My blog is a place where I can tell you a bit more about me, the venues I have played and other things I have found or done in my life’s travels!
You can read in more detail about how a gig went, how great (or bad) the venue was and if anything new or exciting happened as a result of my playing somewhere!
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Having wanted to make this trip since I was 14 years old, I finally went to Israel. What follows is partly travelogue, but it is also a very emotional journey through obstacles and wake-up calls.
The history: I did not love high school. I was a reasonably good student, though “not up to my potential”, as I was told repeatedly by my counselor. Trouble at home and a certain lack of maturity were probably to blame. In any case, when I was about 13, I went searching for a new set of friends, because I decided I didn’t really care for the elementary/middle grades friends I had, and high school had only aggravated the problem.
What I found was Hashomer Hatzair, a Zionist youth group. We mostly did folk dances, learned Hebrew “folk” songs (I found out later that they were mostly written in the 20s when the Zionist movement first began to bear fruit.) and talked about being pioneers in Israel. They offered me a free scholarship to summer camp that year, and after a lot of back-and-forth between them and my parents, I was able to take them up on it. And it totally opened my eyes in so many ways.
I had never before been out of the city for more than a day, except to go with my family to a different city. This was up at the top of the mitten of the lower peninsula of Michigan in a place called Wilderness State Park. There was the combined waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior a 15-minute walk away. There were kids from many different parts of Michigan and the U.S., and more than a few from Israel. There were opportunities to learn skills that I’d only encountered before in my dis-banded Girl Scout troop (Our leader quit.). There were beautiful songs, intricate dances, stories, the outdoors. And underlying all of it was “Go. Be a pioneer in Israel.”
Three things I remember vividly about that summer:
There was a water fountain in the middle of the campground that served up the purist, coldest, sweetest water I’d ever tasted. I would get up in the middle of the night to cross the camp and get myself a drink from that well. Yum! (I don’t think I ever fell in love with water before that.)
There was a trip to Mackinac Island, where there were NO cars! Just 19th century buildings, and horses and carriages. All the people who lived (?) and worked there dressed the part. And the Mackinac Bridge was gorgeous! Doesn’t get better than that!
I developed a huge crush, as 13-year-olds will, on our counselor. Her name was Shoshanna, and she was willing to teach me some Hebrew, as was the Camp Director’s 5-year-old daughter, who I was also in love with. Shoshanna went on to marry another counselor and they moved to a Kibbutz. I’m not sure what I was most jealous of, but I was pretty jealous.
So anyway ….
Now I’m an adult. I’ve lived in several locations, but have put down my roots in Austin, TX. Most of my childhood and adolescent dreams have morphed into different dreams, or disappeared. Except for one. I still long to go to Israel one day. Only now it’s a little bit different because now I’m a trained musician and a seasoned songwriter. I want to go to Israel and play. That’s what I want.
Time goes by. I am a very hard-working single mom, and then I’m not single anymore. He wants to travel too, but he has different aspirations than mine. Nevertheless, I start to save my money. Then my daughter has a very difficult adolescence of her own, and I start thinking I can’t let her spend the summer in Austin. The youth group at the temple where she became bat mitzvah is going to Israel. Fine. Here’s the money. Take her to Israel. (She’s fine now.)
More time goes by. We travel some. Not to Israel, but to some good places. You can find some pictures on my website in the gallery. I have tried to get a few other musicians and songwriters interested in going with me, so that we can book performances together, but no one really bites.
So last year, I decided if I was going to go, now was the time. It took some talking, and some spending of money, but …. Finally!!!
At the Wall
At the Tel Aviv Folk Club
The remains of a Roman Aquaduct and the Mediterranean
Our home in Jerusalem (The Jerusalem Garden Hotel)
The Arab market in the Old City (So much kitsch, so little time.)
More pictures at
For those trying to make their living as live musicians in these days of streaming music, there may seem to be a dwindling number of opportunities. However, there are opportunities in places that few think to look. Touring musicians, in particular, may be able to fill in dates on their tours with some of them, since as we all know, on a tour, if you are not playing, you are paying. In may of these places, you can offer workshops and/or lessons as well as performances. This series of installments on this blog are about those hidden and semi-hidden opportunities.
