Monday, November 9, 2015

Dude Choir in El Paso

Hey folks! Eric here. I have a road trip adventure to share with you.

The other week I drove to El Paso and back in less than two days to speak and play music at the Our Lives Conference. Why, might you ask, did I willingly volunteer for this mountainous task? In short, because of two sayings that have consistently nagged at my conscience since I first heard them:

"Things that matter most must not be put at the mercy of things that matter least." This first one came from my step-dad, and though I still resent it echoing around my brain, I must admit he had a good point. I am a self-proclaimed musician and songwriter, and I had been given the opportunity to play my songs for 150 people or more. If music was truly my passion, my priority, it'd be crazy for me to pass up this opportunity for comfort, a couple hours of sleep, and a little less stress. Pursuing our passions should always be a top priority, not an afterthought.

"Do one thing every day that scares you." This one came from Eleanor Roosevelt, and for some reason, it made total sense to me. If you aren't constantly challenging or throwing yourself in frightening new situations, how will you ever know what you're truly capable of? Now I'm not advocating that you should go climb K2 without a guide or sit in a cage with poisonous snakes. I'm just saying that if you have big aspirations with terrifying obstacles impeding your way, you can try to tackle those obstacles by pushing yourself to do at least one scary thing every day. My obstacles are stage fright and the fear of making mistakes, but each time I play one of my songs live, I chip away a little more at those obstacles.

Nolan snaps a selfie of us
before we hit the road.
We had been planning this trip to El Paso since June, and it was to take place in the middle of October, when I could allot five days for the trip there and back, along with ample recovery and practice time in El Paso. Later, Rick invited me to play music during the conference lunch, and I agreed after a few days of anxious internal debates weighing the pros and cons. So I began teaching my songs to my attendant Juan Carlos and practicing several nights a week. Then I found out that the conference had been pushed back to the end of October, during a week that was already booked with a webinar, a training in Houston, a mentor group, and a conference prep session. Moreover, Juan Carlos would be away on tour during that week. My heart dropped. I didn't see how this trip would be even vaguely possible.

Luckily, my other attendant Nolan, also a musician, stepped up to the challenge of learning 8 new songs and driving me to El Paso one day, then playing with me and driving back the next - his reasoning, similar to mine, that I should not miss an opportunity like this to share my music with so many people. And hey, the dude likes road trips! So I taught Nolan the songs, and we practiced every available opportunity in the 3 weeks leading up to the conference.

Then came the day of our departure, and we hit the road. All in all, it was a beautiful drive with expansive views, endless straightaways, opportunities to embrace one's entire life, and surprisingly decent truck stop restrooms. Though, as with any full day of driving, the road did take its toll, and by the time we reached our hotel room in El Paso, I collapsed into bed, nauseous and dizzy. I awoke a few hours later to sip from a styrofoam cup filled with the best chicken tortilla soup of my life, courtesy of Leo's Mexican Food Restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel. While I napped, Nolan had gone out to find the crucial elixir now bringing me back to life. After soup came a round of sopapillas - essentially Mexico's version of fluffy beignets and the perfect end to any evening. I immediately returned to dreamland, and Nolan left to explore the nightlife in El Paso.

A view of the desert on the way to El Paso

The next morning we awoke at 5:30am, and my stomach was in knots. Our panel of speeches would begin at 8:45am, and then I would play music at lunch. I don't usually cope well with doubleheaders, especially when each event utilizes a different side of my brain. But, despite my concerns, everything moved forward smoothly. I found Rick, who further proved himself to be the kindest, most forgiving man I've ever met, kind of like a third grandfather. He always made sure we had everything we needed - tables, microphones, breakfast burritos, an extended sound check before our set, and full plates of lunch for when we finished.

The ballroom of the Camino Real Hotel,
where we played
Our speeches at the start of the conference went well. Stephanie Gonzalez, Nicole, and I all discussed what the ADA means to us. Then I brought breakfast to Nolan, sound asleep in our room, and we ate and rehearsed a final time before our sound check.
Adjusting all the levels
during our soundcheck

We began our set around 1:00pm and played 8 songs, 6 originals and 2 covers. Of course, we made a few mistakes, as we always do, but I am happy to report I only messed up the lyrics 3 times, which is pretty good for me. I'm usually better at remembering my lyrics, but throw in a keyboard solo or an audience of more than a hundred people, and all those taken-for-granted skills seem to float away. Luckily I'm grounded enough to know that a mistake is a learning opportunity and not something to hold against yourself.

Nolan and myself in the heat of our performance

I look back at this performance as a moment of personal growth. I played a longer set than I had ever played to a much larger audience than I had ever played for, and I got through all of the songs with only a handful of mistakes (make that two handfuls) and no nervous breakdowns (well, at least none requiring hospitalization) - I'd say that's pretty good.

Enough yapping now! You can enjoy a few videos of our set here:

But just remember that the views expressed in my songs do not necessarily reflect the views of VSA Texas. Cheers!

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