If I remember right it was the summer of 1998. I stilled lived in my home town of Blair/Omaha, Nebraska. I was a junior in high school, and I was the guitarist/singer of two local bands and a drummer in another. Like any young musician I dreamed of being a professional musician but the reality of actually one day landing a record deal seemed a million miles away.
As cool as Nebraska is, it's always been the kind of place for which the saying, "Go Big Red" and “Hard work goes a long way” is pretty fitting. Meaning, if you want something, go get it.
Venues were in short supply, I found myself in the center of a good music scene, but made up of only two venues to play, and you needed a following to play those gigs. But how do you get a following if you can’t get in front of an audience. This meant that to get noticed I’d throw my own shows. I’d rent out a hall, hire a sound-man (Kevin), book the other bands with a following, and have them open for us. Sometimes it worked like clockwork and other times, crickets.
Of the last shows I play in Nebraska I had booked the hall (1200 capacity), hired the sound-man, booked the opening acts, and no one came. The handful that did come said they only knew about the show because of one of the opening acts posted it on their website. I hadn’t promoted the show enough or at all.
So why wasn’t I upset? I just lost a bunch of money, played to an empty venue, and left the last show I played in my high school days in the dust. I should have been more bummed. Because of the “Why” factor.
There are two reason as to why I chose to do music professionally. First off, I was taking my younger brother to his first real concert. It was Jimmie’s Chicken Shack and 311. During the 311 set I had bumped into the massive dude and somewhere in that moment we both started jumping and yelling the lyrics at each other. When the song was over the guy put his arm around me and said “that was awesome” and that was that. I knew I wanted to provide that moment for other people. I wanted to create music so that people could use it as a tool to forget about the outside world and come together in a united way of thinking.
The second reason came from performing on stage. We were doing a battle of the bands with 5 other bands and we were second up. The first band played, and played well but lacked the energy & songs to win over the crowd. So when it was are turn we knew we had nothing to lose and went for it. We started and the crowd was jumpin’. And when we finished the crowd erupted in cheers to where you could feel the sound-waves. It was the most incredible feeling that I never wanted to give up.
Fast forward nearly two decades, 6 albums, playing shows all over the U.S., international radio airplay, two categories on the Grammy Ballot and a million other musical experiences along the way, and it's still that feeling that I crave when I think about my life and career as a musician.
I don't mean to sell the creative process short. Needless to say, it's essential. For the listener it's everything. But to some extent almost anyone can make music.
But when it comes to BEING a musician, it's that muscle memory. It's knowing the rest stops along the I-80 by memory because you've toured that stretch of the country so many times. It's the familiar smell of stale beer, cleaning products and smoke that hits you when you enter a bar in the afternoon before the air conditioners have been turned on. It's the feeling of that too tired to drive but too excited to sleep as you drive blurry eyed to the next city on your list of tour dates. It's the familiar weight of your guitar case in your hand. It's the camaraderie you feel with your tour mates and audience hoping you'll always keep in touch. And it's a million other little subtle experiences that define what it means to be a musician. At least that's the way it's been for me. It's not the guitar chords, or the number of albums sold, but rather it's knowing those things first hand that makes me a musician, a veteran. And it's knowing that you are one of a small percentage of the population to not only have seen, but to have lived behind the curtain that makes this whole crazy thing worth while.
But perhaps even more importantly than all of that, it's YOU, the listener, that makes all of it matter.
I look forward to many more sometimes hard, sometimes ugly, always worthwhile experiences along this musical journey. Here's to hoping that you are part of that journey.
If you'd like to hear the most recent milestone of that journey, click here to listen to the debut album, 'From Where To There'.
Thank you for being a listener and for making it all matter.