My first gig ever was at The Railway club, some eight (nine?) years ago. I’d never played at an open mic or even for friends for that matter – few of them knew I was even writing songs – and Murray Atkinson (my guitar teacher at the time who also recorded my first demos) invited me to play an opening set for his band. There’s video of it around here somewhere that I have never watched but I remember it well. My knees were water beneath me and most of my will went to fighting the nerves that shook my whole body. I was a wreck. Murray had to lend me his guitar to play – my own guitar was piddly and without a pick-up – and a member of Porchclimber, the other band on the bill, lent me a guitar strap. Afterwards, in a moment of empathy for my musical helplessness, he told me to keep the guitar strap. It’s the one I still use today.
But I played my 8 songs through (my entire repertoire then), I felt the love and support and surprise from my people there, and over time, it got easier getting up to play. Eventually it got great. Well, it many ways it was always great – the drive to sing sing sing my songs, and the joy of sharing them, always won over the deep rooted anxiety. When did those roots dig so deep? That’s another story…
So that was the FIRST first time. But there have been others. In some kind of grasping for familiar, I started performing just three months after my son Emmett died in 2006. There is no video and I have little recollection. His death was like a reset button – indeed, trauma is a kind of brain damage and there are months there that I don’t remember. I marvel that my fingers still found the strings and my voice still found the words. Though I was playing the same songs as before, I was not the same person. It was my first gig.
Slowly new songs were added to the old, and I integrated what remained of my “before” artist-self and work with my “after”. It got easier and it became clearer. And then again it was great. This 2008 DNTO interview with Sook-Yin Lee was about that “comeback”.
Since my son Ford died in 2010, the thought of having another First Time was overwhelming. But here I am with this deep, deep hole in my being, and still in the early days of its making, and I realized while that cannot be helped, I can do something about these other empty parts. I.e. the Make Music part.
I had to trick myself into a First Gig. I accepted a job performing a very short set at a fundraising dinner. I didn’t tell anyone. I had to keep it No Big Deal if I was to ever make it happen. Husband had to work so I brought my dear friend David, who’d been at that First Ever First at The Railway Club. While I sang my tunes, and the people were pleased and entertained, his beaming and bursting love and support were the recognition of what a huge step it was.
And then it was done. For the first time, again. Then there was a second, and then a third – the most excellent and fun night at The Rivoli during Juno Fest those couple weeks ago – and I’m putting the pieces of this part of me together. We’ll see what picture it makes.