For most of my adult life, I’ve been a ‘professional’ musician…. Whatever that means. I guess I’m only saying that I’ve made some sort of a living playing music and more people than just my mom has listened to my stuff. I’ve been both a solo artist and in bands. I’ve played coffeehouses, churches, bars, festivals, houses, and even arenas.
However, the latest iteration has been, in some ways, the most interesting. It happened upon me a couple of years ago when I found myself without a clear career path. I was running out of funds and thought What is something I can do quickly that will pay me decently well? I scratched my head for a week or so and then thought I bet I could play cover songs for money. I mean, it’s Orlando - the tourist capitol of the world!
So I drove down to the tourist part of town and quite literally started knocking on doors. I had a sheet of songs containing about 50 ‘sample’ songs I’d never played before and convinced managers of restaurants and bars that ‘I love doing covers’ and that they ‘wouldn’t be disappointed’. I learned almost every Tom Petty hit, peppered in some Top 40, and made my own version of ‘Hotline Bling’. Sometimes I’ve found myself thinking this is pretty fun! And other times I think Oh my gosh! - what am I doing with my life? But then, I keep going… I deposit the check and text the manager back ‘Sure, I can pick up next Tuesday night.’
There is definitely some fun peppered into the grind of what I do, but I think my favorite thing about the tourist-cover-song-scene is all of the people I get to meet. I’m naturally an observer, and I love encountering people from all walks of life. The names don’t always stick in my memory - actually, not even the faces do - but the exchanging of stories leaves a residue that usually subtly teaches me something about life and about the world we live in. From the other performers to the crowd to the managers and bartenders, each person adds something unique to the revolving kaleidoscope.
On stage, there are the has beens, the never have beens, and the wannabes. The super serious music types, and the bros who are just there for the party. The guys with 25 pedals who loop every song for ten minutes and the ones banging out chords on an $80 guitar. The genuinely kind souls who love the art of it all, and the working musicians who think I’m trying to ‘steal gigs’ from them. Classic rock guy. Country music girl. Top 40 band. I-don’t-play-anything-released-after-1995-guy. ‘I love requests’ guy. ‘I don’t do requests’ girl. ‘We-bring-our-own-lighting’ band. Me, all the same in so many ways.
And then there are the people in the crowd: the guys with huge muscles and the girls in midriffs hanging on their arms. The bar flys who spend their weekly pay buying drinks for everyone they meet. The couple in the corner booth hiding behind dark sunglasses. The tables who watch every move I make with fascination and the groups who complain to management that it’s ‘too damn loud’. The doctor who told me he would ‘kill’ to be doing what I’m doing instead of medicine, and all of the people who talk down to musicians (‘Keep it up, Champ. At least you’re doing something you love.’) And, of course, the one person per show who says something like ‘I grew up with Bon Jovi’s second cousin’s sister-in-law’s niece’ and then proceeds to tell me they can get me in touch. (Side note: you can substitute ‘Bon Jovi’ for Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, or Willie Nelson. It’s all the same in this scenario.)
When I look around the room, I can’t help but think what an odd bunch of people we are. From wherever we were and out of whatever we were doing previously in our day, we’ve somehow ended up in the same room at the exact same time. If only for a couple of hours, we’re joined around music (and beer), and we allow ourselves to let the guard down just a little bit. With varying levels of comfort, we find ourselves haphazardly connected to total strangers for a few brief moments.
We are all so different, but what has really struck me the most is how alike we are. Underneath the personas (tough guy, cute girl, hipster) and titles (doctor, lawyer, divorcee), we are just people trying to figure out this whirlwind called being human. Musicians are often perceived as being flighty and directionless (fine, sometimes we are), but a few conversations with strangers will show you that we’re all a little bit lost, no matter who we are. Underneath the smoke show, we’re all just regular folks trying to make it back home.