Gigs Can’t All Be Gems

“The grim reaper may be a little over the top, honey.” That was Mark’s response when I showed him the graphic for this piece. “After all, gigs can’t all be gems.” That’s what he always says after an off night.

We usually put on a pretty good show. We love what we do and it comes through to our audience. We don’t have set lists, but pick our songs based on who is in the audience and which songs they’ve already responded well to. Part of the fun of performing, for me, is figuring out what this audience will like.

Sometimes you think you’re not reaching the audience. Nobody applauds. Nobody looks up from their dinner conversation. And then as they leave, someone from a group comes over and tells us how much they enjoyed to music and puts a nice tip in the basket.

Other times, the audience applauds and requests songs (which Mark usually knows). Even though we’re playing at a restaurant, it’s not unusual for people to sing along. Sometimes they even get up and dance in the restaurant or out in the street. Those nights are magic.

Tonight was the opposite of magic. The audience was polite, but we were off. Mark’s guitar and my voice were both a bit ragged. Mark played introductions in ways I’d never heard them and I didn’t know when to start. I even forgot lyrics and mixed up verses in a song I’ve done dozens of times.

Nobody gets it right every time, but nights like this are exhausting. There’s nothing to be done—just finish the show and, apparently, come home and write about it. Tomorrow there will be a new audience and our energy will be different. The bottom line of performing is that it’s different every time, and tonight’s off night has nothing to do with tomorrow.

“There you go,” Mark said when I read this to him. He’s been performing most of his life, and details like how the audience responds or whether there are tips in the basket don’t affect him much. I’ve only been performing like this for three years, and I’m still learning that the audience’s response has little to do with how well—or poorly—we performed. It’s easy to take credit when the audience likes us or blame when they don’t, but it’s not personal. We do what we do, and they like us or they don’t.

Yes, life is like that.

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