Immediately after Christmas, I wandered about Gainesville to see if trying to book gigs in person would yield better results than the failed calling and emailing. I booked two gigs in the thirty minutes. Granted, the first I booked, for the Civic Media Center, was canceled when the other artist, Mark Miale, had to back out, but happily the other went on. I would play at The Warehouse, a “Restaurant & Lounge” in downtown Gainesville owned by a long time family friend, a man of many talents who’d been a University of Florida Mathematics Professor, run an auto shop and now opened this restaurant which has been performing splendidly. We arranged for a standard restaurant gig, playing in a small recess across from the bar and facing the patrons. I’d play two hours on New Years Eve before the party planned there at 9:30, headlined by Heavy Petty with four fabulous singer/songwriter’s in the lineup as well.
So the plan was written. The actual night did not go so smoothly. When I arrived they were quite behind schedule setting up the stage and bar areas in the back. We set to trying to make the PA function with inputs for a time. After agonizing minutes with no results, they took me to play on the stage out back. The mic stands they promised were missing, too.
Uncle Yoh’d converted his garage directly into the restaurant, the garage area maintained the same general layout – uninsulated, large garage doors leading to the outside parking lot, ample raised stage at the end facing a mishmash of lower tables, long raised tables, a massive bar area captaining half the remaining space and even a set of movie theatre seats cordoning the area off from the outside to funnel a single entrance. All this rather emphasized the zero-ness of my audience. Every table within the restaurant overflowed with an abundance of guests… but as I couldn’t make out the dull roar of their conversations I’m sure I wasn’t heard, either.
I jury rigged the two mics they provided me in a fashion I became quite proud of. I retrieved a low chair from a table and a high, round table with stuck to the side. If I hunched a bit in my seat my voice would be directed right at a mic head I edged over the rim, pinched between two tumblers. One of these tumblers also served as a weight for the other mic, sitting on top of the wire while the mic dangled below, a few inches from the guitar. This mic created some very minor feedback issues (no sharp high pitched sounds, just a growing drone), but in the silence between songs, so I made a point to take very short breaks. I started singing as soon as I found the mics satisfactory to now two bartender audience.
The back area filled in quite quickly after that, a couple parties arrived early or used the space as a waiting area. I’d prepared a set list of mostly oldies for the restaurant clientele, but at least in the beginning I abandoned it for more pop covers – my audience ranged from twenty to mid thirty and I expected Jim Croce may have bored them. After a while the small audience my mother brought finished their supper and joined me, too – they began making requests off the lists I’d printed to set on the tables (but never ended up using), predictably ticking off all the Simon & Garfunkel and Beatles numbers before moving on to the Eagles and such. I remained ever conscious of the youth of the primary audience, however, so I snuck in a Hey Ya and a She’s So High in there every now and again. The latter earned me a profound ovation from the now full center long table, led by a lonely looking late twenties man with a shirt, a tie and a sad encouraging smile.
With my small seed audience of seven applauding after songs, others began to join in, too. Something like bystander effect, I suppose, combined with the inevitable running out of small talk forcing the patrons to watch me as a less awkward object of attention than their silently struggling for witticism companions. I began to say “Thank you”s. By my final song, the song of the day, my allergy wracked voice had nearly quit, I’d inhaled four or five tumblers full of water provided me by my brother, and the absurd mic stand contraption hadn’t yet toppled. I felt comfortable up there, then, though the patrons gave me flashbacks of my high school, populated by same wealthy nothing-to-do-let’s-party-unaware-of-our-privilege ilk. I even recognized a few.
After I finished up, however, Brent and I remained for just a few songs by the main acts. The crowd returned to chattering and ignoring their entertainers, who visibly paled to such treatment but played beautifully regardless. They’d warm up in time, I thought, but till then, I had some video games waiting for me at home. When I returned a few days later to collect my compensation I expected a moderate three digit sum, musicians often love New Years Eve for it’s famed tripling power – $100 turns to $300, magically – but such was not to be. As it turned out, 1/6 of my earnings came courtesy of a generous tip from the mother of my childhood friend. As I write this I manage to brush off my disappointment, though, since it looks so much larger occupying the same format as my standard busking wages.
Earnings: $60, 2 hours
Song of the Day: Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole