Last Saturday night was a night of firsts: my first solo performance representing the Jungle Gym Jam, the Broad Street IHOP’s first engagement of a musician for its long-running Family Fun Night series, and my first time ever performing using a wireless microphone or guitar transmitter (I used both).
For years I had seen the flyers up in the IHOP advertising a family fun night with a balloon artist or face painter and had thought, “hmmm, they should have a musician. I’ll bet I could do that…” but left the thought there. Of course, I didn’t identify myself as a kindie artist at that time. In recent weeks I rekindled the thought since I consider IHOP to be a family-friendly tradition and a great place to introduce parents and kids to our songs live, in-person and with ample opportunities to interact in between sets.
After a few enthusiastic phone calls and e-mails with the brothers who own the local franchise, we made a go of it. Then began the considerations: Do I bring a speaker system? I knew that this was a restaurant, not a nightclub, so volume needed to be kept low enough for patrons to be able to enjoy dinnertime conversation. I also knew it was a big restaurant divided into two rooms that have little to no line of sight between them. The first consideration led me to think about bringing no amplification at all. The second consideration raised the concern that every time I visit one room in the restaurant, the other room would get no trace of my performance, which could have a disorienting effect for the audience, especially in the middle of a song. But even if I brought a conventional PA system with a mic on a stand, that would raise the problem: where do you set up so everyone who wants to see you perform can do so, especially kids who would have their back to you in a booth? My answer was to get a wireless headset mic and a wireless guitar transmitter, so I could move freely around the space.
For the show, I wore my new green custom Converse sneakers for the first time and picked up a cool accessory at Party City – a red bracelet that lights up when you move your wrist. Perfect for strumming, I thought!
Setup went smoothly and Viola, the restaurant’s manager, greeted me very warmly, offering me coffee or anything I might want. I tested the wireless equipment in the larger space, sound checking with the Beatles song “Eight Days a Week.” The gear seemed to work fine with one exception: my range of how far I could walk with the guitar transmitter was limited. If I walked to the back corner tables, the signal would cut out and then come back as I got closer to the receiver. The microphone seemed to work from absolutely everywhere.
Just before showtime at 6:00, there were a few other families with kids in the venues, along with some all-adult parties. Then, my wife Amy, my mother Linda and 2-year-old Peanut arrived and got a table. I gave out some maracas and tambourines I brought for audience participation. Soon, I launched into “I’m a Believer” to start the set. The freedom of being able to move around among the audience was exhilarating! I was spinning, dancing, making eye contact with families wherever their tables were, in both rooms of the divided restaurant.
More families arrived during the course of the first set and going into the second set. One family had a middle-school aged boy and his younger sister. My first thought was to work in some songs that would appeal to the kids in the older range of our audience. When I launched into an Elvis medley, I was pleased to hear a maraca played with expert timing and a great flourish on the song ending. I asked our young teen if he was a drummer, and he said yes. It’s always great to jam with young student musicians and feed off their energy!
One couple with a young school-aged son and a baby daughter arrived. The mom told me between sets that they had seen our calendar entry in Baristanet and that they liked both IHOP and family music so this Family Fun Night was a natural fit for them. During that break I took Peanut around to all the tables that had kids and mingled a bit. Peanut was thrilled with this and kept telling my mom, “People! People!”
A great moment occurred during the second set when one mother and her three kids were getting ready to leave. While they were waiting to pay the check, her kids were dancing to my tunes. My mom took Peanut for a walk around the restaurant and my little one joined right in with her new friends’ dance moves. I love when my music is an occasion for the beginning of new friendships!
At the close of the set, I sat down to have my dinner with my family and reflect on the wonderful moments of the show. The next day I stopped back in at the IHOP to follow-up with one of the franchise owners and plan our next steps. I’ve been invited back to perform on Saturday, August 24. I gladly accepted and we will make a few adjustments. The challenge is to lower the volume of the PA system where it was set up by the front counter and still be audible at the back tables of the restaurant. I believe the answer will be the addition of more speakers in the far corners of the restaurant, with each one at a significantly lower volume. The challenge is to honor the wishes of people coming to their favorite restaurant to eat and enjoy their conversations while putting on a dynamic and engaging show that encourages kids to make new friends and enjoy a memorable night out with the family.