Performance anxiety – Forming a one-man band

It has been approximately six years since the last time I strapped on my guitar and played in front of anyone.  It’s been a very long, somewhat disheartening six years since I played my last concert with my old band.  During that time, I bought a keyboard and attempted to teach myself how to play piano.  And I was having some success, mind you!  I’ve added a few more guitars to my collection.  I had illusions of forming a new band.  Those dreams rapidly transformed into nightmares, realizing how much effort it takes to audition, schedule practices, and give in to other people with other ideas.  Not to mention, just finding people who are capable of filling your needs. 

Needless to say, I’ve been left with having to just play with myself.  Umm, yeah.  Anyway.  Typically I queue up a few songs on iTunes, grab the nearest acoustic guitar and pretend I’m rocking the socks off of thousands of screaming fans.  (I prefer plugging in an electric guitar, but it’s just so much more of a hassle to get everything out and set up.)  My wife didn’t know me when I was in the band.  She never got the thrill of seeing me onstage and having girls faint at the mere sight of me.  She missed out on one of the most influential phases of my life.  Luckily for her, I never got rid of any of my equipment…I only stored it away in my parent’s house.  Also luckily for her, I enjoy making friendly wagers on irrelevant issues.  Well, it was after taking one particular bet that I lost, and the end result concluded with me playing a set for her.  There were no other stipulations – all I had to do was play some songs for her.  Except, if you are blessed enough to know me, then you know I have a flair for the dramatic.  It didn’t take much for me to decide that I would not live up to the agreed upon bet, but instead blow it out of the water by putting on the most complex performance of a concert that she has ever known…from the comfort of her own living room!

I am very aware of how boring it can be to just listen to somebody strum a guitar.  I also know that I don’t have a strong singing voice, and don’t even think about the possibility of playing and singing simultaneously!  So my first step to at least hold my wife’s attention throughout the show was to hook up my computer to my surround sound and get the full sound of the band – vocals and all.  It makes it more enjoyable for my listeners, plus I get to share the stage with John Fogerty, Jack White, Chris Robinson, Rivers Cuomo, and other all-time greats! 

The next step in my thought process was deciding what gimmicks I could include, and the reality and logistics of actually making it happen.  I have shared several stories with my wife about how my old band arranged songs and made them our own.  I’ve noted on multiple occasions that the cowbell was always a crowd favorite, and we always made sure to include a bit of a breakdown/solo in our repertoire.  Step 1 was researching and obtaining a cowbell.  Once I discovered the price range of cowbells, I was a bit disheartened…I wasn’t sure if I could bring myself to paying full price for a cowbell that would only be used a handful of times.  Then I found the perfect resolution to the dilemma – an officially licensed Saturday Night Live “More Cowbell” cowbell which you will see pictured below.  I refused to buy a stand specifically for that, so I just used a guitar stand which substituted perfectly. 

From there, step 2 was the stage lighting and effects.  My initial thought was to use a colored bulb in the paper lantern hanging in our living room and finding a way to point it toward the stage, essentially transforming it into a makeshift spotlight.  Coming up with a simple solution for a bracket to brace the lantern ended up being trickier than expected, so I stuck with the orange-colored bulb and just used it as general stage lighting (as seen in picture below).  While scouring eBay for lighting modules in my price range (there were none), I found beacon party lights, much like the revolving lights you would see on the roofs of cop cars in ’70s detective shows.  I decided red would be a nice effect, so I added that to my list of gimmicks.  Next up was a strobe light.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out how affordable these are.  I ended up getting a perfectly suitable strobe light with colored gels for about the same cost as going to Chik-Fil-A.  (I know you’re wondering what colored gel I used to distort the light, and I had the blue gel out and ready to go before ultimately deciding that an unfiltered white light would be just fine.  Plus, I didn’t want to use up all of my tricks at one time, but don’t tell anyone!)  That’s where the gimmicks ended.  You can get a feel for the stage setup by examining the pictures below.

Living room stage setup

Note the orange light in the upper right hand corner, the red revolving beacon light on the speaker to the left of my amplifier, and the cowbell propped on the guitar stand on the right side of my pedal board.  More information will be provided concerning all of the power strips, just be patient.

"I got a fever! And the only prescription is more cow bell!"

Fast forward to the day of the gig.  I got everything situated, rearranged, and completed my sound check while my wife was at her friend’s house preparing for the festivities.  At some point in time, an invitation had been extended to her old roommate, and I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be terribly embarrassed to add one person to the guest list.  There turned out to be several difficulties of executing a one-man stage show.  I was required to pull off some fast-stepping tap-dancing between my effects pedals and the power strips for lighting effects.  I used separate power strips solely for the beacon light and strobe light so I could turn them on and off individually to further add to the spectacle that I was trying to put on.  Scroll back up to the very first picture.  See all the power strips strewn about haphazardly around my pedal board?  No really, I’ll wait.  Those are actually strategically placed for convenient accessibility in order to be able to step on the switch and activate/de-activate the lighting effect.

Melting's what I do.

One final note that is not displayed in these pictures is my choice of wardrobe.  I decided to go with a bit of a “hipster” ironic t-shirt that shows 2 crossed guitars with the statement “Plays well with others.”  Remember, I was left to play with myself, hence there were no others.  (Yeah, that joke still makes me giggle.)

The girls showed up in full concert attire:  pleather pants, high-heeled boots, short skirts, fishnets, bandannas, big hair, dark make-up, and stick-on tattoos!  Wonderfully corny fitting in seamlessly with my fantasy world.

