Hear my originals LIVE for the first time in over 5 years!

A few numbers for you:

0 – email addresses in my mailing list. Previous account was deactivated. Thanks Obama

2 – successful latte art attempts (out of at least 75)

7 – number of original songs I’ve posted on Youtube

9 – days until I perform my original music live again!

15 – original song recordings completely lost to 1 harddrive crash

114 – performances I did last year

274 – unread emails in my inbox (I really gotta unsub from a lot of stuff)

404 – days since my last Blog post

2,097 – days since the last time I performed my original music live

7,000 – approximately the amount of dollars I have to pay to the IRS by April 15

34,834 – Miles driven to and from gigs last year

21,765 – words in my Lyrics word document

105,872 – things in my head fighting for my attention

Some of these numbers are more important than others, but as you can see I’ve got a lot to cover, and not much time to do it with. I’m playing my first show of original music in almost 6 years, and I feel woefully unprepared. Not musically though. Nay, I feel like I am perhaps too far removed from the world of self-promotion to even think about doing another show. You mean to tell me that I have to provide my own audience? I have to fill the seats? The concept of a man playing original songs on piano won’t sell itself? How am I supposed to do this? FB? what is this, 2012? Myspace? what is this, 2007? Posters? What is this, a society that actually goes outside and pays attention to advertising?

Could the secret be…


(ps can I get an interrobang in here?)

Obviously I’m hoping the blog will help. But I’ve also got a mailing list to repopulate from scratch, lyrics to organize, potential guests to call or harass online, event websites to which I must submit my gig info, recordings to make, and somehow amidst all that, I have to fit in the real reason I do this job – perfecting and performing the music. Everything else is just my fear or introversion keeping me from singing sweet nothings into your hearholes.

But its a poor excuse. I need to get back on stage and play the songs that *I* give a shit about. I need to stop second guessing their worth, and my worth. I need to actually talk with people and let them hear my music without trying to qualify it for them.

Hopefully this can be a turning point for me, and I can better integrate my own work with my real-world work. Wish me luck, or better yet,


come see me 7:00, Wednesday, April 3 at Uncommon Ground in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago!

Also, watch those 7 videos on Youtube

and join my Mailing List

and follow my Instagram…(I actually update this one. Shocker!)


Fine, be that way. But I’m telling you, you really shouldn’t (be that way). No one likes it when you’re that way. Your friends all say its toxic behavior, and they’re considering not inviting you to brunch next weekend. But that’s none of my business…

I am a Piano Barbarian

I have intentionally avoided blog entries about dueling pianos. I thought I might be doing a lot less of it, but I’m growing more and more fond of the joke I made up about it that I tell audiences of my original music:

“I used to be a dueling piano player, which is a bit like saying you’re a born-again virgin”

So I still do my share of dueling piano gigs, mostly because it takes me quite a while to gain footing in new endeavors. I’m still learning a lot about (home) recording, how to promote myself, making connections, being forthcoming, arranging my songs, getting fans, all those fun things.

And it took me a long time to feel comfortable in dueling pianos. I’m a bit of an introvert by nature, I gravitate towards more obscure songs and jokes, I’m a bit too self-aware and referential, I tend to fold under more experienced players (especially those with type-A personalities, or a general need to always be the center of attention), and I don’t have a very loud voice…oh, and I’m very self-deprecating, in case you couldn’t tell.

I also tend to get the audience to drink a lot, I have all my songs and bits completely memorized, I have a great ear, I can play all the instruments, I’m not afraid to get off the bench and do ridiculous things to get a reaction out of an audience, I very often talk to the audience on breaks instead of hiding in the player’s room, I can scream (that’s good, right?), and I’ve written a call-down that chases unwanted stage guests back into the audience every time (that song may have cost me a gig or two). I’ve also carefully crafted my persona on stage, and it works very well for me. I still have much to learn, but the faux pas are far behind me

Well now I’ve gone and done it, it seems (or at least, I would like to think  – any press is good press, no?). I have started listening to a podcast about dueling pianos called Piano Barbarians. Its run by two hacks who call themselves Steve Savage and Paul Seiz. Who are they fooling with names like that?

