I had a dream last night…a nightmare really. A dream about playing the guitar, which is why it turned into a nightmare. I dreamed I was invited to a local high school music festival. The campus was filled with bands and performers set up in every nook and cranny (think SXSW at a local high school). Each band would play for their allotted time and as soon as one stopped, another would start going around and around the campus. The audience was made up of kids, but there were also a lot of people from the community too. It was pretty packed and I got there with plenty of time to set up in my space.
I was doing a solo gig on the guitar. Throughout the whole dream I kept ignoring this nagging feeling that I didn’t have a set list or even a song to play. I set up my amp and put out two guitars on a double guitar stand. I hooked up my pedal board. I had some trouble getting a microphone set up, but finally got that figured out.
The entire time I was setting up different event organizers would stop by to see if they could help and to tell me how excited everyone was to hear me perform. It felt good to hear that I was apparently one of the main attractions and everyone couldn’t wait to hear me. As I was setting up each piece of gear people seemed to get more and more impressed that I was there and what I was using. They commented on how this will probably be one of the best performances of the day.
Only I don’t know any songs. I kept trying to drag out my set up time while I tried to remember songs I could play from beginning to end. Even when I came up with some songs that I could flub through, I couldn’t remember the lyrics and certainly couldn’t sing and play at the same time.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t even perform an instrumental by myself. In my dream I started picturing the awkwardness and humiliation of trying to make up a song or play anything in front of these people. I just kept slowly setting up and never getting to the point where I was ready to play. I was stalling in my own dream.
I wasn’t afraid for my life. There were no monsters out to get me. Everyone seemed very supportive and happy that I was there. This was not a full blown nightmare that I awoke from screaming into my pillow.
This was a pseudo-nightmare of embarrassment. I felt embarrassed that I had accepted this gig. I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t/can’t perform even one song on my own. I have only performed on the guitar in front of people a handful of times. Twice my law school band played in front of people: a law school party and my birthday party. Twice I have played at work. Once I tried to lead a group of coworkers through Row, Row, Row Your Boat with the lyrics rewritten to address a work issue in a silly way. Once I played a blues riff while a coworker sang at a Talent Show fund raiser. Once I played Happy Birthday in a team meeting/quarterly birthday party. Every time I’ve played on my own I have not adequately practiced, so I was awkward and made a lot of mistakes. But each time I’ve played in reality, it has only been a one song deal or I’ve had someone else to take the lead and cover up my mistakes.
This dream/nightmare was an entire set list of failure.
In my dream I started frantically thinking of people I could call to help me out. Someone who could sing or even play and sing while I backed them up. My first thought was our friend who has come over a couple of times for us to play the songs she has written. But I still don’t know her songs very well and if it sounds like the recordings of our last practice I will hit a lot of bad notes trying to figure out which key each song is in.
Then I thought of my friend who gave me the Snark tuner. He could play a bunch of classic country/western songs and some of his own compositions and I could just follow his lead on guitar. It would be better if I had a bass, but it would be better than nothing.
I woke up looking for an extra microphone still in a panic as to how I was going to pull this off. Dream over…
I have got to learn some songs and get some performance experience under my belt. This whole experience/dream reminds me of an old blog post I read about every guitarist needs to know a few songs they can play for those times that someone asks them to play. Just something that you can play on the spot and be done. Everyone will be happier that you played, but you can stop after a song or two. If you can’t play anything then everyone feels awkward for having asked. And we don’t want anyone to feel awkward or embarrassed. Especially ourselves!