My heart is broken…

Literally. I had a heart attack last week.

I don’t normally talk about the details of my personal life much on here, but as you can see if you look, I have been absent from here a while. I felt too busy to take time to write, with a variety of things happening that were already pretty challenging.

So, now, I am feeling that if I don’t make time to do the things I know I want to, like communicate to the world about my journey as a songwriter here, well I might just run out of time.

Before we get too dramatic, here are the details:

  • I awoke early Monday morning with severe aching pain in both my arms, shoulders and back, and felt dizzy. I suspected heart trouble and took aspirin, but when the symptoms did not subside after an hour and a half, I ended up in the emergency room.
  • I did not have a blockage, as would be likely in these situations. Instead, I have a dissection, a tear in an artery, and that it not something you can quite repair. It will take genetic testing to try to figure out the cause.
  • The treatment is to keep my blood pressure low, and so far that is it, just taking the medications and getting used to them (they can make you dizzy). I will be living a “heart-healthy” lifestyle from now on.

So, what does this mean for my music schedule?

  • No gigs were impacted by this, although I missed Songsters night at Lamp Club Light Shop that night.
  • I am still scheduled for two hour gigs at Gusto’s Bar in Barre¬†on August 30th, September 27th and October 26th. Radio Bean is October 3rd.
  • I was invited back to The Open Door in Hillsborough, New Hampshire for a 15 minute spot. I ended up signing up for April 2020, as I saw my friends Dan & Faith will be headlining.
  • I am more determined than ever to complete the recording of the final songs selected for my next release, Common Man Blues. More on this in my next posts.
  • I will be doing as many open mics as possible.

Keep trying, before we are dying…

I am also trying, once again, to re-commit to this blog and try to make it relevant to what’s happening for me musically. I hope you feel free to comment on any post new or old, write me with feedback or suggestions, link and repost anything here.

Note: I did write a song since facing death, and it’s about the fear of death of course! Not sure it’s all that great a song… ūüėČ

Talk to you again soon,

Jason Baker

Gig Report: Gusto’s Bar

An End to Acoustic Thursdays

Apparently this was the last time for this Thursday evening time slot for an acoustic act. Not sure why, but the good news is I just booked four more shows this year at Gusto’s Bar for mostly Friday evenings (one Saturday evening). ¬†It is a paid gig ($130 for a 2 hour set, bring your own PA, no food provided) so I am glad to continue the relationship.

A popular place!

Gusto’s Bar is a popular place, and finding parking was a bit tricky. I did the load in, and got lucky: one person pulled out of the perfect spot. I zoomed into it, and went in to set up the PA!

It’s a bar

So, yeah, people are busy drinking and talking, BUT… I started to see some body movement by song #2, which is a good sign. One fellow was clearly dancing. Eventually these folks started to clap between numbers.

One person

Now whenever I am there, there is always one person, not the same person, but always at least one person, who I connect with in some way. One time it was the guy in the hat who did a little dance throughout the tunes, another time it was the guy who was with his wife and wanted to sing her a song, which he did, impromptu, and so on. Good times!

This time, about 20 minutes before the end of my set, a fellow who had been sitting at the bar and occasionally glancing over his shoulder to watch for a few seconds, got up and walked right up to the stage and started a conversation with “That’s a nice guitar!”. It is a nice looking guitar it’s true, and I love it, so it’s a good way to start a conversation with me. He went on to say he was impressed by the range of songs I was doing, and that I remembered them all (I didn’t set up a music stand so I sang strictly from memory). I was very happy he took notice and offered him a card with my website and other info. I did have to let him know I had a set to finish, and made sure to say goodbye and thank you on the way out.

It’s just nice to know you are connecting with somebody!

 

January 2019 Gig wrap-up

I had three gigs in January.

Radio Bean

This show made it a full year of shows once a month at Radio Bean. A fun gig with the folks at the bar showing their appreciation. Made a few dollars in tips only. (I am going to start sharing the reality of gigging in an open and frank way. Radio Bean gives 2 drinks and a discount on food, but does not pay most performers. They do provide a place to play and have music every day and night.)

See the story of how this year of shows started here.

Gusto’s

I have one more gig at Gusto’s in Barre, Vermont before they apparently are pulling the plug on the Acoustic Sets. It’s kind of a shame, as it is a paid gig ($130 for a 2 hour set, bring your own PA, no food provided), and I felt people did appreciate the music.

