My First Show
I must have been just 18 when I got offered my first show as a hip-hop artist. Granted this was a late start by many people’s standards, but I was still extremely excited at the notion that I could now officially start my career as a rapper. My girlfriend at the time, now a good friend, linked me up with her ex-boyfriend who was going to school for music at Cogswell in the South Bay. He had an assignment to put together a roster of artists for a mix tape that would subsequently be the line up for a showcase in the school’s parking lot. I had made it, or so I thought, and couldn’t wait to brag to my Dad about how my summer employment was taken care of via fourteen percent of all profits split among sixteen people.
Serendipitously, I had seen a flyer for a Sage Francis show in the area the night before my big debut. I thought this would be a great chance to learn a few new tricks as well as celebrate the launch of what would become a long and arduous career. My good friend and now band manager, Thomas Dawson, offered to help me by burning CDs to sell at the show and driving us down there. The fact that the show was twenty-one plus was no match for our sophisticated eighteen year old brains, as we had acquired fake ID’s months prior. We had booked ourselves a hip-hop vacation weekend getaway on the luxurious Lawrence Expressway in beautiful Sunnyvale, CA. As we walked into our hotel, greeted by the overwhelming smell of stale cigarette smoke and bad karma, I remember being so excited at the prospect of beginning my “grind.” Having a show booked and getting to see one of my biggest influences in only a few hours, was the first of many “this is it” moments I would have throughout my career.
We arrived at the Avalon at eight o’clock, wanting to pay our respects to the openers and slang CDs outside the club like we had always imagined our favorite rappers doing in their formative years. Suddenly my excitement turned into whole new level of nervousness. It dawned on me that I was going to have to actually sell CDs to people- people I didn’t know, music they had never heard. Sheepishly, I approached the people waiting in line and asked if they liked underground hip-hop. Most of them looked at me as if to say “No, that’s why I am at a Sage Francis show.” Others simply pretended I didn’t exist. I guess the cacophony of like-minded emcees had diluted my efforts, making cold selling albums a much more crafty endeavor then I had anticipated.
The doors opened and Heath Pope and Bradley Wright Jr saw their way into the club, approached the bar and asked every bartenders favorite question, “what is the most amount of alcohol you can buy for the least amount of money?” The bartender was nice enough to tell us the truth and so began our consumption of Long Island Iced Teas. By the time Sage came on, we were both seeing two of him, and I dodged a bullet when a “battle” call, turned out to be dance battle with someone other than me. I was in no shape to try and dance or rap battle Sage Frances, but sure was drunk and arrogant enough to think it was a good idea at the time.
We limped back to the hotel after neglecting to tip the nice man who had gotten us so drunk on so little money. I spent the greater part of the evening puking my guts out and worrying about how much it would affect my voice. Awaking with a splitting headache, I convinced myself this was a good way to start. Better I get used to performing after a long night of drunken debauchery, because of course I was a rock star now. In my mind, I had pictured a scene very similar to the Limp Bizkit “Nookie” video, with a thousand screaming fans eager to see their favorite Bay Ent. Artists all on one gigantic stage. What we arrived to was a popcorn machine, two P.A. speakers and a five by five elevated piece of plywood with astroturf stapled to it. Still I indulged myself to think that this was my big break. I played my set, jumped around, and most likely scared a couple people but it was the most fun I had had up until that moment.
If you can believe it, my performance in the parking lot of Cogswell College did not launch me into fame and riches. In fact, I have still yet to receive a check for my sixteenth of the album’s sales. But the excitement and feeling of hope is something I have tried to hold on to in the near-decade that has passed since that weekend. I must admit it was fun being that naive and in the end, all it ever did was give me the confidence to continue on. I have learned a lot since then, but will never outgrow getting to perform for people and enjoying their energy. As we plan our fall touring schedule, I am getting that feeling that I got in the parking lot of the Avalon, that feeling that tells me this is the right thing for me to be doing.
Till next month…