Playing a Show at Uncommon Ground

In the Fall of 2008 I was living in Chicago, had just finished an album called “Poor Homeless Soul” and wanted to play some shows.  I emailed every venue I had heard of asking if I could play there (including the Chicago Theater, haha). The two places to get back to me and offer me a spot on a bill were Silvie’s Lounge and Uncommon Ground. I booked and confirmed a show with Silvie’s, and exchanged a couple emails with Uncommon Ground about possible dates, but after asking for confirmation for a certain date, I never heard back. Then a couple months later I woke up at 5:15 a.m. to go to work and my friend Dylan Peterson texted me saying “Hey, it says in the reader you’re playing at Uncommon Ground tonight.” I had no clue. I worked my morning shift at Weber Grill, came home, brushed up on my songs, arranged to borrow my roommates car to transport my keyboard, and drove up to Wrigleyville an hour early to set up. Unfortunately there was a Cubs game going on that night, so I had to park about ten blocks away from Uncommon Ground and then carry my keyboard and stand, which was extremely difficult and also funny when I met people on the sidewalk.  People don’t really know what to say to you when you’re just carrying a piano down the street.  I finally got to the cafe, set up my piano, got a mic set up, got plugged into the system, and played straight through the album.  The guy running sound that night was kind enough to record the whole set and give me a CD of it before I left. Lots of good friends came to hear the music and enjoy the food.  The audio clip above is the first song I played that night.

I never really ended up pursuing more gigs after that. As much as I enjoyed writing and recording that album, playing solo really just left me wanting to put a band together, but when I’d tried putting something together with friends it never really worked out. Soon after that I decided to put music on hold and set my sights on going to Korea to teach English. (Although being in Korea resulted in all sorts of great musical influences and opportunities which I never would have imagined…for a later post)

A little background on “Ephemeroptera”:  In 2007 I was visiting my family in the Quad Cities. I was driving along River Drive on a summer night and it was that particular time in the summer when the whole area along the road and next to the river is completely swarming with mayflies. There were so many that the ones near the streetlights were illuminated making them look like leaves on a glowing tree. Later that week I was walking along the same area and noticed piles of dead mayflies lining the road in a mass grave along the curb. This somehow fascinated me so I looked up more information on mayflies on the internet and found out that their official “order” (remember science class?) is Ephemeroptera, meaning “short-lived, wing” and their life span can go from as ‘long’ as a few days to as short as just a few hours. This spoke to me about how short life is, so I wrote this song. Admittedly there are a lot of other thoughts/musings/feelings crammed into this song, but the original inspiration came from those glowing trees of extremely short-lived bugs.

Auditioning for The Voice – Handling Rejection

A few months ago I was playing music somewhere and someone told me, “You should audition for The Voice.” Soon after that, someone else said something similar, so I got curious, looked into it, learned about the chair twirling and everything, and decided to audition. All I needed to do was sign up on the NBC website, so I did. At first I told myself I wouldn’t take the whole thing seriously. Just an interesting thing to experience. But then I told a couple people, and those people got excited and told some other people. Then I started getting detailed suggestions on which song I should audition with, and how I could gain the edge. I recorded some videos and had people vote for which song I should do. I’m used to singing with a guitar or piano in front of me so I had to practice singing without playing anything.  I went to an open mic night and ‘auditioned’ for the audience and had them critique me. Lots of friends and family sent good luck wishes. The big weekend came. I printed out my special “audition Artist Pass”. I drove to Chicago. I went a day early to stay with friends and be well rested. The whole thing was held at a huge convention center in Rosemont. I parked in the parking garage. I walked to the building.  I followed the signs.  I got in line, and started chatting with other people about what songs they were doing, where they were from, while we all grew increasing nervous/excited as we neared the audition room. We stood in wide rows until they moved our row into another giant room where we stood in line. They scanned our audition pass and we were moved somewhere else and stood single file. Then we moved somewhere else and sat in line. Finally after a lot of sitting, standing, and waiting, I was led, along with nine other people, into the audition room which was a conference room with 90’s hotel style carpet. We all sat down in a row facing the ‘producer’, a twenty-something woman with a large mac book pro in front of her. One by one she had us stand up and walk to the duct tape ‘x’ on the floor and sing a couple verses and a chorus. I sang first. I felt nervous, but thought I was able to not let it effect my voice and was satisfied with how I did. One by one, the other people auditioned. I was excited. I was nervous.  I could anticipate the excitement of being asked to do another song. But after we were all finished, the producer asked only one girl out of our group to stay, thanked the rest of us for auditioning, and showed us the door.  

Outside the door of the audition room, I exchanged “good job”s and “nice to meet you”s with the people from my group and then headed toward the parking garage.  I was kind of in shock.  I had really thought I had a chance. It was a very weird kind of daze, a “what just happened?” feeling. I had spent 3 hours waiting and being moved around with a definite goal in mind, and that goal was no longer achievable. My mind retaliated.  I had some “I’ll show them!” kind of thoughts, although I’m not sure how one goes about “showing” NBC.  I second guessed which song I should have sung.  I thought about auditioning next year – but I’ll have to wait a whole year.  What I was left with was a realization that, despite not taking it seriously at first, by investing myself in the process, I had come to take it very seriously, and had seriously planned on making the cut, but it didn’t happen the way I wanted, and this thing I had put my hope in was seriously gone.  Obviously we all experience disappointment with ‘things’ not ‘going’ the ‘way I expected’. It’s part of life. But for me, walking into a lonely parking garage on a cold, rainy Saturday night, my mind full only of thoughts of how I had taken something seriously and failed, I had to just as seriously ask myself the question:  “What is my hope?”

All these thoughts brought me back to something I had heard in a Tim Keller sermon podcast recently.  He shared quotes from several celebrities about what drives them to pursue success.  Madonna said every time she accomplished something great, she felt valuable, but after a while the feeling would wear off and she would feel like a loser again until the next big achievement.  Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame, said before a race, “I have 10 lonely seconds to justify my existence”.

I went into this audition fueled by several small scale ‘successes’ as far as my personal goals with music. I viewed the attempt at being on “The Voice” as taking a step toward something bigger, a chance to sing one song to ‘justify my existence’. However, not making it and the accompanying sinking feeling showed me that I need something better than my own potential achievements to put my hope and identity in.  But what’s worth putting hope in? It would have to be a sure thing.  It would have to be a the kind of hope for which failure was not an option.  There has to be some way for me to forget about myself and take on the identity of someone who cannot possibly fail. I can’t settle for anything less.