Keeping warm when playing outside

This weekend we had our first truly chilly gig of the season. In this part of Ontario, fall really starts after the labour day weekend. We may have a few balmy days left, but the leaves are already starting to turn, and the past few nights have fallen into the single digits (Celcius). Saturday definitely felt like fall, cool, dry and breezy. Of course, couples about to be married being the paragons of common sense and logic (hah!), every single one of our September gigs (and one October one!) are scheduled to be outside. And you know brides – it pretty much has to be hailing or flashing with lightning and pouring for them to finally give in and let it be inside.

We thought we had enough layers – thick skirts, long sleeved shirts, sweaters. Yes, sweaters – no matter how fancy the bridal party is, if they expect musicians to perform outside by the lake at this time of year, they get to deal with sweaters. Our trio long ago settled on a classic black-and-white look (after failing miserably to come up with some kind of colourful or interesting theme that would suit all of us and still look professional), so at least our sweaters are all nice, classy knit white sweaters that pretty much match.

Our flutist came prepared, as always, complete with long johns. But the day was deceptive; as we were leaving, the sun was shining, the air was arm, and our flutist was already determining she’d probably have to shed most of her layers. The cello player and I decided to throw caution to the wind and go as we were without backup layers or coats. By the end of the gig, our flutist was cozy and comfortable, and the cello player and I were shivering and chilled right through. Our cellist actually had to go sit in the car for about ten minutes before the second half of the gig started, in order to warm up.

One thing I did have, which I highly recommend, is a pair of Thinsulate gloves. They live in the pocket of my harp case year round, along with the spare tuner and some extra business cards. They’re thin and white, and actually meant to function more like liners inside of regular gloves or mits. The best part is, I can play while wearing them. The trick for being able to play in gloves is something any busker knows very well – you take a nice sharp pair of scissors and cut the fingertips out. Another nice thing about these gloves/liners, is that since they’re white they don’t clash with our gig outfits. Without them, there have been some gigs where I’d have been reduced to playing a clumsy ham-fisted bass line (technically doable in a trio, but disastrous if playing solo.)

Which brings us to gig rule #3 – if it’s after Labour Day, and it’s outside, always bring more layers than you think you need. You can always take stuff off, but you can’t put it on if it ain’t there. Next weekend, it’ll by tights and undershirts and extra sweaters for sure.

Yes, of course you can always refuse to play if the weather conditions are truly terrible. But we have become very stoic over the years, and will try to soldier on if at all possible. We live in a small community, where reputation is key, and we’re really reluctant to put our rep in danger by completely refusing to play (unless it’s actively raining or snowing – then they would be out of luck, end of story.)

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