Who: The Creekdogs
Where: Bryan Park, Bloomington, IN
When: 26 August 2012, 6:30-8 PM
What: Bloomington Parks and Recreation Concert Series
Estimated Crowd Attendance: 150-300? Maybe more?
We're two songs into the set. We're playing an original (written by Dan) called "Goodbye Heart". This is a great song - it's uptempo and the writing is tight. I really like this song. It's the sort of song I'd listen to even if I didn't know and think very highly of it's author. It's a song I always want to play right. It's also a song I've played many times before. I know how to play this song. I know how to play this song. I know how to play this song.
But then I second guessed myself. Dan tried to tell me with his eyes that I was playing the wrong part. Panic. A flashbulb blows white in my mind, bright enough that I wince. My fingers tangle. A note is missed; the next note completely nonexistent, the note after that was incorrect. Then I drop out for a beat. For me, panic is experienced as an intense, almost painful flash. And, similar to staring into a camera's flash, the recovery is slow and gradual. I had to recover. I had to make a conscious effort to keep my face from betraying my panic.
I spent the rest of the set trying to drown out my inner critic with positive self talk. I viewed each song after "Goodbye Heart" as a new opportunity to redeem myself. I was constantly reassuring myself I could recover and that no one heard my mistake. I can't overstate how difficult this mentality is for me, but I persevered - my set was not perfect, but I leveled off nicely.
I think all of these nerves had to do with the fact that for the first time in my life, not only would I be singing lead on a tune, but singing a song I wrote (both words and music) while playing bass. It is a kind of exposure I've never experienced before. Leading up to the gig, there were multiple lines I was having trouble remembering. I audibled on stage, telling the gents we'd be skipping my song as my nerves were shot. Dan and Chris (Percussionist Chris Martin was one of two guest musicians for this gig, the other being banjo player Mark Stonecipher) told me skipping my song was not an option.
When I stepped up to the mic to sing "Divide", I did my best to mentally channel Joseph Kittinger: I jumped and hoped for the best. Although it wasn't perfect, I was pleasantly surprised. My voice was strong, I didn't fumble on my problem line*, and my bass playing didn't suffer too much as I did double duty playing bass and singing. I was a little flat here and there, but I think you really had to be focusing on the tune to hear it. When I was done, I could not suppress my smile.
From there, I was truly relaxed. Sure, the show was three quarters done by then, but it became easier for me to be in the moment; to smile, to move and have fun. The mental strain of battling my panic was gone, as was the panic itself. It was all finally washing over me. I was playing music with talented musicians and good friends for a laid back, appreciative crowd. I was no longer clenched in my playing and overall movement, and my harmonies were spot on.
Overall, I'd rate my own performance as "solid", but not great. I scaled back my ambitions for embellished bass runs, opting instead to play it simple and safe. I really didn't know what to expect when when finished - maybe just the standard "good job, you guys". Instead of worrying about that, I tried to focus on tearing down my gear and getting out of there. But the response was overwhelming: people really, really enjoyed themselves. I mean, I was hearing things like "best band in the series" and "you guys blew me away" from multiple people. People were enthusiastic and unequivocal in their praise. It was a very pleasant, very welcome surprise.
Needless to say, the post show rye on the rocks in the quiet of my home was all the more satisfying. What a phenomenal way to end the weekend.
* - If you're curious, the line was "Cokehead flophouse arson burning bright".