A few months ago, Nancy and I attended a performance by seasoned songwriter and performer Cliff Eberhardt. We have admired Cliff for a couple of decades. Besides being a top-notch songwriter and guitar player, Cliff has one of those voices that just WORKS. It’s a deep baritone with lots of character and soul, and DAMN, can he deliver a song!

While watching Cliff perform, I was wondering to myself what makes a guy like him so good at what he does, especially when it comes to performing – and singing in particular.

The thing that struck me most about Cliff Eberhardt’s performance was how comfortable he was in his own skin.

He has been doing what he does so well for so long that he just knows where to take things with his voice and his guitar. He’s completely at ease with his gift. There’s sort of an unwritten statement in the room that he’s so aware of the boundaries of his own talents that he can get out of his own way and just do what he does like no one else.

That self-confidence or self-awareness – or whatever you might call it – translates into putting the audience at ease as well, so that all that’s left is a wonderful sense of sharing the music between performer and listener, with nothing getting in the way. It’s a very uplifting experience as an audience member.

That got me to thinking about why some performers just never come across that way with their audiences, and I was able to boil it down to one thing: performers like Cliff Eberhardt don’t try too hard, whereas less-experienced or less-confident performers are always trying just a little too hard. I don’t know whether they’re trying too hard for themselves, for the audience, or both, but the result is that there’s always some kind of barrier between them and the audience, and as a result, they just never “connect” completely.

So, simple as it is, that’s the goal as a performer: to be so comfortable in your own skin that you never have to try too hard. And the result is transcendence, to a place where there’s no pretense, no awkwardness, no discomfort and no barriers – a place where performer and audience are one, and the music and its message are the focus.