We’ll begin with:
Facilities for seniors can mean Residential or Day facilities. We’ll begin with Day facilities, sometimes called “Senior Centers”, which offer drop-in activities, such as gym and swimming, counseling and health support, art, crafts, and music, life-long learning classes, and sometimes meal service. There is also what is called “Adult Day Care” for adults with physical or mental issues. There is usually an activity director, and since the Senior Centers are often run by the city they have a budget to spend on performances of various sorts, though not a large one. This also means that the city probably can tell you whom to contact at each Senior Center.
The first tier of residential facilities is often called “Independent Living”. These are often, but not always resort-like, sometimes having condos,or cottages with common dining and activities areas. The residents are usually self-sufficient, and may do some of the planning, though there is usually an activities director. A performer may find themselves in the dining area, or on a regular stage. Of all the possibilities, these are the ones that will feel the most like a regular performance anywhere. Sun City, for example, has a full auditorium, with people acting as stage hands and sound personnel.
Second tier would be “Assisted Living” for people who require some kind of support, but are still fairly independent. There will be an Activities Director here who will arrange performance and other events several times a week. These could also include classes and workshops, but you’ll want even performances to be pretty interactive.
“Nursing Homes”, the third tier, are people who require a great deal of support, and have not got a lot of mobility. The Activities Director will probably arrange to have performance events in a central gathering place like a dining room or lounge, and the residents who often be in wheelchairs, so there will be attendants in your audience as well. There is also “Memory Care” or “Memory Unit” in many Nursing Home settings for those with Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and other mental health issues. They will have strict supervision and their ability to interact will be very limited. Your performance will be much more basic, and many in your audience will not respond, and may even fall asleep.
Finally, there are the “End of Life” care facilities, and hospice. Music is still very important to these residents, and your concerts will often be beside a bed. These can be among the most rewarding of playing situations, but they are not to everyone’s taste or ability. But … A study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that listening to music can reduce chronic pain up to 21%, and reduce depression by up to 25%. Other studies have linked music to lowering blood pressure and anxiety in hospital patients. If you can do this, you will be performing a great service to those for whom you play.
What to play:
Your performance may include one or more of these:
Activity Directors often prefer that your performance be tied to holidays or special occasions. For example, Christmas, Halloween, Fourth of July, May Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. Every day is some kind of holiday. Google it before you plan your performance. You’ll want to give your listeners a sense of continuity from their formerly private lives. Entertainment makes the transition to living in a retirement community more pleasant for all residents. For some residents who seek greater social interaction and mental stimulation, the ready availability of quality entertainment can be a deciding factor when selecting a retirement community.
A lot of people who are currently residents in facilities like those described above, are people who grew up singing in folk clubs and coffee houses, parties, in the hallways at school, even with the television (Remember “Follow the bouncing ball!”?) If you play songs from about the 30s to 60s, you’re pretty sure to have audience members singing with you. Smile a lot, talk to your audience, let them sing (In fact, invite them to do so.) Interaction is the most important thing in these performances.
Because I’m going to be the opening act in April for someone I have long admired, I decided to do a thorough investigation of what it means to be the opening act. I have opened for friends, in the past, and occasionally for people whose name and music I didn’t know, but it was small venues, or other lesser-known acts, and so there was not much pressure. But this time it will be a veteran, whose name is very well known, and I want to get it right. (I’ll give you more details at the end of this.)
So first, a definition. This is straight from Wikipedia:
“The opening act’s performance serves to “warm up” the audience, making it appropriately excited and enthusiastic for the headliner. An opening act, warm-up act, or supporting act is an entertainment act (musical, comedic, or otherwise), that performs at a concert before the featured act, or “headliner”. Rarely, an opening act may perform again at the end of the event, or perform with the featured act after both have had a set to themselves.”
OK. Well, there’s no one in the audience whose enthusiasm for the headliner could be greater than my own, so that will be easy. I will probably mention a few times how grateful I am for the opportunity, for a wide variety of reasons. Not the least of these is that I get to play for his audience, and potentially, add them to my audience. Not only fans, but press, and booking contacts could be amongst the people for whom I will have the opportunity to play.
However, I’m aware there are some risks here, and I know there are some rules for avoiding them. I checked online (Because that’s what one does these days), and here’s what I found.
There may not be a formal arrangement for you to roll up your sleeves and help promote the show, but get on board and do what you can. Announce the show on your website, social networking sites and via your mailing list. Be sure to include info about the headliners in the promotion you do to your existing fans.
Contacting the local press and radio may also be helpful, but consider checking with the show promoter before you do that. They may have plans for reaching out to the local media, and you don’t want to step on their toes and confuse the message. Generally speaking, the larger the show, the larger promotion machine behind it, so do check before making the media calls.
