It’s Thursday night in a nondescript neighborhood bar. The three of us are playing in a little alcove in the front window, kicking out various little acoustic jams. Between us, we have about 80 years of gigging experience. It shows when we play, as we run smoothly over songs we know well and fake it convincingly on songs we just toss together.
But almost no one cares. We’re background noise in this bar. One or two people perk up on occasion, and a guy actually gives us a fat tip after after we play John Prine’s “Illegal Smile” on request, but we’re mostly just ignored. The customers are busy adjusting their blood chemistry and that’s their sole purpose for being in the joint, and the presence of a trio doesn’t really weigh into that equation.
So we play on, and the guitarist’s wife claps every once in a while to remind us we’re not dead yet, and I mostly think of the many nights I’ve had like this over the years. We eventually wrap up, pack our gear and head out, and it’s like we were never there at all.
After the novelty of being in a band wears off, after all of your friends and spouses stop coming because they’ve seen you 412 times, this is what it’s like to keep playing music in public. You fight through nights of audience indifference, you act like a pro, you pick up a few bucks and you move on. And you wait for the next gig, when the crowd might want to have a good time and everybody might start dancing and a party might break out. And that spark of hope is what keeps you playing on a Thursday night in a nondescript neighborhood bar.