Dec 18, 2017
The clock was ticking. No time to dawdle.
Fifteen minutes until Tony’s car got towed with our instruments, merch, and Justin’s drum kit in it. We weren’t super sure where to go to check in and we had arrived considerably early. The fifteen minute parking on Magnolia in front of the Dr. Phillips Center presumably is for people buying tickets at the box office, not for musicians trying to figure out where to go. It’s a big building.
We ended up at the side door on Anderson. We went through the metal detector and told the security guards that we were playing later that night and were looking to get into contact with Ande or Jay, our points of contact for the event. The guards seemed to recognize us from when we interviewed last month.
“What was the name of your band again?” the first guard said. The second, standing behind him, chuckled and pointed behind us. “Right there, man.” We turned. The Beemo promotional picture for tonight’s show happened to have rotated onto the flat screen on the opposite wall right as the question came.
Ande came down from upstairs. Tony had talked to her on the phone a few times over the past week, but they had never met face to face. She showed us around backstage and showed us the door to load in at the dock in the back. Six minutes to go.
We met Lisa, our PM for the event. (I’m still not entirely sure what that acronym means. Properties Master? Program Manager? Platypus..um…Miner? I hope it’s that one) Tony went to bring his car around to the loading dock.
A younger guy named Chris helped us unload Justin’s drums onto carts and take our stuff upstairs. The 300 seat Pugh Theater and it’s backstage / green room is on the second floor of the Center. Tony told me the car parked ahead of us had gotten towed.
Lisa is a very friendly woman with a slight twinkle in her eyes. She laughed very easily and seemed to like her job a lot. Tony told her about the herding cats aspect of being in a five person band and I asked if we could add handcuffs and a radiator into our rider to make sure no one wandered off. “You guys are fun!” she said.
Tony and I had left work at noon that day. We had intended to arrive at DPAC around 4 to figure out the logistics so the other guys would know where to go when they showed up for call time at 5. But with nothing to do and some nervous energy to burn, we just said screw it and headed downtown. Tony and I are the highest tensions guys in the band and showing up early was a good way to not get stuck in an uncertainty do-loop all afternoon. I think we both felt better once we were there.
The green room behind the stage had water, fruit, and lots of snacks in a basket. I was intrigued by the Kraft Handi-Snacks, which I hadn’t seen in two decades and just kind of assumed had been made illegal. I really wanted to eat one but I wasn’t exactly sure what effect it would have on my digestive system. The potentially unholy alchemy of adrenaline, nerves, cheese whiz, and an empty stomach was not something I wanted to explore before our biggest show to date. After the show, though, it was on.
Tony’s friend Laura, a publicist who was going to man our merchandise table before and after the show as well as help us out in general, arrived. Together we figured out the Square App so we could accept credit cards. (I barely know how to do it myself, having kind of only realized the night before that we should probably get that up and going before DPAC.) Laura really likes elephants. I respect elephants but I’m more of a lion person. We talked about the Serengeti for longer than anyone who doesn’t know me might expect.
Dan, Sean, and Justin all arrived pretty close together around 5. We started to set up on stage. The crew was really prepared. They had looked up pictures of us on stage at Cheyenne Saloon to figure out how we liked to be configured and had all the outlets and monitors set up for us.
Brandon, the sound engineer, had us run through our instruments to adjust the monitor mix and house sound. Lisa and company tested the lights while we started our check. Brandon was in the balcony near the spotlights, so we couldn’t see him. Another guy, Jon, onstage with a headset double checked that we were good with the mix and relayed our requests up to Brandon.
Dan started singing Jimmy Buffett during his vocal check, at least in part to mess with me. I have a – let’s say “healthy” – dislike of most of Buffett’s catalog. I asked the crew if any of them wanted to be a lead singer because we had a position about to open. Dan responded by singing “Fins.” In response I sang “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads for my vocal check.
We had a nice, long soundcheck. We checked to Potatoes and Leeks and The Long Sleep which were the two songs we were going to open with. We don’t usually soundcheck to those, but I thought it was important since we wanted to open the show with a bang.
Sean and I trade solos throughout Potatoes and the instrument blend is a sensitive balance on both it and Long Sleep. While I think they are fun, engaging, and play to our strengths as a live band, I don’t usually start shows off with them because if it takes the sound guy a few minutes to dial us in, (completely understandable given the sonic quirks of the dobro/mandolin combination) we’ll be past the impressive parts before the sound is ironed out and the crowd might miss them. It’s the tip jar money you throw in when the barista’s back is turned.
We made a few tweaks to the monitor mix and then played Bustin’ Out to make sure we could hear our three part harmonies. Brandon had us in good shape. We thanked him and went back to the green room.
