Shannon McMahon

Wishing On Planes

More Open Mics

I've been trying to play one open mic a week as much as I possibly can. I have missed a couple of weeks, but got back on track this week with the Thursday night open mic at Hideaway Cafe in Newtown, CT. I had originally planned to play the Georgetown Saloon, but realized their acoustic open mic is on Tuesdays and their open jam is on Thursdays, so I was in search of another open mic to play. Some open mics are better than others, and it can be hit or miss from place to place, and even from week to week.  I'm so glad I found this one! Hideaway Cafe's open mic is hosted by Michel Rae, a singer/songwriter from Brookfield. Most of the musicians playing that night were regulars, except for my friend James and me. I started my 3-song set with Anyway. When I play40 Years On, I always scan the crowd to see if there is anyone old enough to be a Vietnam veteran, and if there isn't, I send it out to all veterans. There did happen to be a Vietnam vet in the audience, as well as a veteran from a more current war. At the end of that song, he stood up and applauded. I thought he was standing for my song, but he was playing next, so that's probably why he got up.  He did thank me for writing the song when he opened his set. It really means a lot to me that my songs reach people. I cannot explain what that feels like -- to be able to make that kind of connection with people through my words and music -- there's nothing like it. I closed my set with Angel From Montgomery, a John Prine cover.  The audience was great. It's so nice to play for people who are there for the music.

In between sets, Michel announced that a band had canceled for Saturday night if anyone was interested in playing for tips. Jeff Smith and I both raised our hands, so we decided to split the bill and share the night. I immediately made announcements all over Facebook and the Twitterverse to  get the word out to bring in an audience. It's so hard to build a fan base. I have a global audience through my shows in Second Life, but procuring a local one is more difficult.

On Saturday, Jeff opened the show, playing an array of originals on guitar and ukulele with a few covers sprinkled in.  He did a great job. I enjoyed his set very much. He called me up to sing harmony on Damien Rice's Delicate but I just couldn't find it. I was a bit embarrassed, but oh well. I opened my set with Emotional Vampire. Having broken the cardinal rule of singing by having a grilled cheese sandwich just before I sang, I was worried that my voice would be affected.  Thank goodness my voice was okay. The crowd was sparse at the beginning of the night, but people started to trickle in. I recognized several people who had been there on Thursday night, so maybe I'm starting to get some local fans...I played an hour and a half or so of originals and covers, including There's A Light That Never Goes Out by The Smiths, that I think sounds better in theory than when I actually play it, but it was fun to play. All in all, it was a good night. I really enjoyed myself and hoped the crowd did too. I sold one CD, and there was money in the tip jar too. Jeff and I were invited to come back and play whenever we want.

That's what I call a successful open mic. Great crowd, networking opportunities, CD sales and a gig. They certainly all aren't that way, but you never know who's in that audience. Could be a new fan, a venue owner, a fellow musician or a new friend.


Five States in Two Days

I'm writing this post in the stupor of near exhaustion after a few days of circumnavigating the Northeast. I  passed through five states in two days--Massachusetts for an open mic, Pennsylvania for a birthday party, through Connecticut, New York and New Jersey to get where I needed to go, and then back home for a two-hour stint volunteering at the Milford Oyster Festival. I guess I need a better event planner. Thursday evening I played an open mic night (Hootenany) at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Nestled in the Berkshires, Great Barrington is a beautiful town two hours north of here. We met up with friends from Second Life, including Alex Whitmore, (Capos Calderwood in SL) and had dinner at Gypsy Joynt Cafe, a family owned restaurant and live music venue with a colorful hippie vibe.  It was great to finally get a chance to eat there after hearing about it a year ago when I was playing FODfest. Jordan Weller, who also played FODfest last year, books the musical talent. I really wanted to go introduce myself to him, but shyness got the better of me. I am really lousy sometimes at speaking up about myself.

Signup for open mic started at 7pm, but we had heard the list fills up amazingly quickly, so we finished up our dinner and headed over to the Guthrie Center. Housed in the Old Trinity Church (the place where Alice lived in the movie Alice's Restaurant), the Guthrie Center serves those in need in the community and offers educational, spiritual and cultural programs.  We were lucky enough to arrive just before 7, and even though they weren't officially open, we were invited in. Alex and I signed up for the fourth and third spots, getting our names on the list before anyone else did.