So these two high-and-mighty Gods of Dueling Pianos (so-called “Barbarians”) sit around a campfire and sing Kumbayah with other duelers (ahem…”wild life”, or “most exotic entertainers”) and talk about their exotic adventures in dueling piano bars which I’ve never graced with my musical  and comical prowess. They name drop, they giggle immaturely at female bodily functions, they drop some more names of young duelers who have dominated in the last decade, and every once in a while they may even drop the name of someone who did this gig in the 90s or even the 80s, without a single mention of how much they cowered in fear in the presence of these ancient founders and gurus of sing-a-long.

I had my servants send a very polite message to these clowns. I gave them highest praises for their achievements, contributed to the on-going debate about using ipads during the show (don’t do it), and gave some polite suggestions for their campfire chats (smores?).  I also extolled the virtues of being a relatable , vulnerable piano player when gracing the stage.

So I awoke many mornings later from my bed of virgins, seated myself on my ivory throne made from piano keys I’ve broken during the bit where I perform piano with my endowments, and listened to their latest podcast. They had finally gotten around to interviewing a legitimate dueling piano player, Travis VonCartier. In days of old, Travis and I roamed the desert plateaus of Phoenix Arizona, rocking the House of Shout, and I must admit I was excited by the potential to get a small shout out. I am a very humble person, after all, and would never tootest mine own horn….

but LO! What is this? Paul Seiz-Of-The-Boat cries fowl! In his latest attempt to trivialize this nation’s most patriotic, artistic and selfless profession, he jumps on his pulpit with a shout-out of his own before Travis could even speaketh his piece! (yes I know Travis wasn’t there for that part).

Paul was upset that he had ‘used valuable ink’ to print up the message I so graciously sent to him in regards to using the ipad. But being upset wasn’t enough! No, he was bored. BORED I tell you! Bored that I had continued his Savage friend’s ipad discussion in the privacy of personal email.

He was also bored by the lack of virtual fisticuffs in response to his podcast. So like any man with an overcompensating, un-cleverly misspelled euphemism for a last name, he wanted to start something out of nothing. Hidden among the treasure trove of knowledge that was laid out in my message was this gem:

“I think the audience relates to vulnerability and they respond positively to successful attempts of never-before-played songs.”

Paul’s first response went something like this:

“I generally find I get positive reactions from the audience when everything goes successfully. I think we can all agree on that”



Mr. Sighs then tried to make up for his speech impediment involving the word “vulnerability” by crudely imitating a green piano player who thinks that they can hop up on stage and always be successful with their attempts at faking a song and that the audience will always love them for doing so.

Hidden among Paul’s recitation of and reaction to this excerpt was the infamous phrase never-before-heard on Fox News: “This is completely out of context”

…..Alright, I gotta stop. Let down the facade, jokes over. In all reality, I’m not all that pissed at these guys. I’m happy for the plug of my website, I’m excited to stop writing this stupid blog and listen to their podcast while I finally get around to eating breakfast, and I truly do hope I get the chance to talk with these guys or even perform with them. They seem cool (cool enough to take a joke or five), and I’m always envious of other people’s accomplishments, gigs and notoriety. All the mean words were meant in good fun. But first, what I honestly do think about this issue:

As Paul said, faking songs is usually frowned upon by EDs (entertainment directors). Almost everything I did in my first few years of performing was frowned upon by every ED I had. And I *was* that green piano player who would get up on stage and fake a song and expect people to be impressed, or at least give pity applause. Did you notice the emphasis on *was*?

