I’ve had a full week to reflect on my trip to New York City, that’s 7 nights! I banned myself from social media, got my head down at work and tried to eat healthily and get over the dreaded jetlag to kick start me back into my ‘every day’ life again. However, I cannot shake the nagging feeling that I should be in New York City – FULL TIME.
‘I’ve known people to abandon their families to be part of this city.’
‘That’s madness’ I hear you say. The thing is, at that moment, I kind of, no, I completely believed him and understood his sentiment. I had only been in New York for 7 nights at this stage, but, it was 7 nights I will never forget. 7 nights to fall in love.
I started my trip to NYC in a bid to generate some more music fans in another city. Most labels and managers I have contacted over the past few months since leaving my full-time job to pursue a career in music, have told me that I need more ‘traction’ on social media. i.e. More Instagram followers, more Facebook likes, more monthly Spotify listeners etc. So, in a bid to expand my listenership and get out of Belfast for a while to shake things up, I contacted every live music venue’s email in New York I could get my hands on and sold myself to them.
I managed to get myself 4 gigs over 5 nights and an invite to a very popular open mic night in Williamsburg. So, I packed my bags, grabbed my guitar and went on my way. I also purchased 2 tickets to see Brett Eldredge at The Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC the night I arrived…I was ready to go! (Side note, Brett is my favourite artist and one who influences my music in a big way, so to get to see him on his debut tour in New York City was a real honour for me.)
I flew into Stewart airport with Norwegian Air, about 1 and half hours from the city, but, at £200 per return flight from Dublin and pre-clearance in Dublin airport, it was a winner! I caught the bus to the city and as we got closer, the beast inside my belly urging me to ‘make it here’ started to really come alive! I honestly felt like crying, screaming, bursting and hiding all at once. This city is special and the beast has not gone to rest since I left a week ago.
Straight to my hostel, quick shower and a little singing session in the courtyard to ensure my guitar made the 3000-mile journey safely (it did!) and I was off to busk outside The Hammerstein Ballroom for the Brett Eldredge fans waiting eagerly to get into the show. It was insane.
Busking in New York is hard! It was loud, a little cold, people were rushing past me and screaming at me, the lights from The Empire State Building were distracting me with their glistening beauty, but, it was one of the most grounding and exhilarating experiences of my life. I got asked to take some photos with people and they were all so generous.
I hit the Brett concert with my friend Emma. We had met in the hostel and instantly hit it off, I have spoken to her every day since I left the city at least 5 times! It was beyond all expectations. I was so pleased to have seen him in a full concert where he was the boss. A thrilling show, with personal touches and carefully thought out staging and song selection. He is a serious performer with a voice, style, swagger and stage presence to rival Frank.
The next day was the start of my very own New York Shows. I went across the Brooklyn Bridge to ‘Pete’s Candy Store’ for their Sunday night open mic. It was packed with artists all hoping to get on stage. They were mostly beginners who were performing for the first time or some established artists trying some new material, it was cool, but, not unlike any open mic I’d been to before.
On to ‘The Bitter End’ on Bleecker Street for my very first showcase in NEW YORK CITY. Now, this was a venue! The likes of Joan Armatrading, James Taylor, Etta James, Taylor Swift and Tracy Chapman have played here so, naturally, I was more than a little nervous! It was a big venue, with an intimate feel and the sound system and staging was perfect! I loved every minute of it and will 100% be going back there, it was such a pleasure to play my songs for a listening audience. I would definitely recommend for any music lovers.
High on life after that gig, I headed over to Harlem the next day for my next showcase at Silvana. This was a very different feel to The Bitter End. It was a small basement bar in Harlem, with a small listening audience. I was on after an unbelievable reggae band. I sold some CDs, had some beers and met an amazing artist called Christopher Swift. We ended up jamming on the streets of Harlem until 3am! New York had grabbed onto me and was not letting go!
My 2nd show in Harlem was an interesting one. I was deep in the middle of Harlem and when I stepped off the subway, everyone was interested in me, seeing as I had my Taylor guitar strapped to my back! There was a real sense of community here and a real love for music like nothing I have seen before. I arrived at ‘Shrine’, my name was written in chalk outside (you can’t just erase chalk!) and stepped on stage and began singing. I’ll admit, I was nervous. There was no one near the front and it was fairly quiet, but, by the end of my set, a few groups came up to listen, sing along and tip me, once I remembered I was supposed to put a tip bucket out…a real success!
Off the back of my first gig at The Bitter End, I met a young artist called Massimiliano. He has asked me to do a co-write with him, so he slid naturally into my DMs, we met at an amazing studio space in downtown Manhattan called ‘Ripley-Grier Studios.’ I honestly felt like I had stepped into a scene straight out of FAME. There were dancers, actors, auditions going on, singers, groups rehearsing plays and all sorts. I felt right at home. We wrote a song with the lyric ‘I want your sex’ in it…very George Michael of us and all under 1 and half hours!
My other key co-writes of the week was with Christopher Swift and his pal Odo. We went to Central Park with our guitars, starter riffing and wrote a song about 2 lost lovers who eventually find each other. It was a real shame we couldn’t get it recorded, but, what a cathartic experience it was to write in Central Park in the sun, with an up and coming artist in the Big Apple. This town eh?
The next day was my one and only R&R day in New York before I returned to Belfast, or so I thought. After an amazing day with Emma and our other pal from the hostel Lou, (‘High energy, low investment’) I decided I wasn’t ready to leave the city just yet! I changed my flight, booked another room and stayed for 3 more days in the city I was so in love with!
What followed was 3 days of being a tourist, exploring the city, feeling like a local in Williamsburg and having a $200 bill for bowling at the Brooklyn Bowl!
The highlight of the last few days was wondering around Williamsburg with Emma and discovering ‘Dzuilpa’. We spent an awful lot of our time in there and thanks to the delightful charm of the lovely barman Zac and also the hilarity of Barry, I fell in love with this city and these people even more.
As American Novelist John Updike once said:
‘The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.’