It’s a rare Friday night when I can find a parking spot within a block of Malaprop’s, but tonight there was a parking space available in front of the bookstore/cafe. The drum circle occupying Pritchard Park could be heard two blocks away as I entered the store to verify the show time. Later, the drumming souls would triple in size and volume and invite the fire dancers to contribute to the urban tribe.
The sun had not set yet and the autumn twilight air was cool and comfortable. I waited outside for Philip, a friend and fellow performer, who would be supplying the sound equipment for tonight’s event. I hadn’t eaten since lunch and the Malaprop’s cafe was closed because an author was reading excerpts from his book. Twenty minutes later the shadows from the building opposite the bookstore engulfed the street and cars began to turn on their headlamps.
I was a little frazzled because I had been asked to emcee the event, which makes me a bit nervous. Focusing on reading/performing poetry is one thing, but adding the responsibility of emceeing a show is an added dimension. A common misconception is that an emcee just announces who’s up next. There’s more to it than that. An emcee helps coordinate artists with venue management about restroom facilities, store policy concerning discount for performing artists at the cafe, technical sound equipment needs, time slots and in general making the artist feel at home in a foreign place. So, I had a lot on my mind this evening.
Shortly before 8PM I found myself placing mic stands in the cafe and discussing time slots with Vanessa Boyd, a mild-mannered musician with the hint of Texas in her laconic communication. After the author and his fans dispersed, Philip and I began setting up the speakers and microphones. Vanessa was off to the side tuning her guitar as I casually sought information from her, which I planned to use to introduce her. She had traveled from Tennessee to perform and had brought her friend Steve. He was equally laconic, like her silent guardian. The set-up of sound equipment took maybe ten minutes. To my surprise, Vanessa finished her preparations, plugged in, slouched into a cafe chair before a microphone, played a few chords and announced herself relieving me of the burden of introductions.
For the first time that evening I was able to grab a cup of organic coffee, find a stool at the cafe bar and prepare myself for the read. I had almost forgot that two friends had joined me to perform along side my poetry performance. A prose piece (thanks Joy) was recently added to the Late Night Poetry portion of my performance. I quickly fished out the performance script and handed it to Julie who would be reading one poem and singing two other poems. Philip would play the performance soundtrack on acoustic guitar and I had to give him instructions on when to start the musical soundscape.
Wearing an earth-tone wardrobe and playing Americana/folk-style songs, Vanessa Boyd provided me almost twenty minutes of uninterrupted meditation with her rich, strong vocals. Wavy chestnut hair pulled back in a ponytail, she sat on a chair hunched over her red acoustic guitar, hazel-green eyes searching the modest assembly, as she sang songs from her many travels.
The show organizer showed up about half way through her set. He had just come off a 14-hour bus trip from Baltimore and hadn’t been expected to be present. We chatted a bit about his trip and a few other topics until 9PM when Vanessa concluded her set.
Double-checking my notes and poem folder, I approached the “stage.” I placed the music stand near the microphone stand and began my introduction including thanks to Vanessa, Malaprop’s and The Traveling Bonfires (who organized the event). The mic stand was competing with the music stand and I held the mic as I read a Billy Collins poems to get things started. I continued to hold the mic as I read through my solo set including a poem by Keith Flynn, a collection of poems from my forth coming project, a pseudo-political piece (with apologies to Uncle Walt) and prose piece by another writer which acted as transition to group performance.
The group piece featured Julie singing three selections (including one she wrote) and reading one and Philip playing his haunting theme as I read through a half dozen poems from Late Night Writing. It continues to amaze me how supportive they are of my work. I often look at the words I have written and wonder if anyone is touched by these poems. Sometimes I helplessly observe someone moved to tears at words I’ve written and wonder why those lyrics don’t move me the same way.
Now I am home in a forest guarded by red cardinals and black salamanders and I am eating chicken, drinking chai tea latte (rooibos tea with honey vanilla & spices), burning incense (sage and smoke) and wondering what lines and poems these hands will transcribe.