Well, I wish the “was” portion was completely true. I still take risks on stage, and I don’t always succeed. But I’ve learned when its appropriate to take these risks. As I said in the email, faking songs works much better in solo shows than dueling shows. Dueling is a game of crowd control, and when you lose that control, you can work your ass off the rest of the night and never get it back. I’m trying to keep this blog short, but the overall answer is that I only fake things when I know I can do it successfully – that usually means its a slow night, a solo show, I don’t run a risk of losing the crowd, my partners don’t know the song, and/or its a song I know people will like. …and if it doesn’t go over, I transition immediately into something that I know will. I’ve been fortunate to have the same partners for the past two years in Piano Fondue, and we know each other and our audience very well. With them I have learned a lot, but most pertinent to me was when to fake things, how to fake them, how to sell it, how to get out of it, and above all when NOT to do it (which is quite often!!!).

Like Paul, I try to avoid apologizing to an audience (I never do it for an audition committee – that’s fuckin nuts). As Paul said, it can get the audience to start listening for your mistakes and weaknesses. Some audience members think that way, while others start to root for the underdog. These are the people who respond well to vulnerability, and when they dominate the crowd (or are able to), then I might play a faked song for them. It’s another subtle game of crowd control that I’m constantly getting better at playing.

That, and sometimes I lie on stage about having never played a song before, knowing that I’m going to play it well.

I’m all together too honest (and likely to put my foot in my mouth) so I’m not sure I’m ready to come on the podcast, but I’m still happy to be listening. Paul wants to be startin something, and he’s started a great podcast with fellow dueler Steve.

Just don’t interview Mike Clement – he knows too much.

Piano Barbarians Episode 10 – Travis Von Cartier

Denks du vielleicht…

And many weeks later, I emerge from the depths of the thanksgiving gravy and stuffing to once again wave my arms, jump up and down and scream for your attention.


Anyhow, many things have happened lately. Thanks to the wonderful citizens of my hometown Vermillion, South Dakota. I went home for a week for thanksgiving and gave two exciting performances downtown, one at the Eagles Club and another at Maya Jane’s. Things went so well that I was asked to perform again at the Eagles Club when I return for the Christmas break. So if you missed me Vermtown, come see me at the Eagles on December 28th! Tell your friends, come on back to Vermillion for a few days before the new year and party it up while the town can be your’s!

I also did a great show at the Metropolis Coffee Company. I had two new songs that are now going through re-writes. A few offbeat poets I heard recently reminded me of the importance of re-writes, and I found that my song One Step Ahead was taking way too serious of a tone. I wanted it to be more “everything was cooler before I got her” rather than “you assholes follow the money and get where you need to go and I’m not rewarded for my self-proclaimed virtuous means to an end”.

That belongs in another song all together. So, back to the drawing board!

I might focus too much  on the tone of a song. My biggest problem is coming up with too much material and not being able to include it all, so I scrunch it all in, and before I know it, my song has too wide of a scope and no listener can tell what I’m really trying to say.

But the new songs will be rewritten very soon, just in time for my solo performance in the lounge of the Elbo Room, here in Chicago.


Here is my soon-to-be-imfamous poster for said show at Elbo Room:

Adam A Nelson, Elbo Room Lounge, December 18th 2011 8 PM $5


And lastly, I was summoned at the zero hour to play TONIGHT at the Red Head Piano Bar. You just can’t escape all-request piano shows, can you? I’m playing from 7:30 to 11:30 tonight, and all of you Chicagoans should bring all of your friends and thank your lucky stars that you can come see me here in the big city and don’t have to wait until December 28th like my hometown buds.


Thanks for the continued support! Hope to see you at a show very soon!

Just-in-time songwriting

I’m pretty happy with the new song, One Step. Its a song about knowing that you should be grown up, but still finding it weird to look in the mirror and admit that you’re grown up….or maybe its just hard to look at my paycheck and admit that I’m grown up. Yeah, that’s probably the real issue, but I don’t really touch on that subject much in the song. It will take a lot of practice and polishing up to get it where I want it, but its ready for its premiere tonight at Metropolis.

