At the ripe age of 40, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what I choose to get mad at and embracing the simple things in life. All that was proven to be non-sense earlier this year when my wife and I went through the process of closing on our new house. In retrospect and even at the time, I knew these were petty problems in the grand scheme of horrifying things happening around the world, but that didn’t stop there from being daily screw ups that resulted in either me consistently having to choose between not have something I was promised, paying extra for said feature, or delaying the project. At six months of pain I still was pleasant around people, but alone I was punching pillows, yelling in the shower, and venting my woes with co-workers and bartenders. Holy crap I am a bitter person and am way better than this. I recognized it, but taking a deep breath each new morning to regroup was proving to be a waste of time. The daily screw ups never stopped and being short fused is no way to live in a beach town.
I needed to make a drastic change. Morning meditation worked some days, but I’m a creature of habit and checking my phone as soon as I wake up usually steers my mood from what should be sniffing morning coffee and puppy licks to Clark Griswold road rage. Each new day my Gmail inbox was consistently filled with presents consisting of new bill overages from cable tv, a HOA fine for walking my dog off leash, or a contractor now stating to not cover work earlier agreed upon. And alas, the tone for my day was set.
Despite these daily groin kicks, an article I saw last year in my Twitter timeline had always remained on my mind:
“According to a new study from the Centre For Performance Science in London, experiencing live music can reduce a person’s level of stress hormones.”
In typical social media etiquette, I retweeted the article without reading it with a snide remark attached: “And in other breaking news, the sun will rise tomorrow.”
But dammit, that study is true and deserves to be a headline. I attend 75+ shows a year and that two plus hours I’m at the venue I never think about anything but music, friends, beer, and meeting new people. It truly is an escape from everything and one of the best joys in life. Anyone that has been to Bonnaroo knows what I mean. So, that got me thinking. If I’m so mentally trapped in this hell of focusing on the negative pile of feces dump trucked on me every day, why not plan a musical meditation each day?
I had been gaining some steam locally in Charleston, SC, shooting photography at local shows, meeting bands, and chatting with venue owners, so why not just go all in and see live music every night for a year? I didn’t make it 365 days, but I did make it 50 straight and I absolutely came out the other end a changed, better man.
The majority of the shows I attended solo since my wife works nights, but being solo at a venue where so many groups of people are there together really forces your brain to work in a new way. It’s easy to meet people when you’re part of another group, but being solo is a whole other ball game. It was a welcome distraction and a fun challenge. Of course, the anxieties are unwarranted once you realize everyone at a music venue is excited to talk to anyone and everyone.
After looking back on my mood before and after the run, nothing has really changed in regards to the problems, but the daily stress is pretty much gone. Some things stand out:
- Defining high priorities in your daily schedule doesn’t give you time to let the crappy problems in. Most of the shows I knew I’d be talking to the band or shooting photos, so I needed time to research them, edit photos from the night before, clear my SD Card, walk the dog, and get to the gig on time. Contractors or co-workers regularly call me with problems that used to eat a couple hours of my day. Instead, I’d send a simple email message to research this further or use your best judgement and 99% of the time it worked out. A friend or neighbor takes a jab at me on social media? Swipe. None of that matters when I’m rushing to eat and make the show.
- Everyone you meet in life knows something you don’t know. I learned this earlier in life chatting with so many homeless people in D.C., but it was really reinforced with all the random people I met at the clubs over this stretch. It’s easy to look at someone and think you have them figured out, but when I’m rolling solo most nights, I’m thirsty for all conversations. And, wow! The cool things I learned from people. One older gentleman I met owned 300+ acres just south of Austin, TX, from the 60s – 80s and had endless music stories from that time.
