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Overcoming Nerves And Getting Back On Stage

Thoughts stay thoughts unless we believe them – even slightly. That’s when they escalate into emotional or physical sensations. I know myself well enough now that I can instantly tell when I’ve latched onto a negative thought or image. My perception of the present moment is corrupted by the unsettling nature of guarded anticipation. The body feels a little heavier and weaker. Things are a little more closed in. Everything in that moment has me leaning backwards, just from hooking to one or two thoughts that are attached to the past. Identifying these tendencies and seeing them for what they are allows me to make wiser decisions.

Naturally, my reaction when Lachlan Doley invited me to play a live gig with him was mixed. Self-doubt was there, but my awareness of it allowed my true desires to govern my decisions. I want to play! I want to perform! And the suggested song had “me” written all over it – a powerful minor blues with chords that provide the foundations for a weeping but fiery guitar melody. Perfect timing.

That very morning, I was booked in to see my “yoda”, and we stumbled upon some gold. “Faith in yourself (in this context) is about being resilient enough to carry out anything whilst wisely managing whatever thoughts and emotions that arise”. The goal for some time has mistakenly been the elimination of anxiety or fatigue. How do I get through this without feeling fear or anger or other ‘negative’ emotions? Consequently, I have a history of perceived failures. Rather ,the goal should be, for example, ripping it up on stage and trusting that I can manage whatever pops up. Fear, anger, sadness, fatigue, whatever…and still being able to get to the other side. Reflecting through this new lens, I see that I haven’t let myself down once. Self-doubt dissolved as I let go of the misconceptions. I walked out of that room feeling lighter, more driven and passionate. On the front foot!

Whenever a song needs to be learnt, the process involves 70% listening and 30% playing. Inspiration struck as I envisioned the chords and melodies. I stood in front of my rack of guitars and decided that “Mary” (1966 Gibson SG that I purchased on the road with Electric Mary) would tell the best story. Out the door I stepped, with nothing but my soft case on my back and a serious drive to make this baby sing. That was my mental anchor.

The familiar sounds of band sound check echoed down the staircase at Marrickville’s Camelot Lounge, triggering bubbles of excitement that I thought were long gone. I’m reminded that it’s been almost four years since I’ve had an a committed play with a band. I felt a smirk spread across my face as I opened the venue door and the bubbles began to fizz.

I arrive at a stage that plays to a burlesque inspired room to see the faces of the band stumbling through the new song. Turns out that it’s new for all of us. Seeing Lachlan’s face brings back memories of Nat Col & the Kings (my previous band), where we spent ten minutes spitting nasty blues rock licks at each other with cheeky angst, at Byron Bay’s Blues Fest. I was so surprised to see Jackie Barnes on the kit. It’s been years since I’ve seen Jackie, and finally our musical paths were crossing. The warmest of memories surfaced, close to where it all started on tour with Jimmy Barnes and Diesel.

While the song is rolling, I unpack my soft case (easy rigs for now), plug in and follow along. The SG sounded killer through Lachy’s Fender Deville. Crispy, slightly driven with a room full of sustain. There’s something really awesome about being apart of someone else’s set. Ego takes a back seat, and the focus is on “playing the song” rather than playing for a reaction. This is how it should always be. When the song ends, the sound guy comes running up and politely but assertively says, “Guys, it sounds killer but it’s all going to have to come down. The stage volume is just too loud”. I chuckled to myself. Four years later, nothing has changed. As understanding as I am towards sound guys’ needs, I used to hate that response, mainly because it would awaken my “inner introvert” – a trait I’d be fighting for the rest of the gig. Now, I just wanted to hug the guy because he reminded me that I’m not just playing to four cold bedroom walls under blankets of self-doubt anymore. I’m playing on stage with a fucking band and it’s LOUD! Yeah! The craving for hugs realigned to Jackie and Lachy. The love is still trumping fear.

Lachy and the boys put on a killer blues based show to a room full of Blues Fest-type music lovers. The clock heats me up as I’m nearing my place in the set. My attention is taken away from the moment at my feet, and draws me towards an inner slideshow of the performance ahead. Its plot is all over the place. Some scenes are of me feeling grounded and centred, but most use the tiredness and excitement of the moment to create an anxiety fuelled disaster – too confused and out of my skin to know what I’m playing on the guitar. As usual, I pause, see it for what it truly is (my inner-protector attempting to look out for me), and bring acceptance to every aspect of that moment. This time, I’m reminded of the mornings lesson, and anchor my focus to getting through the gig no matter what. Everything shifted. It went from feeling like a boulder that threatened to drop on me, to lifting weights at the gym. A place where most are focused on getting strong and ripped, despite the burning pains of muscle tear. I was able to let go of trying to fix the hot emotions and thoughts. “Fight or flight” wasn’t called upon, and the clarity of awareness remained in check. It was pretty awesome.

