I’m about to begin a string of summer house concerts. I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I’m not all that excited about anything on either side of the show itself. Traveling isn’t the adventure it used to be. Hanging out after a show is getting more and more difficult. I usually just want to go to bed …and sleep.
Over the last few years I’ve gone through a metamorphosis in how approach my entire career. From writing to producing to performing, I find myself in a servant’s frame of mind more than anything.
A few weeks ago I played the Nashville Unplugged show, in Vegas, with my Ghost Town Troubadour comrades and Rita Wilson. Before the show, Travis Howard and I had a conversation about greatness. Great songs. Great lyrics. Great artists. The conversation was honestly awkward for me because I suppose I haven’t thought about that subject in some time. And as I age, I almost feel like a “musical monk” of sorts. I don’t know any other way to explain it. The veneer of accolades and applause and the ability to “wow” a group of people doesn’t hold the same attraction that it once did.
That particular night went something like this:
Although I’ve never been nervous on stage, RIGHT before my first note I think to myself, “they’re going to hate me.” So I play a little harder and sing a little louder. I’m just trying to catch everyone off guard long enough to get through the first song and get my confidence together.
By ten minutes into the set I start the inner dialogue: “What have I been doing my whole life? I should have become an investment banker. What is it I’m doing up here that these people like? DO they like it? Why do people seem to need this? DO they need it? Are they just being nice? They’re just being nice. I should’ve taken lessons. They can’t see what a musical fraud I am. There’s a thing I want to do with my left hand that I haven’t practiced. Crap. Did they hear that wrong note? That girl in the back looks lonely. I’m gonna sing to her. Oh …she isn’t lonely. She was just waiting on her drink and her date. Never mind. The woman to my left is crying. I wonder why. Play to the back of the room. Breathe. Someone on stage just made a comment I can make funny …find the funny. Make them laugh. You need a laugh right here. I suck. I’m awesome. I’m sure I look weird on this note. Can’t help it. This note is hard to hit …focus. I’m quitting tomorrow and getting a real job. I’m never quitting.”
These are the thoughts constantly running through my mind during a show. And I’ve been doing this for decades. I’m sure similar thoughts are running through the head of anyone, on any stage, at any given time.
Because that’s what performing is. And even if you’re famous, the act of performing is courageous every time you do it. You’re leading people somewhere. YOU are in charge of what they are thinking. YOU are taking them into rooms and corridors and spaces of YOUR choosing. And that forces the art of performance into a place of responsibility.
I left that particular night feeling a little depressed. Before the show, a man came up to me and asked me to do one of my CCM songs from twenty years ago. I didn’t do it …but I should have. I don’t even know if I would have even remembered all the words …or ANY of the words. It probably wouldn’t have played well in a club in Vegas. But I should’ve done it for him just the same. And it bothers me that I didn’t …even now.
Because at the end of every show – after I’ve done battle with myself in my head and heart for two hours – I find myself asking, “did I help these people?” I don’t know if other performers think that but it has become my standing question as it pertains to art. Have I helped?
When people tell me they are listening to my music or reading a blog or enjoying something I’ve created, my default question is always, “has it helped you?” I don’t know why I’ve settled on that question. But it seems to be appropriate.
Trends die. Styles change. Crazes evolve. And I find myself less and less interested in popularity and more and more interested in connection. Was I honest? Could you relate? Did it move you?
Art makes us think and cry and laugh and pray and dance and fight and love. Movies and music and literature and art are all here to move us forward and …well …help. If we do our art well, we help. And that seems to be what I aspire to more and more.
I want you to leave my show thinking to yourself, “I feel more love than I did when I came here. I feel some release and connection to something bigger. He helped me think about something I’ve needed to think about. He helped me laugh at something I didn’t realize was funny. He helped me cry about something I’ve been needing to address. It helped.”
I’m looking forward to the upcoming series of house concerts on the “Pass The Hat” tour. I’ll be posting where the shows will be and maybe I’ll see you at one of them. And if I do, I hope it helps you in some way.
I’m an artist.
And artists are the helpers.