Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Serenity Gardens (08.26.19)

One of Second Life's premier live music venues, Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

I sometimes -- okay, often, or pretty much always -- use this blog for topics other than its seeming purpose, which is simply to give reports on the music I create and perform. I don't do this with any kind of subterfuge; while the posts are almost always titled by the name of a venue where I perform and the date I played there, my "side topic" is usually the first thing you read when you click one of my blog entries.

There are a number of reasons I use this blog for things other than talking about my live music shows and new music creation. The first one is super easy: writing about music is boring and repetitive. Trust me, I speak from personal experience, with my career job being in the marketing of music and music creative products. I can't imagine how useless this blog would be if every post was a nearly identical report of the places I play, my musical repertoire, and so on. No offense toward anyone who exclusively writes reviews of music recordings and performances... hats off to you all. But as both a writer and musician on a professional level, I'd fling myself off a bridge before doing that day in, day out for my whole life.

The second reason is pretty simple: there's a lot of important shit going on in the world, and I'd like to believe that from time to time, I'm capable of offering a perspective that allows people to understand things in a way that aren't necessarily explained well by other sources of information. Before you chuckle smugly about my claim that this silly blog is a news source, you might not know that I do get thousands of page views each month. It's not a lot, but it's significant enough that I know for a fact people are coming here to do more than read what songs I chose to play at my most recent show in Second Life.

Third and final reason: I'm a low-key writing whore. While I often have to create thousands and thousands of written words each week for clients of my marketing communications business, that writing is purpose-based toward increasing the brand awareness and sales performance of those companies. The writing I do here is for me, and really no one else. I can't tell you how many times I've used my own blog as a research tool for various things that have happened in my life. It's indexed by Google (hell, this is a Google-owned Blogger blog) and the results are quick and effective. But regardless, when I write about news stories or political action or whatever topic I feel like covering at that moment, it's purely because I feel like it. It helps counterbalance the seemingly endless flow of words I have to generate to earn a living. Those words are for them; these are for me.

And Now, The Show
I usually am pretty good about writing and posting these blog entries the following day after my shows, but not this time. My workload has been excessively busy in recent times, which, to be clear, is a good thing for any business owner. But it does remind you of why the word "busy" is at the root of "business", because there are times where I can start working before 7am and find myself still cranking it out 12+ hours later with barely a break. But again, no complaints.

My virtual self, rocking onstage. Photo by Kat.

A nice crowd for a typical Monday evening at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Monday night's show at Serenity Gardens was excellent, and the reason is pretty easy to understand. First and foremost, i started with a high-quality crowd already there from Grace McDunnough's audience. Second, I managed to put together what ended up being a really strong set list that included a couple of new ones (for me), both of which having gone very well for a first effort. Third, I'd just restrung my Takamine Pro Series P5DC, and the guitar was just singing (which assisted my singing in singing).

Serenity Gardens set list...
You’re So Vain (Carly Simon)
Crosses (José González)
*Drive (R.E.M.)
Games Without Frontiers (Peter Gabriel)
Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell)
Friday I’m In Love (The Cure)
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Something Else (Zak Claxton)
Gardenia (Iggy Pop)
*Vasoline (Stone Temple Pilots)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Everything Is Scary (German Error Message)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)
Serenity Improv #4,368 (Zak Claxton)

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

Big thanks to everyone who hung out at Serenity gardens for the show, and bigger thanks to the following who helped support the show! You rock!
Kat Chauveau, Kat Claxton, Jano Runo, JT Qork, AaronCabottJones Resident, Nina Brandenburg, Triana Caldera, Trouble Streeter, Tricks Sockington, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Serenity Gardens (08.12.19)

Another lovely evening at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Before I talk about my show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, let me tell you a little bit about something called the Endangered Species Act of 1973. It was signed into law by president Richard Nixon, and its intent was to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a "consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation". By all standards, it has been a resounding success. A number of animal and plant species that would have certainly been driven into extinction through hunting and through land development that destroyed their natural habitats are still here today purely through the regulations of the ESA. 54 of the species originally listed have been de-listed from endangered status due to the recovery of their population. The law has worked tremendously well.

