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Gig Journal - July 17, 2002

Softpro Gig

A computer bookstore may seem like an odd place for a solo guitar gig, but in this case it was perfect.

Why a bookstore?

For a couple of years I've been playing solo and duo gigs in many of the Barnes & Noble and Borders stores around New England, and in smaller, independent bookstores. Those who want to listen can listen; those who want background music get background music.

But why a computer bookstore?

While I was at Berklee, I worked full-time as a musician/teacher and moonlighted as a software developer. Now I work full-time as a software developer and moonlight as a musician. Playing in a computer bookstore allowed me to combine three things I love: music, books, and computers.

How did I get the gig?

Softpro books is in Burlington, Mass, near where I work, and I often drop in there on my lunch hour. Recently I've noticed there is always a tasty jazz CD playing. One day it was Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane, My One and Only Love. Often it's a solo guitar CD, frequently one of Joe Pass's solo CDs. I decided to send an email to the owner, Rick, suggesting an evening of solo jazz guitar. We exchanged emails. Turns out he's a fan of solo guitar, and an amateur guitarist.

A week later, I dropped off a CD and promo package and talked to Rick. We tentatively set a night in July. We agreed we'd probably not draw much of a crowd, it being summer, but I know a few software engineers who I thought might drop by. We agreed we'd try it as a dry run, and if we both felt comfortable, schedule something for the fall, when we might draw a better crowd. He was excited about having live music. We talked about where I'd set up. At the back of the store is an open area with a curved wall. This is where authors lead their book discussions, and this is where I'd play.

The Gig

I decided to use my "good" amp – the 1965 Ampeg B-15. Since Rick was a guitar fan, I thought he'd enjoy it. When I got there and started setting up the amp, Rick said, "That's a real museum piece, isn't it?" I told him about how I'd bought it new in '65, on the advice of another guitar player, who had said, "You just bought an amp that will last you the rest of your life." He was right – at least so far.

I finished setting up and played a few notes to check the acoustics. What a treat! The room was warm and full-sounding. Later I discovered that this was not an accident. It turns out that Rick is also an architect. He showed me some photos of a house that he had designed and been involved with building. Big, open rooms, lots of wood, unusual shapes. He was well-educated in room acoustics. Either that or he just had a knack.

Rick had designed the interior of the bookstore. It was one long room, with shelves along both sides, and rows of shelves distributed at various angles in the middle. The shelves were deep, so there was plenty of exposed wood to resonate. The columns that held up the ceiling were round, with a diameter of maybe two feet, so these were good for dispersing the low frequencies. The ceiling had various nooks and crannies for indirect lighting, so these were good for dispersing the high frequencies. The rounded wall at the back of the room sent the sound evenly all the way to the front of the store. Playing in that room was like playing inside a giant violin.

Lessons learned >>