When the headlining musicians, their management, agent or the show promoter asks you to be somewhere at a certain time, be there. Yes, even if you know if absolutely everyone else involved in the show is going to be late and you’re going to be spending a lot of time standing around waiting. If something happens that is going to delay you – getting lost on the way to venue, flat tire, forgotten instrument, etc, etc, etc. – call someone and let them know. Even if they treat you like you’re giving them T.M.I., better to err on the side of being thorough and showing that you respect your scheduled set, than to bank on the fact that everyone will be cool with you rolling in when you can.
In most cases, sound-check starts with the headliners and finishes with the first opening act. The reason for that is partially a practical one – the first opener will take the stage first, of course, so when they sound-check last, the stage is set up with their gear so the show is ready to start.
However, the reason is also partially hierarchy. Allowing the headliners to get the first crack at sound-check means they can kind of take their time and sound-check until they feel good about their set. Sometimes, this means the headliners end up taking up ALL the sound-check time – or most of it – and that of course means the opening act gets little or no time to check their own sound and get comfortable with the stage/acoustics.
For an opener, that can cause some serious stress, but your best bet is to grin and bear it rather than kicking up a fuss. Sure, it would be great if the headliners made sure everyone got a pop at a sound-check, but it IS their show and their prerogative to take the time.
Before you assume that you’ll be setting up a merch table the night of the show, discuss it with whoever booked you for the gig. Sometimes, headliners (or their reps) frown on support bands selling their merch because any money thrown your way is money not spent on the headliners’ merch. That may rub the wrong way – especially if the headliners are making big bucks for the show while you’re getting a pittance – but you’re kind of bound to the rules set by the people who invited you to play the show. Have a discussion about this before the night of the show.
Even if it feels like the audience is eating it up and you’re having a great time on stage, wrap up your set when you’re supposed to. When you run over, you take time away from the headliners. It’s important that they get their full set – or if they don’t, that it is not your fault. Remember, the headliners are who the audience is REALLY there to see, so just be glad you made some new fans and promise them a longer set in the future.
Unless there is a valid reason why you have to play and dash – you’ve got a plane to catch, a 14 hour drive home, an illness or something along those lines – don’t skip out before the headliners play their set. Yes, even if they are not your favorite band, stick around and watch them play.
Say a quick “thank you” to everyone who helped you land this opportunity and everyone who helped the show run smoothly. From the headliners and their reps to the venue manager and sound engineer, a quick “thank you” goes a long way.
So here’s the scoop: In April. I will open for Michael Martin Murphey at a concert at the LBJ Ranch. The concert is a fundraiser for the LBJ Museum of San Marcos Permanent Endowment Fund and includes a barbecue. I was honored to be asked to do this, in no small part because, back when you used to need a written copy of your song in order to register a copyright with the Library of Congress, I used to transcribe Mr. Murphey’s songs. I did the transcriptions for his first album, and several times had to start songs over because I forgot what I was supposed to be doing and just sat there listening and enjoying. So I’m excited to be part of one of his shows, and I may even get to sing harmony on a few of those songs. Keeping my fingers crossed about that. Details will show up on my website and social media outlets in the near future.
And for your entertainment, here is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s take on all this:
Let me admit, right here at the beginning, that I have a certain amount of ambivalence where artistic competitions are concerned, so we can get that out of the way. Nevertheless, there they are, and here I am, so I’m going to try and be as open-minded as I can.
Also, I’m going to limit myself to the songwriting competitions I have encountered or know by reputation, as opposed to all the contests out there. That should eliminate the ones that are simply scams for someone to use songwriters’ dreams against them. It may eliminate some perfectly honorable ones as well. If so, I apologize for the inconvenience.
We can start with the ones that are part of a music festival, just another activity on the weekend’s agenda. Kerrville Folk Festival, here in Kerrville, TX, looms large among these, Founded by Rod Kennedy and currently presided over by Dalis Allen, NewFolk is one of the oldest continuous contests. Also in Texas, in Richardson, is the Wildflower Festival which includes another song competition. Though not as old, it is much respected in its own right. Telluride Troubador is another venerable competition, which along with the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival occur in Lyons, CO during the summer months. Tucson Folk Festival takes place in Tucson, AZ in May, Dave Carter Memorial Songwriting Contest at the Sisters Folk Festival occurs each summer in Oregon, Woody Guthrie, Calgary Folk Festival, Great River Folk Festival, CT Folk Grassy Hill Songwriting Competition, South Florida folk Festival, Susanne Milsaps Memorial Songwriter Showcase at the Inter-Mountain Acoustic Music Association Festival, Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist Showcase, which is not technically a competition, but they do poll the audience to see whom they would like to return.