This week, in a move that disgusted many but surprised few, the Trump administration announced major changes to the Endangered Species Act that will weaken its enforcement, and allow industry to act in their own economics interests to destroy these threatened species' habitats. Trump has gone on record as having personal dislike toward animals of all sorts; there's a reason why he's one of the only US presidents in history to not have a dog at the White House. His sons, quite infamously, posed with majestic animals that they'd shot and killed on hunting trips. This is a family that, by all evidence, openly loathes wildlife and the environment.

A few of the many animals that remain critically endangered. Top row: Red Wolf, California Bighorn Sheep, Desert Tortoise, West Indian Manatee. Bottom row: Whooping Crane, Florida Panther, Great White Shark, Island Fox.

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump posing with the leopard they'd murdered during a hunting expedition. The leopard's status on the IUCN Red List is as a threatened species.

We live in a world that exists through ecological balance. Our own existence as humans is predicated on that balance. It is nearly unthinkable that we would purposefully allow the destruction of habitats (and the legalized hunting) of any species that might go extinct through our greed or negligence. One can only hope that the damage that the world suffers under this presidential administration can be limited and fixed after his departure. Up to a certain point, species can be revived, in the same way that laws can be changed and walls can be torn down. The only optimistic view is that we won't get past the point of no return for these creatures, or for ourselves.

Back to the Show
As I've mentioned time after time in regard to live music performances... I enjoy myself equally whether I have three people or 300 or 3,000 in the audience, and especially for a show in Second Life, where in reality I'm in a room in front of a microphone and a computer, there's very little impact on my vibe as a performer regardless of crowd size. Especially considering that I certainly don't judge the quality of my shows based on silly factors like amounts of tips or ego stroking, it literally doesn't matter to me how many folks are there. All I do hope for is that whoever shows up is enjoying themselves and that they let me know they're into the show.

Me, looking more serious than usual. Sometimes avatars just get grumpy. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens in the shadows. Photo by Kat.

I had a couple of previously unperformed songs in my set. One was "Killing Me Softly with His Song", the #1 hit from Roberta Flack in the early '70s, which I'd just decided to do on a whim a few days earlier. The other, oddly, was "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon and Garfunkel. I'd put the song into my repertoire probably ten years ago... and then never played it once. Why? I don't know.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
*Mrs. Robinson (Simon and Garfunkel)
Low Key (Tweedy)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
*Killing Me Softly (Roberta Flack)
Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young)
Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot)
Love Ain’t for Keeping (The Who)
Rock and Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield)
Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac)
Texarkana (R.E.M.)

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

Many thanks to all who came out the my show, with special thanks to the following who helped support it!
littlebit31okla Resident, Asimia Heron, Triana Caldera, AaronCabottJones Resident, Trouble Streeter, go2smoky Resident, Kat Claxton, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Ladybird's Cellar (08.03.19)

Enjoying a great Saturday afternoon with friends at Ladybird's Cellar. Photo by Kat.

Note: I'm sure a lot of folks are expecting me to address in detail the recent episodes of mass shootings that occurred over the past two weekends. I find it likely that I will, but two things. One, I'd rather put together those comments from a standpoint of factual information as opposed to the snippets of things that are easily digestible on social media. Second, it would be a disservice to the fact that I want to express the positive nature of my show yesterday, even though the shootings do factor into that as well. So no, this post is primarily going to be about my live music show. There's a time and place for everything... and believe me, I'll get to that soon enough.

