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It was definitely one of the highlights of my year,
or actually my performing life thus far, when I got to open for international singer Madeleine Peyroux at Portland’s Aladdin Theater. I found out about the show rather last minute (like, the day before).
I was having an altogether uneventful afternoon. Incidentally, I actually happened to be feeling a bit glum about how little time I had been finding for music in my life lately. I had just seen an amazing Y La Bamba show earlier that week, where Luz Elena’s performance was especially powerful. (A week later I found out that was actually their last show for a hiatus of a few years, and I’m so glad they’re back now!) Anyway, the show left me feeling inspired by music in general, but bummed about being rather musically inactive at that moment. It was a busy summer where I was commuting almost an hour to day job work and back each day, and physically and mentally exhausted. Though I found moments here and there to write songs and practice, it was tough to stay in the routine.
It was also suffocatingly humid that week, and I was sick with an annoying summer cold (the kind that is mild enough where you don’t need to stay in bed, but you feel consistently crappy no matter what you do). Everything–the weather, my life–felt like it was moving slow as molasses.
As I sat there in my car, getting ready to embark on a series of rathe tedious to-do’s that included car maintenance followed by pulling some gnarly weeds that were going to seed and threatening to take over the yard, my sickness and crankiness and the general malaise of feeling misaligned with my musical energy and the heat all got to me: I broke out in tears and just sat there in the stuffy car, crying and sniffling.
Then suddenly a text appeared. It was from Emily Overstreet of Great Wilderness and the Aladdin Theater:
“Can you open for Madeleine Peyroux tomorrow night?”
I re-swiped my tear-smudged phone, thinking I had misread the text. And then another text came through:
“I don’t know for sure yet, just need to see if we can find someone. Will let you know soon,” Emily wrote back. And then, “I feel that it will happen.” I sat there for the next few minutes, wiping my tears away, feeling gratitude, even though I didn’t know for sure if I had it. Just the possibility of having it was enough to turn my day around. A few seconds later the text confirmation came through. Screw pulling weeds and fixing the car!
I went home and figured out what I needed to do. First I called my drummer to see if he could join me, and he said honestly didn’t feel we were ready; we hadn’t been playing really at all lately, of course. But then I talked to the stage manager, who said a drummer wouldn’t be possible with the stage plot anyway:
“Her crew was very clear it needs to be a solo performer.”
So it was play alone, marginally prepared, or don’t play at all.
“Will that work for you?” he asked. I didn’t hesitate.
“YES!” What else do you say? You say yes and do it! (Too, pulling a show together solo without much rehearsal time is much easier than with a band).
I spent the rest of the day practicing; one of my long-neglected guitar strings broke (of COURSE), so I had to walk to the store to get strings. Luckily, my boss gave me half the day off. In fact, a big music fan, she told me she and another work friend would actually be there for the show that night because they already happened to have tickets.
I got to the theatre for sound check and saw why the crew wanted a solo performer; the stage was crammed with a grand piano, a drumkit, an upright bass, Madeleine’s vocal mic and guitar, and an elevated stage rise for five members of the Oregon Symphony who would be joining her.
Backstage, as the house was filling up, I felt weirdly calm but energized, that wakeful, alert type of nervous. That’s how you want to feel before a performance; not overwhelmed with nerves, but not like you’re chilling out on a Netflix binge, either. The set went well and I was told I did a great job and had a good stage presence.
Who says you need to be prepared?
I mean sure, the Universe doesn’t always answer our wishes quite so promptly:
“I’m bummed because I haven’t played music enough lately.”
“Well, here’s an amazing gig out of the blue!”
But it is definitely magical when it happens.