My Forearm Locked Up During A Gig!?

That was really fun writing a blog post again, so let’s make it a twofer (not a typo, but real urban slang). That, of course, is a reference to the classic rock radio stations of my youth that had Two-For-Tuesday. Not one song by Huey Lewis & the News, but two in a row!! It was pretty awesome, actually. Back to the story…

So I’m a gigging mandolin player, playing mostly gypsy jazz lately. Or before this year, anyway. I’ve done probably about a hundred gigs a year the last six years or so, and the restaurant I’d been playing at all of last year closed at New Year’s. So I haven’t played a whole lot in 2015. And it’s felt like a totally natural time to take a break and relax.

I got the call last Saturday to play a gig just two days later, which was this past Monday night. It was with a hot six-piece group consisting of guitar, mandolin, violin, accordion/melodica, upright bass, and drums. By the way, the melodica is a crazy instrument. Check it out. It cost him only $25, too – basically a toy. Sounds wild, and looks even wilder. I don’t know how he plays that thing (or the accordion, for that matter).

So we were playing the third song of the second set, with lots of music to go, and my left index finger totally clamped down. Whatever runs in the forearm that connects to it, be it a tendon or muscle or whatever – you can tell I’m a real anatomy expert – was just locked up. It was like that finger, which is the most important one for me, just curled up and couldn’t be uncurled. In the middle of a song! It was probably because I hadn’t been playing much. And these jazz tunes can’t chill on a chord for longer than two seconds. So it’s some serious calisthenics for your hands and forearms. Not normal activity. And my left index finger was not happy.

So what does this have to do with this blog? Well, a big part of this blog is about what you do when things go south. Do you let the crazy voice in your head guide you or do you feel your way through the situation, asking your wisdom/common sense what to do. And I’ve been pretty open about my own life and how I handle things. So I thought you’d find this entertaining. Mr. Inner Wisdom Teacher Guy has a physical crisis mid-tune on  stage in front of the Jazz Society of Pensacola at their monthly concert. Haha! And I can say… I’m proud of how I handled it.

The main thing is that there was no thinking involved. Just deal with it. Step to the side as best you can, stretch it out, breathe into it a lot, and drink some water (which I had right there) in case there was a dehydration issue. And really tell yourself to relax. Be nice up there. There wasn’t anything else I could do besides the things I just mentioned, so I simply did them. And then I returned to the stage. And then what happened? When I played again, I heard no sound come out of the amp. It turned out that the outlet that my my amp was plugged into didn’t have the best connection, so my amp became unplugged. So repeat process… just handle the situation. Plug it back in, but without the commentary or freakout. That’s the difference – with or without the freakout. And it just takes practice. And trust me, there are still plenty of things I have the freakout about…

If you really think about it, situations like that might even make it easier to chill in your head, because it’s obvious that you don’t have time for that. I’ve given talks to emergency medicine professionals, for example, and to me they have no choice but to handle their work environment like a high level athlete in the zone – just do it. Pure awareness, breathing, and not the chatter. There’s just no time. So our invitation is to extend that to the rest of our lives and see if there’s really more peace to be found by living that way. And to see if giving power to that negative BS in our heads – that we are doing to ourselves! – is really nothing more than a habit. Which can be replaced over time and gentle practice.

So there you go, that’s my story from Monday night. And it’s nice to be back, both writing in this space and playing. Peace out!