The Gig Life

Editor’s note: We met Emily three years ago while she was co-producing a small jam festival with her boyfriend. Over these past years as I’ve seen her grow and mature, not only as a musician, but also as a person, I’ve found her story to be not unlike many young aspiring musicians. She also aspires to be a writer, so I asked Emily to write down her story, in her words, for us to share with you. I hope Emily’s story inspires you.

The courtyard of the small-town Vermont campus was filled with happy college students. I sat down among them in their circle. One girl strummed a guitar, singing with closed eyes while others sang along dreamily. I knew then that I needed to play guitar. I wanted the ability to play the songs I loved, granting me the freedom to sing them with accompaniment. The girl with the guitar; she turned out to be my roommate.

One afternoon while she was out, I began furiously teaching myself guitar chords using the internet. I worked my hands into seemingly impossible positions on the strings and fretboard, grew frustrated at myself, until finally, a beautiful sound came out from the sound hole in the rosewood. I was so delighted at the gorgeous sound that a G chord made, and so proud that I was the one who created that sound. The people who play an instrument seem the most free to me, like they know some secret about life that the rest of us don’t. I wanted to feel that way too. And thus the journey with my own guitar began.

I eventually had an opportunity to travel to Ireland. With my guitar on my back, I headed off to see what the other side of the world had to offer. I felt excited and inspired to wander down the cobble streets of Galway city. It was there that my music career began; as a “busker,” or street performer. I stood on the side of the busy walkways and poured my heart and voice into the streets of Ireland, not really knowing what I was looking for in return. I sang songs by Stevie Nicks and Tracy Chapman. I scribbled down some lyrics of my own in my journal. Some folks actually stopped to listen; and some even tossed coins into my open guitar case.

I stayed in Ireland for two months, moving from town to town, staying on farms with strangers who became friends, working in exchange for a bed and something to eat. I sustained myself by playing music on the streets. On the day before my departure, I took the bus to the same cobble street where the journey had begun. I opened my case for the last time on that trip. And I played, and sang.

However, it was rainy and cold that day, and few people were out. Some passed by but few turned their heads. Feeling defeated, I packed up my guitar, walked to the nearest pub, and bought a pint of the crisp hard cider that I had grown to love. I chatted with people and danced to a traditional Irish band. When it came time to leave, I realized I didn’t have enough money to take the bus back to my friend’s apartment. Just as I was starting to panic, a gentleman walked up to me and said, “You were playing guitar on the street before. I didn’t have any money on me then, but I wanted to give you this.” He handed me the exact amount of money I needed for the bus. It was a small, simple act of kindness, but it was enough for this young girl in a foreign land exploring life through music to return home certain that I had made the right choice.

Emily Kresky