The Double E 

This gig was a double-bill with Kaomi Kingsley and it was cool to trade mini-sets with her for a couple of hours. I also debuted performing some songs on the ukulele! This performance was part of the Burlington Songwriters¬†showcases at The Double E that are every other Wednesday. Nice 48 seat movie-theater style venue! If you are in the Essex, Vermont area on a Wednesday night, check in and see if it’s Songwriter night at The Double E, and have some food from The Mad Taco, who provide food for the venue. This is also a place that treats performing artists with some dignity: food and pay ($100 for the night, split by the acts).

Goodbye to Thayer’s Olde English Pub

I had gigs scheduled at Thayer’s Olde English Pub in Littleton, NH in the first three months here, but was contacted by the booking agent, who informed me the Pub was simply closing and all gigs were cancelled. Like Gusto’s, this was a decent-paying gig, AND came with dinner (food was very good), so another gig that payed $130 for a two-hour set is gone.

Anyone who knows where live, acoustic music is booked (especially original music), please contact me!

 

Christmastime Blues live!

I recently played the Ripton Community Coffeehouse open mic and debuted this song I just “officially” released on my website for streaming, and thanks to the local community television station, have video of the performance to share. Full version with intro here. See my YouTube channel while you are there for a version without the talking, and other performance videos!

 

What’s a NERFA?

Well, according to their website:

“NERFA is the northeast regional afiliate of Folk Alliance International (www.folk.org), a Kansas City, MO-based nonprofit organization that seeks to nurture, engage and empower the international folk music community — traditional and contemporary, amateur and professional — through education, advocacy and performance.¬†Our goal is to provide opportunities for our members to network regionally and advance the overall mission of Folk Alliance International to:

  • Increase understanding of the rich variety, artistic value, cultural and historical significance, and continuing relevance of folk music among educators, media and the general public. (Education),
  • Provide a bridge to and from folk music organizations and needed resources, and to help those organizations link with their constituencies. (Networking),
  • Influence decision-makers and resource providers on the national, state, provincial, and local levels — ensuring the growth of folk music. (Advocacy),
  • Support and encourage the development of new and existing grassroots folk music organizations. (Field Development),
  • Strengthen the effectiveness of folk music organizations by providing professional development opportunities. (Professional Development).

To help accomplish these goals, NERFA holds an annual four-day conference where artists, agents, booking agents, venue and festival promoters, recording industry professionals, graphic artists, folk DJs, journalists, photographers, publicists and production professionals get together to exchange ideas, learn by attending workshops, panel discussions and seminars, participate in an exhibit hall, attend formal showcases of juried performing artists, and go to private and guerilla showcases hosted by performers, agents and promoters.¬† NERFA has expanded its outreach by holding more local one-day conferences within its region, as well as NERFA Showcase concerts at venues around the region and NERFA Presents Young Folk showcases at various festivals in both the U.S. and Canada.”

Guess who went to NERFA for the first time?

Yes, I decided to see if this industry conference lived up to it’s reputation, and found that it does!

Although I was not selected for Formal or Semi-Formal Showcases, there is a proliferation of “guerrilla” showcases that take place in hotel rooms on a designated floor. These are unamplified, acoustic performances in intimate settings for small groups of people. Although I was late to the game, I still ended up with four “guerrillas”, the first on Friday afternoon at 4, the last one “late Saturday night”, really Sunday AM at 2:45. These were fun and well-received.

There was also an “open mic” on Saturday afternoon that I took part in, playing a ukulele on two of my songs, including a new one.

Brushes with fame:

I got to meet the keynote speaker, Dar Williams, and compliment her on her recently published book, “What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician‚Äôs Guide to Rebuilding America‚Äôs Communities‚ÄĒOne Coffee Shop, Dog Run, and Open-Mike Night at a Time“, and she very politely agreed to take a picture with me!

I met Reggie Harris, a songwriter who is known as an activist as much as a performing artist, and who led a workshop on addressing social issues in music.

I got to meet up with David Amram for the first time in 25 years, and was able to spend time with him working on a new song of mine, a blues song loosely based on “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Copland. He helped me whip it into a 12-bar!

I got to chat with Mike Agranoff, a folk legend to me, who told me about how he ended up on the cover of a famous folk magazine because he was giving Arlo Guthrie an imprompto Concertina lesson.

The Real Treasure of NERFA:

Beyond the opportunity to perform for industry folks and comrade artists, there is the most important part of a conference like this: all the amazing people you meet!

Meeting fellow artists, hearing them perform, talking about all that is happening at the conference and more.. it’s a BIG experience. Meeting people who book or promote folk music was a real treat, and finding out about their role and what they are there for was fascinating and instructive. No matter what the reason for being there, so many people were worth meeting, listening to, getting to know, that it’s “an embarrassment of riches” so to speak. What a great community!

