For the past several months, I’ve been playing music two or three times a month at Lancaster’s, in downtown Bloomington, Illinois. Since the first few performances, I’ve buddied up with Tricia Stiller, who comes up for the last couple of hours and helps as the energy level of the show rises for the late crowd.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed these shows. A part of the fun of these gigs is that I never know from week to week what I can expect from the crowd. This means that once I get past my first few songs I may find a dozen people moving up and helping me by singing along and adding witty comments. In this case the show will take on a life of its own, partially fueled by their energy and input. On another night, I will find that it’s a quiet group or one that is stressed out from a long week of work and just wants for me to play nice and unobtrusive music that they can more easily acclimate themselves to while easing gradually out of that stress and into an evening of relaxation and, possibly, fun and laughter as the night moves along.
The beauty of it is that I have no issues with closing my pop, blues and rock oriented songbook and letting my fingers glide along to a mish-mash of jazz or classically influenced musical notions that are continually rambling about in my noggin. I truly enjoy noodling away on these musical snippets while the stew moves more slowly to the hoped for level of heat required to get the musical ingredients cooking. When milling about the market, you don’t always find the ingredients you planned for, but you’re obligated to prepare a feast in any event. So what are going to do, pout? Certainly not, you look more closely at what is offered and you see how these items can be reassembled into a concoction you hadn’t even considered and which could be equally as refreshing as the expected meal you’d planned to enjoy. It’s truly a wonderful experience from week to week, and a challenge.
Tricia adds a lot to these shows. She makes a point of coming to the shows a bit early and not sliding in at 9:00 ready to jump in and force the action in its heretofore expected direction. She is a smart and shrewd performer who appreciates the flow of the performance as much as its musicality. As such, she can see where I’m going with the songs and how the audience is responding and if they’ve even become an “audience” as of yet (this is a restaurant – a very nice restaurant, and the meal comes first for many folks!). So when the two of us get started with the “Davenport & Dish” portion of the show, we’re pretty well in step with where we’re going. She also knows that I’ve never made a dime as an accompanist, per se, and am challenged by this role. This keeps both of us on our toes and requires we each give a little to get a lot. I am not a highly trained piano “technician”. Although I’ve performed for years, I do so emotionally and more expressively than most and with ears wide open – much more of an ensemble player than many soloists (ensemble soloist?). Trish is so solid in her preparation and confident as a performer that she glides right through some of my, shall I say…”less refined” moments. We share laughs about it (I mean, what can you do?) and move on because the very next song may hit the mark and elevate the experience to the point where we once again find what it is that makes us love to perform. I must note that our fans appreciate our efforts as much for our aspirations as for our results, though I like to think we win most of our battles.
We must give credit to our Lancaster’s fans who are there with us every step of the way. A brief list of some of the folks we’ve seen over the past few months includes: Marcus, Dave & Bill, Deb & Mark, Doug, Dorene, J and Marcia, Jeff E., Jeff K., Elizabeth and John, Ed, Cat, Larry, Jennifer, Herb, Rich, Tom & Mary, Joel, Jenna, and Julie. It helps that we work with such a wonderful cast of characters in Beth, Don, Tom, Jan and the kitchen staff, and most decidedly their “front man”, Rob. If you haven’t gotten to know them by visiting Lancaster’s, you’re missing what makes it such a special nook. It is a warm and inviting place to visit – and the food!?!? Scrumptious!
Now that Tricia and I are officially in the groove and established at Lancaster’s we’re excited and looking forward to seeing many more faces, familiar and new, at our ever evolving and sincerely presented shows.
We can’t wait!!