Last October when I made the trip to Newfoundland to visit family and explore the land my Grandfather left behind, I never expected my life to be so profoundly changed.  It was changed, however, and is still being changed almost daily, all because of that one fateful journey. 

After spending time with my Newfoundland family, I realized how much I’d missed making music. Writing, singing, playing my guitar, were all things I’d walked away from when I started raising my boys. When I lost my father, I turned my back on my music for over a decade, not even touching my guitar in all that time.  One week in Newfoundland with my musical family, however, brought me back to my roots and my love of making music.  Upon returning home, I gave myself the deadline of the Spring to get some new songs written, brush up on my guitar playing, and get out there in front of an audience again.  Spring came all too quickly.

Much to my amazement, I followed through on my commitment. Spring came, and I went to an open mic night at a local pub.  With trembling hands and a wavering voice, I got up and played, and sang. I performed two of my own songs that night. One was called A Better Life, which I had written about my Grandfather Doyle and what he must have felt when he left Newfoundland and moved to Boston. The other song was Back To St. John’s, which I wrote after coming home from that fateful journey.  I was homesick for the place immediately upon my return to Massachusetts, but it took me quite some time to actually write the song. I just couldnt put into words the emotions I was feeling at the time. Eventually I did, and that song was the result.  Both of those songs can be found on my Facebook Artist Page www.facebook.com/ckingmusic  (click on BandPage on the left of the page).  The reason this post is called “Overwhelmed” is because of how things have progressed since that one open mic night.  After that night, I went back and did more open mics.  I started doing them at different pubs, wherever they were having open mic nights.  The more I performed,  the more confident I became. I started taking gigs, although still non-paying ones, whenever they came along.  I just wanted to get out there in front of people and play my songs.  I started to record rough demos in my bedroom, on my iPhone.  I keep writing new songs.  More people hear my songs…it has snowballed and things are now happening at a dizzying pace.   Several people have asked me where they can buy my CD…to which I have no response because I don’t have a CD out.  It did get me thinking about it, however.  I’ve since been in contact with a few different producers and studios, and I am researching all options.  It looks like I’ll be recording my first CD sometime soon.

I just never would have imagined any of this back in October when I stepped off the plane in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I am overwhelmed.

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Busking…not like the “olden days”

This past weekend I did my first stint as a busker in over 20 years.  A lot has changed in that 20 years, especially me.  Back in the “olden days” as my children like to say, as  Berklee students we all would busk in the subway stations occasionally. It was a great way to earn beer money (we called it phone bill money, but it pretty much all went to beer) and it was good practice for the future stardom we were all certain to attain.  The acoustics were fantastic down in the subway, too, if you could get past the smell of stale booze and urine.  I was about 19 or 20 years old then, and afraid of nothing.

Now I’m in my mid forties and afraid of everything.  I would never busk in the subway these days, unless some serious cash was guaranteed.  No, these days I prefer to busk at the lovely Hyannis waterfront.  Saturday was my first day, playing between the artist shanties that line the walkway near the ferry terminal.  There was a nice breeze…ok a bit too breezy maybe–I need to bring some clothes pins next time to hold my music to my music stand.  The sun was shining, people were walking around, artists were painting and selling their work, ferries were arriving and departing.  Ferries have loud horns they blow as they are departing, which I had forgotten until I heard the blast of one right in the middle of my song, which startled me enough that I forgot where I was and had to begin again… but it was cool, there weren’t any people listening to me at that particular moment. 

I played and sang, and if actual people happened by I would sing a little louder, play an upbeat tune. If the people walking by were older, I’d play an old Irish tune, hoping to get their attention.  Know your audience.

