Friday, 20 April 2012

'My First Cal Experience' by Evan White

My First CAL Experience
I'm a promoter.  I book shows for a a show, sell the tickets, rinse, repeat.  Seems pretty formulaic to the average person and for the most part it is.  People get all vacant in the eyes when I talk about promoting concerts.  One of the neighborhood kids told me recently, "My dad says that your job isn't important."  Ouch.  Its pretty much true though in the long run though for me promoting shows has always been about passion for the music and also about discovery.  Discovering new things is what makes me want to get up in the morning.  Music is just in my DNA thanks to mom's record collection and her acoustic guitar.

Most days I'm bidding on comedian X or rock star Y hoping that they will pay attention to my venue while bails of money are thrown at them from all directions.  Pick me! Pick me!  It's just gotten so strange the way artists roll through Jersey playing 3 or 4 shows at similar venues within 30 minutes of each other.  There's nothing special about it anymore and the bidding wars are nuts but I get it.  If you're aging rock star Y then why not just take the cash?  It's rarely fun to chase the big acts anymore...I've always gotten more enjoyment out of finding new acts, local talent, and figuring out how to give them a real opportunity.

I vaguely remember back in 2008 going to a casino in Connecticut...another scouting trip looking for interesting things to book.  Scouring the net one day I found a website.  There was a sample CAL radio spot.  There was a band or something doing note-for-note rock recitals.  This was new and unique so I was determined to check them out.  It was four hours away so I dragged my wife along on the basis that a casino was involved.  She listens to Top 40 and wasn't looking forward to the 90 minutes she'd have to spend listening to a band play Zeppelin covers before she could park in front of a Roulette table. I insisted.  I needed her objectivity.

We sat down with some strangers in an awkward booth and waited.  The seats were comped so we made up the difference in overpriced drinks.  I've been a closet Zep fanatic since I was fifteen so naturally I was excited at the remote possibility that a band could pull it off.  The room exploded when the band took the stage drowning out the hum of the slot machines and from the first note of Black Dog to the last note of When The Levee Breaks  Zep IV was flawless.  It had all the raw power and emotion, all the chops, the detail...the crowd was loving it.  To me there was something really important about what CAL was doing.  This is going to be a hit in Jersey.  I'm a believer. 

Fast forward to the present...a few years and a bunch of shows later...CAL is an established brand in Jersey. 

It's March 31, 2012 and I'm standing on the side of the stage holding my acoustic guitar getting ready to play Bron-Yr-Aur with CAL.  My stomach is in knots. What am I doing?!

A year ago Craig Martin somehow convinced me to get in on the act for a song. "There's this simple little tune in the middle of the Physical Graffiti album.  It'd be perfect for you and might be a good press angle if you played it." Not wanting to look like a chump I agreed to do it with assumption that these were just words that would be forgotten.  I was wrong.  Craig means what he says...a rare quality these days.  I'm rusty but I'll give it a shot.

As it turns out Craig was only half right: Bron-Yr-Aur is a very simple sounding tune but it's tricky little bugger. At least it was for me. It's the sort of perpetual motion piece that if you trip up once and lose momentum in your finger-picking you're gonna crash and burn. Gotta keep it moving. I memorized the tune pretty quickly but when it came time to really polish it up just like the recording I gained a whole new level of respect for the whole CAL army.

Aside from being some of the most downright friendly and talented people I've ever met the CAL folks care deeply about the music and that's the key.  Its funny, what I've noticed over the years is that as a listener at a CAL show it's easy to lose track of how hard everyone is actually working...the counting, the dynamics, the layering,'s amazing.  Takes some serious discipline.  They make it look too easy.

In The Light was wrapping up.  My nerves were telling that I was completely doomed but in the end I got out there on the stage and played the Zep tune the way I felt it should be played under the CAL banner. The crowd liked it and there was applause.  It was a blur and I was eager to get off stage.  It was a moment that I won't forget.

Funny how an opportunity given can repay in strange ways.  For me it was 2 minutes reliving the glory days.

Evan White
Program Manager
Co-Producer, Sounds of the City
New Jersey Performing Arts Center

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