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Spook Handy Presents 'The Art Of Effective Stage Presence' Seminar To Nsai/Princeton Songwriters
By Cindy Beth Gordon
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Spook Handy, an accomplished songwriter/performer who has been performing for the past 17 years recently shared his expertise and advice with the Princeton Songwriters. Spook runs The Spook Handy Show, New Jersey's longest running open mic, at the Corner Tavern in New Brunswick. The show began in 1985 and has over 855 nights under its belt.

At the workshop, Spook talked about everything from what to do before the gig, what to do before taking the stage and choosing what to perform to taking the stage and performing your material, as well as other useful tips. Here's a few suggestions that Spook shared:

How to Prepare Before the Gig

Know why you booked the gig and what your purpose is. What is the purpose? Is it an open mic? If it's an open mic, why are you doing it? Are you doing it because it's your time to practice playing in a professional environment? Or are you going to perform some new material that you don't feel ready to play in a concert setting?

Some reasons audience members gave for playing open mics is to practice playing, trying out new material for paid gigs, and practicing songs with a higher vocal range then they usually do. Performing Songwriter Eric Squindo added that it gives him the opportunity to "practice playing so he doesn't get lazy and stop performing." Another reason to perform at an open mic is to publicize an upcoming gig.

Know What You are Going To Play

Spook noted that whether it's an open mic or Madison Square Garden, it's important to be prepared.

Dress Appropriately for the Gig

"When people are paying to see you perform, it's important to dress appropriately," said Spook. "Be comfortable, it's usually 10 degrees hotter on stage. Performing is a workout. You may want to dress in layers and wear loose clothes."

Make sure your Equipment is "Up to Snuff"

Spook advised to bring extra batteries, inch jacks, 2 extra sets of guitar strings and extra picks. Keep your capo and your strings in your guitar case so that they are always with the guitar and not at home on the coffee table when you're looking for it on stage. "Be responsible for your own capo," advised Spook. Other tips he offered were to make sure you know how to get to the venue. If necessary call ahead and confirm the gig. "It will show you're on the ball," said Spook.


Don't eat pizza or ice-cream or dairy products before the show if they are going to cause your body to produce phlegm. Don't eat two bowls of wheaties or drink two cups of coffee before a performance unless you know your body won't act adversely to them. You may also want to bring aspirin and breath freshener to your gigs just in case.

When You Get to the Gig

"Always ask before putting anything on the stage," said Spook. "The stage is sacred ground, it's not your stage, it belongs to the stage manager. You don't want to get the stage manager mad under any circumstances. And you never know when the stage manager is also the sound guy." Know the name of the person who hired you, and say hi to that person when you get to the gig.

Tune your Guitar before You Go on Stage!

Soundcheck - for Non-Open Mic Concerts

Do the soundcheck if possible, before the audience gets there. Make sure you're vocals are loud enough. When soundchecking your instrument volume, play at the same intensity you will play during the show. Otherwise the sound engineer will probably set the wrong levels. Determine volume levels for strumming and picking songs. They are not always the same. Since there is no guarantee that the sound tech will adjust your volume for each song, try to be as self sufficient as you can by learning to control of your own instrument volume. This can be done through a volume control knob or fader or by varying the intensity with which you perform each song. Spook does this through an EQ pedal.

Soundcheck - for Open Mics

These usually can only be done right before your performance. But, you should still try to get a minimum check in if possible. Keep in mind that since time is usually limited and since there are usually people already in the audience, when get up to play an open mic your sound check should run no more than 30 seconds. Simply check to see if your vocals sound to be at the proper volume and strum or pick your guitar at performance intensity while the sound tech is setting you up. Communicate verbally or visually to the sound tech so that you both know what each other is doing as far as setting you up and checking your sound.

Of paramount importance, don't touch someone else's sound equipment without their permission. "Always be respectful of other people's equipment," said Spook.

For more of Spook Handy's tips on performing at open mics, read Anne Freeman's interview with him in the "Getting Heard Above The Noise" Report on MusicDish!

Spook Handy's music and performance has been described as "weaving the musical influences of folk, blues, bluegrass and rock into a timely and pertinent message for the new millennium."

His CD's "Breakfast at Bill's," "Breakfast by Myself" - an acoustic version of "Breakfast at Bill's" and "Freedom is Your Destiny" are receiving favorable reviews and are available at For more information contact Spook Handy at, or Spook Handy, Box 1364, New Brunswick, NJ 08903.

Spook was named best folk artist by New Jersey's Aquarian Weekly in 1993. In 1996, his CD, "Freedom Is Your Destiny " was selected by the East Coast Rocker as one of their Top Ten Folk Albums. He has performed and MC'd the "New Folk Showcase" at the prestigious New Jersey Folk Festival and has performed a special concert sponsored by Paul Noel Stookey of Peter Paul and Mary at the Kerrville Folk Festival.

Spook can be reached at E-mail:, or Spook Handy, Box 1364, New Brunswick, NJ 08903

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