A note from Shannon: The following is a guest post from J. M. Riley. I thought it would be fun to try something a little different and include a fictional “first gig” experience from an up and coming writer. We hope you enjoy this post and we’d love to hear about your first gig experiences in the comments below! Also, please check out JM’s site – support up and coming artists (of all types)!
Nick walked into the venue, the rich scents and welcoming sounds of a busy kitchen greeting him at the door. The hostess caught his eye. “Hi, may I help you?”
“Do you know where the band is setting up? I’m performing tonight.”
She smiled. “This way.” She led him around the corner. “So what do you play?”
He tapped his case. “Trumpet.”
“Oh, very cool. My brother played trumpet when he was like, 11. He didn’t do it for very long.”
Nick nodded. “That’s cool.” He’d heard similar stories but never knew quite how to respond.
“Here you are.” She pointed towards the stage ahead of them.
Not bad. It was larger than he expected considering the fact that the gig was in a restaurant. They had even gone all out with stage lights and a sound system.
“Hey!” A voice called from the stage. “About time you showed up!”
“Hey, Max.” Nick smiled as the other man jumped down from the stage to greet him.
“I was beginning to think you’d gotten cold feet.”
What? “I thought you said call time was 3?” He looked down at his watch. It was 2:49.
“Nah, man.” Max laughed. “I’m just messing with you.”
Nick sighed a breath of relief. “Where should I set up?”
“For now, just hang for a minute. Our drummer is running late, and it would probably be better if you wait to set up around him.”
“No problem,” Nick said. “I’m just going to warm up a bit for now, if that’s alright.”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll let you do your thing.” He turned.
“Hey, wait. Before you start to get ready, do you know if we are going to have soundcheck?”
“Probably not,” Max said. “Because the drummer is going to be late, that puts us a bit behind, I don’t think we’re going to have time for it.”
“Oh, ok. Thanks.”
“Yeah, sure. I’m gonna go finish getting ready. I’ll see you in a bit.” Max jogged towards the stage while Nick set his case down on a chair so he could pull out his trumpet.
The drummer had shown up 15 minutes before the doors opened and they rushed to help him set up, settling their gear into place around him. The adrenaline had distracted Nick momentarily, but as they stood waiting, his nerves were beginning to get the better of him. His stomach felt as though it was competing for the Olympic gold in gymnastics. He tried breathily deeply, to regulate his body, but his hands still continued to shake. He hadn’t felt nervous like this since his first school performances, but he couldn’t flub his solo here as he did then. He would have to play through the discomfort and play well.
They were standing off to the side of the stage while the audience slowly filtered in and took their seats. They had turned down the house lights and the room was filled with excited chatter as everyone both behind and beyond the stage prepared for a night of music.
Max glanced down at his phone, checking the time. “We’re up,” he said as he gestured for the band to head up on stage. “Let’s get to it.”
Nick stepped up onto the stage and the lights hit him blindingly for a brief moment. He had to squint to see out into the audience. He was somewhat glad he didn’t have a clear view; it helped him calm his nerves. After taking their places, the band started up. Nick watched for the cue from Max, the bandleader, to indicate when to come in. Here we go, he thought as he found himself navigating his way through the melody with the guitarist. But before he could truly enjoy the brief success of their perfect unison, it was his turn to solo. He took a deep breath and began to play. And then it was over.
Wait… he thought, was that it? What did I just play? It was almost as though he blacked out during his entire solo. He looked to the other band members who smiled at him. Then he heard something. Was that applause? He shielded his eyes from the lights and looked out past the stage to see the motion of the audience as they clapped. They clapped for him. Someone whistled. His face flushed and he bowed awkwardly, but the shaking had stopped and he started to feel just a little more confident. The rest of the night would only get easier.
As Nick stepped down from the stage, a man stood along the side as though waiting to speak with him.
“Nick, was it?” The man said.
Nick nodded and extended his hand. The man took it and they shook. “Pleasure to meet you…”
“John,” Nick repeated.
“Hey, listen kid, you play great, but you look nervous. You gotta look like you enjoy it!”
“I…” Nick hesitated. His first criticism.
John continued, smiling at him. “The audience enjoys it way more when they know you’re having a good time up there. You are having fun on stage, right?”
Nick nodded. “Yes…”
“See?” The stranger patted him on the shoulder. “You just gotta show it. It comes with time.” He turned and began to walk away. Nick stared after him feeling somewhat shell-shocked.
Nick turned to discover Max standing just behind him. “You heard that, huh?”
Max nodded then grinned. “Don’t worry about it too much. Like he said, you’ll get comfortable on stage eventually, you just need to pretend a bit until you get there. Fake it until you make it, you know? Let’s just hope it’s sooner than later.” Max clapped a stack of cash into Nick’s hand. “Good job, man.”
“Thanks.” It was the first bit of money he had made doing music and holding it in his hand felt good.
“You free next Friday?” Max asked.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“We’re going to be playing again and we’d love to have you back.”
Nick’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Really?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Don’t look so surprised. I won’t lie to you when I tell you that we took a bit of a gamble on you this time, seeing as we’ve never played with you before, but it was worth it. You play well. Geoff was right to recommend you.”
“Wow. I don’t know what to say. Thanks, Max.”
“No problem. Listen, I gotta go tear down. See you next week, okay?”
“Yeah, of course. See you then.”
“You got it.”