There are few places in the United States like Socorro, New Mexico. The Capitol Bar is the town's microcosm featuring a mix of college students, town folk and musicians who are between Las Cruses and Santa Fe, or who are between classes, or between jobs. The sweet and aromatic mix of tobacco and beer floats hauntingly from the floorboards and follows you around like invisible stretching rubber gloves. Once you've been, you can't help but return. It has that kind of atmosphere. It was at "The Cap", where I came face to face with "Curly" people and what would be my future.
"The Cap" was one of two places in Socorro, where I started developing my chops playing out on the weekends to earn a little money between classes. I still remember loading Gene Cole's green Ford pickup with his P.A. system, while Owen Ford sat quietly with a Gimlet after the show.
On occasion, Johanna would stop by and talk with Owen (our lead vocalist) about things. Johanna was a brown skinned and tall woman, who would sit on the curb and talk about the meaning of life over a cold beer. She was funny, serious and very bright.
Unfortunately, Johanna died very young. I can count on two hands the number of people I knew who've died since I graduated. And it's not without a sense of sadness I bring this up. Some of the best people I've known in my life I met at The Cap. In fact, I still know many of them.
On one occasion, Owen, Rob, Jessica, Tracy and I closed our show one evening, and the bar staff were like, "I can't believe you guys got even worse!" We tipped him well anyway. Owen always told me to be generous to the bar staff. Something I still do to this day is tip the bartenders (and well).
I didn't know it at the time, but the lessons I learned playing at The Cap would forever shape my future. Here are some of the lessons I learned.
Never use a guitar with a whammy bar without a back up. You see, whammy bar guitars are hard to tune when you break a string. So, always bring a back up.
Tip the bar staff well. Money makes people happy. Happy people work harder and make more money for the bar. Plus, you can get all the scoops because bar staff are networked like a mafia. If you're good with one of them, the rest will find out and help you get gigs because you make the bar money.
If the bar's paying you to play all night, then sell drinks by making everyone have fun. Your band is nothing more than entertainment. So, have fun and make people have fun. Interact with your audience and get them into it. People who are having fun spend more money on drinks. Money makes the staff happy. Fun makes the club more attractive to passers-by who are looking for a good time. Don't be shy. You have the PA, drums, guitars, etc. Use them to have a good time and make the club money. So, don't be an amateur.
It's OK to have a beer an hour when you're sweating like no tomorrow on stage. Water is also OK, but beer has calories you can burn, which keeps your knees from shaking when your starving from playing a 4 hour show with no snacks. It also makes you burp, so keep that in mind.
There are no breaks. When you're playing out, and on a break, people want to come up and talk to you. Be friendly, sign something and give it to them. Tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them. Take a selfie. If you're the lead singer, you should expect to never sit down during breaks. In fact, you should expect to work harder than anyone else on break. Sales is a constant.
Clean up. If you want to get home, pack in and pack out as a team.
People like free stuff. Get some stickers and give them away during your show.
There are players in the audience who are better than you. Let them do a song and show off to their friends. It's OK. You're getting paid to entertain. So be entertaining.
Have a sense of humor. People drink at a bar, not think at a bar. Keep playing even if a fight breaks out, but keep your eyes on the back door if you need a way out.
Be grateful. Thank everyone for letting you do this and get paid for it. Most people have to work for a living. There are no fun and games where they work. As a band, it's all fun and games, plus you get paid. Be grateful that you can work and have fun and get paid at the same time.
To this day, I keep a list like this close by. I keep hustling, keep grateful, keep a sense of humor and try to keep perspective. I learned all of these lessons at The Cap (and many more).
I know music is art. I know I can get too serious. And each time I lose my perspective, I murder some part of the friendships I've built over the years.
I didn't know it, but The Cap showed me the future is now. From The Cap years ago, and until now, the lessons I learned playing out infect my perspective even now.
Take these lessons and keep them in mind, won't you? Your future is now, too. If I can help you at all to achieve your musical path, I'm right here. Drop me a line.
Thanks for reading my blog.
Love and Rockets,