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pix The Solo Restaurant Gig - Guitar A La Carte pix
pix pix by Dan Lambert  

Page added in April, 2001

About The Author

Dan Lambert is a guitarist, performer, recording artist and teacher out of El Paso, Texas with five CDs under his belt and another on the way.


His latest instrumental CD is entitled "The Double Drum Trio".

Send comments or questions to Dan Lambert.

© Dan Lambert

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  Minimum hassle, maximum cash (I'm lying a little), the most trouble I can get into is if I've been playing a lot of clubs and shows lately, I tend to play too loud - that's the solo restaurant gig.

Here are a few qualifications and considerations for the job. Style is probably more important than repertoire - how you play it more than what you play. Jazz standards, folk tunes, classical pieces, pop-rock songs, Brazilian and South American stuff, I play mostly my own tunes - they'll all work if you play them in a style that works with the venue. Throttle back a bit and create an ambience conducive to dining and talking. Like it or not, basically you are musical wallpaper.

There are the basic mundane requisites like dressing the part and not creating a disturbance when you're setting up or tearing down (people are probably eating). Keep the equipment to a minimum - I don't bring my extension speaker cabinet that I use for bigger gigs. Most of these owners have put a lot of thought into the look and feel of their establishment, and they don't want a bunch of electronic gear cluttering up the joint. Also, I want my amp right next to me so I can tell exactly how loud I am. The volume is critical. Get a few steady customers to complain about you being too loud, and you'll need to have one of those uncomfortable discussions with the owner (like being called to the principal's office). A restaurant owner has never asked me to turn it up. A club owner, yes, a restaurant owner, no.

If I'm hired for the lunch rush from noon to 1:30, I need to be set up by 10 minutes to 12 (at least), and I need to get in and out of there with the minimum of jostling around. At one place I have a deal worked out with the owner that we asses the crowd at my scheduled quitting time, and if there are enough customers to warrant me staying longer, we do it. Everyone wins, I make more dough, the restaurant gets more music when they need it, and the diners get an extension on the ambience. When I finish, I inform the owner that I'm done, I tell him "Thanks", and I go back and tear down. I do it very quietly in a couple minutes. Poof, like a ghost, I'm gone.

No, I didn't start playing guitar because I thought it would be groovy to play restaurants. But hey, I've had enough crappy jobs to know that any job with a guitar in my hand is better than the graveyard shift in an aluminum extrusion plant. Restaurant gigs fit in perfectly with my schedule. I teach guitar during the day, but not till later in the afternoon, so lunchtime jobs work great. I'm playing other gigs on the weekends (and during the week), but I seem to be able to work in these kinds of jobs just fine, one reason being that they tend to be earlier than your average nighttime club gig.

Now for the music. I play tunes with catchy melodies. I vary the rhythms, keys, and textures of these pieces. I try to keep things interesting. Some gigs I stretch out a lot, others it's just tune after tune (you can check out an article I've written entitled "Improvising Solo" at the Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitar Page). I tend to blend one song into another, providing a nice backdrop of sound. I can literally try any kind of tune I like, and I usually sneak the new stuff in between a couple of familiar ones. It's a great way to debut new material.

You won't get a lot of crowd reaction during the gig (actually you do, you just don't notice it). The feedback isn't yelling, screaming, yahooing concert stuff, but if you play well, people do let you know. They love to come up to me after they're done eating and say how much they liked the music. Also, while I'm playing I watch people's feet. If they're tapping along to what I'm doing, I've done my job. Oh yeah, ask the owner about selling CDs at the front counter. Offer them a cut ($3 to $5 on a $15 cd - some don't want one) and tell customers about them when they compliment you. Instead of accepting a tip, I put on the gentle hard sell about my recordings.

These gigs can be for you if you realize how your music fits into the picture. One more thing, don't forget to ask the owner how you should dress.

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