Feels like the First Time!       by Dave Schwartz  davybass@dabelly.comGround Zero.jpg (29388 bytes)

Do you remember what it was like? You know, that first time. Unbridled anticipation and the excitement of answering one of life's great mysteries. You were never really sure if you were any good but you knew that there is only one way to find out. It seemed like it took forever for this day to come and in the end it only lasted a few moments. Sooner or later it happens to everyone but rest assured that you’d be better next time you get up in front of your friends. Friends? Yes friends! We're talking about your first time on stage, what in the hell were you thinking?

Our DaBelly staff photographer Keith Durflinger suggested that we explore one of the great mysteries of music, your first night on stage. For those of us who have experienced this first hand, we know that emotions can run the full gambit from exhilaration to absolute horror. It's a fairly rare instance for someone get off the stage the first night and just sort of shrug their shoulders and say it was no big deal but that's just how I felt. We had just finished a 35-song set (yes 35!) that was basically "music by the numbers". Minimal interaction or performance, hell we just put our heads down and concentrated on what we were playing. On stage we were bored because we had rehearsed these songs to the point of death and most certainly the "crowd" was board watching us.

"My first performing experience was in a living room and I was extremely nervous. It sucked. My first ON-STAGE experience ruled though!" Ana Greco, Rapture

But let’s start way back at the beginning. Most likely you’ve been sitting at home, playing in your room or playing for the family for years. Getting up on stage and stretching your wings has always been in the back of your head. Suddenly the time has come. Most likely you started jamming with a friend in your garage and, if you’re lucky, you actually got a song or two working. This may go on for a while. You may put together some other players and even pick out a band name but it never lasts. People move on, the situation changes and suddenly you’re back in the musician pool. You’re also faced with an uncomfortable reality… There comes a time in every young boy’s life when the fantasy of lighting your hair on fire and jumping off the coffee table grows old. You’re about to discover just how hard it is to put together a real band.

It’s time to get out the Recycler and find some new blood. You start cold calling the 30 or so guitarists and along the way you make a disturbing discovery. Half the ads are so specific that they should just include the name and picture of the player they are looking for while the rest haven’t a clue and just want to play… with ANYONE. Neither of these ever seemed to be on my list. But never fret (yes pun intended), somewhere, somehow there is an ad to which you can respond. Yes, there is another person in this world (or more specifically LA) that is just as desperate, just as scared and just as inexperienced as you are. Like Mr. Spock clones at a Star Trek convention you will find each other. And it will be "fascinating".

"The first time we played was at a party. We were too drunk… and we choked." Johnny Crash "Lead Son of a Bitch", Johnny's Gang

The hard work begins. Sometimes 3 months but most likely more than 6 months of the headiest times for any band lay before you. Unconstrained creativity before any of those walls have been formed. You might grab onto some pre-existing songs that a new band mate wrote add to them some band compositions and along the way you make some realizations. First of all the music is different than you expected. The music is a result of the members of the band and unless you have an extremely dominant personality, the songs will have elements of everyone in them. Second of all, you don’t know if the songs are any good. You want to believe they are, hell you gave birth to them. All your friends say they’re great but they like anything. It all comes down to that first stage and your first night on it.

"…it was like a riot in a bathroom" Johnny Crash "Lead Son of a Bitch", Johnny's Gang

Let’s see it's checklist time. You’ve played the songs to the point of hating them. You’ve managed to book the local watering hole by lying to the club manager about how long you’ve been together and the size of your following. You’ve invited everyone that you have ever known to come see "this great new band, I know that you’ll like them…" And mercifully only about eight people have shown up. If you’re a guitar player you’ve most likely broken at least 3 strings TODAY. If you play bass you have no second bass or backup set of strings because "Those fat things never break!" If you’re a drummer you’re still messing with the setup of your $200, four piece kit that your parents bought you when you were 12. And if you’re the singer, you’re trying to remember the first word of the first song of your first set on stage. Yep, it’s show time!

"The drummer was face down in his set, the bass player was striking poses in an effort to look cool and the guitarist seemed mesmerized by his pedals. " Naughty Mickie, Morpheus

Somewhere around the second or third song your senses begin to return, the numbness diminishes to the point of conscienceness and you remember that you’re on stage… in front of people! "Hey, somehow this is working and it sounds fair too", you think. As you gaze off the stage at the faint light illuminating the men’s room you promise yourself to never again drink four beers moments before going on stage. Your friends are all smiling or at least pretending that they’re enjoying themselves, maybe this isn’t so bad. The terror is subsiding. "Hey, this isn’t so bad" you think. "I can do this!" And then suddenly, abruptly it all ends. The set is over.

"After the show I chased down my buddy and asked him if there were any probs, my worries were obliterated when he told me ‘relax and get ready for my next show.’"   E. "Puff" Walter, Jokers Paradise

And now begins what, for me, was always the most terrifying aspect of performance… self-criticism. Somewhere their exists a tape of that first show. You getting your hands on it is of the utmost importance for without it two things are guaranteed to happen. First, you will never have an unbiased representation of the evening. And secondly, one of your dickhead friends is going to sell it to VH1 the moment you get famous. You will be forced to endure years of embarrassment for partaking in a right of passage that brought you fame and fortune. You know it, I know it, and the rest of us are going to laugh at it.

If you’re like everyone else several things have just happened. You made it through a 45 minutes set with "only" a hand full of mistakes. If you got your head about you fast enough you may have enjoyed yourself. And inexplicably you discovered that 6 months of work really is worth 45 minutes of fun. You’ll do it again, you know you will. With any luck you won’t wait too long before you get back up onto that stage. What the hell, you’re a seasoned pro now. You don’t have to lie to the club owners any more! It’s only a matter of time before the girls are lining up around the stage, pulsating to the music. The songs moving them like some enigmatic sexual experience that connects your guitar to their minds. And then you realize… Once again it’s about to "Feel like the first time!"

I would like to give a special thanks to the following contributors. Their experience and insight is why this article exists.

Johnny Crash
"Lead Son of a Bitch", Johnny's Gang,

E. "Puff" Walter
Jokers Paradise,

Ana Greco

And our very own Naughty Mickie!