Third and final stop on Uncommon Ground's 2018 "We Play for Food" tour: a neighborhood pig roast yesterday in an upscale corner of Landenberg, PA. Warm sunshine bathed the lakeside recreation area where we were to play for our saxophonist's neighbors.
Our band, unfortunately, felt like an afterthought. We were scheduled for midafternoon, but as we began, only a handful of guests had arrived. We played our first set outdoors to a white sea of empty tables and chairs broken only by the few early arrivals in the shade at the rear. To my right volunteers prepared the food service. Behind us rose two tall moonbounce pits for the kids.
Rick, our keyboardist, called out, "Keep going. We'll skip the break. 'Tulsa Time'." We had to be finished by 5:00, so, onward. As people drifted in toward the end of the last set, I could at last make eye contact with someone. We soldiered on while children in face paint skittered back and forth in front of us. We gave them all six minutes of 'Year of the Cat', with the solos. Finally, before the last song, I introduced the band members and said thanks for having us.
Silence. Not a clap. Anywhere. Not even for Pete, our sax player, one of their own. Just gabbing. I looked around at my band mates. "Okay, 'Heat Wave', then let's eat."
We poured in on for three more minutes, then killed the amps. 21 songs. My legs were weak, my hands were cramping, and I was soaked in sweat. The DJ started up. As I coiled up cables a young woman approached me. "I was so happy to see a woman musician! That's cool. It's a good thing for the girls to see! They will think they can do it, too!"
I smiled and thanked her, thinking, "She just called you a musician, kid. Perk up."
We lined up for the barbecue and took our plates to a table in the back. Now the place was crawling: at least 200 grown ups and kids. A retired couple joined us. The guys' conversation turned to garage doors. I was silently replaying my mistakes when a man appeared at my side and announced, "You guys are terrific! That was great!" Then the woman across from me leaned forward and added, "And you have a great singing voice."
"Thank you," I said, my eyes wide with surprise.
It's an old story with musicians, I've heard: you never know who's listening. Or when.