 

 

Musical communities and social music

 

After the Burlington Songwriter’s Open Mic Meetup¬†last week, there were two other musical meetups I went to:

Feedback, but the good kind to listen to…

First is a monthly “songwriter’s workshop” held as part of the Burlington Writer’s Workshop and taking place in their offices on the second Thursday of the month.

This is a place for sharing works in progress for feedback and constructive critique. It was fun this time to share the results of a collaboration from the month before with a lyricist named Karen Edwards:

This song may or may not be in it’s final form… Karen may use some of the feedback to make changes…or not! What do you think of this song as it is? Tell in the comments!

Uke-ing It Up at the Library…

Once one person ukes at the library, then there’s a chain reaction and more and more people start to uke it up too!

The invitation did say “uke it up at the library”, so that’s where that comes from.

This group meets the second and fourth Sundays of the month at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington.

A group regular was very handy with printouts of popular songs, many with ukulele chords on the page. The group this Sunday was a bit bashful to lead songs, so I led songs that I knew and the group really sounded nice!

 

 

 

Get into character(s)

A lot of songwriting advice seems to focus on telling songwriters to “be yourself” and show “the real you” in your songs.

I think this can be interpreted to mean be autobiographical in your writing. I think this is a mistake.

You are in there already.

Whatever you write, if the words are genuinely your construction and say what you want to say, then “you” are in there. What you choose to say or not say, and how you say it define your style. The style is in the writing. If you are derivative, that will show, if you are different, that will show, in the word choices and cadence and such.

Taking another viewpoint

If you pay attention to the way you and other people talk about things, you will notice that people have a tendency to “act” the part of someone they are trying to make commentary on, usually with a funny voice, and an unfortunate overuse of the phrase “they’re like…”.

It’s part of satire to adopt the position you wish to skewer and point out it’s foibles via selective emphasis and exaggeration. So make that a part of your song.

Tell a story, but tell it from the viewpoint of a character who is not the hero, but perhaps a villain, or a victim, or a bystander. Or tell a full-on third person omniscient story, but about something you would never do or be able to (historical drama, science fiction, etc.)

Develop archetypes

Playwrights have worked with standard “archetypes” since the ancient Greeks. It’s a good way to think about stories, by thinking like Euripides or Shakespeare, and tell a story about your world around you in those terms. That is how you can put “yourself” in the writing, but have something more to say than your average navel-gazing.

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

Kurt Vonnegut

Capturing the creative moment: Playing with words

OK, so last week, we dove into the actual moment of creative flow.

It’s really a state of mind that is open to expression without judgement… Can you think of a time when that occurred to you before? If you are like most people, you thought of a childhood memory.

Play

The word is play and it is one of the most important characteristic in human, primate, and other vertebrate development. Play is how we make things, break things, fix things and, ultimately judge which things are the best things.

Words are things too, and are meant to be played with.

Trying and testing are key elements of play, and, as someone who faced writer’s block for 30 years or so, I can tell you, it was the fact of taking everything too damn seriously and expecting perfection that stopped me from playing, literally playing music and figuratively playing with “fun” things, like trying and testing out new music and lyrics.

Work at Play

Professional songwriting advice frequently centers on admonishing people that songwriting is “real work” and requires you do it every day, etc… very true! It does seem to be predicated on their exasperation with aspiring songwriters who “wait for inspiration to come”, and is understandable in that context: if you aren’t writing, and completing songs, as often and as much as possible, you aren’t doing all you can, if you care about songwriting.

That said… it does give the blocked writer more anxiety, not less, to declare it’s “hard work” and you have to “dig in” and “go deep”, etc… not necessarily helpful advice if someone is stuck at letting creative flow happen.

So, yeah, schedule your time, have a space, and be disciplined and all of that… but treat songwriting time like it’s playtime! It’s recess and you can do and say what you want! Start with nonsense and made up words if you want to just get a groove going. Start with a title or idea you wrote down and just write whatever comes to your “child-mind”… say it like a child would to another! Make a GAME of it! It’s word games, chanting and music… child’s play!

Gamify your Big Idea

See what ideas pop out when you take a serious big idea and say it like a nursery rhyme. Or how many different ways can you say the same thing? When you were a kid, did you use your imagination to play games like “pirate” or “soldier”? Why not daydream again and write down the imaginary conversations?

If you catch yourself daydreaming or thinking about other things while trying to write a song, switch to writing whatever is in your head instead… it will lead somewhere or at least get it out so you can go back to the original topic.

Go play with your words!