The time has now come to fill you in on my selected playlist.  I scrolled through the playlist of every song I know how to play and was very deliberate in my choices.  I decided to stick with songs that I already know based on numerous factors.  1.)  I have been very out of practice as far as playing goes at all.  2.)  By choosing songs I already knew, I could limit my practice time, prepare quicker, and avoid having to practice while my wife might be within earshot.  3.)  I could guarantee myself that I could select songs that were in standard tuning.  This would eliminate the need for having to pause the show so I could change guitars or re-tune the one I was using. 


CCR – Fortunate Son.  This was always a personal and fan favorite for the band.  We would pair it with a couple other songs that included the same drum beat, flowing straight from one to the next.  We also doubled the song in length, and took liberties with the “solo” of the song, often substituting “Smoke On The Water” or “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”  I also liked that I got to play lead on this song, although I constantly found a way to botch the opening lead riff.  For this concert however, I was forced to stick with the original structure of the recording.

*The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army.  This song is just a good groove.  I didn’t get carried away and try to pull off the bass line, but I did add a small interpretation to the verses.  This is another song that I could play along with the lead guitar, and was simple enough to serve as a warm-up.

Collective Soul – Why, Part 2.  I don’t know what it is that makes me like this song so much, but I do.  I also tend to hold the belief that I can potentially sing along to this song.  That part has never been corroborated by anyone else though…hmm.

Counting Crows – Hangin’ Around.  This is where the cowbell breakdown came in.  Following the line, “I’ve been lying right here on the floor,” the band would replace the 2 claps with a cowbell solo, so I did the same.  This is also just a fun song, and I knew that it’s a favorite of my wife’s.

Gin Blossoms – Hey Jealousy.  I just like this song.  It’s catchy, upbeat, and well-known.

*Coyote Shivers – Sugarhigh.  Ever seen the move “Empire Records?”  This is the song at the very end when Gina and the band rock the crowd in order to “save the empire.”  I have an extremely fond attachment to this song, because I was taught how to play it by the guy that wrote it and played Berko in the movie, Coyote Shivers.  (Yes, that is his real name.  He’s Canadian, so that should explain it.) 

Black Crowes – Hard To Handle.  This is just an all around good ol’ rock and roll song.  It’s as catchy as they come, and everyone can sing along…whether they actually know the REAL words or not!  This is another song that I have delusions of being able to sing along to.

Weezer – Hash Pipe.  This is one of the last good Weezer songs.  It’s also another song that I know the guitar solo to.  That’s pretty much a gimme that it’ll get included in the playlist.  If I can play lead and pretend that I have some chops, then I’ll fake it for as long as I can.

Jet – Cold Hard Bitch.  Driving, hard rocking, guitar heavy song.  Plus I know the lead parts and act like I can sing along.  One of these days I’ll be put in my place.

*Lit – My Own Worst Enemy.  No story here other than I like it.  Lit used to be in my top 10 of favorite modern bands.  Jeremy Popoff topped my list of favorite goatees.  That was before they fell off the face of the earth.

The Darkness – I Believe In A Thing Called Love.  These guys took the rock music world by storm in the early 2000’s.  This song rocketed up the charts, even with the fashion faux pas of the lead singer attempting to bring back catsuits.  Nevertheless, this song is a blast to play and always gets a positive reaction.


Better Than Ezra – Good.  I’ve always loved this band.  This is also one of the first songs I ever learned how to play based on the simplicity of the song structure.  Most people also seem to know at least the chorus.

Fuel – Bittersweet.  I can play lead.  Enough said.  (Sadly, this is another band that used to grace my top 10.  I’ll admit it.)

Bryan Adams – The Summer Of ’69.  Good upbeat song.  What better way to finish a show short of ending with “Closing Time?”  Which, by the way, I used to play and thought I had forgotten certain riffs…turns out I remember how it goes, but I failed to know that until the day of the concert.  By then, there just wasn’t enough time to get comfortable enough to add it. 

* = These songs were initially planned to be the encore songs, until I checked the duration of the set list.  When I saw how short it turned out to be, I threw them into the set, and came up with a few alternatives for the encore. 

Upon further evaluation, I came to realize that I failed to tailor the playlist to my audience.  If I had been rocking an audience at a local bar, my playlist would have been perfectly fine.  However, my audience simply wasn’t familiar enough with most of my song selections.  The girls attempted to sing along and participate, but ended up just clapping along and dancing because they didn’t know many of the lyrics.  It was my fault, and I failed my fans.  For that, I apologize ladies…I’ll make it up to you!

{Insert righteous video here.  <File format not supported.>}

I’ve already got more ideas in store for next time…and I can’t wait to unleash my creativity!  What more could I possibly pull off in the comfort of my own home (stage)??  More gimmicks?  You betcha, but I’m sure not gonna give anything away.  Guess you’ll have to just stay tuned in.  Have ideas/thoughts/suggestions that you think would be do-able?  Shout them out in the comment section below, just keep in mind that I’m only one man.  I have the tuning picked out, and several songs in mind already.

Thank you, that is all.


3 responses to “Performance anxiety – Forming a one-man band

  • Chrissy

    You didn’t fail us one bit, we loved it!


    This is EPIC!!!!!
    I never knew.
    I am INCREDIBLY impressed by the foot mechanics shown in the video of your on/off of the lights!
    ps-thanks for listing fishbowl under friends AND humor! I feel extra special!

    • ckelley06

      Jenny, that was a strobe light!! haha All I had to do was turn it on once, but thanks for noticing how difficult that could be to pull off through the course of an entire concert!

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