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The Lifespan of a Solo Guitar Gig in NYC: Deliberations, Reflections, and Expecting the Unexpected.

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

I had a last-minute gig on January 2, 2023, worthy of recounting.


THE CALL


It was New Year's Day, and I was strolling around one of my favorite spots in Brooklyn; Greenpoint. I headed towards #AcademyRecords,

a vinyl/cd shop hearkening back to the 90s, but discovered they were closed for the holiday. I then received a phone call from an unknown number in NYC. It ended up being someone I connected with on social media. He asked if I could do a solo gig in Midtown Manhattan the following day at 11 am. The time struck me as odd as we musicians work at night, so I figured it was for a corporate event, party, or social gathering. He said the regular guy he uses was sick and needed to fill the spot. Could I do some jazz and classical guitar music, "something light"?, he asked. I checked my phone and said, "Sure!". As he was discussing the details with me, the logistics had raced through my brain: what guitar would I use?, amp?, how would I get there? How would I transport everything? who am I playing for? etc.. but these are just ordinary details to be worked out afterward. The bulk of my professional time spent over the past decade was learning a multitude of Broadway scores (about 20), so my solo guitar program was not up to snuff as it had been in the past and I would not have time to prepare. My saving grace was that during my tenure in the Midwest, I had performed hundreds of solo guitar gigs at restaurants, cafes, bars, jazz clubs, regular clubs, pizza shops, museums, universities, nursing homes, private events, country clubs, parties, churches, temples, just about anywhere! Anyway, I had hoped that most of it would come back. So, I accepted the offer, and it was a done deal.

LOGISTICS


Now, to iron out the details. The amp of choice that first came to mind was my #Fender Jazzmaster Ultralight Amp.

It packs a powerful punch at 250 watts, but has a beautiful, warm, and pristine sound, just weighing in at 7 lbs, a guitarist's dream. It comes in two pieces; the head and cabinet, and I needed a luggage cart to transport it. The one I had bit the dust from years of use.


A luggage cart is an essential piece of equipment for any gigging musician, especially in a city. You'll be shlepping amps, pedals, and guitars up and down stairs, in and out of the subway, onto streets and grassy terrain. This is an absolute must-have item for any gigging musician, even for civilians. While I was still in Brooklyn, I googled local travel stores in the area. Unfortunately, there are few left nowadays and the ones I called didn't carry them. Next up— the Big Box Stores—Target and Bed Bath. Shockingly, they were barely even familiar with the item. Feeling dismayed, I remembered I had luggage with wheels and maybe I could throw the amp/head in there. I was growing tired and hungry, so I cycled home to regroup.


At home, I remembered I owned a #ZTLunchbox amp - it's truly the size of a lunchbox and is a simple, yet professional amp that delivers 100 watts of power. I've even used it with jazz trios and it cuts through the drums just fine. This was the amp I'd be using! Thank goodness there was no need to trek into town without a luggage cart. Even better, I realized this amp would fit in the front basket of a Citibike, my preferred means of transportation in NYC. Problem solved.


Now the guitar! I needed a guitar capable of playing jazz and classical styles and I wanted something easily portable—it came down to two—the headless #Travelerguitar Escape model (no longer in production). I've restrung it with nylon strings and with the #FishmanPickup system, and it sounds quite good for a plank of wood!


The other guitar was my #Carvin Allan Holdsworth HH2 model (also headless). After much deliberation, I opted for the Carvin HH2. (see pics below). It has lower action, and therefore is easy to play. I decided I would mainly perform jazz, so I'd use a pick along with some hybrid fingerpicking.

Feeling relieved from solving the equipment issues, I spent some time running through some jazz standards that I could play off the top of my head. Everything now seemed workable.


The following morning, an hour and a half before the downbeat, I checked and packed cables, threw picks in my pocket, and since the Lunchbox is sans reverb, I packed the #Boss RV-3 Pedal (discontinued) for added ambience to my tone.

I then grabbed my equipment and went outside to the closest #Citibike dock and loaded the amp in the basket of a next-gen e-bike, slung the guitar on my back, and I was on my way! I had an enjoyable ride, snickering that I actually fit all my equipment on a bike for a gig.

THE JOURNEY


Citibiking was so much easier than taking the subway; no stairs to climb, no dealing with crowds, or having to lift and carry equipment, was a more direct route, and let's face it; more fun! Plus, I only had to walk 3 blocks to the gig from the bike dock.


I took the 52nd St. Bridge out of LIC and rode down 2nd Ave to 53rd St. I'm an avid cyclist in the city and think that bridge is the hardest to traverse, but using the e-bike made it a breeze. I docked at Lexington and walked a few blocks to the gig. Dock to Dock took just 19 minutes!


I took some pics along the way.

THE GIG


I arrived on time, which is early, by 30 minutes prior to the downbeat. I checked in at the lobby of the building, took the elevator to the 2nd floor, found the location, and introduced myself to the contact person. She was friendly and accommodating, and after a brief discussion, I realized this gig was more than just background music being placed in the corner, rather it was going to be A CONCERT. There's a big difference here; all eyes and focus are on the performer, as opposed to being wallpaper music. I hadn't had time to prepare, but I've been preparing all my life, so I just took the pressure off, and told myself to make the best of it and have fun.

HEY, WHERE ARE MY ....?


After setting up the equipment, I reached into my pockets for my pick. There was no pick. I checked my gig bag and amp bag and still no pick in sight. Where did they go? They must have fallen out on the bumpy and fast ride. I initially thought of putting out some kind of SOS message on social media for someone to save the day by bringing a pick, but that's too much of a hassle, and show time was about to begin. So, I just thought FINGERS! After all, I am a classical guitarist and one of the primary functions is the right-hand fingerpicking technique. It was now time to throw caution to the wind.

LESSON LEARNED: Pack your picks in the gig bag.

I played an hour's worth of jazz standards, talked in between songs, enjoyed the sounds coming from my guitar, along with being in the presence of good company.


I did tunes like this:

I was having fun and didn't even think about not using a pick. It's a nice feeling when you are using high-quality equipment; you don't worry about malfunctions or having to fight equipment. It allows you to be in the moment and create freely. The event was a good reminder of how much I enjoy playing solo guitar and I look forward to working up a solid program once again.

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Tim Cummiskey
Tim Cummiskey
07 ene 2023

Yes brother Ed! Great narrative.

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