There are times when gear explodes, drunks attack, and people vanish. But even the worst music gigs can be valuable learning experiences.
Every musician has stories of the best gig ever, that performance where the music clicked, the crowd roared, and the stars aligned to create a brilliant, uplifting, and transformational evening for everyone involved.
Then there are the other times when nothing goes right. Gear explodes, drunks attack, vehicles break down, and that’s just the beginning. But even the worst music gigs can be valuable learning experiences for indie musicians of all stripes and genres.
Backline featuring a toy drumset
WHO: New York drummer Rob Mitzner
THE GIG: While living in Boston about eight years ago, Mitzner got called for a pop/rock date in Atlanta — or what he thought was Atlanta. “After flying all day, we were picked up in a van and driven two-and-a-half hours to a little town in northeast Georgia, somewhere way out in the woods,” he says. “We discovered that we were playing at a summer camp in an outdoor amphitheater for about 1,000 teenage kids.”
THE PROBLEM: While Mitzner and company weren’t thrilled at the unexpected additional travel, the show still sounded fun — until the equipment arrived.
“Usually, these large outdoor gigs are backlined with gear from a sound company and a local pro sound engineer,” Mitzner continues, “but for this, our sound man was, in reality, a thirteen-year-old ‘sound boy’ with no experience.” Mitzner also noticed that there was not a drum anywhere on stage, when he’d been promised a full kit.
“I was assured by the well-intentioned but overwhelmed soundboy that drums were being brought soon. Apparently, I was to play the camp’s drums and not a rented kit. Not encouraging, but I’ve played all sorts of drum sets touring over the years and have learned to make just about anything work. When these drums showed up, though, it became clear that that notion was about to be tested.”
The bass drum was two inches deep and had no back head, the toms resembled small rubber drum pads, the cymbals were the consistency of tin foil, and the “throne” was in fact a tiny children’s chair. “I’ll never forget the look on the bass player’s face when he saw those drums, which were basically a kid’s toy, being set up on this gigantic outdoor stage,” Mitzner continues.
HOW HE DEALT: “I managed to get through the show without completely breaking the kit or falling on my ass, but there was tons of screeching feedback from the drum mics, which wasn’t a surprise, given how horrible the kit was,” Mitzner says. “I certainly looked and felt ridiculous, but we got through it.”
LESSONS LEARNED: “If someone says that they are providing drums and a sound man, don’t have any expectations,” he says. “Just smile, enjoy yourself, and make it work.”
Major instrument trauma
WHO: Turtle Island Quartet founder, resident composer, and violinist David Balakrishnan.
THE GIG: A Quartet performance in Germany, in a beautiful castle, that was being filmed.
THE PROBLEM: “While we were taking our final bows, one of the film crew people was running behind us and tripped on a wire,” says Balakrishnan. “We heard this whooshing sound, and a crash, and the audience, which had been giving us full-out applause and bravos, quickly fell into a murmuring hush.”
The buzzkill responsible for the instant mood change was violist Danny Seidenber’s instrument, which was lying on the stage, dashed to pieces. “The vibe was like someone had a heart attack or something!” Balakrishnan continues. “Later, we found that there was video taken of us from the audience vantage point as we were taking our bows. You can see, in the background, the viola flying up in the air, spinning like a top, and crashing to the ground, and then Danny getting this sick look on his face as he turned around.”
HOW HE DEALT: “There wasn’t much we could do other than leave the stage and quickly turn to literally pick up the pieces. Luckily, there was instrument insurance for such an accident and the viola was repaired nicely by our good friends and expert instrument makers Joe Grubaugh and Sigrun Siefert. So all turned out well in the end.”
LESSONS LEARNED: Balakrishnan recommends that anyone with an instrument attached to an amp or sound system via wire set up on stage with a high-quality instrument holder, stand, or hanger — and that if anyone will be running around on the stage, that they are well aware of the dangers of getting snagged by a cord. “Other than that,” he says, “pray to the almighty for grace!”
WHO: California vocalist Toni Jannotta
THE GIG: As part of a six-month tour with a top-forty group, Jannotta played a fateful gig with a show band at a Holiday Inn in Jackson, Mississippi.
THE PROBLEM: “A football player got handsy with one of the cocktail waitresses, which pissed off the bar manager, who was a fairly burly guy himself,” she says. “That led to a seven minute fight in the club.”
