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Last night at the Afterthought I watched the Good Time Ramblers play for over four hours to a packed room of familiar faces. Around midnight we all raised our glasses in honor of the bar, around 1am we all danced to the final song, and around 2am Jeff Jackson announced the (truly) last call. It was a bittersweet goodbye to that quirky little corner spot that has seen thousands of performances from both musical giants and local heroes since the late 70’s. The Afterthought meant a great deal to me personally— I’ve been going to hear music there since I was in high school (this was before the 21 and up rule was imposed for all shows at the Afterthought), and in my young musical career I’ve performed there far more than any other venue. The Afterthought’s closing has been hard for me to handle, and for that reason I want to walk myself through the five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance) for the Afterthought. (Note: I do realize that in real life you can’t just walk through the stages of grief in one day, but this isn’t real life, this is my blog and I get to do what I want)

1. Denial

Last week I heard about the Afterthought closing by reading my friend Olivia’s Facebook post. I played guitar at the Afterthought every Sunday for two years and I hadn’t been told about the Afterthought closing, so my first reaction was indeed denial: She doesn’t know what she was talking about! She doesn’t work there! What does she know! That can’t be true. Even as all the facts of The Afterthought’s closing surfaced, I still went to play brunch on Sunday and treated it just like any other Sunday. Though it was indeed my last Sunday brunch performance at the Afterthought, I didn’t do any special song or send off, I just played and went home like I always do. I didn’t want to acknowledge that it was happening.

2. Anger

The most enraging fact in this whole saga is that I and all of the other performers/employees at the Afterthought were given so little notice about it closing. I was initially angry at the Afterthought’s manager, because I mistakenly believed it was him who had not informed everyone. I can’t apologize enough to Richard Muse for even thinking this— I’ve seen and experienced firsthand how much he cares about the Afterthought and all of the employees, and Richard was in fact given the same short notice as the rest of us. The truth is, the new buyer of the Afterthought is shutting it down for renovations and from what I understand it was he who gave only about a week of notice to everyone working at the Afterthought. It is an enraging injustice that some good, hardworking people are without jobs today because they were not given enough time or notice to find new work before the Afterthought closed. My outrage is amplified by the thought of who the new buyer is. You can look up who that is on your own, I don’t want to mention the name in my blog, but here are some clues: they already turned one long-standing cozy Hillcrest spot into a soulless hipster laptop hell, their coffee tastes terrible, and they make a real good sandwich.

3. Bargaining

Hey Stephanos, sorry about what I said just now about Mylo’s Coffee Co. I didn’t mean it—I’m just upset. Will you just promise to keep the music alive at the Afterthought? I’ll be totally on your side, I’ll put ads up for you on my website, I’ll drink your coffee everyday! Just please keep booking local bands (like mine) to play in that wonderful space. Please!

Ok readers, let me pause for a second and tell you some truth. I’m a bit hungover right now. I had a few too many drinks in honor of the Afterthought last night— what can I say, I love that place. I have some important things I want to say concerning the final two stages of grief about the Afterthought’s closing, but I don’t think I can express those thoughts right now. Instead of over-extending my foggy brain, I’m going to do myself and you readers a favor and make this a two part blog post. Stay tuned next week for Depression and Acceptance! Is this a cop out? Yes. Do I care? No.

For those not yet privy to it, this blog is part of a nine-month long project in which I release a blog-post and a new song every week. So below is this week’s Opus if you care to listen, and even further below are links to posts from past weeks. Enjoy!

Week 1—Nine Months of New MusicWeek 2—That’s Masturbation

Week 3—Oblique Strategies

Week 4—A Conversation with the Wolfman

Week 5—Turn Off the Music

Week 6—Thoughts on Prince

Every first Thursday of the month my neighborhood (Hillcrest) hosts a “Shop & Sip” in which business stay open late and offer various free drinks and snacks to customers. When the weather is nice it usually draws a huge number of people, and there are always food vendors, artists, jewelers, and musicians showcasing their wares on the side of the streets. I had told myself over a week ago that I would go busking with my guitar at this event for a little extra cash and to advertise for guitar lessons. Yet I woke up feeling groggy and unmotivated, and began to talk myself out of it in my mind: “it’s not a real gig, you don’t have to do it… you don’t want to see people you know there, it will be awkward… busking isn’t respectable… you aren’t going to get any money… it’s totally not worth it… etc.” Eventually I decided on a compromise: I would go to the slightly richer, and more family oriented neighborhood of the Heights (which I believed also took part in the 1st Thursday Shop & Sip) and find a spot to play. I thought this would be a better place to advertise guitar lessons and a spot where there wouldn’t necessarily be a lot of people I know seeing me perform the lowly work of busking.

I rode my bike from Hillcrest to the Heights and stopped in Stephano’s Fine Art Gallery, where I met Stephano Sutherlin himself (an extremely kind and helpful man). He informed me that the Heights does not actually take part in the 1st Thursday Shop & Sip festivities, but that they have something similar on the 3rd Thursday of every month. He also seemed willing to have me play at his gallery sometime and pointed me towards some other good venues (he even called a couple places for me!). I’m convinced that personal interactions like these are the best way to develop a career in music (perhaps a career in anything). Yes it is much easier to sit at home and just send out emails, facebook messages, and blog posts 😉 about your music, but it is also much easier for people to turn down or ignore these mediums. Music is a social art— musicians rely on and interact with other people during most every step (from rehearsing/performing with other musicians, to talking with venue owners, to establishing a connection with the audience). The working musician must develop a great skill for interpersonal communication.

So after being energized by my interaction with Stephano I returned to Hillcrest to look for a good spot to play later that evening. I spotted a good bench in front of Hillcrest Artisan Meats (H.A.M.) and the workers there graciously agreed to let me use one of their outlets to power my amp. I went home to prepare, and thought it would be nice to have more than just a single guitar so I borrowed my brother-in-law’s loop pedal (which would allow me to play melodies and solos over my recorded harmonies), and quickly learned how to operate it. I ended up playing from about 6-7pm (I didn’t anticipate H.A.M. closing so early), and though it was shorter than I expected, I was pleased with people’s reaction to my music and relatively satisfied with the $16 I made (more than enough money for dinner)— I’m sure my rate would have improved later on in the evening with a few more drinks in everyone’s system 🙂

My initial reservations about busking come from a place of self-consciousness and a vague sense that busking is somehow a seedy or disreputable activity. Yet my better judgement knows that it is a perfectly fine and honest pursuit for me. I am talented, and playing good music for people to hear for free. I am not begging, or demanding payment, but if people so choose, they can drop a dollar in my hat. Furthermore, street performance is an ancient art! The street is virtually the one consistent stage for musicians and artists from antiquity to today and I should be proud to carry on such a legacy. Finally, the street is perhaps the purest test of whether people like your music— they didn’t come to hear it, they aren’t invested in it, but if they turn their heads, stop, and take time out of their day to listen, you must be doing something right.