The prison and the nursing home. The two places couldn't have been so different yet so alike. Neither at first glance seemed like any sort of place for a raucous trio to set up and play music at. Especially when you compare them to the usual honky tonk dives we're used to.
Both places required us to play EXTREMELY quiet. The prison less so, but still. QUIET. Neither had a stage so we set up on the floor.
With that comes a level of awkwardness and discomfort in the performance aspect of what we do. Sure, we can stand there and play our asses off, but we're usually given the space and environment to let loose a bit and really get into the music with the crowd.
The prisoners were only 10 deep. They sat in a few small rows of chairs in a very stark and cold room. Much like an elementary school classroom minus the carpet, the decorations, or the ambiance of youthful exuberance. Instead, it was rather quiet and somewhat uncomfortable. At first.
Song by song, the inmates settled in and in turn, so did we. They went from stone faced stares, to singing along, bopping their heads, clapping along, and stomping their feet in beat with the band. Eventually requests for some of their favorite artists/tunes came. Slowly but surely they begin interacting. Laughing at our on stage silliness that eventually found it's way out.
At many points it was obvious that they were connecting lyrically to songs. Songs I wrote no less.
It began to get overwhelming. The nursing home eventually did too....
We set up in a corner of the cafeteria. Again, it reminded me a bit of grade school, only this cafeteria was many decades newer than what I remember school being like.
Many folks were unable to walk unassisted. There were many wheelchair bound folks. Many with canes or walkers.
The amount of dancing that took place was mind blowing. They would help each up and dance their asses off. Some danced IN their wheelchairs.
The language barrier was most prominent at this gig but they made sure to communicate with us. They made it known that they were enjoying themselves. You could feel it in the room and see it in their demeanor.
During the hour and change we played, it felt like the whole room (including us) all hit our stride at the same time.
And like the prison, when whole room hit our stride, it went from a room full of inmates and a room full of OLD folks, to just a room full of people. Happy people connecting through something that we all had in common. It wasn't in any specific songs or genres necessarily, but just in music. We were just rooms full of humans responding to music we all enjoyed and none of our current circumstances, or religions, or politics mattered.
THAT is why I do what I do. THAT is why I struggle to stay afloat in this "system" and continue to do so for the music.
The two possibly strangest gigs I've ever done were the most rewarding. They were the most fulfilling and biggest reminders as to why I do this and why I should CONTINUE to do this despite the difficulties in keeping it alive.
It's the best way I know how to connect with people and to hopefully bring some joy into their lives.
I think I can speak for Johnny and Daniel on that one.
Those were unforgettable gigs and we walked in as 3 dudes who just happened to walk out as 3 different dudes.
p.s. Remember that time in Belgium when I asked a room full of inmates if "we had time for a few more"?