I wrote out 4 copies of the setlist for us and Lisa. Then we waited.
We snacked, joked around, tried to stay loose. Jon came out and told us it was 15 minutes until showtime. I was a bit edgy with a bit of flutter in the pit of my stomach. Oddly, the underside of the first knuckles of my index and middle fingers tingle slightly when I’m nervous. It’s a very tactile, though subtle, indicator and it even happens when I am just remembering something that was frightening or nerve wracking. I tried to ignore it.
I became very aware that Potatoes and Leeks is a difficult song for me to start with. I’d have the first solo of the night. It seemed like a better idea in my house two weeks ago than it felt like now. The most important thing was to not think about it too much, to ignore my adrenaline and trust in the 749,498 times (approximately) I’ve played the song.
We went on stage in the dark, and I almost tripped. Right then the crowd saw motion and started cheering. I hoped it wasn’t an omen.
The lights came up and then we were off.
After we finished The Long Sleep, I thought “This is going to be a good show.” We were in sync and crisp. We didn’t leave much idle time between songs, except when we had to do instrument switches or capo changes at which point Dan talked to the crowd. “The floors in here are a lot less sticky than the places we usually play.”
The set was a little over an hour. We can play for a lot longer than that but I figured from the amount of tickets that sold during the DPAC members only pre-sale that there might be lots of people here who had never heard (or heard of) us so I didn’t want to strain their attention.
Time can seem somehow both compressed and dilated when you’re performing. You blink and you’re halfway through the set. The time in between songs, though, is excruciating up on stage. A seven second tuning pause elongates into what feels like 7 minutes and then the actual song feels like it is over too quickly. (Also in general we play a little faster live than we do in practice, though it wasn’t too drastic this time).
I tend to telescope into the fine detail of the set. I don’t really process it in terms of whole songs, but rather tend to think my individual constituent parts. I don’t think “Jennie is next”; I think “Jennie solo is my next feature part.” The setlist becomes “The Hey Ya Wanna intro” followed by “the Hey Ya Wanna solo” and then “the cross picking in February Morning” etc. (Good Day, Sur is sweet relief, because I do almost nothing on that song. If I turned my mandolin off, you probably wouldn’t notice.)
I intentionally don’t think about how many songs are left, because it pulls me out of the performance if I start worrying about the time. I just trust that I made the setlist ok. The worrying about the plan happens before you make the plan and once you’re on stage you can shut that part of your brain off. At least in theory.
After we finished with Back Again as usual, we waved to the crowd and walked off stage. The house lights stayed down. They were still clapping. We had planned to do an encore if the response was good, but never having done it before we weren’t sure how long to wait.
Justin wanted to milk it for a few minutes but I was getting twitchy that the crowd, who didn’t know we planned to come back out, would assume we were done and start leaving. I don’t know the etiquette / protocol for a local band at a big venue.
We were probably off stage for 45 seconds before we came back out. We played “My Name is Beemo“, dedicated to Dan’s sister in the front row who was the inspiration for the song, and ended the night with a-Ha’s “Take On Me.”
The post show was a bit of a blur. We thanked Lisa and the crew, grabbed some snacks and then went out to the march table, where people were starting to line up in front of our banner. Laura was selling a lot of merch. We had a new Live EP in addition to T-Shirts, coasters, and the Wide Awake EP. I don’t know how much we sold but I saw plenty of people walking away with music and T-shirts.
Also, Ten 10 Brewing had brewed up another batch of their Beemo Americana Pale Ale and it was on tap at the concession stand. It went over well. (It’s also back on tap at the brewery itself)
We met new people, talked to some long time fans, and signed some CDs. I was happy to see several really close friends and my parents after the show; it really helped ease the transition. In a lot of ways coming off the stage is hard for me. I tend toward introversion and while I very much like talking to people after a show, it takes a lot out of me. My natural instinct is to go hide. Rather than putting on a performance persona while onstage, I actually feel more authentic while I’m scowling up there, and I really start performing after the show. The familiar faces were a pressure release valve.
I was a little numb, but felt pretty good about our performance. And some background pressure I’d been feeling since we got selected for the show was starting to dissipate. It was a knot in the recesses of my mind that I wasn’t quite aware of until it was gone.
After a while the crowd dwindled and filtered out. I can’t stress enough how fantastic the DPAC crew was. They were organized, helpful, friendly. The pre-show went really smoothly. The on stage sound was great and people told us the sound out front was awesome. (Well done, Brandon, and Thank you! )
We packed up, said our goodbyes to Brandon, Lisa, Chris, Jon, and company. Lisa said we could come back and play whenever we wanted. I said “What are you guys doing Thursday?”
We headed out around 10pm. It was still my birthday, if barely. This one would be hard to top.
I ate the Handi-Snack.