Tim Van Schmidt

Usually, when I want to celebrate some particular date, I look for some live music to go to. To me, seeing a great concert by a hot artist is about the most fun you can have.

Most of the time, I think big — big stage, big lights, big sound. “Big” can be powerful, pushing the world’s troubles at bay with a whole bunch of electricity.

But we all know that in the wake of sweeping virus precautions, “big” has suddenly become out of style. It’s a temporary thing, I think, but serious enough for a live music fan in need.

That means that recently when I was planning to celebrate a birthday, I realized that instead of going “big” I should go “small” and hire a local musician to play for a very small dinner audience — properly spaced, of course.

But small is beautiful. When I’m with my friends and the subject comes around about favorite concert memories, the most precious currency in such a discussion is always having seen a very popular artist early in their career. You know, before they were popular and when they were still playing small places.

The reason those stories are so fun is that it usually means closer interaction with the artist — getting up close and personal.

Well, you can’t get much more personal with music than to hire a local musician.

My choice as to who to hire was an easy one. I’ve been listening to a lot of instrumental music recently and my favorite Fort Collins guitarist is Jerry Palmer. I called Palmer, set up the date, and agreed on a set of acoustic music on a friend’s patio.

Albums by Jerry Palmer

This concert did feature Palmer’s nimble guitar work — skipping around various cultural playing styles while balancing sweet melodies with more dynamic strumming. But instead of being a formal presentation, it became more like a conversation with musical segues.

For example, Palmer gleefully showed us his newest guitar acquisition — a locally-made, custom-built harp guitar. We talked over some stories of influential guitarists. We also talked about our families and the virus and jobs and, well, regular life.

The scene was a musician and an audience of three — small enough for it not to be such a big deal when the afternoon wind and rain started and we had to move our chairs around a little for shelter.

As Palmer’s fingers stretched deftly up and down the fretboard, his other fingers busily adding rhythm and punctuation, he was as accomplished at making a melody breathe easily as building to a dramatic, note-filled flourish. Gone was the desire for “big” because right in front of my eyes was the essence of music — an artist and his instrument — with all the other distractions of concert-going completely out of mind.

As Palmer packed up to leave, he gave us copies of his latest CDs — “Soul Gardener,” “Collective,” “Cherry Picking” and “Desert Cinema,” a collaboration with Russ Hopkins. I’ll enjoy hearing these at home.

But nothing takes the place of the live music experience — “big” or “small.” It just makes a celebration more complete for me. So this is my advice for live music fans looking for fun: hire a local musician. “Small” can be very satisfying.

Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. Hear his interviews with international musicians on Youtube at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”