Mike Powell is a singer-songwriter from Central New York. In addition to his work as a solo artist, he also leads the soulful rock band The Black River. Powell and fellow CNY singer-songwriter Chris Merkley are embarking on a four-show mini-tour of microbreweries across the state searching for the connection between songwriting and brewing.
This is the second of a four-part NYS Music series contributed by Powell. The first installment of Powell’s tour diary can be found here.
“I am my own captain
On this ship I sail to sea”
I don’t have a manager. I don’t have a booking agent. I don’t have a publicist. I’m completely independent in every way but I’m certainly not alone. There are thousands of artist just like me that are making lives in music while handling their own booking, designing their own show posters, running their websites, printing their own shirts and funding their own records. There’s a real freedom that lives inside this type of self-reliant approach to making art. It’s certainly a major challenge and it definitely forces you to become a Swiss army knife in many ways. But I love everything about it…well, everything except the booking component.
I hate booking myself. It’s the absolute worst. It’s an incredibly time-consuming process that just really frustrates the hell out of me. But worst of all is I just can not stand “selling” myself to venues. It goes against everything that my parents taught me about being humble. Telling someone that you’re good is just about the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
I have a public confession to make. When I first started booking tours for myself back in 2008 I created a separate Gmail account to send my press kit from because the whole self-promotion thing weirds me out so much. I even used a fake name, Theo. It seemed to work out okay and made me feel a little less guilty about self-promotion until I would be loading in for a show and the talent buyer would ask if Theo was going to be around.
Through my years of traveling and having countless green room conversations with fellow artists, I was happy to find out that I’m certainly not the first or the last to try the old fake name trick. In fact, I’ve laughed with dozens of songwriters about the fake name that they used and some even continue to use.
Theo was getting gigs for me but it just didn’t feel right so I made a conscious decision to stop forcing it and just try to focus on playing rooms that feel right and fit my music. It was this simple decision that freed me up to focus more on what I needed to, writing better songs and honing my performance. Soon I realized that the opportunities started to reveal themselves. I started to find fun in the word of mouth search for venues around my region that are true gems. I realized quickly that you can Google search all you want but you won’t organically find the right rooms that way.
I began asking questions. I started to talk to music lovers about their favorite places to see live music. I would ask touring songwriters that I opened for where their favorite places to play were. This approach has worked out for me and taken the pressure off of the awkward cold email approach.
Three years ago I started to notice a tall shadowy figure in a trench coat, cowboy boots and a ponytail was attending many of my shows. I like to personally thank everyone that comes out to see me play with a handshake. So after about the third time I saw this man at one of my shows I decided I needed to go introduce myself to him. His name is Patrick O’Malley and from that day forth we have maintained a wonderful relationship. He’s just a great dude that loves music, has experience booking acts at various venues around the state and has a great understanding of how to create a cool experience for the artist and the audience.
Three months ago I got a text from Patrick and he said, “You’ve gotta see this room.” He attached a picture of a big stage in an old barn surrounded by rustic beams and elegant string lighting. He knew it, it was my kind of place. I immediately fired back and said, “WHERE IS THIS?” and he replied “Abandon Brewing in Penn Yan.”
Yesterday was in my opinion, the perfect New York day. The leaves were turning, the sun was shining and the air was clean. I hopped in my truck and headed west from my home in Cazenovia bound for stop number two on the Original Gravity MicroTour at Abandon Brewing. I love driving and there are few drives more magical than the one that threads through the Finger Lakes on a classic fall day.
I arrived at about four o’clock while the sun was high but dropping fast and my first glimpse from the parking lot revealed an incredible old barn that sat overlooking beautiful Keuka Lake. What an expansive and magical view. I passed through the giant doors and found a perfect sized bar and a solo performer on that familiar stage I recognized from Patrick’s photo. Patrick’s picture just did not do the place justice.
Chris arrived and we shared a tasty session Saison created by the talented and prolific brewmaster Jeff. Our eyes drifted all around this geothermal powered farmstead brewery and we talked about how amazing the acoustics were in this old barn. We met one of the owners, AJ, who happens to also be in a Rochester-based bluegrass band, thus reinforcing that connection we’ve set out to explore on this tour between beer and music. So needless to say we felt right at home.
The sun went down and they fired up the heaters inside the old barn and we played our sets for a playful and respectful crowd. The beer options were plentiful and flat out fantastic and again, the sound was top notch. I can see this venue really becoming a place that traveling acts of various genres will seek out for years to come because of the vibe, location, sound, the aesthetic and overall experience at Abandon.
Thank you to Patrick for sending that text message and everyone who came out to see Chris and me. Such a killer night. Its nights like last night that make me say to myself, “Man, I am so lucky to be doing this”.
The video below gives a view of the second stop of the Original Gravity Tour at Abandon Brewing Company in Penn Yan with interview footage of tourmate Chris Merkley.
Powell and Merkley continue their Original Gravity tour on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 3:00 p.m. at Heritage Hill Brewhouse in Pompey and Local 315 Brewing Company in Warners on Sunday, Oct. 13, also at 3:00 p.m.