About halfway through my set, I heard this sound coming from down the street, getting louder as it drew closer.  Then I saw him.  Across the street,  an older gentleman playing a trumpet as he walked along the sidewalk toward the Black Cat restaurant.  He then stood on the lawn of the restaurant and continued to play his trumpet…loudly.  So I stopped playing, to listen and rest my fingers.   I figured he was done when I saw him walking off the lawn and into the Black Cat, so I started playing another song.  I had just begun to sing the first verse when I heard it again. The trumpet blasting from across the street.  This time he was on the balcony, playing out to the street, directly across from me.  I thought to myself, “Darn you Lou Columbo!”  I sang louder, and played my guitar with more force and conviction. Lou played even louder, more uptempo.  I knew I couldn’t compete with a trumpeter of Lou’s stature, so I gave in. I sat and waited patiently for him to finish, then started to sing again.  I was pretty much near the end of my two-hour time slot anyway, so I didn’t really mind, in fact I thought it was amusing.  I wondered if Lou had ever busked in the Boston subway tunnels. 

It turned out to be a nice day, and I made $5 which immediately went toward lunch for my son and me.  I’m sure as summer goes on, it will get busier and I’ll gain more confidence and maybe get some inspiration for new songs.  I just love hanging out  at the waterfront, around the boats and the artists and the tourists.  I don’t even miss the smell of stale booze and urine.

artist shantiesartist shanties

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nagging voices of doubt

…and so it begins. I shouldn’t be surprised. After almost twenty years, I found my way back to my music, faced my fears, and dove right into writing and performing music again. I set goals, followed through, and met them.  Once I began, things started to happen, seemingly on their own. Momentum started building, gigs have begun to surface, possibilities for the future.  Then the voice started making itself heard.  You know that voice.  It’s that little voice in the back of your mind, that starts to undermine everything you try to accomplish, sowing the seeds of doubt.  My voice has been really loud this week, and when I try to quiet it by pushing forward, it just starts screaming louder.  It says “you can’t do that”, “you’re too old now”, and “you’re not good enough”, followed by “what in the world were you thinking?” , “you’re kidding yourself, it will never work out” and “people will laugh behind your back”.  I hate that voice, it’s a paranoid little bugger.

I know we all deal with this when we’re trying to accomplish something important to us. It may not be important to anyone else, but to us, it’s everything. I think that is what gets that voice started. We have so much riding on what we’re going after, we have such passion for it, that in our own minds we start to try to sabotage ourselves. It’s almost as if we want to do it before someone else does, so it might hurt less.  How stupid is that?   I admit it, that voice has really bothered me this week. Nagging doubts about what I’m trying to do, musically.  Am I too old now? Did I miss my chance? Do I seem ridiculous to even want to try now? Is it just a big waste of time?  It would be so easy to give up, and let that dream go. I could just go back to not singing, not playing, not writing songs, and go back to just working a regular day job, being a regular mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend.  I could go back to being unhappy, feeling like something is missing, knowing what that something is, but being too afraid to risk living the way I want to live and being who I really am.

So maybe I am older than many of the other singer/songwriters I’ve been running into. Maybe it is too late for me to actually turn this into any kind of career.  I do regret waiting so damn long to find my way back, but I’m glad I did. I’m eternally grateful that I took that trip to Newfoundland and spent time getting to know some of my family. They had a bigger effect on me than they will ever know, and that trip changed my life forever.  So, I will try to ignore that annoying voice in my head that keeps trying to make me give up, and I will keep writing and singing and playing.  It makes me happy, and probably easier to live with.  I’m not the world’s best songwriter or guitarist, but I’ll keep working at both, which can only bring improvement.  I may be older, but that should just give me more to write about right?

One last thing. Thanks to all of my family and friends who have been so supportive. I really appreciate everyone’s comments, suggestions, and encouragement. I will try not to embarrass you.

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Open Mic

Last night was another Open Mic night at Tommy Doyle’s in Hyannis. I went, armed with several tunes including some Blue Rodeo, one GBS, and a few of my own.  There were only about ten people at the bar–a very quiet Wednesday night, but a good opportunity to gain some experience as well as roll out a new song or two.  I started with Blue Rodeo’s  “Until I Gain Control Again”,  followed by “5 Days in May”.  Then I switched over to my own tunes.  I wrote “Back to St. John’s” only three or four days earlier, and had never performed it live before.  About an hour before I left for the pub, I was changing lyrics and doing some major editing.  I sang it anyway, even though I was unsure of how the final version would eventually end up. (I’m still not sure what the final version will sound like.)  It went over well, I think.  The bartender said he liked it, as did a new friend who stopped in to listen for a while.  Then I did “Better Life”, the song I wrote about my grandfather.  Then I did “Sky”, another Blue Rodeo tune, and then another one of mine, and back and forth like that for a while.

