Playing with no set list

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A Bill Martin performance is like a dance. As you sit in the audience, he watches you. As you step back, he steps forward and if you step toward him, he matches the footwork.

There is no set list, only the audience.

Bill Martin

6:30 to 8:30 p.m. during dinner every Saturday and Wednesday Ptarmigan Inn restaurant, 2304 Apres Ski Way

Free

879-1730

He takes his place in the corner of the Ptarmigan Inn restaurant and begins to slowly and quietly fingerpick a folk song on his guitar. The song ends, and he moves easily into a jazz standard. After a few instrumentals, he leans toward the microphone and starts singing. All the while, he's watching and measuring.

"I test the room," he said. "Sometimes, it's appropriate to just play background music, and some nights, I really step it up, and I'm telling stories between songs. It all depends on the audience."

Martin's guitar-playing style has its theoretical life in jazz and its emotional life in folk. He matches thick, rich chords with a clear, finger-picked melody. That combination has a strong visceral effect on the listener. You feel it on the back of your neck.

"It can strike strong emotions with people," Martin said. "It's coming from inside me. It's a part of me."

After Martin has tested his audience to know which songs they want to hear, the real show begins. He leads them through the four emotions -- "happy, sad, fear and hope," he said. "Music should be an emotional voyage. Even if it's in a low key, subconscious way, I like to take people on that journey."

Although Martin has paid his dues in bands throughout the years, he prefers to play solo.

As a one-time City Council president, Martin had to make speeches to hundreds of people about the state of the city, but playing music is a thousand times harder, he said. "You are really baring your soul up there."

But that's why he likes it, he said. "Playing single is the hardest thing you can do, but I love the connection it provides with the audience."

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