Of the competitions that are not connected to a festival, but are still songwriting competitions, as opposed to Battles of the Bands, there are several. The BW Stevenson Contest at Poor David’s Pub in Dallas, The Rose Garden Cafe songwriting contest in Massachusetts, Susquehanna Folk Music Society in Maryland, and Songwriters Serenade in central Texas to name a few.
And then there are the giant national and even international competitions. John Lennon Song Contest, which is now so big it is run in stages, International Songwriting Competition, Billboard Song Contest, Great American Songwriting Contest, NSAI Competition, USA Songwriting Competition, Unisong International Songwriting Competition, Eurovision Song Contest and the UK Songwriting Contest.
Most of these contests cost between $25 – $35 to enter per song, or sometimes per 2 songs. Kerrville costs $25 for a two-song entry, John Lennon is $30 per song. A few of the contests are free to enter, but a caveat goes with the free-entry ones: Read the fine print before you sign. Most festivals require a performance component (which means the writers have to get themselves to the festival — though they usually get in free) in order to choose winners, but Songwriters groups usually don’t.
Winning a song contest where you are performing can be life-changing, or have no effect whatever on your career. Exposure at a folk festival is no small thing. It can make booking gigs a lot easier, if you do a good job onstage. The opposite is also true. If you are not up to the occasion, it can harm your standing in the community. I even went so far as to hire an acting coach before one competition, and it really did help. And , of course, practicing can never hurt you. If you are “In it to win it”, then of course, you want to bring your “A” game. just like you would to any gig (Right?). Dress and behave professionally, don’t drink and drive, and be friendly to your audience. Be careful with introductions, ie. not too long. For one thing, there is someone running things with a schedule in mind.
On the other hand, just being part of the contest can do the same, even if you don’t win the contest. You would have displayed your great songs in the best possible light, and there are so many people in the audience — and onstage with you doing the same — that will be interested in your music. I’ve lost count of the number of times when someone walked up afterwards to tell me how much they appreciated my songs, even when I didn’t win the contest. Be friendly when that happens. Fans are important, even if you’re disappointed in the outcome of the competition. And I have witnessed a group of songwriters who all participated in a song competition one year who are now friends for life.
For those contests where the writer doesn’t have to perform, the important thing is to give the judges a good recording of the song. Notice I didn’t say fully-produced or anything like it. The simpler, the better is what I’ve heard from many judges. But clear sound, and a short simple (instrumental) introduction, if any, are essential. So is leaving out the lengthy guitar solo. Again, put your best professional foot forward. This is also true for the big, national or international contests.
As for the TV contests, they have been, for the most part. about singing ability and “star quality” rather than about songwriting. Grammy winner, Sam Smith has stated that he thinks they are actually bad for songwriters, though he himself has performed his own song on one of them. He says he wants to be judged on the basis of the song, not just on his voice. I myself have never been tempted by them, though I know two people who have. One described her experience as “demeaning”, and the other, I believe, was somewhat successful. She is, however, an excellent singer, and the show was The Voice.
There is a new show being promoted that would feature songs and songwriters. It would be titled “Songland”. Adam Levine, of Maroon5 and The Voice, and Dave Stewart, Grammy-winning songwriter, are involved, and here’s what the blog, Saving Country Music has to say about it:
The show wants to feature “everyday people” and their compelling back stories as they try to pitch songs that eventually could become huge hits. Also involved in the show would be big-time producers and artists as a song goes through the pitch process.
So perhaps this would be a better TV vehicle for songwriters interested in TV exposure.
Speaking of exposure, it’s time for a word about winning and losing. I’ve won a few prizes and I have also been totally ignored, so I know that they both carry an emotional impact. Winning can be a wonderful shot in the arm for a performer’s ability to book gigs in prestigious venues — though that does wear off. Losing can be a discouraging disappointment, no matter how many friends and fans you make in the process. A good thing to remember is that winning a contest is not the reason you wrote the song. Also, judging songs, or any other art form, is a very subjective thing, affected by all sorts of extraneous factors. Don’t take it personally, and you’ll survive to write another day.