While we were inside, a storm was brewing outside. Flashes of lightning and echoes of thunder created the backdrop for our show inside the church. Open mics bring a range of talent, and the spectrum was covered that night.  My own voice was weak due to a sore throat I just couldn't kick. As a result, my three songs didn't have the strength and energy they usually do, so I was disappointed in my performance, but the crowd was appreciative.  Alex played three songs after I did and the crowd really enjoyed them.  After we listened to a few more musicians, it was time to go. We were worried about the weather and how treacherous that might make the long drive home, but we were graced with  some beautiful lightning illuminating the sky and a few sprinkles of rain. By the time we finally pulled into our driveway, it was midnight.

Friday dawned, bringing with it the task of a three-hour drive to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for my sister-in-law's surprise birthday party. The sun was shining and it was hot and humid, but it was clear, which made it perfect for driving. I left the house just before 1pm, hoping not to get stuck in any traffic. My wish was not granted, however. There were pockets of traffic all along the way. Nevertheless, I arrived three hours later. The weather forecast for the next several hours was not good. I had seen some nasty looking clouds gathering on my way in.  The thunder, wind and rain came as we were outside setting up for the party. Luckily, it only lasted an hour, and then the sky brightened. It was a nice party. My sister-in-law was truly surprised and everyone had fun. I had brought my guitar and was supposed to sing, but the moment for it never happened.  The party had a good groove going and sometimes it's hard to introduce something like that without breaking the rhythm. I'm not sure my voice was all that good anyway--it was still recovering from the sore throat/cold thing.  By the time the party ended and all the guests had gone home, it was 2am. So much for a good night's sleep. Saturday came too quickly, and I woke up anticipating the day's three-hour drive home.

At around 10am I made my way back home, making good time till I got to Connecticut. The turnpike was backed up much of the way, and I was running out of time. I needed to be at the Milford Oyster Festival at 3pm for my two-hour volunteer shift scooping kettle corn for the Perry House, and I was  in desperate need of a shower. I managed to get home about 1:30, and arrived at the kettle corn booth at 3:15.  By 5:10, my shift was finished and I was dead on my feet.  I received a large bag of kettle corn for my efforts. Afterwards, we went out for dinner with friends and I got home in time to get ready for my only Second Life show of the day.  I was truly exhausted right before my show, but somehow the crowd kept me going. What a great way to close out the day. Needless to say, I've got nothing on my schedule for the next few days...

Montreal Jam 2011

I'm still basking in the afterglow of this year's Montreal Jam, held July 29, 30 and 31 up in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec.  An awesome confluence of musicians and fans, this gathering seems to get better each year.  20 Second Life musicians graced the stage on Saturday and Sunday, including Gandalf Mornington, Stratus Mactavish, Montrealer Moody, Montian Gilruth, me (Shannon Oherlihy), Eponine Dench, Maximillion Kleene, Wren Hartunian, FunkyFreddy Republic, Tamra Sands, Maurice Mistwallow, Wytchwhisper Sadofsky, Taunter Goodnight, JellyJellyJelly Benelli, Katydid Something, Slim Shaky, Jase Branner, FrancoOis Beaumont, Lyndon Heart and Norris Shepherd. Back in 2009, at the first Montreal Jam, I was the poster child for the stolen guitar...the cautionary tale of how not to lose your instrument, and it was a minor underlying theme this year, with choruses of "Where's your guitar?" heard throughout the weekend. I did manage to come home with my guitar this time, although I had a momentary scare on Saturday night. Rich and I were getting ready to go and I went to the restroom and then to pack up my guitar, only to find it not there. Where's my guitar?" I said to Bree, and she said, "Oh no, not again."  I turned around and there was Rich with my guitar -- he had packed up my gear for me, loyal and dedicated roadie that he is.

The music started at the Friday night mixer, held at Dundee's, a bar and restaurant in the heart of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. The impromptu jam featured many of the musicians on a rotating basis and was a great way to get a sense of each musician's style. There was a pajama party planned for back at the dorm, but everyone elected to stay at Dundee's and keep playing till midnight.

In 2009, at the first Montreal Jam, I was not that comfortable about asking people to join in my set -- I had only been playing in Second Life just under a year, and was very shy. What if they said no? After having been to both Montreal in 2009 and Hartford in 2010, I realized that a bit of preplanning helps to make things go smoother, even though the off-the-cuff stuff totally rocked!  The musicians were so top-notch, it felt like we had been playing together for years. I was pleased and honored to be asked to sing and play in the sets of Montrealer Moody, Katydid Something, Maurice Mistwallow and JellyJellyJelly Benelli.  The structure was such that anyone could jump in at any time, but it was nice to be included specifically.

It's always wonderful to play when there is a great sound system available. I think it makes a major difference, and it sure did here. I know Rich enjoyed running the sound board and he did an excellent job. (Yes, I might be a little biased, but as a musician, I know the sound was great.)

