)
†Over Everything (Kurt Vile/Courtney Barnett)
†Triana (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†Indicates the songs that used the full band arrangement.

Huge thanks to our wonderful friends at Triana's Music Trivia!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Second Life Music Fest at SL15B (06.22.18)

Second Life has been of paramount importance to the fact that tens of thousands of people around the world have heard my music. And yes, that's Oblee in a purple ball gown. Don't judge. Photo by Thea Dee.

The best analogy I can give to musicians and other people who haven't experienced performing at one of the SLxB events is to imagine yourself as a can of peas on a shelf in a grocery store. Then suddenly, someone grabs you and puts you in a cart. Then you get plopped on a checkout conveyer and rung up by someone else. Then you get stuck in a bag, brought somewhere else, and loaded into a cabinet until eventually you get pulled out and cooked and eaten.

Perhaps I should start over. The folks who run these events have it down to a science, even though it still feels like barely-controlled chaos. As a performer, the organizers tell you to be in-world at a certain time before your scheduled show. They then teleport you to some hidden place somewhere on the grid, where you do a soundcheck to make sure your audio stream and other gear are working as expected. Once that is ascertained and confirmed, you get TP'ed by another person to a backstage green room, where you can rez any stuff you may have for instant appearance on the stage area when it's your time to play. Speaking of time, they have yet another person who counts down the minutes and then seconds in your IMs until the start of your show. It's a little on the overwhelming side... not in a bad way, but kind of like being Julia Roberts returning to the boutique in Pretty Woman and having like 10 salespeople waiting on her at once. Most of us are used to doing all this on our own, so it makes me giggle a bit to see all the fuss. The organizers undoubtedly deal with a wide range of artists at a multi-day event like this, and perhaps not everyone is so low-maintenance as the Zak Man... I didn't even rez a tip jar, if that tells you anything.

The Second Life Music Fest and other SL15B events continue for days to come.

In any case, I was happy to be asked back to perform at Second Life's "Music Fest" portion of SL15B. I did my first SLxB event ten years ago in 2008, did several more of those, and then in 2015 I auditioned for the first official Music Fest, and I've performed at three of the four now-annual events. The sim builds for the stage areas are always awesome in their gargantuan detail, and it's a good opportunity for me to expose my music and performance style to new folks who wouldn't ordinarily come to a Zak Show. Xiola Linden, the Second Life community relations manager, is super nice and always seems grateful to have the participation of the artists and organizers and builders coming together to make these events fun and exciting.

As I mentioned during my set, I'll be happy to come play again anytime I get the call from my SL friends. Photo by Thea Dee.

Second Life Music Fest at SL15B set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Cat’s in the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
Pretty Pimpin’ (Kurt Vile)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
I Am a Child (Neil Young)
Save It For Later (English Beat)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
*SL15B Improv (Zak Claxton)

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

Big thanks to all who came out and enjoyed the show, with special thanks to the SL15B organizers and Xiola Linden for being awesome!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Serenity Gardens (06.18.18)

I can't think of a better way to spend my Monday night than rocking at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Triana Caldera.

I'm sure we've all been through those time frames where everything seems to be happening at once, and it's difficult (if not impossible) to give as much attention as we'd like to each important event. That's sort of where I'm at right at the moment, and yet somehow it's okay. My son graduates from high school tomorrow, which is incredibly exciting. There is a ton of very urgent events happening in our country and around the world, and while those things don't necessarily require my personal focus, I'd be remiss without noting them. I'm simultaneously at a point of transition business-wise, taking on new clients and handling an even heavier than usual workload. And, in the midst of it all, my live music performance schedule suddenly filled up with shows at Serenity Gardens, the Second Life Music Fest at SL15B, Triana's Music Trivia, and The Islands of New England happening in little more than a week. Whew! It's actually a kind of luxury, on this overcast and quiet early Tuesday morning, to be writing this blog post. Feels like a rest stop in the midst of a marathon.

