So I played Caffe Driade in Chapel Hill on Saturday night. Driade has a special place in my heart because it's the venue that I've been playing at the longest since I moved down here to North Carolina. Saturday night was the 9th summer that I performed on the Driade outdoor stage. For longtime readers of this blog, you know that gigs at Driade can be a bit dicey. The summer weather in North Carolina is somewhat unpredictable, and the venue itself is not a typical music venue.
Caffe Driade is set off a main road in Chapel Hill, but feels like it's in the woods. The building is tiny, cement, and sports a copper or tin roof. There are about seven 2 person tables inside and all the rest of the seating is outside the front or the back of the building.
Driade's clientele are various Chapel Hill hipsters, and the widely varied groups intermingle and mix quite well.
The stage is a 6 inch raised deck that is otherwise used for more seating. There are no standing lights other than a string of lights along the lip of the deck so that people don't fall and injure themselves in the dark.
Performance stage lighting consists of 2 ancient light boxes that each contain 2 colored lights in them. Some might call the space 'Spartan', but I would call it 'rustic'. You set up your PA, balance the light boxes at jaunty angles on chairs and get rocking.
So, Saturday night was pretty perfect. It was warm, but not too hot by NC standards. The forecast called for rain on Sunday, but Saturday night was going to be clear.
I took the stage at 8:00 with my iced mocha, the coffee at Driade is excellent, and kicked the night off with Burlington. On Saturdays, the music runs from 8:00-11:00, and the real crowd usually shows up after 9:00, so I played a few covers and some of my less show-stopper tunes. The crowd wasn't that great, but I was doing okay. Just after 9:00, I decided to take a break and pulled out Bad Dog to close out the first set. I was halfway through the song and making a mental note to readjust the light boxes so I could actually see where the frets were on my guitar, when I heard a strange rumbling/train noise rushing in our direction. The sitting to my right threw up their hands and looked at the sky before toppling their chairs backwards and hurrying for cover.
THEN THE RAINS CAME.
This was no summer shower or passing sprinkle, this was a cascade of water out of the heavens. It was like God's housekeeper opened up the back door to heaven and dumped out the mop water she'd been using to clean the kitchen floor. It took me about 5 seconds to realize what was going on. I continued to play for several measures before my brain was able to clearly tell me, 'Dude, your in the pouring rain with your Martin Guitar and you're hooked up to several electrical devices and surrounded by standing water and 25 year old light boxes. Get the hell out here!'.
I turned and flipped the power on my amp, pulled my guitar close, grabbed my case and headed for dryer ground. I was suddenly joined by both Baristas, Skyler (I think) and Josh, and several kind souls who faced the rain and helped me unplug and drag my gear (in total darkness) out of the flood and under the small covered area by the front door to the shop.
It was on my second trip as I was unplugging power strips and waiting to die, that I discovered my tuner and Ipod Touch that I had placed on a table to the left of the microphone stand. Both were rather wet and probably a little disgruntled.
The rain only lasted 10 minutes, but it was unsafe to return to the stage with my sodden equipment and very wet power source. However, I refused to be driven off. I placed my gear in my car and returned with just my guitar and played a final 90 minute set to the folks who huddled under the small roofed area.
It was a very intimate show, and since my set list had been washed clean, an improv'd one. But I must say, that it was a really important show too. I must admit that the gigs I've been playing of late have left me a little cold and discouraged. The crowds have been smaller and the people quicker to ignore and tune out. After I got washed off the stage I chose to keep playing. I played because I wanted to; because I had prepared for a 3 hour show and I was going to play as close to 3 hours as I could.
It was still a small crowd, but I didn't care. I was playing for them, but I was mostly playing for me. I pulled out all my new songs, including one I just finished the day before. I played covers I had never learned not because I had have ever planned to perform them, but because I had wanted to play them in my living room or with my friends. The rain had managed to wash away all the negative feelings that had been clinging to me and to my music.
I'm not saying that I won't be discouraged after then next mediocre gig, or that I am reborn or baptized. However, for at least one night, I was reminded why I do this.l Why I go up on stage in front of several hundred people or two people. Why I play to crowds who are listening so closely that I fear even the slightest finger stutter and to the crowds who are looking past me at the Michael Jackson funeral coverage or are talking so loud at the table right in front of me that I can hear every word over my own playing and singing.
It was nice.
Now I just have to wait a few more days to plug in my gear and see what survived and what needs to be replaced.