Recently, I’ve been venturing into solo performance for the first time since I started playing accordion over 15 years ago. I gotta say, it’s been a rewarding and learning experience.
When Alana from Miss Mamie Lavona’s White Boy Band/L’Orchestre Incroyable invited me to open for them at Conor Byrnes a couple months back, I hastily agreed in an effort to force me to get back to the solo thing. Then, my buddy Paul Fonfara, from Minneapolis band Painted Saints (formerly of Reverend Glasseye, which is how I met him many moons ago, and notably, an original member of Devotchka) e-mailed and asked if I’d be interested in opening for him. He mentioned The Beery House, which I’d been hearing about for years. The thought of playing in this infamous singer/songwriter incubator was an exciting one. Especially considering my recent burnout with club gigs.
What I found was the perfect example of a Temporary Autonomous Zone, a concept that I discovered in my late teens/early 20’s after reading Hakim Bey’s T.A.Z, a popular text amongst my punk/anarchist peers of the time. Bey suggests that “the best way to create a non-hierarchical system of social relationships is to concentrate on the present and on releasing one’s own mind from the controlling mechanisms that have been imposed on it…information becomes a key tool that sneaks into the cracks of formal procedures. A new territory of the moment is created that is on the boundary line of established regions. Any attempt at permanence that goes beyond the moment deteriorates to a structured system that inevitably stifles individual creativity. It is this chance at creativity that is real empowerment.”
We had created one with my punk house in Everson, Washington and various houses in Bellingham. I’ve been in a few since. The Beery House was such a welcome reminder that art can exist outside of the capitalist economic structure that clubs are forced to operate within. Once you release yourself from those “controlling mechanisms” a pure creativity is allowed to flourish. I’m not sure “temporary” really applies to The Beery House since it seems to have been operating for many years now, but still, you get the drift.
Max and family fed everyone, there was no cover – just donations, the audience listened intently to every lyric and the ages varied widely, from teenagers to old-timers. As someone who’s been operating within the club network for over a decade now, it was a welcome return to the sort of artistic communities I’d been a part of in my youth.
With underground clubs having a harder and harder time keeping their doors open in a city that’s rapidly growing and subsequently pricing out the artistic element that forged its personality, it’s encouraging to know that venues like this continue to offer artists an environment to hone their craft, free from the looming financial overhead and pressure to draw that clubs are forced to operate within. The crowd was sparse for our show but fully engaged. I also ended up making easily more money than I would had I drawn the same crowd to a club.
Not only that, but I got to converse with my peers and nerd out musically like I hadn’t in a long time. Shooting the shit with great songwriters/performers like Paul, Jason Webley, Aaron Shay, Wes Weddell and others was really inspiring for me, especially after over a decade of being isolated in a Bad Things bubble and the never ending grind of club gigging/promotions/releasing records. These kinds of gigs are hard for a six-piece band to pull off, but solo I feel lighter, stealthier and am rapidly gaining back a confidence that I began to lose by having a big, talented band to lean on.
My musical journey continues, and seemingly just gets better and better.
Main photo credit to Aaron J. Shay.