• Philip James

My First EVER Live Performance

Updated: Jun 26

It was late December, in the year 2005. I sat in the dimly lit café clutching my instrument, as time drew dreadfully closer to my first ever live performance. Seconds began to feel like minutes, and minutes began to feel like hours, as I waited for my turn to participate in the local Open Mic event at "The Cup" coffeehouse in Wantagh, New York. I remember the steam of espresso drinks hissing in the distance as the smell of earthy lattes and cinnamon pastries filled the air. I ordered a coffee which now only fueled my current state of anxiety as I tuned the strings on my guitar and tried to slow my breathing.


"You feeling nervous at all?"


My big brother, Billy asked as he glanced at me and sipped his drink. He was smiling and chatting like he had not a care in the world. Little did he know, this was all his fault. If I never started playing his stupid guitar, I would not be in this predicament. I would be safe at home on my Nintendo 64, slicing through Legend of Zelda, sitting in my warm comfy PJ's, while snacking on Oreos. Instead, I'm stuck here sipping on the strongest coffee my 14-year old heart could handle-trying not to crap my pants.


"Yea a little bit"


I say to him as I anxiously slurp more coffee from my mug. I try to maintain my composure and follow his lead. Trying to hide behind my confidence as if that were going to save me.


"Billy.. Is there a Billy Haire here?"


The Barista asked speaking softly into the microphone as she looked around the room. Oh no this can't be happening. I thought to myself. The alarms in my head began to fire at an overwhelming rate. If they just called Billy on stage, that had to mean that I was next to perform. I could feel my heart race, as periodic waves of stress flowed through me. My hands would shake, my fingers felt cold and stiff from the brisk winter air, and the guitar I had practiced on so passionately for months began to feel clunky and foreign. Even the chords I had rehearsed began to feel unfamiliar, and I was starting to feel like I might forget some of the lyrics.


I looked over at my cousin Christina, she smiled and said, "You're gonna do great!" . I appreciated her support, smiled back and tried to calm down. Christina and Billy would go on to be the framework that started to build my most devoted supporters. They were there from the very first time I mustered up the courage to step on the stage. Billy started to play the last song of his set and I knew the moment of truth was coming. The coffee started to hit me, I had to pee, my nerves were setting in, there was a line forming for the bathroom, and I was about to be called up on stage. I looked over at the exit and briefly imagined myself running out that door. Escaping the reality that was setting in. If I just left everything behind, I could make a clean getaway. Just as I started to snap back to reality, I looked at my brother who had now completed his last song, and began talking to the café.


"So next up is my younger brother, Philip and it's his first ever open mic tonight. How about we give him a warm welcome to the stage?"


The people turned toward me and clapped with encouragement. I could feel my face flush and turn red. There was no backing down now. I walked toward stage and sat down on the tattered wooden stool. I took the leap of faith that every great musician must one day take. It is the right-of-passage that all singers and songwriters have to overcome in order to fuel their passion. After that night my fate was sealed.


I would like to say my performance that evening was unparalleled, and that I rocked the socks off of every patron in the café. The truth is, my set didn't go according to plan. I fumbled through each chord progression, I did not make eye contact with anyone watching me play, and I did not sing into the microphone because I was afraid to show people my actual voice. I sat down on that stool, exposed my art to an entire room of strangers, and pretty much forced them to listen to it.


When I finished my last song, they clapped, whistled, and hollered. An immense weight had immediately been lifted off my shoulders. "That wasn't so bad" I thought, as I looked over at Christina and Billy who were smiling and clapping. Songwriters whom I had never met came over to offer words of encouragement. They told me how much they liked my songs and told me to keep going. The rest is history. After that night, I became addicted to the act of performing. I built relationships around that coffeehouse. My closest friends in life sprouted from the very art that forged me. My friends and family made it a tradition to go to weekly open mic nights and at an early age I had the support I needed to keep creating. After stepping up on stage a few more times, I got better. Once I made it a habit, the rest fell into place naturally as it should. To this day, I remember what it was like letting go of all my emotions and stepping up onto that stage. It was one of life's experiences that defines what it is that truly makes a performer.


Thanks for reading. Feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I hope you enjoyed my story.


Cheers,

-Phil


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