weekends and waves

Weekends are a strange thing to me. I haven’t equated them to being days off since I was in college. Ever since then, if I’m home on a weekend, it just doesn’t feel right. But here I am, sitting in a coffee shop in Nashville on a rainy and cold Saturday morning. It’s only slightly after 8 AM, which as my friends know, it's quite amazing I’m anywhere before 9 - I don’t do early. I’m watching people come and go, some with their kids, some alone, some still in their PJs and disheveled. It’s weird to me that this whole being-home-on-a-weekend thing is normal for everyone here. Even though I haven’t been on the road to play a show since early January, this is still a somewhat uncomfortable feeling to me. This is their life.  I kind of feel like I’m intruding a little bit, like I’m the one who doesn’t quite fit in here. Most times I’m in this coffee shop it’s during the week and it’s filled with other musicians and creative types. Today it’s got a completely different vibe to it. These people have real jobs. Pretty sure I can point out an accountant, a teacher, a nurse … actually, I'm making that up, I have no clue what anyone does in here. But it’s definitely not filled with the clientele I’m used to seeing.

I broke the cardinal rule of musicians earlier … never admit that you’re not busy. But I don’t see much point in pretending that I am. Truth be told, I’ve never been good at selling myself as a busy musician, even when I have been. So why would that change now? I like to be real with people. Want to know my simple reply to anyone that asks what I’m up to right now? I tend to laugh and say, “not shit”. Which I have to admit has been a hard thing to admit some days, especially when it can feel like I’m the only one in my group of friends (or Nashville in general) that isn’t on the road and is searching for the next thing. Social media, especially Instagram, doesn’t make this any easier. I swear if you look at it too much, it’s hard to feel like you’re doing anything in your life or career. Hell, in a conversation with a buddy of mine about this, he said Instagram even made him feel like he wasn’t doing much. And he is on one of the BIGGEST gigs in Nashville, and I’d even say, the world. I think social media can be great to post about your life, keep up with people you don’t see often, and even market yourself, but it can also be pretty discouraging in some ways. The one thing I always have to remind myself is that Instagram and Facebook is the highlight reel of someone’s life, it doesn’t tell the whole story. I think people can define themselves by it, too. Which leads me to a recent text conversation.

A friend I toured with last year reached out to me late one night this week. It was a pretty usual conversation until he texted something I really didn't expect. He said, “ wanted to touch base with you in case you needed to hear from a fellow side man that I don’t have the love and respect for you that I do as a result of the stature of any one of your gigs, but because you’re a great dude and a great player. Keep searching for that next wave…” - I have to say I didn’t quite realize how much I needed that specific text in that moment. My time not being on the road has been generally pretty good and I’ve stayed far more positive than I thought I ever could, but there are moments when the fear and doubts of never touring again creep in. I start to feel forgotten, that I’ve stepped my last step on a tour bus, that maybe I should’ve enjoyed the moments on the road a bit more because I won’t ever be there again. I realize these are fear-based thoughts and feel in my heart and gut those thoughts are complete crap, but as each day passes without the next call, they tend to get a little louder in my head. In this time it’s great to get a text like one the I did because it reminds me that no matter where I’m at with my career, I’ve always got some true friends. They don’t give a shit what gig I’m on or where I’m headed. I don’t have to be anything but me with them.

In that same realm, this time has helped me have time for things that matter. I’ve been able to be there for a friend who’s dad passed away, book a trip to go to one of my best friend’s weddings, share in the joy of the birth of my goddaughter, lend an ear and spend time with friends, celebrate my nephew’s birthday in person for the first time in a long time, spend time with my parents, and spend time finding what defines me besides what any one gig can. The older I get the more I realize how important these things are. There was a time where work and “making it” were all that mattered to me. I missed birthdays, weddings, even funerals. I canceled vacations and long thought out plans with friends/family for the chance to further my career. Older me realizes that most of the time it’s not worth it to let the personal area of your life suffer too much in the goal to further yourself in your career. Now I want both my work and my personal life to be fulfilled together. Not one or the other. As much as I can hate this off period at times, I’m extremely thankful for realizing where my priorities should really be in life. And that no gig will ever define who I really am.

Going back to that text. The last part, the part about the next wave. That is a perfect analogy of a music career. Sometimes we ride a wave for what seems like forever, but at some point that wave will cease existing. The beauty in that is if you want to stay out in the water and not go to shore, another wave will come eventually. It definitely is not my time to head into shore. I feel this in my bones. I crave the road like a drug – the bus life, the pre-show rituals, the adrenaline rush of playing a show, seeing new places, the all too familiar weight of a bass on my shoulder and the feel of the strings on my fingers, the little nervous feeling in my stomach before every show no matter how big or small. I’ll get my fix again, and that’s what keeps me positive about it all going forward.

You may have noticed by the date on my last post that it’s been almost 2 months since I last wrote. I think I had planned to write again when the next gig came, that I didn’t have much to say until then or that no one would really listen anyway. I said this to somebody the other day and they called me out on it. They told me I have something to say no matter what I’m doing work-wise and that putting a higher value on myself because of a gig (and thus a lesser value when I don't have a gig) is letting myself be defined by that gig. We are all valuable and have a voice, no matter where we’re at. So, here’s mine. Plus, I started thinking the thing about chasing any dream is that it never quite goes how you expected, much like life. Which is why I want to tell my story, riding high on a wave or not. I won’t lie, I miss riding the wave, but the calm before the next one can be just as fulfilling in many ways. So, for now I’ll just be out here enjoying the calm before the next wave. And while I can see the shore, I smile and say…“not yet”.

Nigel Knop