For now... it was literally months ago, in April, when Anastasia Yanwu reached out to me on Facebook, asking if I'd be available to play at the one-year anniversary of her Second Life venue Ladybird's Cellar. I assumed it would be a quickly upcoming date, and laughed when I realized that she was booking me, Sassy Nitely, and Camme Carver to play an event in August (which seemed very far away at that point). Most of my Second Life bookings happen within maybe a week or two of the actual event, so this lead time of over three months made me giggle.

But time goes by and sure enough, it was suddenly August, and I awoke on Saturday morning with a happy feeling, knowing I'd be spending a section of the day making people happy and enjoying myself in the process. I'd planned on adding a couple of never-before-played songs to my set list -- "Adia" by Sarah McLachlan and a new original by me, a song called "Doubt It" of which I'd just recorded a demo. It adds a personal element of excitement for me when I play new material at a show. Am I really able to do a reasonably good rendition of the song as a guitarist and vocalist? Do I know the song so well that I feel confidently able to perform it? These are questions that pop into almost every musician's mind as they get ready to do a gig with new material. The answer to any worry in that regard comes, for me, in the old fashioned way... rehearse, rehearse, release. Poor Kat probably heard me do "Adia" like 15 times between Friday night and Saturday morning while I familiarized myself with the song.

Bad News Before a Show
It always is worth it in the end. I've never "over-rehearsed" a song. I like going in feeling comfortable with all the nuances and deliver a good rendition, even that first time. But I had another bit of a challenge going into the show. As I was getting warmed up for the performance, the news started coming in about the mass shooting in El Paso, TX. It's often asked how performing musicians deal with things that -- understandably -- pull their attention away from an imminent show. I don't have all the answers. About the only thing I did was add one song to my set -- Jeff Tweedy's "All Lives, You Say?" -- as a small way to note the moment. I barely even mentioned it during the show.

And this is an important note. It wasn't just a show; Ana had chosen me and Camme and Sassy to help celebrate the occasion of the one-year anniversary of her venue. I knew that I'd have plenty of opportunities to express my thoughts on mass killings -- on social media, in this blog, perhaps at subsequent shows of a less special nature. But I did not feel I had a right to bring the world's sadness to her celebration. We all knew by then what had happened, and that it would be a focus of sadness for some time to come. But I kept my show there very light and fun, and I'm glad I did. Later that same evening, there was another mass shooting by a young man with a semi-automatic rifle with high-capacity magazines, this time in Dayton, OH. We will always have our chances to be sad, which makes it all the more important to appreciate chances to be happy.

And The Show...
I checked the Second Life map as I got into world and was heading over to Ladybird's Cellar, and noted that as expected, Sassy Nitely had a nice big crowd there. It's not a giant place (which I like very much, giving a more intimate feel), and it felt packed as I arrived to listen to Sassy while putting the final preparation touches on my own show. Everything went about as good as possible after that; my audio levels on my guitar and voice both sounded good in my headphones, and I had what I felt was a strong set. Everything went well; we kept a pretty great crowd going throughout my show as well, and I made it a point to pull out some deeper cuts from my list of songs, as I've been trying to do lately.

I love being at places where I can do my Zak show for some people who might be checking me out for the first time. they're always welcome to try me out again. Photo by Kat.

Me, looking a bit serious while I do my tunes. Photo by Kat.

My fans have great butts and I cannot lie. Photo by Kat.

Ladybird's Cellar set list...
Peaceful Easy Feeling (Eagles)
*Adia (Sarah McLachlan)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
*Doubt It (Zak Claxton)
Your Song (Elton John)
Save It for Later (English Beat)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Saved by Zero (The Fixx)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
Old Man (Neil Young)

Big, big thanks to everyone who came to my show, with special thanks to the following who helped support it!
Diana Renoir, Arcangelo Hellmann, Nina Brandenburg, TroyJaimes Resident, Kat Claxton, Arcangelo Hellmann, Alex Zelin, Sassy Nitely, Triana Caldera, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the lovely owner of Ladybird's Cellar Anastasia Yanwu!