The Border Children
Yeah, I know... you're already saturated with news about the children of detained immigrants being separated from their parents at the US/Mexico border. Well, I hate to tell ya, but this isn't something that's going to go away overnight, and my concern is that the short attention span of most people and the speed of the news cycle will have this story sinking under without being resolved in any way. I won't dwell on it much here. I made a Facebook post yesterday to say that I couldn't, in good conscience, remain acquainted with any person who supported Trump's policy in this regard, and I meant it. I had three people chime in on that post to try and defend this policy, or to deflect the blame. In as much as I'd have preferred not having to do this, and I'd warned them all specifically of my intentions, all three were immediately unfriended and blocked. I have exactly zero tolerance on this matter.

Just about every news source right now is focusing on the family separation crisis at the border, and I am thankful that the story isn't being buried or ignored.

While most people would agree that I am open to listening to folks of different views and having meaningful discussions with them, there's no room in my heart for anyone who can support cruelty and inhumanity. My life can only be better with those people not being a part of it, and frankly, I don't want to even be associated in any way with any person such as that. End of story.

SL15B and Second Life Music Fest... Same Place, Same Time, Two Different (But Related) Things
I'm seeing some mild levels of confusion again this year popping up on social media about the annual Second Life birthday celebration that started a couple of days ago and runs for the next couple of weeks. I can clear it up quickly and easily.

Since its beginnings, the community of Second Life residents has celebrated the anniversary of this online 3D world each June on the anniversary of its founding in 2003. The events have included big displays of the amazing art and technology that goes into SL, along with various types of entertainment, mostly of the music variety. For most of those years, this series of events has been produced completely by the residents of SL themselves (with some assistance from Second Life's creator, Linden Lab, in the form of places to host the events and promotion), and the folks who do it put in a huge amount of effort in coordinating everything. They are an amazing team who include some terrific friends I've known for many years now... people like Diana Renoir, Doctor Gascoigne, and many others.

I believe I did my first performance at an SLxB event (the "x" being the anniversary year) in 2008, at SL5B. Since then, I've done this event many more times. It's always exciting and sometimes a little crazy, and often produces a massive crowd of people who may not ordinarily seek out live music in Second Life. Again, the majority of these shows have been fully coordinated by the residents of SL themselves.

In 2015, Linden Lab did something new, which I thought was very cool. For the first time, they got directly involved in the event by running a "Second Life Music Fest". This didn't replace the series of events that the residents continued putting on; the SL Music Fest was held on the same stages as the rest of the shows, in its own time block. Linden Lab held auditions for their Fest, which is understandable. The time slots were limited and I believe they wanted to be sure to have a variety of musical performances that reflected the diverse and international nature of Second Life as a whole. I passed their audition and performed at the first annual Music Fest.

The Second Life Music Fest is now in its fourth year, while the SL Community Celebration is in its 15th.

They've continued to do this each year since, with SL Music Fest happening concurrently with the rest of the SL15B events and performances. It's not a matter of one being better or worse than the other, I promise. I will be performing for Music Fest on Friday June 22 at 2PM -- a rare afternoon show for me -- and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to introduce a whole lot of SL residents to the vibe and sounds of a Zak Show.

To fully clarify things, here's the schedule for Second Life Music Fest, and here's the full master schedule of the SL15B community celebration. Try and see some shows!

Fun at Serenity
Last night's show at Serenity Gardens could have gone badly. Christina once again returned from a trip to Seattle with a bunch of germs that her toddler-aged nieces and nephew shared with her, and she shared them with me. She's a sharing kind of person. Anyway, I started getting a sore throat on Sunday, and for a little while, I wasn't entirely sure I'd be able to sing to the best of my ability (though I never seriously considered canceling the show; it wasn't that bad).

The crowd at Serenity Gardens seems to be having fun. Photo by Triana Caldera.

