Many of us fantasize about performing on a floodlit, laser-happy stage before a wildly cheering house. The adulation a Springsteen experiences has to be indescribable.
And so it was with pounding heart and an old, Yamaha acoustic that I climbed on stage at Blue Marble in Costa Mesa, to have my own, if limited, shot at glory.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The Blue Marble is a coffeehouse in the grand tradition, a place to meditate, play chess and drink good cups of espresso, flavored coffees and alternative-lifestyle teas. They roast their own coffees in a gigantic Probat roaster from Germany located right next to the stage. I know that because I was too nervous to make eye contact with the audience during my performance, so I ended up giving the roasting machine a couple of long, soulful looks.
The Blue Marble has entertainment almost every evening: folk singers, poetry readings, you know, \o7 coffeehouse \f7 stuff. But on the fourth Monday of every month they have something called their Jammin' Java Jive Talent Nite, an evening when the mike is open to anybody, the only requirement being that you show up by 7:30 to sign on. Then you wait until your turn comes, or as Mark Knopfler sings in "Sultans of Swing," "until the time bell rings," while a bunch of would-be Joni Mitchells, Bob Dylans and Gordon Lightfoots attempt to stand the world on its ear. You get to sing exactly two songs, barely enough time for Pavarotti to warm up his vocal cords.
I followed a rather serious female vocalist accompanied by her own synthesizer and a bearded fellow who sang hearty songs about the sea. Let me tell you, it was intimidating. Fortunately, the audience is mellow at this place, kind of the opposite of what you'd find at a comedy club (where the hecklers are just waiting to pounce on the first sign of weakness), and I found that I got a rather nice reception when I shuffled onto the stage.
I don't suppose it matters, but I and my guitar performed James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James," and then, to lighten things up, a satirical song from the '50s written by Tom Lehrer. The audience responded with polite applause, and I'd swear I heard at least one person whistle. Maybe the whistling came from the next performer.
At the end of the evening, the audience gets to judge the performances, and the top three finishers get prizes. Third prize is a half-pound of coffee. Second nets a $10 certificate for anything the Blue Marble serves. The winner gets a small cash prize and an invite back to perform at the next month's talent night. Who knows? It could make you a star.
So how'd I place? Well, I'll never know, because I didn't hang around for the judging, and that automatically disqualifies you. But when I came back sometime later, I did ask the woman behind the counter if I would have had a shot. "You did good," she said. "And you should have hung around to find out."
Maybe next time I will.
* Jammin' Java Jive Talent Nite is the fourth Monday of each month from 8 p.m. to about 10:30 p.m. (depending on the number and length of performances) at the Blue Marble Coffee House, 1907 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa. (714) 646-5776. Admission is free.