Last night we played at Checkpoint Charlie’s in New Orleans. The first time we ever played there was last year on the day after Mardi Gras. On Ash Wednesday, even the drunks and gutter punks need a day to sober up. We ended up playing for about 15 people. The owner Angelo is really great and the regular band that plays the early set The Happy Monsters always make us smile. Since then we have stopped by every time we pass through Louisiana (thus far always on a Wednesday) and we haven’t managed to really build our audience. Though we only ever play for about 10-20 people, we still do the same show as if there were 200. We got an e-mail at the end of the night that really made us smile:
“i just heard you play tonight in some charming dump in new orleans in front of maybe 20 people. you are a fucking great band. i shit you not. your “more cowbell”reference and the song about tobias schneebaum (are you kidding me?) and yankee dumb is dumber than southern dumb at an 86 iq cutpoint and your story about the dancing midget. you are super smart and excellent. seriously great singing, like the gossip, but way better range in all respects. and so fine banjo playing. best rhythm banjo since the monks. better banjo than the monks, though they had better hair. rhythm banjo is totally unrespected. thank you for making me feel omnipotent that i can stumble into a random dive in a town that isn’t mine and find a band like you. please let me know if you ever end up in san francisco. can i get you a gig? probably not, cause i used to be marginally someone, but now i’m not, but i can get a bunch of people to come to your badass show.
When you play out in public, you need to give it your all no matter how many people may or may not be listening. Take a walk down Frenchman or Bourbon St in New Orleans and you will see extremely talented musicians going through the motions for a paycheck. The authenticity, the heart and soul, is becoming harder and harder to find as paying gigs become more and more demanding on the musician. These guys are playing four hour sets five nights a week for $50-$100 each. In that context it’s not a wonder that almost every musician in the French Quarter looks like they just want to go to bed. Washboard Chaz, now there’s a guy who looks like he’s always having fun. As a washboard player I can attest that a dingy bell does in fact, brighten your day. When freedom of expression (especially music) is removed and manipulated to sell tourists an “authentic experience” of a music scene that peaked almost a century ago, the joy and the humanity suffer. There is no electricity, no spark, no feeling that you are seeing a person perfected by the ability to perform in the field that makes them whole. Lord knows all those cats can play. I just wished they enjoyed it as much we do. Performing our music, our way, makes us whole. Having people appreciate it is the highest compliment, but it can’t be what keeps you going. Audiences will come and go, rise and fall. The music has to be your focus, the performance your drug. I hope I never lose the rush that I feel when I play our music our way. And I truly hope all musicians get to feel that at least once in their life.