Half a song before I’m introduced, and I’m only sitting calmly to the outside world. I catch myself trying to suppress the internal heated buzz, as if it was going to lead to anxiety. Who the fuck sits calmly in one spot just before stage time?? Memories of doing clap pushups with my old drummer Col Hatchman before curtain call spring to mind and I instantly found myself down on the ground side of stage busting a few out. It transformed all that nervous energy into super powers. No longer am I feeling like a victim. Bring it.

I knew I was home free as soon as I stepped on stage. Thanks to the last six months of low pressure casual blues duo gigs with good mate Kenny Jewell, a deep bond has reformed with my guitar that says, “However you feel is okay. Tell me what you want to say, and I’ll scream it to the world.” And that’s what I did. Bleeding emotions dripped into my fingers from deep within and thanks to my newfound skills in mindfulness, emotional energy remained respectful of my musical abilities. This is essential in preserving the connection between melody and audience.

The crowd and band’s response was overwhelming. Although impossible, it was as if they knew and felt everything that I went through that night. High, cleansed, understood and loved, I couldn’t say no to jamming over Freddie King’s “Going Down” for a crowd demanded encore.

The band, the sound guy, the venue staff and every single face in the crowd will only know what experience they provided me with by reading this article. I’m forever grateful.

Here’s to continually busting through.

The gig

Spitting solos with Lachy during Nat Col and the Kings Rehearsal

Follow Lachy Doley

Follow Jackie Barnes


For those who are new to the site, hit up my introduction post and the about tab to understand what inspired this website as well as what’s to come. 

14 Comments

  1. Andrew Tierney06/03/2017

    Did performing always feel nerve wracking? And did you always perform for the critics or for the fans?

    Even though I have seen Gene Simmons as an influence for me, sometimes I see myself a the Australian version or equivalent of Herbie Flowers.

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri07/03/2017

      Yeah absolutely. There were always nerves but back then, nerves were seen as excitement. Excitement being the non-threatening emotion that it is would have me leaning into it! I always performed for both myself and the fans. Fuck the critics hahaha!

      Reply
      1. Andrew Tierney07/03/2017

        Just like KISS, they also played for the fans and not for the critics, so in words of David Essex Rock on!

        Reply
        1. Nathan Cavaleri09/03/2017

          Ooooooh yeaaaaah!

          Reply
  2. Roddy.06/03/2017

    Good article Nathan.
    Not much to say ’cause I’m lost for words.
    Always a pleasure to read your articles.

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri07/03/2017

      Thanks Roddy! And always good seeing your name pop up on my screen! Even better when I get to see your face one day…

      Reply
  3. Glenn06/03/2017

    Big congrats mate. Great to hear your strategies are working well! The videos are great and looks like everyone is having a blast! How it should be.

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri07/03/2017

      Thanks Glenn! THey are so far hahahaha…… Much appreciated. I’m absolutely loving doing these vids. It’s just fueling the fire.

      Reply
  4. Michelle07/03/2017

    “Emotional energy remained of my musical abilities.” The eternal balancing act. I’m inspired to know that you’ve found some equilibrium. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri09/03/2017

      Eternal balancing act… So true. I guess you’d know it! The inspiration goes both ways M! xx

      Reply
  5. Sandy Clark07/03/2017

    Says it All Nathan mate . Welcome back to where you belong . If it was easy , everyone would be up there . But No , just a Select few . And thanx for your wonderful Picking over the Years

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri09/03/2017

      Hey Sandy! I suppose I’ve never really thought of performance in that way because I’ve done it my whole life.Thanks so much for the kind words and I hope you’re enjoying the blog!

      Reply
  6. Malcolm Gully07/03/2017

    Very helpful article Nathan (and love the little links below, who were the guys and the gig) . I still struggle with a talented guy (you) getting the nerves, but……I get it too. But helpful, I’m getting nervous but focussing sort of like you describe whilst getting into learning/performing. So there’s nerves, but there’s this take each step forward approach. I’m positioning for a first performance but even though nervous can’t not do it. Its been a real helpful article. Thanks for sharing those internal mental processes.i just had to cut and paste my own circumstances to work things out I’m looking forward to that sitting in the wings moment. I had a funny thought being an audience member is the frustration of phones being held up and then I thought what does the performer think, especially when none are held up….? Am i ok? Do they like the performance? Maybe not relevant . But this is helpful while settling into TAFE music.

    Reply
    1. Nathan Cavaleri09/03/2017

      Well for me, and I’m yet to be specific about it (future post). My fear is of fear itself not of fucking up. Hard to explain without writing a full post about it which is coming up! hahaha……. You’ve hit it on the head. Nerves, but continue moving forward. I reckon if you do it enough times, nerves become a sign of something good not bad! So happy you are settling into TAFE! Well done!

      Reply

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