First Set

Image Source: Ashley Noelle


Arlene McKenna felt that blissful rush of adrenaline before every show, but this time it was different. Much more pronounced. This show had been a long time coming.

pace…pace…drag…pace…pace…light a new cig with the old…stomp…pace…pace…drag…

First solo show. First step away from the band, the past, the shared legacy and the bitter end. It’s all me now…


Nervous energy was nothing new, but it was always contained within the band cocoon before. Now it was all Arlene McKenna. No band to hide within, no safety net. All me, and I can. not. wait.


She peeked at the crowd inside…full house. Damn, this was really happening! Arlene continued pacing, practically stomping through the sun-baked bricks of the patio outside Guthrie’s Coffee and Books. She picked up her Martin from the picnic table, strapped it on and started playing downstrokes, gently at first, not wanting to snap a string before the set, then harder and harder, finally giving in to a full Richie Havens/Pete Townshend banshee strum.


Arlene slowed down for some finger-picked arpeggios. House of the Rising Sun, just like when she was first learning how to play. A min, C maj, D maj, F maj…pace…A min, C maj, E maj 7…check the tuning, pace…

The past was gone …as Steven Tyler would say, ha ha… and her body of work would always be compared to what came before. But for Arlene that was the best part about stepping over the scorched earth and moving on. Then and now. Them and me. And now it’s all me.

She caught herself playing and singing the end of “Love Is All Around.” You’re gonna make it after all, da da dat daaahhhh (toss the hat, Mary!) dat! Perfect.

Now, just remember to breathe. It’s the first show. But it’s just the first. Breathe. Relax. Have fun. PACE! STRUM! STRUM! Let it flow…breathe and let it flow. It’s all yours now.

All yours…


Arlene McKenna stepped through the door, into her own new world, and counted off the beginning of her first set as her crowd roared.

-This piece was born late on Saturday night, 1/21/12, when Ashley Noelle asked if I could come up with a piece based around her magnificent photography. I was flattered and honored to be able to do so, and I suggest you click through and check her work out for yourself. I hope you will be as inspired. Thanks, Ashley!

  1. nigelld said:

    The photo all makes sense now well done 😉

    • Hah! Yeah, when Ashley first sent me her pic, I was pretty stumped. What do I do with a foot? Then I saw the tuning pegs…

    • I was trying to somewhat challenge ya, Brian. Hahaha! But I knew you’d be able to see the story in this picture that many people would totally miss. You rock!

      • Diseased minds think alike! Thank you so much. This was a blast!

  2. Felt myself get tense as she walked out on stage.

    Great piece.

    • I know the feeling!

  3. Well done! And as promised, I will email you the “real” story behind this photo later today. 🙂

    Very fun! I enjoyed this so much.

    • Can’t wait!

  4. WOW! The structure of this piece really pays off in a big way. The tension is perfect. I have chills!

    • Damn, that’s awesome to hear, thanks! I just know what I know, ya know?

  5. ericjamesroy said:

    great stuff

    • Great to see you here, Roy!

  6. Great story, Brian, you really caught the inner dialogue of a pre-stage performance. Can’t wait to hear the real story behind the photo, Ashley.

    • Write what you know, right? 😉 Thanks; I appreciate it!

  7. You are brilliant at keeping the reader, reading.

    • Thankya, sir.

  8. You are a very talented writer, you keep my hooked from line one. In today’s fast-paced, skimming society, that is rare.

    • “Skimming Society” is a great line on multiple levels. Awesome! And thank you so much! Great to have you on board, Melissa.

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