I played an unexpected concert on the 4th of July.
I bring my guitar with me just about everywhere I go. Parties. Barbeques. Vacations. My default social state is to be idly playing guitar, and I don’t like to subject other people’s instruments to my style of playing and non-stop litany of alternate tunings.
Not surprisingly, I was armed with my acoustic axe in Vermont this weekend. I didn’t expect I’d be performing anywhere, but figured our idle days would leave me plenty of time to rehearse my new AC covers and some newer originals.
Kat apparently took it as a challenge to find me a place to play over the weekend. And, of all nights to find an opportunity, the one she discovered was Saturday night – right on the 4th of July: a local open mic at the Ripton Community Coffeehouse, topped by a performance by local band Twist of the Wrist.
When I first hear about a venue I get a very tangible picture in my head; they are seldom accurate. In this instance I was picturing a small coffee shop – perhaps as a part of a larger general store or community center – with sparse seating and a small riser doubling as a stage. It would be a fun night out. I’d play some newer stuff, and maybe finally play my cover of “Independence Day” live!
Mindful of the tendency of Philly open mics to never start on time, we left the farm on the late side for our up-mountain trek up to Ripton. We arrived at the “community coffee house” to discover it was a converted church, its parking lot overflowing with vehicles. Inside there was a foyer with a box office staffing by a twinkling attendant. The main room had many rows of seats (all full!), a proper stage, a snack bar, and a balcony(!).
Once again, my mental picture was off by a country mile.
Before I could even take a seat I found myself ushered up to the front by the sound guy, “Here’s your host, tell him how to say your name. This act has two more songs, then you’re up. 12 minutes. Your guitar has a 1/4″ out? Great.”
I had five minutes to plot the set I previously planned to wing, distracted by the beautiful harmony of the act preceding me, who were selected for Falcon Ridge’s emerging artist stage. Though there were a few teens and twenties in the room, the mean age seem to run closer to 50 – so out the window went super-aggressive “Shake It Off,” my wry cover of “Since U Been Gone,” and the Ani tune complete with its “shitting rivers for weeks” line.
Before I knew it I was onstage in front of a lot more people than I’ve been in front of solo for a long time. Still undecided on a first song, I desperately improvised some banter:
“Hi. I’m Peter, and I’m from Philadelphia. I’m staying here on my friend’s farm for the weekend, and so far the only thing I am qualified to do there is feed the chickens. I think she decided I needed to be put to harder work than that, so here I am.”
Chuckles from around the room – a mellow-but-attentive crowd! Suddenly my set became clear:
1. “Something Real” (to appreciative nods and head-bobbing from the audience)
2. “Like a Virgin” (“I debated on if I should do a cover, since I only have such a short time with you. I want you to know who I am. And, well, I’m a product of the 80s, so it seems appropriate to do this one”.)
3. “Saving Grace” (“After I put the aforementioned ring on the aforementioned finger we went to Paris. I came back with this song.”)
It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing solo – the audience was wonderful, the monitor mix was crystal clear, and I was in confident voice. Lots of people chatted me up while we waited for the band to take the stage, which netted one of my all-time favorite comments, “It seems like the songs move through you,” to which I responded, “Oh, definitely. It doesn’t sound quite as good when I try to move them.”
Twist of the Wrist, by the way, was phenomenal – they played traditional and modern European dance music. Over the course of their set the trio sang in at least three different languages and played a sum of two accordions, two hurdy gurdys, two flutes, two “flagettes” (not quite recorders), an acoustic guitar, a large flat drum, a Bb clarinet, a soprano saxophone, and a crumholtz (?).
The band is lead by Robert Resnik, who hosts a program called All the Traditions on Vermont Public Radio, with singing and various instrument playing from Liz Thompson. However, I really must single out woodwind specialist Barbara Wager, who was a rock star in a way that I’ve never really seen a woodwind player be before. Her stage presence was amazing and vibrant – only to be outdone by her expert playing and crazily accurate pitch. I felt like she should have been in leather pants and a fauxhawk on stage with the Rolling Stones.
Who knew that my holiday would be so musical?
PS: The only flag I saw the whole night was stuck in some pastry at the snack bar.