I needn't have worried. While I had a little pain going, I just drank a whole lot of cold water before and during the show, and everything worked out fine. It probably wasn't my best singing of the year, but it wasn't bad, and everyone seemed to have a good time, myself included. I will say that my crowd of regular fans slowly continues to grow on my bi-weekly Monday night shows at Serenity, and I'm really enjoying each and every show there. It's been just over a year since my first time playing there, and I'd be fine if that was the first of many years to come.

Serenity Gardens set list...
De Do Do Do De Da Da Da (The Police)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
*Ripple (Grateful Dead)
Alison (Elvis Costello)
Old Man (Neil Young)
I Am a Child (Neil Young)
Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Fall In (Pixx)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
*At Serenity - Improv (Zak Claxton)

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

Super big thanks to all who came out to Serenity Gardens for last night's show, with special mondo thanks to the following people who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Rainya Foresight, Diana Renoir, Sydney Verlaine, Kat Chauveau, go2smoky Resident, Tyche Szondi, Asimia Heron, Sinful Xubersnak, Alex Zelin, Triana Caldera, Helios Seetan, Aurelie Chenaux, my lovely manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Serenity Gardens (06.04.18)

Another great Monday night at Serenity Gardens.

It's Tuesday June 5 as I write this little blog entry, which makes it Primary Day here in my beloved state of California. You might not know that CA has a primary system that's different from other states. It doesn't go by political party, like other states who choose a Democrat and a Republican and perhaps an Independent or other candidate to face off in the general election. Instead, whoever gets the most votes are the ones who go to the election in November. That could be two Democrats, two members of the GOP, and so on. I think it's a good system in some ways, bad in others, but it works. At least it's a democratic (small "d") method that allows the candidates who the majority of people choose to have the best chance of getting a leadership role.

I have already voted via mail, so I'm done with that civic duty. I had a kind of neat experience yesterday on Twitter; on a whim, I decided to share the candidates whom I'd chosen, in order to publicly offer my endorsement. I was pretty surprised when my pick for Lt. Governor personally thanked me, and when my state senator re-Tweeted me.

I never really expect direct interaction with the various musicians and politicians I follow on Twitter; frankly, it's kind of weird to think that anyone does. So that was sort of neat. My personal involvement in the political process really only comes down to two things: voting, and helping to make others aware of issues that might affect them. Whatever tiny level of influence I have -- as a musician, as a businessperson, as a person whom some others seem to like and perhaps respect -- can hopefully make its own small impact. To use the old analogy, I may just be a few drops in a bucket, but that bucket gets filled with a bunch of droplets. I do what I can, and hopefully it makes a difference, even if it's a small one. In any case, even if you completely disagree with my political outlook or candidate choices, I encourage you to vote at every opportunity. I was once much more apathetic than I am now, but grew to understand that the privilege of living in a democracy is only maintained when people are actively involved and take advantage of their right to choose the direction of the country.

The Show
I was a wee bit concerned when I started my first tune at Serenity Gardens last night. I think I had two fans plus my manager and the venue staff when I strummed my first chord. But as usual, at least as of late, my crowd did indeed turn out, and a few songs in I found myself looking at the usual large group of happy people I expect there. I'd decided to try out a few previously-unplayed (by me) tunes, which is always a good thing for myself and hopefully my audience as well.

Another view of Serenity Gardens while I rock the people. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Bring On the Night (The Police)
It's Easy Like Walking (The Sadies w/Kurt Vile)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
*Trouble Child (Joni Mitchell)
*Over My Head (Fleetwood Mac)
*Here’s Where the Story Ends (The Sundays)
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
Pigs on the Wing - Parts 1 & 2 (Pink Floyd)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)

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

Big, big thanks to all who came out to the show last night, and special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Tyche Szondi, Monkey Martian, Zaphod Theas, Richy Nervous, go2smoky Resident, not4gods Resident, Alex Zelin, RobbieDowning Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, CanadianLady123 Resident, TheaDee Resident, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.