Gig Journal

Dover Soul, Dover, NH. February 21, 2006

I've been playing Tuesday nights at Dover Soul, off and on now, for about six months. Some nights it's very slow, some nights busy. Tonight was a busy night, and the customers were enjoying their conversations. There was a lively group in the Martini bar. But there was a new twist. The owner has recently changed the middle room, which was a coffee shop, into a bar, just for the evenings. So there were a lot of people in that middle room, and they were laughing and talking very loud. Sound carries well in Soul, which can be a blessing or a curse. When the music carries from the Martini bar to the middle room, that's a blessing. Tonight it was, well, not a curse, but the loud talk and laughter drifting in from the middle room did make things difficult for me. I had people sitting on couches near me, talking quietly, and people sitting on couches at the back of the room, talking loudly, and people in the next room, talking quite vociferously.

Oddly enough, as I've found before in situations like this, I found that I seemed to reach the audience better with a soft ballad than with a driving swing tune or a rhythmic Latin tune. Late in the evening, a couple came in and sat on the couch right across from the stage. They were talking, but it was clear they were also listening. I introduced "My Funny Valentine" by saying that Miles Davis had made a famous recording of the tune using a Harmon mute, and that I didn't have a Harmon mute for my guitar, so I'd just have to make do. When I finished the tune, the woman on the couch said, "Beautiful," and the man said, "We're really enjoying it. Play more Miles Davis." I thought for a minute and realized I should work up an arrangement of "All Blues" or "Freddie Freeloader". Lacking that, I played "Just Friends," but it didn't quite click.

It's interesting. The last time I played Dover Soul, a different couple had sat on that couch and, after I'd finished "My Funny Valentine," the guy had said, "That was awesome, Dude." I guess I need to play that tune more often.

I'd been looking forward to this gig, more than usual, because I'd just had some work done on my guitar. Nothing major, just a fix for loose wires (see journal entry) , but the guitar was sounding great in my practice sessions at home, and I was anxious to hear it in Soul. In the first set, I was a little disappointed. The lows were a bit boomy and I had to work hard to bring out the highs. Of course, this often happens when the audience is talking loudly, because the frequency range of human speech (around 4K) is right where some of the best overtones of the high notes on guitar ring out. Even so, I was surprised how muddy the sound was. Then I remembered that I'd switched my Alessis Nanoverb reverb setting on the last gig. About ten minutes before the end of the first set, I set it back to my usual setting. Actually, this turned out to be the end of my first set. To explain this, I need to digress a bit.

I just finished an article for on the ins and outs of solo gigs. One thing I mentioned: If the gig includes a free meal, try to arrange it with the bartender so that the meal is ready just when you are scheduled for a break. Don't make the audience sit around for a half hour with no music while you wait for you meal, eat it, and leisurely return to the stage. Too many times, as a customer, I've been on the receiving end of that.

As I was setting up in Soul tonight, Erica, the regular Tuesday night bartender, showed me the new menu and asked what I wanted for my meal. As I've said many times in my gig journals over the years, a good bartender can make all the difference, for both the band and the customers.

So just after I adjusted the reverb, Erica placed my meal on the bar near me. So it was time to take a break.

By the second set the folks in the middle room had quieted down. As soon as I played the first few measures of the first tune, I felt like I'd rediscovered an old friend. My guitar was responding with a warmth and fullness I hadn't heard from it in a long time. During the set, the room emptied out, but I hardly noticed. I was enjoying the music.