During gigs it’s hard to tell if people are random drunks ignoring my performance or they are people resonating with what I’m doing. I have to avoid reading too much into body language or facial expressions. I decided a long time ago to just treat everyone in the crowd like they matter because you never know who’s in the crowd.
Last Friday, I was playing a 3 hour set at Griffin Tavern in Flint Hill, Virginia. This is a great joint off the beaten path in the shadow of the majestic Shenandoah mountains. There were a handful of people during my opening set eating meals and enjoying the music. But once I got back behind the mic after my break I realized I was only playing to the bartender and staff. With over 10 years of gigging under my belt, this wasn’t the first time this has happened. A few songs later, two young couples walked in and starting having drinks and enjoying my music. Since it was a small group, I handed them my set list and told them to choose any of my songs for the rest of the night.
I had a lot of fun that night. Now, I may not be a musician that can draw a large crowd or sell lots of tickets yet, but I can ALWAYS entertain. In such a small room like Griffin Tavern with such a small crowd my voice can carry without a microphone. At one point I sang my guts out to Rivers of Babylon, a surprising request from one of the couples. I dropped the mic on the last verse, singing with all the juice my lungs could push. I knew I was giving this small group some of the best I have to offer. Some locals from outside came in when they heard the fun I was putting together.
At one point most of the people in the room were singing along to I’ll Fly Away, a gospel song that’s familiar in Virginia. I killed the guitar on the last chorus and queued the group to sing along. I’ve never had a group sing so loud with me before – let alone a gospel tune in a bar! Someone even commented immediately after the song, “I don’t think anyone has ever had a gospel sing-along like that in here with a bunch of drunks!” Definitely one of my more memorable moments.
Throughout the night I tried to give the best of me to those who were there. As soon as I finished playing, I had a surprising conversation.
A guy from one of the earlier couples came up to me and started laying unbelievable and detailed praise on me. Some of his memorable comments were:
“I am now one of your biggest fans.”
“I’ve been looking for someone like you who isn’t fake, you mean what you’re singing.”
“You have a feeling of real desperation to your music, an authenticity.”
“I’ve seen so many bands and a lot of them have it dialed in perfectly, but it’s all for show. You’re different.”
…and lastly he said, “I’m the manager for (a major radio station in Washington, DC) and I’d really like to talk to you about some ideas I have.”
After I got home I replayed these comments for my wife before bed. We both agreed, regardless of whatever may happen because of meeting and performing for this guy, the important thing is that I gave the best I have to offer and it resonated with someone in a way that matters. It’s rare to connect with people like that and it’s what I yearn for whenever I stand in front of a crowd to sing.
This night confirmed what I’ve begun to believe: regardless of the audience size or how they look, always give your best because you never know who’s in the crowd.