By Scott Sechman
November 6, 2020
A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a venue that I’ve played in the past. It was never a weekly job, but a one-off, private gig. I haven’t played in public in months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but given we are now into Phase 3 of reopening in North Carolina, I decided to give it a shot — despite being in the most at-risk demographic. Plus, I really needed to scratch my itchy trigger fingers.
As I negotiated the details, I needed assurance that it was outdoors, the size of the group would be small, and that the protocols for protection against the coronavirus would be adhered to by the venue. Not only do I want to be as safe as humanly possible, but I also wanted to make sure that attendees would be protected from me.
Let me be clear: I have never been tested for COVID-19. My allergies present what could be construed as COVID-like symptoms, (headaches, cough, runny nose, etc.), and I operate under the assumption that everybody has this virus. Even me. If I look at it in that manner, I’ll be extra diligent about wearing my mask, washing my hands and physically distancing myself from everyone.
After assurances that I would be sufficiently distanced from my audience, I booked the job. I started to get excited as the day approached. It had been since early May when I last performed in public. I thought, “This is going to be fun.” Yet, as the date approached, a sense of trepidation overwhelmed me. Why? I’m a professional. I’ve been doing this for 50 years. It should be a piece of cake. Like riding a bike, right?
Well, given that I have been a milkweed farmer for the better part of six months and my last performance was a Dare County Courthouse Sessions livestream from home at the end of May, I was seriously out of practice. Sure, I’ve noodled around on my guitar for a little while and maybe vocalized while I was crushing those nasty little aphids that were attacking my plants, but I hadn’t leaned into a serious attempt at singing. And the fingertips on my left hand had nary a callous — they were soft as a baby’s bottom.
So, two days before the gig, I started rehearsing. If you’ve heard me sing, you know I have a growly, raspy voice that I can pull out on demand. Not anymore! I may as well have been Josh Groban. And after rehearsing three songs, my fingers were throbbing. How did I come to this? I started channeling that old Karl Malden American Express commercial: “What will you do?”
Come the day of the gig, I decided that it is what it is. Go set up and hack your way through it. I arrived at the venue, unloaded my vehicle, placed my components in my designated spot and moved my car to the parking lot. Upon my return, I discovered there was only one electrical outlet. No worries. I’m like a Boy Scout. I have extra power strips. Power on.
Then I looked at my pile of gear and realized I couldn’t remember the system I had devised over many years to set up as quickly as possible. Because often, I’m late. My setup is not terribly complicated, but when you don’t do something for a long time, skills atrophy. And I was running a bit behind.
I put the stool, speaker, mic stand and my pedalboard in their places and began connecting cables. To test the system, my looper always has the last song I played at the last gig I played. I looked down from my perch on the stool, saw the green light flashing, indicating I had a loop saved, pressed the button with my foot and eureka! It worked. The chords for “Mustang Sally” began to play.
Then I tapped my microphone. Nothing.
Rechecked the connection. Right place.
My cord is relatively new, and the mic is a Shure. Is one of them bad? Couldn’t be. I moved the connection to another input on my mixer. Tap, tap on the mic and it works. Another phew. But why wasn’t it working in the regular channel? I moved the connection back.
I was about 10 minutes from my scheduled start time. I’m obsessive about things being how they should always be. I’m not going to use a different channel on my mixer just because it works. That’s crazy.
Troubleshoot, Sechman. Quickly.
I looked at the problematic section of the mixer and everything matched the working portion. Except I had accidentally engaged the mute button while setting up. Phew, yet again. Five minutes to spare.
Went to the restroom to wash my hands and grabbed a drink on the way back. Tuned up my guitar. Checked to make sure everything still worked. All systems go. Started the first song and I was off and running. So far, so good.
What about the voice? Josh Groban or Joe Cocker? Well, my first song starts off with a Grobany vocal. Clean. Silky smooth. But come the chorus, the Cocker is supposed to kick in. So, I reared back and … phew!
As things progressed, I did OK. I made it through, thanks to the Super Glue I coated my fingertips with and an 800-milligram dose of Ibuprofen. Like many performers, I’m my own worst critic. I wasn’t as strong as I used to be, but overall, I wasn’t as weak as I feared.
But I’m ready for the next gig, knowing that I can’t take my skills for granted. It IS a little like riding a bike.
Transplanted to the Outer Banks from the wilds of the L.A. area, singer-songwriter Scott Sechman has shared stages with Bill Medley, Tom Rush, Al Wilson and the Grass Roots during his ongoing music career. He has also contributed to Mojo and various online outlets.