None of the other musicians who usually show up to play had shown up, so it was just me and Bill Downes, the wonderful singer/guitarist who hosts the Open Mic nights. Because of this, I was able to do a longer set than I had on previous nights. I just wish I had been more prepared, or less exhausted.  I had been up since 4:20am, worked a full day, and then attempted to play and drink Guinness when I would normally be in bed.  I finished up with GBS’s “Sea of No Cares” and then handed it back to Bill. I was done, mentally checked out for the night. My fingertips hurt and I just couldn’t focus any longer.  I sat at the bar and had one more pint with my husband and my new friend Tanya (with whom I’d been Tweeting for several weeks) and relaxed for a few minutes.  I didn’t want to think about the next morning, or my commute, or work, or anything. I just wanted to sit there, enjoy my pint, and feel that warm buzz I always feel after I sing a really good song.  I get a physical high when I sing, not sure if that’s normal, or if other singers feel it too, but I always have and that’s why I sing.

Today I’m at work, very tired and unfocused, but happy.  Happy and excited, because my new guitar is due to be delivered today. Can’t wait to get home and see if it’s there.

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Going “all in”

Not long ago I made a conscious decision to return to being a singer/songwriter. I made this decision after spending time in Newfoundland with family who are all very talented musicians. Being around them made me miss being a musician, and caused me to do some introspection, which led me to the realization that the void in my life, the “something missing” I was feeling, was music. I had been a musician for so many years, and then just walked away and abandoned it for more than a decade. The realization that I had been punishing myself, or ignoring a big part of myself, was eye-opening and liberating. It was time.

Ever since I made that decision to go back to being a singer/songwriter, things have been happening at lightning speed. I’ve begun writing again, slowly. Although I’m not completely satisfied with the songs I’ve written thus far, I feel it’s a start, at least, and sure to improve over time, as the rust is scraped away. I began playing my guitar again, rebuilding the calluses on my fingertips. It was painful for the first couple of days, but my fingertips seem to have a great memory. I bought a new guitar, an acoustic/electric. It hasn’t arrived yet, but should be here in a couple of days. I’m looking forward to hearing how it sounds and feeling how it fits in my hands. I started singing in public again, at open mic nights. I thought that would be the best way to ease back into playing, and it’s been wonderful so far. I was terrified at first, but once I started I was ok. It was exhilarating, really, and that old natural high I used to get came rushing back. I’ve missed that high.

The amazing thing about all of this is that suddenly, since I opened the window of possibilities, opportunities of all shapes and sizes have begun to come to me. Performing opportunities I never would have imagined have suddenly presented themselves, and instead of shying away from them, I’ve said “yes”. Yes I will put myself out there and try. Yes, I will take a chance. Yes, I will do my best. I’ve begun learning some of the recording software that’s out there, which at times has frustrated the everliving hell out of me. But I keep at it, and I’ve even managed to get a few songs recorded. They are not studio quality, but rough tracks, demos, ghost tracks. From those tracks I will build the whole song, with harmonies, etc. For now, those ghost tracks are online, for all to hear and comment on. I’ve created an EPK on Sonicbids, so I can try to find more gigs. The tracks really aren’t suitable for public consumption but until I can replace them with something better, I’ll put them there. Who knows, maybe something will happen. I’m really looking forward to getting the studio built. I’ve also created a Facebook page for my music, apart from my personal account.

