Have you met Nick Schafer?

In the first 12 years of his life Nick Schafer’s routine consisted mostly of going to school, doing the traditional family things, playing school sports, and joining his family in church attendance.  Generally, he was following the developmental path of many in his community who, like Nick, were born and raised in Woodland, CA.  

On the morning of December 25th, in his 12th year, he saw a blanket covering something under the Christmas tree.  It was a unique gift that he could have never anticipated.

Nick pulled back the blanket and found a guitar and a 10-watt amplifier.  His brother, 10 years older and someone whom Nick had looked up to his entire life — and who already knew the joy of being a musician — had put a bug in their parents’ ears.  Parents who in that year found themselves challenged to figure out what might be a meaningful and special Christmas present for Nick.

What am I gonna do with this?

The guitar was totally unexpected.  But Nick’s brother had already developed a good degree of talent for playing the guitar himself, and therefore wanted to Nick to be able to  experience the same personal sense of pride and satisfaction that comes in the wake of learning an instrument and putting in long hours of practice, and then being rewarded when you finding that you can create magic.  Make no mistake:  Nick did feel the magic, a new passion for playing that he’s never quite found in any other area of personal interest.

Prior to getting a guitar for Christmas, Nick had become an avid fan of Nirvana and classic rock groups like Led Zeppelin (he was a huge fan of Jimmy Page).  Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” was a simple song, and easy to play, but Nick was blown away by his new ability to replicate a song that he loved.  Then his brother taught him some Jimmi Hendrix “power chords” before showing him how to use those chords to play Hendrix’s “Hey Joe”.  Nick was hooked, and found a new obsession in life — he was now practicing those two songs endlessly.

I thought I was doing the coolest thing ever.

Later that night…

I’m glad I got this guitar.

The pace of Nick’s learning quickened, as he alternated between his brother’s teaching on playing techniques, and guitar tabs.  He was soaking it all in and loving every moment of it.

Even better, he discovered he had a good ear and could musically deconstruct and pick up the chord structures of songs he heard.

All of a sudden I found my niche.

Earlier in his life, Nick had enjoyed such sports as baseball and golf, and was a competitive player, but he found that playing music introduced him to a whole new level of passion.  He had never really dove fully into anything — until he got that first guitar.

A new routine soon developed:  home from school, practice for about two hours, break for dinner, then back to practicing.  He had never put this much time and effort into anything, but now the more he practiced the more he found he could play his favorite songs and entertain himself in the process of doing so.  He found “the secret” — that this is a direct relationship between the time spent practicing and one’s personal satisfaction with what is later played in public.

Somewhere along the line he acquired a “Led Zeppelin Live” DVD and practically wore it out watching it, over, and over, and over, throughout the remainder of his years in high school.  To this day he still prefers live versions over the more sterile studio productions of songs.  And there was a payoff to his hours of watching Jimmy Page play guitar:  he learned how to recreate his favorite Jimmy Page solos, lick-by-lick.

Church

Like a lot of talented musicians, Nick got his start in performing publicly in his own church.  After he began to learn to play the guitar, he would often visit a cousin and uncle, who always had a drum kit set up at their house.

Uncle Bruce had a drum kit…

Both his uncle and his older cousin gave Nick his start in playing drums.  Soon he was able to play a respectable 4/4 beat. 

Nick’s cousin played drums in the church band, and when he got a new job and couldn’t continue to make practice sessions, Nick was drafted into the position, so his first public performance was as a drummer in a band. By age 16 he was also singing backup vocals and harmonizing with his sister and his aunt, both of whom were talented vocalists. Still, in the beginning he was uncomfortable with his own singing voice but doesn’t really recall how he made the transition to singing vocals. He just did it.  What he does recall is how amazing it was to blend his voice with others’ voices to form a vocal chord.  It was a powerful impact on a young musician.

His playing with the church band gave Nick a strong sense of discipline and personal responsibility for not missing band rehearsals. He remembers that the other band members really wanted to be good, and that they were willing to put in the effort to get there, learning not just the music but the dynamics of expression in playing each song. So Nick went along and learned much about what it takes to be able to successfully blend the talents of each of the band members.

