Really a great way to acclimate yourself to performing as well as gaining very valuable semi-professional experience is to be open to going to some of the countless “jam” or “open mic” nights that are available.
Club owners have realized for a long time that this can be very lucrative for them, as they literally have a “captive” audience full of performers who want to get a “shot”, as well as many of their supporters, who may tag along as support.
These occasions can sometimes be quite daunting, as you never know the kinds of egos and other problems you might have to put up with, plus, it can be rather nerve-wracking for the un-initiated. I happen to like the “jam” format best, as it allows you to really shine if you are able to, while you can also just sort of “fade into the woodwork” if so desired, if you don’t feel ready to “step out” and really be heard in a forceful way yet. Regardless of which stance you take, it will always be a learning experience of some kind, and you should take something away from the evening that you can always remember that will help shape you. I can remember being so wide-eyed in my early days of sitting in and jamming. I was always very confident, even a bit cocky (which can’t hurt!), and my licks and style always managed to really “stick out” and be heard. There were, and still are of course, many funny situations that can arise from these “jams” and you just never know when and where they might occur.
I can remember one time being asked by my friend, Mick Taylor, the wonderful guitarist who’d been in The Rolling Stones, to be with him at a jam night at the Lonestar Café in NYC. As we sat there having some drinks at a back table, I can recall he and I watching a jam that was occurring before we hit the stage. Each guitar player took a turn with a solo, and Mick would say after each one, “he’s fine”, “he’s no problem”, “he’s okay”, until this one really loud and obnoxious guy played, and Mick said “HE’LL be a problem!” It was so hysterical, because it almost caused us to walk out. Imagine you’ve got me and a former member of the Stones sitting there, hoping to have some fun on a “jam” night, and we may not even play due to someone’s attitude onstage! Just shows you, your “stature” is really irrelevant when it comes to being able to handle a touchy situation such as an ego-filled “jam” or open mic night. It’s always best to first try to “size up” the situation, and then decide if it’s worth it for you to “dive in” or not. I have known many top musicians who for one reason or another, have “chickened out” of these kinds of situations simply because they were not up to handling the abuse! So be careful, these can be very productive learning experiences, but we never want them to be conter-productive!