Pre Jam Panic

I’m compiling a mental list of all the things I want to take to a blues jam at Knuckleheads, but might not. It will be my first encounter with other musicians in over two months. I have no friends there; all strangers. I’m not required to play; I could show up and sip beers and watch.

That part of me that wants to jump in and mess up as I go; it likes to play around with my ego. Those two parts of me, the jumper and the ego, have gotten me this far. It’s so important to be noticed, but I want to prevent myself from making a bad first impression.

From checking out the profiles of the hosts, there’s probably already a musician eco-system happening here. There was probably a scene before the pandemic. I won’t know if the musicians here are desperate for things to return to normal, and reboot their scene, or if they are scattered, lost, and confused. There really might be competing agendas here today.

I’m scattered, lost, and confused.

I’ll bring my bass. Bass players and keyboard players are usually in high demand, but that also means that they camp longer at jams. That’s awkward. The turn-around for guitarists and singer is always really fast, if the host is doing a good job of managing the flow of musicians. That’s mostly the challenge of an open mic host, dealing with guitarists and singers. The rhythm section players usually end of managing themselves, or in some cases stay static the whole time if they’ve been hired to play. So then this tension arises that if a different rhythm player (bass, piano, drums) asks to play, the current player onstage needs to police what’s happening at that instrument. Sometimes somebody is so bad, or just a pariah, that the open mic host will openly call for somebody else to come play.

So it’s hard to know if you’re asked to step away, was I bad? Or is someone legit trying to police the spirit of the jam and get more players up? Maybe the bassist just had to pee. Or they wanted a break to go talk to a friend in attendance. Or their tired and they want to go home.

This is why I become an intense observer at jams and open mics. Open mics are a different story, where there is no band and everybody in the audience is isolated in their anxiety and unable to actually listen to whatever is happening onstage. That’s probably why the most fun I’ve had at open mics are when I have no plans to play anything, or with anybody. I’m off the clock.

But if I’m trying to understand a scene, I’m watching the interactions between the players. Are they laughing and smiling at each other? Are they nervous? Are they just spaced out? Are they trying to communicate about the silliness of the lead singer? They do looks for that, and that’s an indication that they have discussions about the silliness of the singer offstage. Or maybe they just look impatient.

It could also be that they are locked in professionals. If they have blank faces, they are probably concentrating, doing their job, in the moment but passive at the same time. That’s zen, baby. I’ve spent so much time onstage, I need to be either paid extra or be really feeling it to plaster a smile on my face. It can be the marker of a professional entertainer, but it’s tough to sustain as a professional musician. Playing an iconic riff, watching the crowd react, jumping into the meat of the song. That’s like clockwork. Like a boulder rolling down a hill. A cascading waterfall.

Maybe I’ll get some of that today.

Gear Options:

Bass. P-80 piano (simple key sounds, piano + ep) or MOX8 (much more robust key sounds, including organs, clavicle, etc). Personal drum sticks. Cable for bass. Stark tuner for bass. Cable for keyboard.

I’ll need to dig a functional case for the MOX8 out of storage. It’s really heavy and unwieldy, so I’m tempted not to take it. I think my play is to scan the stage and see what the keyboard situation is before I bring on in. It’s possible there is none, which frees me up in a big way. If keyboard player is hesitant to let others touch the instrument because of coronavirus, I’ll probably stick to bass, or offer to bring in a keyboard from the van. Probably best to have my first beer just watching, and then decide what to go get.