Jannotta and company were in the middle of a medley from Tommy and their performance was punctuated by the sounds of falling tables and breaking glass.
HOW SHE DEALT: “We just kept on singing, ‘. . . listening to you. . . .’” she says. “Finally, our medley ended and, blessedly, so did the fight. The police took the bad guy away and we took our set break. What a night!”
After that intense and exhausting tour concluded, Jannotta, took a twelve-year break from music. “When I came back, it was jazz or bust,” she says — and she has been performing purely as a jazz singer ever since.
LESSONS LEARNED: Jannotta recommends two morals: Never stop singing when there’s a fight in the club and sing what you love, always.
The vanishing tour manager
WHO: Portland guitarist Susan SurfTone
THE GIG: The first show of a European tour by Susan and the SurfTones. The venue was a small club in Brussels, Belgium. “As soon as we arrived, our Belgian tour manager, let’s call him Arnold, hustled us upstairs to a large but bare loft with huge windows looking out into the Brussels night,” SurfTone says. “It was beautiful.” After Arnold left with a mysterious “I’ll be back” and returned hours later, the band descended to the club level to set up.
THE PROBLEM: Though Arnold had provided a fairly respectable-looking backline, the stage lacked current adapters and half of the drum hardware, including the drummer’s throne. “I’ll be back,” Arnold told the band again, and vanished out the door. Two hours later, the band was far beyond its scheduled 9:00 p.m. downbeat and he had not returned.
“The place was packed and we were nervous,” SurfTone recalls. “Everyone spoke French. We did not. Our bass player decided to rig up the amps. The rest of us told him not to try anything, but he was the band member who never listened.” The result? “A Wile E. Coyote moment when he blew up the bass amp,” she continues. “ After the smoke cleared and he went through denial that he did anything wrong, he then made us promise not to tell anyone. But now we had no bass amp.”
Arnold finally returned and when the band in fact did tell him what happened, he again replied, “I’ll be back” and vanished yet again. At this point, it was 11:00 p.m., two hour past scheduled showtime.
Somehow, while waiting, the band ended up at a nearby private party in an ornate ballroom. “Everyone spoke French and seemed amused by us,” SurfTone recalls. “We were fed and shown to the open bar. We were happy that it gave us a place to hide out while Arnold did whatever he was doing.” Finally, Arnold returned with a small bass amp and adapters, but no drum hardware, and the band prepared to play.
HOW SHE DEALT: “We took the stage at about 1:00 a.m. and the drummer soldiered on, playing standing up and with one cracked cymbal,” she says. “Most of the crowd stayed and we all had a good time.”
LESSONS LEARNED: “I guess the moral of the story is that we saw it through and it worked out fine. However, we had no choice. Had we been in the States, at least one of us would have bailed. We couldn’t speak the language, so the club employees couldn’t complain to us about the mess,” she continues. “Belgians must be very patient people.”
CODA: “After the gig, it was pouring rain and Arnold took us to a very cool dive bar where the club owner and his girlfriend were hanging out,” SurfTone says. “As soon as we got drinks Arnold said ‘I’ll be back’ and took off into the rainy night. Later, when the bar closed, he still wasn’t back.”
Playing with fire
WHO: New York pianist, composer, and producer (and writer of this article) Michael Gallant.
THE GIG: Playing “futuristic” background solo piano and keyboard for a dystopian-themed fantasy costume party in Brooklyn.
THE PROBLEM: When I arrived to set up, I noticed that the venue was essentially a large, old concrete garage that had been converted into some sort of probably-illegal residence, workshop, and event space. There was a leaking pipe on the roof and a portion of the ceiling, feet away from where I was to set up and play, had started to cave in. Not ideal, but it actually worked with the ambience of the event — so I decided to go with it and set up my keyboard far enough from the leak so the instrument, and I, would stay dry.
Things got hairier when several of us in the room smelled a strong chemical burning odor and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I quickly noticed that a) there were no fire extinguishers anywhere to be found and b) that there were no fire exits or windows. In fact, the only way out of the concrete box was a small, single door about forty feet away, on the other side of which was another door, past the bar and a lounge area, eventually leading to the outside — and the place was starting to fill up with more people, props, and furniture. In other words, if there was indeed a chemical fire, we were all in trouble.
