February 12th has arrived and it’s time to go out and play a 3-day weekend. I’ve been cooped up in my ‘Fortress of Solitude’ for close to a month going over scales and other picking exercises along with some chord work but also attending to the duties of everyday life and errands one does in the course of human existence in the semi-urban setting. My calluses have weakened considerably and my ‘playing muscles’ have suffered a bit of atrophy. While in ‘playing mode’ it’s very apparent that what I do is a most physical application of mechanics. How my body and extremities have survived this long is questionable at times but I endeavor to keep myself fit so I can continue what I love to do; play music. So John comes over to my place and we depart and head for Dustin’s cuz’ he lives on the way out and also the way back so it just makes sense to routing.

John McKnight and Moose, head of security at 54 West.

John McKnight and Moose, head of security at 54 West

Our first stop is Graham, North Carolina. A new venue called 54 West, right off I-44 and appropriately named because the building resides on North Carolina Hwy. 54. Easy nuff’. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve done more than 2 gigs on one swing through the great state of North Carolina. Having had great and magnanimous CDG alums such as Jason Patterson, ex-drummer from Cry of Love and on he’s on my Love>Me cd, (Farmville, NC native), and Robert Kearns, (Hickory, NC), another ex-Cry of Love bass player who went on to an illustrious career of various groups with popularity as he currently holds down the bass duties for Sheryl Crow the past 2+ years. Not to mention he was in Lynard Skynard for a couple of years. You might get heckled from time to time to play ‘Free Bird’ but it’s a whole different scene when you’re playing in the band that wrote and recorded it. That doesn’t suck. Robert also coined the phrase; ‘North Carolina- Where it’s a little bit greener and a little bit nicer.’ How’s that for a pleasant platitude. Anyhoo we leave in the mid-morning and drive towards Graham. We arrive at the venue and its staff is young, something which I still like to see, and the owner himself of young age. We set up and my brother Bill is in town for a get together put on by the company he works at so he’s managed to convince a lot of his co-workers to attend the show. The venue is a ‘roadhouse’ looking structure with an outdoor stage in the back where most likely they have bands play during the warmer times of the year. Inside it’s been remodeled and accoutered with a comparable PA system inside. The P.A. is nothing too over the top on sound reinforcement, but enough to do the job for a club this size with a group like us; Power trio. During our sound check the owner’s dog is there with him and it’s a huge Newfoundland. This dog was huge, a bit furry, and with the right name; Moose. With its dark brown coat and its shoulder almost up to my hip bone, if this dog had antlers it could be a small moose. We were told the dog’s weight was 187 lbs. Yep that’s one big protein gobbling machine. Rather gentle beast he was too. Good doggy.

Time to play and there’s not a bad crowd in attendance for our first time in the area. My brother’s friends and co-workers make their presence known and a sprinkling of locals fill out the rest of the immediate area in front of us. As we start the show it’s obvious to me from the four weeks of not playing that I’m a bit rusty but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I can tell I’m not able to reach some things that I hear in my head but I’m undeterred. If I have to I’ll carry the day with emotion. We complete our two sets and it’s a pleasant surprise that we’ve managed to hang onto a good portion of the crowd. When thinking of how sloppy my execution was with my technique I’m happy to have anybody still left. Sometimes though, people do like to see emotion accompanying a musical performance and at times what happens is while I’m playing, to me it’s a feeling like frustration but to some audience members its raw emotion and they’ll hone in on that aspect of my performance. It’s that emotion that moves them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought I’ve played the worst show of my life, and afterwards people in attendance will come up to me at the end and say that was one of the greatest shows they’ve seen me play. Sometimes these people have seen me on many occasions. What I’ve gathered is that the emotion and my personal struggle on stage was my greatest attribute.

Although it wasn’t my best musical night at 54 West, I never give up on myself and decide to dial back and ‘play it safe.’ A double-edged sword maybe, but I don’t learn and expand by ‘playing it safe.’

Onto the Double Door in Charlotte…..

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