Keep Moving Forward, part 2
by Amanda Pollak
The gig is over. I feel like I arrived a preschooler and left a high school graduate. All of the experiences I’ve had paved the way for this experience, but nothing could have truly prepared me.
Above are a few of the thoughts I scribbled down as soon as I returned home from my first gig with the band, as the endorphins were just beginning to fade and the fatigue of a four hour set in June’s humidity set in. I managed mostly staccato sentences, just enough to capture the novelty of this experience, so that one day when I’m so much further than I am now, I’ll look back and remember what it felt like to do this for the first time.
We get through “I Know a Little.” People dance to it; the man dips her too far, she falls. We go out of order, choosing songs from our setlist to match the crowd. I’m used to having a second or two to collect myself, but that’s in the past, it seems. We move steadily through the songs. Now there’s an hour left. I feel at ease.
Before I arrived to set up, I took a fellow bandmate’s advice and loaded up on starch (by eating an entire box of macaroni and cheese) to ensure my reserves would remain undepleted. I felt a strange sort of resignation on the car ride there; I knew I had prepared, but I had the distinct feeling that it almost didn’t matter. I had spent hours both with the band and on my own rehearsing, but there’s an ocean of difference between playing in my air-conditioned apartment and performing live at a lakeside marina bar. The only way to learn it was to live it.
I attempted to prepare for all known variables–extra sticks (thanks, Tony!), drum key nearby, charts on the floor. As we started our first set, I was cautious and tense. Certain spots were looser than I liked. I had trouble reading the others when it was time to end, as this occasionally differed from what we had rehearsed. The after work crowd was beginning to filter in and it seemed like no one was reacting to us–here I was trekking through this enormous undertaking for which I’d spent countless hours preparing and fretting over, and the people surrounding me were none the wiser. Perhaps this sounds rather self-absorbed, but I was beginning to construe their non-involvement as a reflection of my performance. They’re not tapping their feet–is it because I’m not keeping time well? Did they hear me just flub that fill?
But then, a woman at a table (who I swore was scowling at me) got up and placed a $20 bill in our tip jar. And I had my first realization (of many to come) that this whole thing wasn’t about me. Yes, this was significant. Yes, it was an accomplishment and something to be proud of. For me. But to everyone else, this was another Friday afternoon at the lake. They were here to drink beer, order fries, and bop along to songs they know. They were not scowling at me. They were not judging my doubles. No one cared that I chose to stay on the hi-hat during the chorus instead of moving to the ride cymbal.
Once I worked through that realization, it became a lot easier to be present in the moment as opposed to locked away in my own mind with my anxieties and worst case scenarios. I was relieved to take a break, but as we began the next set, I suddenly felt more comfortable. The crowd was interacting with us more and I began to tap into their energy. I was executing fills I’d never rehearsed before but somehow managed to construct on the spot. There was a time in the past when I could only play what I’d practiced all while never breaking eye contact with my hi-hat, but today I could easily focus on the other musicians in front of me and the crowd around me.
Later in the evening during a guitar solo, I felt something I’d never experienced before while playing. The sun had disappeared; the shadowy faces in the audience were all I saw as the intensity of the solo was building. I picked up on this and decided to go to the snare and floor tom, ending with 16th notes on the snare, then incorporated more runs on the toms until bringing everything back down. It was unplanned. It was fluid. It was alive.
All the hours I’d spent charting and rehearsing had served me well, yet in that moment, I profoundly understood that music is a living, breathing entity; its rules negotiable, its structure in perpetual fluctuation. Where before I once felt so limited by my ability, I now experienced a gracious freedom to inject my own interpretation, which was as valid as anyone else’s.
Some other noteworthy events: I handled two audience requests, maintained composure while an inebriated individual attempted to steal the mic away from our singer, and no sticks were dropped.
And then, before I knew it, we were done.
I felt a mix of relief that I’d gotten through the show without massively screwing up, pride in being able to pull this accomplishment off when, just a year ago, I was on edge before performing just one song at the Speakeasy, and a bit of intimidation because there were so many things I’d become aware of in the past four hours, such as the importance of tuning my drums and my need to go back and work on triplets and shuffles and and and–
–it was okay. It was all going to be okay. I’d get there in time, just like I got here.