“How was tour??” I’ve been asked this a couple dozen time in the last week since I got back from my month-long West Coast tour with Kasey Williams and Carrie Welling. No matter how many times I try to piece together an answer, any words that come out of my mouth are totally inadequate. My description ends up being filled with vague, ambiguous adjectives like “awesome,” “incredible,” “challenging,” “fairly successful,” and “I totally want to do it again!” It’s so hard to capture the dozens of brief, but very meaningful experiences and events in just a few summarizing sentences. So here is a bit more of an in-depth answer to “how was tour.” (This will probably be the first of several installments ;-)
Touring is a little bit like plugging your heart into an amplifier. All the feelings I have about myself, and all the emotions about me as a musician are super prominent. All the optimistic, hopeful feelings and the thoughts of “I can really do this,” seem to ring so true when I’m singing to an attentive audience of 30 people on a rooftop in LA overlooking the Hollywood Hills. On the flip side, when you’re playing for tips in a coffee shop in Northern California, to a very small handful of people (most of who are on their computers with headphones on), and our “stage” was an outlet next to the bathroom, it’s harder to keep spirits up. All the doubts and internal demons start to stir and their loud voices start to echo insides saying, “who do you think you are to think you can be a musician?” “No one cares that you’re here” “you can’t hold anyone’s attention with your performance,” and “Have I even made any progress in my music career? I have so far to go! Will I ever make it?” The highs are amazingly high, and the lows are deep and nerve-wrecking. One show you are trying to avoid all the mouse poop that has accumulated by the venue’s piano in the corner where you’re supposed to perform, and the next night you are doing a private House Concert on top of a hill in beautiful Paso Robles, overlooking a breathtaking vineyard, sipping a world-class wine that one of the guests made himself.
I’ll save some of the stories for future blog posts, but one of those unexpected, magical experiences happened early on in the tour. After a few rough shows and a loonnngg drive from Portland to the bay area, we were scheduled to play at the little Italian restaurant in Sausalito called Osteria Divino. We had no idea what to expect. As we were loading in, there wasn’t really anyone there. We were bracing ourselves for another show where we clap for each other mostly to remind the few people that were there that there was a person singing in the same room they were eating pasta. However, as the set began, the place started filling up. People would walk past the restaurant and stop to watch for a bit and sometimes come in to listen. Some people who were previously in the back requested to move up front where they could see us. There were a few groups of people who cheered after each song, and participated in my witty stage banter ;-) After I was done, one of the women came up and shared how much the songs had meant to her. She talked about how they were friends with the owner of the restaurant, so they were there regularly, and appreciate that artists like us had a place to come and share our music. She brought me over to her table to meet her friends and family, all of whom were full of warm praise and encouragement.
Their words felt like a big hug after a really long, hard, day. It was like fresh, spring, rain washing away all the emotional dust that had collected inside from long drives and some disheartening shows. Performing is such a two-way street. I love to sing and play, but I totally feed off the energy of the crowd. I think all live performers are like that. There is a special magic that happens when there is a felt connection with the audience. They enjoy what they are hearing/ seeing. I’m energized by their enthusiasm, which makes me play better - with more freedom and expression, which makes it more enjoyable for everyone. And the beautiful cycle continues! Together we have created this amazing unique moment that can only be truly felt by those there at that specific point in time. This is probably why I love playing house concerts so much. The intimate, personal environment really sets the stage for a real relationship to be built through music. The performer and listener become co-creators of the performance.
The story could end there, on a reflective note about forming bonds through music. But the surprising fun continued! Even though they were done eating, the couple I was talking with stayed until the end up of the show, listening attentively. As we were packing up, they came over and said, “We don’t know if you have to be up really early, but if you’re ok staying out for a bit, we’d love to take you out on our sailboat for an hour and sail under the Golden Gate Bridge.” After taking half a second to consider the offer, we quickly accepted and got all of our gear in the car. By the light of a full moon, we chatted and sang and took 100 pictures as we sailed around the San Fransisco Bay. It was a truly magical adventure to top off a great show. It was such a beautiful reminder that on tour, you come to expect the unexpected. Each hour of each day is different. Different challenges, different joys, different adventures, different people, crowds, venues, roads, etc. That's part of the reason why I love touring. Even when things feel down or discouraging, I’m learning that the winds can (and usually do) change with the snap of a finger, and suddenly you’re on a boat floating under the Golden Gate bridge. :-)
I do want to take a moment thank all of the wonderful people who made this tour happen. Thank you to the venue owners who opened your doors to us. Thank you to each person who offered to buy us food or drinks. Thank you, everyone, who came to a show and cheered us on - you are why we keep touring!! Special thanks to each person who let us sleep in your house - you hospitality meant the world to us!. It truly helped make the tour as successful as it was! And extra special thanks to the people who hosted house concerts! Thank you for opening your home and being incredible hosts and hostesses and letting us serenade your friends and family. Those shows truly infused us with energy and inspiration and some wonderful new friends! And thank you to everyone who supported from afar using social media comments, messages, and email! Thank you for the reminders to keep singing and writing. There will be more tour stories and photos coming, I promise! Even though this tour is done, there is a lot of exciting stuff coming up in the Kate Mills Music world, and I can’t wait to continue the adventure!