Discovery of open mics

Before getting his feet wet at Sacramento-area open mics, Nick and his brother played together regularly, for about a year, at Woodland’s Kitchen 428 & Mojo Lounge, where they played on an upstairs and outdoor patio.  Great memories of playing outdoors on hot summer nights…

Nick has played in several bands, and for a time was playing at least once a month at a variety of venues, including The Boardwalk, in Orangevale, and a weekend performance at the Yolo County Fair.

One day Nick met a friend of a friend who suggested that they both go to Sacramento to a weekly open mic night at the Capitol Garage, and this was Nick’s first time going solo.  Eventually the other guy quit going, but by then Nick had already fallen into a regular pattern of going to Capitol Garage’s open mic, and it filled some part of him to do that.  

At the time he was working at a Starbucks in Woodland.  One day a young woman was talking with Nick and learned that he played the guitar…  and sang, too.  She wanted to hear him, and asked if he was going to be playing anywhere locally. Nick told her she could see him perform at the Capitol Garage open mic, and to his pleasant surprise she showed up. You’ll have to ask Nick to find out how that one turned out…

That was the week that Nick also met Marty Taters, who was co-hosting at Capitol Garage with friend George Jenkins.  Nick talks about that being the first time he heard Marty play Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” — on the kalimba, a modernized version of an old African instrument called the mbira.  He loves it when Marty brings out the kalimba during a set.

Eventually he heard about Kupros and made his first visit there, where he ran into Marty again and quickly came to enjoy the Tuesday open mic scene at Kupros.  He eventually moved to Sacramento and is now one of our own, but with deep Woodland roots.

One night at Kupros a guy heard him play, then came up to him with a question:

What would I need to do to get you to agree to play a wedding reception?

Nick was floored.  “You just did it.”  And the guy hired him on the spot.  That kind of experience comes as a major reward for all the many, many hours of practice that are never seen at Kupros but are instead reflected in the quality and confidence of a musician’s performance.

Deep down I’m a metalhead.

Nick’s best songwriting has been metal, but on the other hand, his favorite band is The Grateful Dead. And among his favorite songs are those by artists who can move him emotionally.  Songs such as “Sanctuary” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra do that.  Or “Birds of Fire”, which he describes as “one of the darkest, eeriest songs, but it’s beautiful”.

Music is not just an audio experience but an emotional one.

Nick’s development as a singer/songwriter has taught him that the above is absolutely true.

A growing attraction to the jazz and fusion genres has expanded Nick’s appreciation for all sorts of music.  In fact, he’d love to one day find himself hooked up with a fusion band.  In the meantime, he’s been soaking up a lot of jazz-inspired music, from the likes of people like:

John Medeski, John Scofield, Billy Martin, Chris Wood 

Guthrie Govan

Vista Kicks

Honyock

Tera Melos

Cake

Journal

What lies ahead for Nick Schafer?

Listening to these influences suggested a love of jamming, which Nick confirmed, but he also loves music that is more structured, and admits that is probably a result of the time spent with the church band, where many hours were spent in practicing complex and precise musical structures and passages.  When a group of musicians can do that time can sometimes seem to stand still.

For now, Kupros’ Tuesday night open mic sessions will continue to be a “gotta be there” event for Nick, providing him with a regular outlet for satisfying a variety of musical and social needs.  Kupros’ open mic experience almost serves as a sort of church attendance for many people.  Nick would agree, and ironically, in that regard he’s come full circle.

So if you’ve read this entire post you now have some background on a fellow musician and an understanding of the musical forces that drive Nick Schafer.  Introduce yourself sometime and see what else you have in common.

Kurt Michaels

Kurt Michaels [email: kurtmichaelskeys@att.net] is a resident of downtown Sacramento and enjoys spending most Tuesday nights hanging with the regulars at Kupro's open mic music scene, co-hosted by Marty Taters and Lare Crawley.

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