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Gigging in NYC: Is it Right for You?

I have a booking agent who sends gigs my way throughout the city. Lately, they've been solo guitar gigs suited for different events. I've just started documenting these and plan on continuing to do so here on my blog. I hope they provide some value to you, both in tips and entertainment.

This particular gig was for a company's "high tea" event. The contractor indicated that they wanted live music that was elegant, calm, and relaxing. I immediately envisioned performing solo classical and jazz guitar repertoire as it would best fit the bill. To me, the unaccompanied solo guitar is one of the most satisfying forms of guitar playing and the most challenging.

I had played this style often in the midwest for over a decade. So, what makes gigging in NYC different than other places? There are a few things. The main difference is transportation. How does one get from point A to point B without a car? One of the best aspects of living in NYC is the abundance of public transportation. We have it all!: Subways, Trains, Buses, ferries, Bicycles, Walking, Helicopters, Zip cars, and Uber. For me, figuring out the transportation part is half the fun! Questions like, "Can it be done?", "How will I do it?", "What is the easiest way?: are questions that first arise. For the first solo guitar gig of the year, I took an e-bike and experienced the most fun commute ever. The particular gig I'm writing about today was in lower Brooklyn and was a bit more involved. Google and Apple Maps provided me with a list of abundant travel options, depicting the number of transfers you'd like to take, how much walking, if there's a bus involved in between, and so forth. I automatically discarded the option with three subway transfers, a bus, and some walking to get to the gig. Instead, I opted for the path with the fewest transfers but with more walking. This decision influenced what type of equipment I'd use! I chose to bring my Carvin HH2 (headless Holdsworth guitar) and a Boss Cube amp. Except for a spare cable and replacement strings, that was it. (I remembered to pack some picks in the gig back and not in my pants pockets- see my previous blog post on this!) Since I would be doing fingerpicking on the gig, I felt the HH2 would be a good choice since the fretboard has a flat radius, similar to classical guitars. Maybe the next time, I'll bring my 7-string electric classical guitar (built by Detroit Luthier Gary Zimnicki). I love the portability of the HH2 above all else, so I decided to use it. When strung on your back, it is very lightweight and resembles a tennis racket, making it easy to navigate through crowds.

The gig was in the afternoon. I would miss rush-hour traffic. So, I walked out of my apartment 3/10 of a mile, hopped on the 7-train to Times Square, and transferred to the 3-train, making stops down to Wall St., under the river, then into Brooklyn. Going up and down stairs in the subway system is my gym membership to the city. (It helps to try to be positive). Then, I sat on the 3 for over a half-hour and relaxed. This downtime allows one to pursue productive endeavors. Besides the people-watching one can do, I took out one of the newer pieces I would be playing from memory. Clair De Lune by Cluade Debussy. I had plenty of time to go over fingerings and rehearse them in my head. It's worth mentioning that I've been living in NYC for about 15 years, and it is still comforting to sit on a train (not going to Times Square) and feel like I'm part of something big. I feel a connection with the people.

I got off at the stop and walked 6/10 of a mile to the destination. It took about 15 minutes to walk. I brought a small Roland Cube amp, making it a painless and easy shlep.

I set up and played for over an hour. Everything went well, the audience was very appreciative, and the staff was accommodating. Toward the end, I got a request from one of the staff members to do What a Wonderful World as performed by Louis Armstrong. I've played that before, however, not recently, and did not have it worked out or memorized. Every gig is indeed a learning situation. You can bet that someone else in the future will request it!

These solo gigs are constant reminders that people want to hear recognizable songs; strong melodies and rhythm are what count.

I did play recognizable tunes like Fly Me To The Moon, a Wizard of Oz medley, and some jazz standards. To my surprise, a blind gentleman in the audience recognized Chôros No. 1 by Hector Villa-Lobos and was getting into it!

And going home, I took a different route, bypassing Manhattan as it was now rush hour. I took the L train (I'm not sure it was the first time) and transferred to the G into Long Island City.

It's a nice feeling to do gigs that are enjoyable and meaningful to others in a vibrant city.

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