Aside from playing with Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey, I’m mainly focused on jazz guitar. If I had started playing guitar early in life, I’d probably be comfortable in many styles today. Since I started playing guitar so late, I’ve decided to concentrate mainly on one style. Although I’m focusing mostly on one style of music, I’m learning and developing many other skills that work together to support my new career. For example, my “other job” is music engraving (see “What the Bleep Is Music Engraving?”). As a classical trombone player, I didn’t have to think about much more than playing the trombone. I played in an Air Force band. I received a regular paycheck with great benefits, and someone else took care of booking and publicity.
As a freelance guitar player, I have to wear many hats. No one else is finding gigs for me, although I may find an agent in the near future to help with that. I handle my own publicity, maintain my own website, hustle for gigs, and more.
My newest hat to wear is running the Hungry Ear Coffee House. Unlike most of my non-musical activities, the Hungry Ear is a lot of fun. The Hungry Ear Coffee House is a monthly concert series hosted by the Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation the first Saturday of each month. It’s a two-hour show that usually features two Atlanta area musicians. It’s mainly a venue for folk music, but the Hungry Ear has also had jazz, a classical flute/guitar duo, and a women’s a cappella group. Its most popular act by far is Montana Skies, an amazing cello/guitar duo with a style all their own they call classical fusion.
I’ve only been running the show for three months. Clarence Rosa ran the Hungry Ear for twenty years before retiring from it about a year ago. While Clarence was still running the show, I was involved in the Hungry Ear in other ways. I performed at the Hungry Ear a few times, and I booked the musical acts for about a year and a half. My favorite thing about the Hungry Ear Coffee House is the atmosphere. It’s set in a little wooded pocket in Atlanta. The performances are intimate, with an appreciative audience that is up close and personal, listening intently to the songs and stories. Since I’ve started running the show, we’ve added a new element. The Hungry Ear Coffee House doubles as a monthly food drive, with all food donations going to the Community Action Center in Sandy Springs.
Running the Hungry Ear Coffee House is a voluntary position. I didn’t originally intend to take over operations. I discovered it was on hiatus after trying to book Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey for a show. I sent a Facebook message to a Maurice, a friend of mine, saying it was too bad the Hungry Ear was no more. The next thing I knew, we were meeting over lunch to talk about what it would take to get it up and running, what elements we might change and what we would keep. A week or two after that, I received an email from someone at the church, telling me that the board would like to have Hungry Ear shows again, all of my ideas were doable, and that now they just needed someone to run it. So much for my advisory position! I knew this would be a challenging, time-consuming project. I thought about it for a few days and then let her know that I would be willing to head up the operation.
Although at times it’s a lot of work, I’m glad I decided to lead the charge. Some of my reasons for running the Hungry Ear are for the good of the church and community, and some of my reasons are entirely selfish.
Selfless reasons for running the Hungry Ear include:
- Benefiting NWUUC by helping it build a higher profile in the community and by acting as a monthly fundraiser for the church.
- Benefiting Atlanta musicians by providing a unique venue with a friendly audience.
- Benefiting those in need with food donations to the Community Action Center.
Selfish Reasons for running the Hungry Ear include:
- Creating a higher profile for myself by networking with musicians and running a popular venue. I want to grow the Hungry Ear Coffee House into a “must play” venue for Atlanta musicians and a “must attend” venue for Atlanta music lovers. If I’m known to be the person in charge of such a venue, it can only help my name recognition and credibility as I look for my own gigs.
- Learning how to run a sound system, which is something I never had to worry about as a trombone player. My first time running the sound was pretty shaky. In our most recent show, I felt I did a good job, and soon it’ll be second nature. Developing skills as a soundman can only benefit my bands (On the Cool Side and Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey). If I get really good at running sound, it could even become another source of freelance work.
A personal flaw of mine is that I’m a control freak, often taking over jobs because I feel that’s the only way to get it things done right. Running the Hungry Ear is teaching me to trust people more. There’s no way I could run the Hungry Ear alone. I’ve delegated someone to run publicity and a couple others to round up volunteers. I have to trust that everyone else wants to have a good show just as much as I do. I still offer guidance and suggestions, but by and large I try to give a general idea of what I want and then let them find their solutions. This frees me up to do a better job at my own tasks on a show night: meeting the performers, acting as emcee, and running the sound.
Although running the Hungry Ear involves some personal sacrifice in terms of time and occasionally having to turn down a gig, I feel the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term sacrifices. I’m doing good work for the community, and I stand to gain by meeting new people and developing technical and personal skills that can only help my music career in the long run.