Then there is a former song of mine, which used to be called Hate. I wanted it to be about the motivational power of this often-dubbed negative emotion. The old version had lost its way and it was unclear what the point of the song was. So I deleted the chorus entirely (yes, my new version HAS NO CHORUS!), rewrote the pre-chorus melody (and words!), and changed the key. Its not in C#, and not E (YIKES).

Firstly, it actually does alright without a chorus – the only thing I’m really missing, form-wise, is a strong ending.

The pre-chorus (ahem…pre-non-chorus) now sounds a lot more rockin and has more honest lyrics that convey the message much better.

And C# makes the song much easier to sing. It’s not harder to play, but I am unfamiliar with it, obviously. Once you’re used to playing a song in a certain key, and you’re not just mashing chords like I might do with a cover song I couldn’t care less about, it just becomes very comfortable. The new key isn’t difficult, but I will need to practice it a bit to get it to the level of performance I had when it was in E…one section of the song is actually easier in C# because I often cross my thumbs when I play – my right thumb might play the 7th of the chord while my left thumb goes under it to play the 8th or 9th. It makes for easier performance of melodic passages in the middle voices of my arrangements.

The only thing that’s missing….the ending. 5.5 hours until I take the stage and play the updated version for the first time infront of an audience. Will you be there to see me sink or swim?

The Latest Gigs

As everyone knows, tomorrow night I am making my Edgewater premiere at Metropolis Coffee Company at 6 PM. I’m playing a full hour of original music, some songs I have never performed before!

And upgraded versions of older songs! *

Different lyrics, some completely new parts to old songs, and filled out solo sections.

I think its true when people in Hollywood say “Movies aren’t finished, they are released”. If left to my own devices (and let’s face it, I am), I could spend my whole life making my songs better. Changing lyrics, expanding piano parts, tuning harmonies, adding effects, getting yet another vocal take and probably changing the lyrics again.

I’m happy with what I’ve got so far, and tomorrow night you’ll hear all of it. The emo songs, the post-break up songs, the finding-the-girl songs, the therapeutic songs, and a few meaningless ditties just for good measure.


Come see me November 17th!

1039 West Granville, Chicago IL 60660

*Note – upgraded always means better – just ask Netflix and Greedo

A song 6 years in the making, Part 4/4

I had lyrics, a form, an opening lick (though I almost changed that a few times), a concise ending, a solid groove and a sloppy solo.

Time to fix the solo.

The previous recording of Mr. Wrong had a rather lazy (and often tacet) left hand, and that’s all thanks to one sad fact: I’m not very good at improvising. I knew I had to write out what I was going to do and actually practice it. This applied to everything I was playing once I started recording back in June of 2011. I had to write down virtually every note I was playing so that I could edit takes (What?…). Thankfully, writing a solo was significantly easier than writing lyrics. I had already written the solo for Picture Yourself, and I had transcribed a good deal of songs and solos by Elton, Billy and Ben. I also knew I was going to be recording this very soon with drums and a bass so I wasn’t afraid to write a solo as if I was a jazz player – let the bass player play the bass notes, I’ll play a little “rhythm piano” (a little joke for your rhythm guitarists out there) with my left hand and play the actual solo with my right hand.

Here are the licks I came up with:

I ended up using almost everything on this page for my solo. You can listen and follow along – the solo begins in the very bottom left with an implied walking bassline under it. The lick towards the end of the line (just before the left hand stops walking) that you can’t read is a variation of a lick from the lead guitar in Elton’s Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. From there the solo jumps up two lines, where you can see left hand and right hand written together. I liked the idea of taking the upper spelling of the D chord (playing A minor in my left hand) and letting the chord descend, and idea I got from the solo at the end of Ben Folds Five’s solo at the end of Underground. After four measures you can see the left hand continue while an arrow points to a lick written another line higher for the corresponding right hand lick, a simple mordent (?) with more upper spelling of each chord (G minor while playing over the C chord, and F Maj. 7 while playing over G7).

