Last week at this time I was doing everything in my power to prepare and not be nervous for my performance at “The Great Cover Up.” I watched YouTube videos of live performances, looked at photos of the lead singer, rolled on therapy balls to get the kinks out of my back and tried to do everything possible to not forget a single detail.
We covered the band Garbage, who are a pivotal fixture from my adolescence. As the final step, I had my hair professionally dyed an almost-too-bright shade of red. Sometimes a musician is known more as a caricature of themselves than their actual selves. As luck would have it, Shirley Manson is most often remembered for her red hair and mod style, so the extreme worked. I also wore an A-line dress with a built-in cape. I wasn’t fond of the color, but with the harsh stage lighting and satiny fabric, it worked perfectly.
Backstage was like the “Island of Misfit Toys.” Instruments in and out of their cases stacked like dominoes and local musicians I’d never seen…people rustling about, muscling for a tiny space to be until their time onstage drew near. I staked my claim on the Green Room sofa, headphones in, trying to listen to the 20 minute set at least once. My attempts were all but futile. Friends who had never been were flummoxed by the long line and unwillingness of the venue to let them in even after it had reached full capacity. They’d been warned prior to coming, but I still felt responsible for getting them in the door to see us.
Since my hair color was a very noticeable shade of red and I was running around in my boyfriend’s tee shirt, glittery fishnets, spanky pants and combat boots, I hung out backstage, anxiously awaiting the time to kick all the boys out of the Green Room and put on my dress (It wrinkled if you looked at it hard, so I’d steamed it 3 times before covering it and taking it to the venue. I wasn’t about to drive or sit around in it).
There were so many people. And they would cycle in and out in waves. A sax player warmed up and prepared his instrument right next to me while I sat there in my solitude. A hairdresser fluffed a bad mullet wig. Guys quickly grabbed PBRs from the mini fridge and disappeared just as quickly. The waters disappeared by the fifth band, but the PBRs kept getting replenished as quickly as they left. A girl sat on the corner table, plucking the strings of her guitar almost silently. 3 of us were attached by headphones to our phones. It was crunch time. It was as if we were all cramming for a final exam in the library.
The first band was early-era Genesis. Although I didn’t know a single song, I appreciated the theatrical elements. The musicians were older and nicer than some of the younger more self-centered ones. It seemed like they were just a group of old friends who enjoyed playing music by bands they idolized. When I really think about it, that’s probably what my current band is as well. It’s nice to have such a talented group of friends to jam with. I’m lucky.
Every so often someone would look at the lineup on the door and ask me which act I was in. The lineup was simply the time slot and the contact person’s name for each act. No one discussed which band they would be performing. The other performers were kept just as much in the dark as the attendees. I just kept telling everyone we were fourth.
And the time could not have passed slower.
Before I knew it, I had a set of two assistants wrangling me into my dress, fluffing my hair, giving me all sorts of positivity and pep talks… if only it was like this on the daily. Heather and Cori had run backstage between bands just to put me at ease. Both Heather and Jennifer stood in front of me (at different times), took my hands and just said “Wow.” When I accidentally spilled water on my breast, both Heather and Cori rubbed it until the stain disappeared. I honestly don’t know what I would do without such an amazing inner circle.
It seems as if I waited an eternity to step onstage, but as soon as I did it was as if my entire body went into autopilot. It was as if muscle memory and my brain said, “Relax. We got this.”
I remember only a few things about that 20 minutes. A few small mistakes (which I continually punish myself for because I’m a perfectionist) although it’s likely that no one noticed but me. I saw Erika, Bryan and Jennifer, which made me smile so big I broke character a few times. There were people I’d never seen before dancing and singing back at me. In the front row there was a girl I recognized from a very long time ago. She had pink hair and was singing all the songs back at me, even the ones we didn’t think many people would recognize. I also remember smiling at my bandmates because I couldn’t help but smile.
I think it’s the duty of every musician to reach at least one person in their audience through the power of their performance. If I can do that, I consider my efforts a success. Things like that you see through the blur.