I always wanted to be the lead singer in a band. Well, actually, I really wanted to pitch for the Cubs, but if that career path didn't work out my backup plan was to be the lead singer in a band.
Teresa and I joined Bitsyland in 2008, after playing in old-time music jams held at Manuel's Tavern and Bitsy Grant (hence the name) Tennis Center for a few years. The current band configuration has evolved from playing primarily fiddle tunes into a full show with songs mostly from the sixties with three-part harmonies and jokes from our leader Edwin. (I play straight man: "Oh yeah? How old were you?") Basically, we're fun: We have fun performing, and the audiences have fun listening, singing along on occasion, and watching us enjoying ourselves. We have played for one-year-olds at the farmers' markets and for two 100-year olds' birthdays. No matter what people think when they first see us walk in with our instruments, they always have a good time. What we may lack in musical quality we make up for in enthusiasm. But, as our (private) motto says: "We don't suck."
While we play a few private parties a year, most of our gigs are for farmers' markets, church groups and retirement homes, and from word-of-mouth and repeat business we'll do over 50 gigs this year. We enjoy each type for different reasons. The farmers' market may be the most fun, though with peaks and valleys as it's certainly the longest at three hours, is the most wide open to set-listing on the fly, and allows more time for fiddle tune and song variety as well as for us to do some casual people watching. While it is the most relaxed, it is also the most exhausting. Of the three markets at which we are regulars the new Sandy Springs market is our favorite venue as we have a covered performance area in the shade (crucial at outdoor summer morning gigs); picnic tables set up in front of us so visitors can sit, listen, and eat; chalk provided so the young'uns can draw on the asphalt when not playing band-provided tambourines and maracas ("Teach Your Children" is an appropriate song at this time); the most enthusiastic audiences; and the highest percentage of tippers. (Hey, each dollar you drop into the box is twenty cents for me. It adds up.) It's energizing to put a spontaneous group of songs together that we feel will fit the mood of the passers-by or sitters-down at the moment and to see the smiles, lip-syncing, walking hip swaying, and vendor head boogieing from random areas of the market as we break into the first few chords of "Wagon Wheel" with Teresa rocking in on her fiddle or the choruses of the ever-popular "Battle of New Orleans" or "Crawdads" (You get a line…I'll get a pole…"). People forgot how much they really like the songs we play until they hear us play them. And it's really cool when we surprise the hell out of a bunch of bored, wandering teenage types who at first look at us as just a bunch of old farts (which we are, of course, except for Teresa who is a young, foxy chick.) It's sort of like when Inigo Montoya says to Wesley, "I am not left-handed!" We have played there twice this year and look forward to the seven gigs remaining, as well as to those in Alpharetta and Johns Creek.
For church groups we need to bring our "A" game. These folks are about our age and are paying attention, and this is the audience that enjoys us the most. It's the big time: Sometimes there are even microphones! They've eaten well and now they want to be entertained. We have a planned set of 12 or so songs, plenty of Edwin's jokes and an inspirational or patriotic poem, all of which the audiences love, (with Teresa's lead singing on "Dream Lover" and "And Then He Kissed Me" their clear favorites), and we're on and off stage in 55 minutes.
Retirement homes are often the most fulfilling even though a few times, most disconcertingly, I was either hit upon by women residents who thought I had just moved in or told by the venue manager just to have a seat and wait to be served with the other residents when I asked for water (for the band. I now make sure to wear my wedding ring, and I have stepped up my level of Friedman Pentathloning [walk a mile, swim a lap, drink a beer, read a book, take a nap] in hopes of avoiding this confusion in the future, though long-term projections don't bode well.) The pressure's off at retirement homes: We sound better than they hear. Everyone loves "You Are My Sunshine" and "This Land Is Your Land," but depending on the type of facility we quickly figure out if the jokes will work or not and what adjustments we need to make to the set list. But if the audience laughs at the first couple of jokes, and if I see faces light up at "Under the Boardwalk," and if the assistants then begin to get involved and sing and dance with some of the residents, then we're "Gold, Jerry, gold!" And though at times from some residents we get only smiles or brief flashes of recognition, these are some of our finest moments. We always leave feeling we have done a mitzvah.
I enjoy being the lead singer in a band, and other than the horror of the occasional ride to the dinnertime gigs in Gwinnett on 285/85N/316 I enjoy everything about the world of giggin', even the unexpected, vaguely-unsettling septuagenarian groupie (David Crosby and Keith Richards never mentioned them in their autobiographies): from lining up the farmers' market summer schedule in February, to getting those serendipitous gig-request emails, to the camaraderie among the bandmates, to the rush of performing and the mutual gratitude with the audiences. So if you're in our area on a Saturday morning April through October, come see us at a farmer's market. Bring the family, get something to eat, and sit down at a picnic table: We'll be glad to see you, and you'll be very pleasantly surprised and entertained.