I love music theory. tee hee!

The solo was finished probably 2 days before I was to fly to Portland, OR. I went there to get a grip on myself, my music career, my goals, and to see my long-lost High School best friend, Steve Giedosh, who was getting me a great deal on musicians and recording producers so that I could make quick demos of three songs. In 9 hours, we rehearsed and recorded Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me), Another Day (also available on reverbnation), and another song that no one has yet to hear (because it’s freakin hard to sing and I need to get another take). That song is called Tomorrow Never Knows, a Stevie Wonder-inspired contemplation about whether life should continue as is or take a sharp turn.

Would you like to hear Tomorrow Never Knows? It’s not ready for release just yet, but you can hear it live at any of my performances:

NOVEMBER 11, 8 pm at Lickity Split
6056 N Broadway in Chicago


NOVEMBER 17TH, 6 pm AT Metropolis Coffee Company
1039 W Granville in Chicago

or my latest addition to the schedule, the one you should go to if you can’t go to any other shows:

DECEMBER 18TH, 8 pm at the Elbo Room Cocktail Lounge
2871 N Lincoln in Chicago
I MUST BRING AT LEAST 20 PEOPLE TO THIS PERFORMANCE! If you’d like to show your support, the best way to do it would be to attend this show, say hi to me, grab some drinks and tell all your friends about it.

Thanks again for reading. New songs are on the way – hear them first this Friday at Lickity Split.

“Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me)” now available for download!!!

Whereas, Adam A Nelson has reached over 100 fans, and

Whereas, it happens to be a national post-mortem holiday, and

Whereas, I have never had anything available for download before,

the Interwebs is happy to bestow upon you, the fans, the first downloadable song from Adam A Nelson!!!!!

Visit the BRAND NEW WEBSITE adamanelson.bandcamp.com and name your price for Adam’s first downloadable singls, Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me). For the first time ever, you can download one of my songs, and it is all thanks to you for helping me reach over 100 fans and supporting me online.


All week I will be celebrating with entries on the trail I hiked just to get this single to you. From inception to final edit, how to take an idea, turn it into a song, and release it to the public. A story 6 years in the making, written down over four days of blogging.

So visit adamanelson.bandcamp.com and download the song, send it to all of your friends and tell them to help me get yet another 100 fans, and keep checking back to adamanelson.com for more information on previously released songs and what is yet to come from Chicago’s newest piano rocker!


…will be uploaded tomorrow. Got some new mixes, with brand new vocal takes, for Another Day, Picture Yourself and My Greatest Wish. Listen to the current mixes while they last! You will be able to stream AND purchase some of the tunes. Until then, come out to Downer’s Grove, IL and see my performance at Ballydoyle’s Irish Pub. The fun starts at 8:30. Come by and say “hey”, and tell your friends to come out too. Thanks so much for the support!

Adding more shows!

I have just just booked another performance: I will be playing at the Big Shot Piano Lounge in Arlington Heights, IL on Saturday, November 5th from 10 PM to 2 AM. I will likely not play any originals, though. This will be much more like the dueling piano shows I have done for the past few years.

I could muse for hours and hours on the how what who where when whys of starting a career in dueling pianos and eventually ending it just a few months ago. I just knew that after witnessing it, I would regret never going for it and auditioning. I auditioned quite a bit before I got a job doing it, but for now I definitely prefer performing alone. I get to make my own rules, and its not an oppressive boss thing. Its more of a strange inferiority thing. When I play with another dueler on stage, I find myself trying to impress them instead of playing for the audience. I have a lot more freedom to be myself when I do an all-request show by myself. It’s also a bit easier because I just don’t have a very loud voice – my instructions and jokes often get lost if the other person on stage isn’t completely paying attention to what I’m trying to do, and I have a hard time being consistent and sticking to a script.

