We just got through playing a pleasant, informal performance with our friends David and Scott. It was quite a contrast to the usual stand-up gig, where we'd have a listening audience and play through a sound system (which we'd have to provide). Instead, the four of us were sitting together under an awning on a large deck, in the midst of a private party at a big lake-house. We were scheduled to play three sets like that. Simple to play? Yes, in a way, but the whole gig provided an illustration of how experienced musicians play together.
Murphy played banjo and Scott was playng guitar, and he and Murphy shared most of the lead singing. They sang songs covering quite a bit of ground, from Reno & Smiley to the Stanley Brothers to Bill Monroe, and a few old gospel songs as well.
David and I switched off on mandolin and fiddle. But I hadn't played much fiddle in a few months. This meant, for one thing, that I needed to get back in practice on fiddle right there while playing it---I was a bit rusty at first, but I just played, and waited for my proficiency to come back. And by about the second set, it did. Did my rustiness matter? No, it didn't, since few people in the crowd were really listening, and even those were not musical experts.
This brings up a good point: When you're playing music in public, even if you don't think you're playing well on a particular day, JUST PLAY. Just KEEP GOING. Very few of the people listening will be able to tell that you're out of practice or having a hard time playing, unless YOU signal it to them. And they don't want to listen to someone who is obviously uncomfortable playing, either. So just enjoy what you're doing, or act like it, and the listeners will never know your music isn't as perfect as you'd like. JUST PLAY.
And also, when people aren't paying much attention, don't let it bother you. Don't let the lack of applause get to you, especially if you're in an easy performing situation, like ours. The people will like what you're doing, and you're not hired, in a case like this, to put on a show. You're there to provide bluegrass music in the background. JUST PLAY.
Part way through the show, David and I decided to trade instruments. I handed him the fiddle, and before I could get out my mandolin, he handed me his own that he'd been playing---a 1923 F-5, with somebody's signature on the label. This is fun.
So I just played the mandolin for a while, and then more fiddle, and all four of us had a good time (I certainly didn't have to act that part!). We ended up the last set with Scott singing "When the Saints Go Marching In" (the old hymnbook version) and Murphy singing "Travellin' That Highway Home". And then we did indeed travel the highway home. I wish every gig I'd played was this easy!