One upcoming project I’m particularly excited about is the Independent Musicians’ Recording Project and Coffeehouse, in Plymouth, MA on April 30th. It’s an open mic night at the Middle Street School of Music, and the goal of the project is a compilation CD consisting of performances from the Open-Mics. I’m excited about the prospect of being included on a compilation cd, and having the track to use as a more professional sounding “live demo”. I plan to perform the song I just wrote a few days ago, “Back to St. John’s”. That song has haunted me for six months, and although I may end up changing some of it, it truly came from my soul. I wrote it in less than 30 minutes, and maybe it shows. I can continue to work on it, but the basic idea of it will remain the same. I want to go back to St. John’s, where I left my heart six months ago. I can’t think of another song I’d rather have a live recording of.
So…it begins…my foray back into the music world, for better or worse. Hopefully better.

www.facebook.com/CKingMusic http://www.sonicbids.com/CatherineKing

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new addition

I know I posted this on Twitter already, but for those who follow my blog and do not use Twitter….I have a new addition to the family…

Yep…I bought her on Ebay, a steal really. I’ve been shopping Takamine for a while now, and the one I played and loved locally was about $1000.  Needless to say, this one was MUCH less expensive, because it’s well used.  I don’t care, I view “used” as “broken in”.  My current guitar is 28 yrs old and is in great shape, but I needed to upgrade to a better brand, and I need the ability to plug-in. The noise level in pubs is too high for an unplugged acoustic.

Can’t wait to meet her!! She’s a real beauty eh?

Oh, and one more thing…the power of positive thinking is blowing me away recently.  Ever since I made the conscious decision to start playing out again, amazing things have been happening. Suddenly gigs are coming my way, totally out of the blue. And the people offering the gigs haven’t even heard me yet!   I wonder…if I make a conscious decision to play the lottery…

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another year wiser…

Today as I become yet another year wiser, I think about all that the last year has brought to my life. The more I think about it, I begin to realize how much happens in one year. It’s truly amazing.

A year ago:

I had never been to Newfoundland, I didn’t know many of my Newfoundland cousins, I had not listened to my cousin Alan’s wonderful band, Great Big Sea.  I knew much less about my family and my heritage, and I did not have the appreciation for folk music (including accordion and fiddle), and I did not know what the heck an Irish Bouzouki was.  I didn’t listen to Irish music, and I had never tasted Screech or cod tongues.

I had not touched my guitar in about 10 years, and had not performed live in almost 20.  I was not writing songs. I did not yet have Gracie, my beautiful pup, in my life. I had not yet started commuting to Boston every day. I was still in grad school, writing papers and doing research, while working full-time. I was not yet blogging, or using my Twitter account.

While I loved my husband and children, my appreciation and loyalty have done nothing but grow over the past year.  I love them all even more now than I did a year ago, which is amazing to me. I love my husband for putting up with my moods and my job, and for encouraging my ambitions, both professional and musical.

I reconnected with some girlfriends from high school, and made a new friend too. These women have meant the world to me this year (lunch bunch you know who you are) and I’m so thankful to have them in my life.

The biggest changes this year have been that I earned my Masters degree, I went to Newfoundland and learned more about myself than I ever expected to, I uncovered a deep pride and respect for my Newfoundland heritage, and I fell in love with the place.  Because of that, I found my way back to my music, and all the joy and passion that comes with it. I’ve started writing and performing music again, which is HUGE.  Now when I’m on the bus for my 2 hour morning commute, instead of doing homework or studying, I write lyrics, or sleep.  I’ve learned to let go of regret, resentment, and worry. I have learned what is really important to me.

Some things, of course, have not changed over the last year. I still miss my father every day, maybe more so now that I’ve reclaimed my music.  I still have a temper, but I think I’ve learned to control it better.  I still avoid some things I would rather not deal with, and wait until the last minute to face them. Some things will never change.

Change is good. It forces growth and opens windows of possibility. I’m looking forward to the next year, and the years after that. I’m excited about the future and all the possibilities out there.

One last thing. A big THANK YOU to all of my friends and family, coworkers and acquaintances who have made the last year challenging, fun, exciting, and thought-provoking. Thanks for putting up with me, for inspiring me, and for being there when I needed you.  And a special thanks to my Twitter friends, some of whom I’ve never even met…for making me smile and laugh every day, even on days when it’s difficult. I appreciate you all.

Bring on the next year!

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