So what’s it like subbing the mandolin and guitar on Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s Broadway show “Bright Star”? In a word – AMAZING!! In three words – SO MUCH FUN!! In nine words – I CAN’T WAIT TO DO IT AGAIN NEXT WEEK!!
What a thrill! After a month plus of really intensive practice at home and several trips into the theater just to watch the conductor and note his cues in the score, my first performance was on Tuesday. It was a bit like being part of the crew landing a space shuttle … everyone has their job to do and there is no room for mistakes! I don’t think I’ve ever focused that hard, that consistently, all the way through every-single-note of a performance in my life!! How these guys do it for eight shows a week is mind-boggling.
This is a gig where you are expected to play flawlessly for two-plus hours and as a ‘sub’, unobtrusively join and blend in with a band that is grooving at the top of its game. Your goal as a ‘sub’ isn’t to stick out or to make a big musical statement. In fact, if the other musicians don’t notice that there’s someone different playing the part, that’s when you know that you’ve done your job. You don’t have the luxury of rehearsing with the band at all. You’re expected to show up, know the material and deliver. So, Tuesday certainly had a fear component and there were times when I literally had to remind myself to breathe. BUT … the exhilaration I felt after my first show is something I don’t think I’ll forget for a long, long, while!! I can’t wait for next Tuesday and all the other dates that follow!!
Bobby Baxmeyer is the gentleman that I’m subbing for. He is flat out, unfairly talented!! Perhaps the thing that impresses me most is that he is a great and I mean GREAT mandolin player … and that is his third instrument. His main instrument is banjo, then guitar, then mandolin, then a bit of fiddle and even lap steel! Besides being such an amazingly talented guy, he has been without a doubt, the best friend and mentor that I could have ever had in getting me ready for the show. His help, encouragement, friendship and support has really been wonderful. In fact, all the musicians in the Bright Star band have been so incredibly wonderful to me all the way through this process. Tuesday night was no exception – they even had a shot of bourbon waiting for me backstage after the show to celebrate with! I am blessed beyond words to play with these guys!
I should mention how I got the gig in the first place, as it is a ‘six degrees of separation story’ that involves a few HVBA members. First, it’s helpful to understand that each regular musician on a Broadway show is required to name several possible substitutes at the beginning of the show’s run. The regular is obligated to play every show through a ‘lock-in’ period when the show first opens but after that, they can start taking days off to be with their families, take vacations, sub themselves out on other shows, etc. Bobbie Baxmeyer, the show’s regular mandolin player was having difficulty lining subs up for Bright Star. Most of the folks he would normally use either had other shows or were out on tours. He mentioned this to the show’s guitarist, Kenny Brescia who in turn, mentioned it to his friends Tom Wise and Jay Friedman (of Blue Plate Special). Tom mentioned the opportunity to my mando-brother Michael Sassano, who in turn mentioned it to me. I contacted Tom, Tom put me in touch with Kenny and eventually Bobby and the rest as they say, is history. So, never underestimate the power of the network we musicians have created for ourselves here …
So … come see the show! I’ll be there now on most Tuesdays going forward as well as a few Sundays and other random dates as I’m needed, but just go see the show regardless … You’ll be really happy that you did!!