One of the better things about living here is the opportunity to see excellent musicians in small – really small – venues.
I hold some conceit that I am still a musician. In the past, if handed a guitar, I could coax some sort of sound from it that did not set dogs howling in two neighboring counties.
When we see a performer of merit at “The Down Home” in Johnson City, the opportunity to grab a front row seat for an acoustic performance is as easy as showing up before the scheduled start time and choosing which table or boot to occupy. At these shows, the front row tables brush the stage. There is no tower of speakers and electronics obscuring the view. This affords a great opportunity to learn by close observation. I can hear those riffs, intros, bridges, and other unique touches that I associate with particular musicians.
We are quite fortunate to have seen some excellent performers, Sonia Rutstein, David Gans, Doc Watson, and others, at such venues. I wind up dealing with a dilemma. Do I lean back, nurse my drink, and enjoy the entire musical experience, sight, sound, and ambiance? Or, do I take advantage of an increasingly less available opportunity to sit angled forward, vision locked onto the musician’s hands and the fret board, letting the music dive down into that area where it becomes nearly lost in background clutter? Do I wear my hearing aids and hope to separate the music from the even louder clutter? Do I buy the studio CD, loaded with a thousand edits and overdubs, but which still may have the particular segment of instrumental music that I want desperately to figure out and to be able to replicate with my hands, my fading abilities?
The answer was always simple before a careless Florida driver rearranged my abilities. I watched the performer’s hands. I could find some bit of recorded music that would have the desired riff or learn from.
Now, I have little hope of learning to play that elusive bit, little likelihood of teasing that sound from legal or illegal recordings, and the voice I hear sounds less like me and more like one of Leonard Cohen’s midnight mission choir singers. So now, we try to find a table that lets us both stretch our legs out and listen to the music we came to hear. Someone else will have to puzzle out those mysterious phrases and stare at the musician’s hands. That was a hard decision to reach. I keep hoping that the hand exercise devices VA bought for me will reverse sufficient damage. I keep hoping.