- The answer is always “No” if you don’t ask. I met an incredible band from Nashville called the Blackfoot Gypsies who I saw perform in Charleston, SC, and had interviewed at a Waffle House the next day. I saw they were opening for Buddy Guy during my stretch and sent them a message asking if I could drive up and shoot photos for them. They graciously added me to their media list, which allowed me to hang backstage with them for the day and shoot photos of their set and Buddy Guy’s set. Another night, Oteil Burbridge, bassist for Dead & Company, was playing an intimate, sold-out show with his friends at a local bar. I asked the venue if I could get added to the media list to shoot photos, and sure enough, I was in and experienced front row access to one of the highlight gigs of the stretch.
- Always Have Something to Look Forward To. There’s always going to be problems, so having fun things planned kept me from getting caught in a tail spin of negative thoughts and what if scenarios of how I could have handled the problem better in retrospect. As the late, great, Lemmy, from Motorhead said: “I don’t do regrets. Regrets are pointless. It’s too late for regrets. You’ve already done it, haven’t you? You’ve lived your life. No point wishing you could change it.” Secondly, even if I amazingly solved 10 problems in one morning, within hours my mind will find something else to bring to my attention. We’re all wired this way. So, always having a music vacation planned whether it’s Bonnaroo, Jazzfest, Vegas, or a local gig keeps me happy. You know that big ass grin you have around the office the day before a two week-long vacation? This is the same thing on a less obvious scale.
- Street Musicians are Nature’s Red Bull (Tip them!) The nightly news loves to cover the bad news around the world but the street musicians truly make the world a better place. The buckets drummers give a pep in your step. The horn guys give a little swag to your stride. These are people putting themselves out there to make everyone happy. Reward them. I was on the subway in NYC and saw some guys with bongos a car up, so I pushed through the doors. In what is normally a mindless void in life travelling between two events became something memorable.
- Karaoke with my Mom. I was in D.C. for work and went to dinner with my Mom, wife, and in-laws in suburbia Maryland, on Columbus Day. It was around 9pm as we were leaving and after a few phone calls to local pubs, there were no shows or local mic nights anywhere. Ah man! I can’t let the streak end like this! My Mom remembered there was a karaoke joint by her place that she had never dared or needed to go to, but she was eager to help keep this streak alive. Sure enough, there were people singing and we ended up having a blast for over an hour on a night we typically just go home and do nothing. My Mom and I ended up singing a horrific version of the Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks duet, “Stop Draggin’ my Heart Around.” I will guard that video with my life.
- Guns N Roses at Madison Square Garden. There was eight of us that went and my boy and I were able to sneak down from the upper level to the 15th row. Just an amazing night for this die-hard, hair band lover.
- Wing Eating Contest. I needed a new experience from the local venue rotations I was visiting. A brewery by my house on a random Monday night was having live music and a wing eating contest. Perfecto! I didn’t finish last and I’ll leave it at that. I met some great people and again something I never would have done without this run.
- The Exorcist with Live Score. My wife and I went to a theatre screening of the Exorcist at Halloween time where a keyboardist and drummer added live music effects. My wife crushed her plastic cup of wine at one point, which still has me laughing.
- Foo Fighters in Arena. I had just seen the Foo Fighters at the new, Washington D.C. venue, The Anthem. They didn’t have any special stage effects, they just put on a great show. I only live an hour and half from the arena they were playing four nights later, so because of the streak, my wife and I made the drive to that show. I’ve seen the Foo Fighters over 12 times and this by far was their best show I had seen to date, which I blogged. The reason being this is their first tour with the Motley Crue type stage effects, and indeed it was incredible.
- Discovering Incredible Bands I Never Would Have. I have never been a big fan of instrumental music, but Schema, an instrumental surf rock band changed my mood on that. I’ve seen them three times now. The open mic talent truly is incredible. One Tuesday night I was jaw dropped watching an acoustic guitarist do a fifteen minute medley of hip hop classics. I was the only person there except for the bartender. The band that stood out the most was from Cleveland named Tropidelic. Tropidelic really stood out because they were playing an empty bar this night but had the fire and passion as if they were playing the big stage at Coachella. See here:
The big named acts I saw on this run included: Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, Father John Misty, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, the Struts, Pink coming out on stage with GnR, and Blues legend, Buddy Guy. Here’s a roll-up of my run: