“Mountains and Valleys man, mountains and valleys” — I heard the voice of a streetwise Matthew McConaughey repeating these words to me as I woke up yesterday morning. Apparently Matthew McConaughey is the voice of the sector of my conscience that reveals (in quick, folksy quips no less) the wisdom contained in my experiences. What ole Mathew was referring to in this instance was the dichotomy between our show in Birmingham (documented here), and our show in Chattanooga.
In brief, we played what was likely the least enjoyable, lowest energy, most “I want to get off stage right now” show that we’ve played as a group thus far (in Birmingham), followed by (in Chattanooga) our best show yet. “Mountains and Valleys man.” How did this happen? Let me try to list some of the (more objective) factors contributing to the respective failure and success of each show. Birmingham: we didn’t get a chance to practice before this show (always important even though we do know all the songs we played); the show occurred immediately after a 6 hour drive (so we were stiff and groggy); there was a small unenthusiastic crowd (people who most likely just came to drink rather than hear live music); we were the only band playing; the venue was extremely grimy (distractingly so); and the sound was mixed poorly. Chattanooga: we only had to drive about an hour; we spent the day before the show relaxing and enjoying ourselves (playing catch, having a picnic, joking around); we had plenty of time to prepare for the show (vocal warmups, listening to the album etc.); we played at a clean, cozy venue to a decent and supportive crowd (people who actually came to hear some music); there were two other talented and enthusiastic bands playing (Mythical Motors, and Monomath); and the sound was very balanced. Most importantly however, I think the Chattanooga show was a success because the Birmingham show was a failure— after such a sloppy start to our tour, we were all extremely motivated to have a good show, resulting in our most focused and in sync effort yet.
Yet I also have to acknowledge that our subjective experience of each show as good or bad is intimately tied to our experience of every other show. The Chattanooga show wouldn’t necessarily have seemed so spectacular had the Birmingham show not seemed so drab. Similarly, the Birmingham show wouldn’t have felt so terrible had our previous show at Whitewater in Little Rock not been so well executed/received. “Mountains and Valleys man.” It is sobering to realize that this shifting up and down may never end. Being in a band (or simply being human), and having enjoyed the utter bliss of a great performance, I naturally want every show and every experience to be glorious (I want to stay atop the mountain). Yet as we play better shows, my threshold for what I consider a “good” show gets higher and higher, resulting in a greater probability that I experience a “bad” show; then, when I do experience a “bad” show, my expectations are slightly lowered and I am able to analyze and fix mistakes made, resulting in a likely spring-back to a “good” show, ad infinitum… I think that the desire to always succeed (though natural) can have unhealthy consequences, especially in a field such as music (in which success produces such a fine natural high, and chemical highs are often an easy substitute to secure). To realize that there is an inseparable bond between good and bad or success and failure, frees me up to dwell less on the outcome of my musical efforts, and focus more on enjoying the actual process of playing, practicing, and performing (whether atop the mountain or in the valley).
Last night we played in Nashville at The End with a diverse collection of impressive young bands. The Blake Parker Band was a group of 15-16 year olds that played heartfelt folk-rock songs. Abernathy (also 16 year olds) was a tight, bluesy two-piece (a la The Black Keys) with an incredibly talented front-girl singer/guitarist and rock solid drummer. Fable Cry (anywhere from age 16-32), a brother sister duo and self described Adventure-Gypsy/Scamp-Rock band, whimsically garbed in raccoon pelts and feathers, put on a captivating and theatrical performance of acoustic fantasy story-songs (seriously, these guys are something else, check em out). Seeing such young, talented, and passionate bands was extremely energizing for me. Because I am attempting to earn a living playing music, much of it can sometimes feel like a chore. I admit that I do sometimes lose sight of the fact that music is an incredible expression of human potential and my greatest passion. I’m probably too young to feel too nostalgic about anything, but seeing these younger bands play reminded me of how romantic I felt about being in a band and playing music when I was 16. I am (in touring with this band) literally living out a decade old dream of mine, and even though I am now much less romantic about the rock band experience than I once was, it’s nice to be able to remember my 16-year old self, step on stage, cut loose, and just have a blast. This tour is dedicated to you little Lucas.