I ended up playing a mix of originals and covers in my set.  My story of the stolen guitar, Lost in Montreal opened the set. The covers I played were God's Promise, You Ain't Goin Nowhere, Black StarAngel From Montgomery, America, Wayfaring StrangerParadiseKathy's Song, Different Drum. 40 Years On, Emotional Vampire and Anyway were the originals. That was my set, to the best of my knowledge. I did play in a couple of other sets, so my memory might overlap.  The crowd in-world in Second Life was amazing. The screen was shown behind us on a curtain attached to the stage.  I turned around from time to time to see if I could see anyone I knew, and to check the time. It was neat to get a request from someone in-world too. My only regret for my set was that I didn't specifically ask for singers to come up, and I should have. There were some awesome vocalists there. I guess I thought that it was implied that they were all welcome. Next time I will make that clear.

I am sure I missed out on a lot of fun by not staying at the dorms. From the stories I heard, everyone was up till all hours playing and singing and enjoying each other's company. We stayed at a lovely B&B, Gite Angell,  just over the bridge. It was right on the lake and so relaxing. The breakfasts were out of this world...stuffed french toast and sausage, fresh fruit and yogurt, toast and cheeses for Saturday breakfast, and a bagel topped with pesto, tomatoes and cheese, roasted grapefruit with fresh fruit and candied ginger on top, cheese and toast for Sunday's breakfast.

We left on Sunday in the afternoon, so I missed the closing. Wish we could have stayed, but as often is the case, RL called. The woman at the border crossing didn't understand why we would travel to meet people that we met on the Internet. We didn't have time to explain with any depth what it all meant to us.

Sincere thanks to Montian, Bree and all who helped make this jam the great one it was. It's always wonderful to meet new people, make new friends and share our love of music together.

Open Mike Night

My steady stream of gigs has seemingly dried up, and I'm left to my own devices, hawking for gigs like a Girl Scout selling cookies. Unfortunately, I don't have the Thin Mints or the green uniform to boost the deal.  A wise person (my live-in roadie and sound man, Rich) advised me to get myself out there by playing weekly open mike nights. A great idea, of course.  I wish I had thought of it, but that's why I pay him the big bucks. The Outer Space in Hamden, CT was the first stop on my Open Mike Night Tour.  We arrived after 7pm, which was signup time and found the prime spots were taken, leaving only the very first slot at 7:30 and the third to last slot at 10:00.  I carefully weighed my decision, deciding against the first spot, because in my experience, the crowd is at its thinnest earlier on. In this case it would have been better had I chosen it. By the time my turn rolled around, after the featured act and one person ahead of me, the crowd had depleted considerably.  Lesson learned: Get there just before signup happens so you can get the slot you want.  I've been playing open mikes since I was 15, and I know the rules, but five minutes can make a huge difference.  I played The Sum of My Years, Anyway and Lost in Montreal (the new song about my stolen guitar).  The crowd was very appreciative, and I managed to sell one CD, get a tip and hand out a business card, which made it a success in my book.  Next stop is C.J. Sparrow in Cheshire, CT this Thursday, July 15th. Come on out and cheer me on! :)

The Song of the Stolen Guitar, Part 2

Back in January, I wrote a blog post about a song I was going to write memorializing my stolen guitar. I finally started work on that song, creating the first verse a few months ago. Strangely enough, this song has taken forever to materialize. As I write this, the song is about 85% done, I think. For some reason, it has been very difficult to express the story without sounding like a sentimental fool. I'm not sure there's any way around that. In my early days of songwriting, the songs would come a heck of a lot faster. If I couldn't finish the song in one sitting, I would trash the remnants. I'm not so quick to do that now.  This is the first song I've written since 40 Years On was finished back in November of 2009. EmmyLou Harris talked about her fear of songwriting in a recent interview. I can surely relate to that. I am lucky that many seem to connect to my songs -- that is such an amazing feeling. I want to make that connection EVERY time, so that puts pressure on me to create a song that people can understand and believe in.

I have been playing the new song, in its fragmented and experimental state, to my Second Life audiences for the past week or two now. I'm not sure whether it's helped or not, in regards to feedback or whatever. In the past, I used to play the song over the phone to a friend when I was finished, just to get someone's opinion. Playing an unfinished song is uncharted territory for me--drawing the listeners into the songwriting process and allowing them to see the song evolve.

This song is moving SO slowly. I'm not sure what's keeping the words and music from flowing, but I truly hope to finish it by the end of this week. The working title is Lost in Montreal, so be on the lookout for it, and let me know what you think.

© 2018 Shannon McMahon Music