So come out November 5th to see me bullshit my way through the biggest hits and kitchiest favorites from the last 60 years of popular music!

And don’t forget about the Acoustic Showcase at Ballydoyle’s Irish Pub in Downer’s Grove THIS THURSDAY NIGHT! 8:30 PM!


There is a lot to be said for working alone when creating something, whether it be a song, painting, poem, anything. Performance is of course a very personal experience – the performer is sharing his or her thoughts, emotions, moods, idiosyncrasies, dreams, beliefs, and any number of private things with the audience. But during performance, one usually has their song, painting or poem in a finished state. The artist has already weeded out the lines that are too cheesy, the melodies that were unconsciously stolen from another artist, the lyrics that serve as a placemat until the better synonyms or phrases present themselves. When you work alone, you can get all of this stuff out of the way without instant feedback, misinterpretation, a deadline, or creative compromise. And you don’t have to open yourself up before you’ve found out how to say exactly what you want to say.

I participated in a songwriter’s meeting last night, where we split up into two groups to go and write songs. Me being a pianist, I did not have an instrument with me. There was another pianist there and I decided not to make a big stink about getting to use the only piano in the building, as he said he was particularly stronger at the music side of songwriting than the lyrical.

So I headed upstairs with two men I had known for about 10 minutes, and we spent probably 80 minutes brainstorming lyrics. We never really settled on a melody or chord progression, just went through the creative process of writing lyrics. We started with a first line I had come up with, which we all three decided would be the title and hook of the song. Many ideas were brought up, about what angle to take on the song, how descriptive to get, what point of view to have, how we were going to make this song stand out amongst all of the other silly love songs out there…It felt a little uncomfortable, “going from zero to sixty” as one of my collaborators put it. I had just met these two men and now we had fallen into the trap of writing a love song together – exposing our emotional pasts and interpretations thereof, our musical preferences, what we thought was cliche and what we thought was forced, and what we thought was musically essential to make a song work…

But I never really got the impression that the song was working.

and all the while, we could hear the other group singing strongly with a piano accompaniment, clearly making a lot more progress than we were. And I was very happy to discover at the end of the meeting that the highest voice in the other team’s choir was infact a woman who had arrived late to the meeting, and not an awesome tenor. I was no longer jealous of someone else’s voice (yes, that happens a lot). Before, it was a bit distracting knowing that the other team had great singers, a fleshed-out musical idea, and were all collaborating very well.

I came to a very simple conclusion (gleaned from this experience and from many tv show commentaries about the writing process): I work best alone.

Or at the very least, if I want to collaborate, its best to give people something to start with and just let them go at it alone for a while. Once they’ve taken the concept somewhere and, its time to get back together. Each collaborator presents what they came up with and then combines the ideas, feeding off of eachother, and making the musical, lyrical, and conceptual compromises necessary to do the song justice.

To that point, I am going to start my first official collaboration sometime this week. A good friend of mine, whom I have known for about 13 years (YIKES!) has sent me some lyrics, and I’m going to try to make a song of them. I think this approach will work much better for me. Someone else has done some work and given me a framework from which to start. Now I can shape those lyrics into a song (or a few songs) for her to approve/amend later, without having to wade through the knee-jerk-reactions to ideas that aren’t fully realized. When I react quickly to input I typically put my foot in my mouth – I’d rather have time to soak it up and take a step forward with that foot instead of standing in the same place, too quick to judge initial contributions.

Thanks for reading, and don’t miss the Acoustic Showcase at Ballydoyle’s Irish Pub in Downer’s Grove, THIS THURSDAY NIGHT at 8:30. Click on SEE above to view my entire performance schedule, and stay tuned for new mixes of songs, and some new tunes never before released on the internet. CDs available at the Acoustic Showcase, so don’t miss it!