HOW I DEALT: Searching with the party organizers as the smell got worse and worse, we eventually discovered that the source was nothing more than a smoking lightbulb put into the wrong sort of socket. The toxic smell slowly dissipated, I kept my eyes on the door and adjusted my gear placement so I would have a clear path to it in case something else caught fire, and did my best to play the best dystopian cocktail music Brooklyn had ever heard.
LESSONS LEARNED: Always arrive early to scope out the venue. Stay aware of your surroundings — regardless of whether you’re setting up, playing, breaking down, or hanging afterwards — and know where your exits are. Don’t hesitate to bolt, even mid-song, if your personal safety is truly in question.
Do you have an on-the-gig stories of your own? Post it below!
Image by Oleg Golovnev via ShutterStock.com.
Disc Makers’ regular contributor Michael Gallant’s debut trio album Completely received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download now through iTunes, jam along with the new JamBandit app, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.
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42 thoughts on “Tales of the worst music gigs ever”
I used to produce music for some small eco-festivals in Arizona. The City of Scottsdale made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, then “forgot” to promote it. They replaced it with their own festival, minus the eco and local alternative bands part. It became just counrty music for drunks.
Somehow, it was saved by quick thinking, desperate action, with some major help from I still don’t know where.
My band played on the roof of a country club in rural Maine for a summer party. Nearly everyone at this party became fall down drunk including our soundman who turned every dial on the mixer to 10 and then passed out. We blew 2 speakers and a horn. While playing guitar, a large angry drunk stranger stood in front of me yelling at me that he was going to kill me. Fortunately at the end of the gig that guy had passed out. Never play in Ashland, Maine.
I was talked into filling in for a former band as they needed a bass player for a “good gig”. It was at what used to be a minimum security prison. “the pay is great”, “It’s a fun gig” they said. We set up in the bright sun of a courtyard of a real hardcore prison. About 300 of the biggest, craziest, most tattooed killers came out and stood in front of us and hollered for metal. We were a country band. It was frightening and it left me depressed for days wondering how I could let something like this happen. The band members were nuts and I should have been more careful. I knew they were a band who would play ANY gig. I haven’t spoken to them since. Know where your gig is and consider turning them down if they’re sketchy. People lie.
I won’t add any for now, but believe me, I’ve got many, many stories too
But I’m loving these tales, so many good giggles – it’s nice to know that “WE ARE NOT ALONE” in the Puniverse that muso’s exist in 🙂
I’ll be back with some cracker tales another night, but as a working A/V tech,
tonight, I’m too stuffed to post more,
and I’m going to try sleep instead of drugs (this happens as you get older)
But remind me about the time Bruce Springsteen almost got covered in shit from a great height on an Australian tour, and I’ll fill you in on some details – Later, it’s snory time!
WHO: New Hampshire singer-songwriter John Bjorkman
THE GIG: outdoor wedding in the California mountains. A couple of friends who met while hiking, wanted to get married in a very scenic area of the mountains. The venue was “just behind the vacation house” where many guests were staying. There were only going to be about 75 guests, so my Fishman APP would be adequate. Electricity was available off the back porch.
THE PROBLEM: It was too far to check it out ahead of time, and “just behind” turned out to be about 250 yards, on a rock cliff overlooking a gorge, canted at about 15 degrees. Plus, there was a stiff wind coming down the gorge. The couple and minister had their backs to the gorge, while all the guests had chairs comfortably away from the cliff. I was positioned off to one side.
HOW HE DEALT: Fortunately I brought my whole gig bag, and had left a couple of heavy-duty 100′ extension cords in my van. The house had one more, so three 100′ extension cords got power to the venue. An extra mic with stand and cords provided unplanned-for, but seriously necessary, amplification for the minister, bride and groom. Scavenged wood leveled out the amp stand (and held it down). Fortunately there was no precipitation.
LESSONS LEARNED: Most people have little understanding of music, acoustics, electronics, or any of the myriad of details musicians face to provide a decent performance. So be prepared for as much as you can. “Outdoors” now means bring my own power. A car battery with inverter works fine for me for several hours, even with my string band. At extended outdoor gigs, a portable tent is a must as well. Whether for shade, dryness, or warmth (removable sides can block bitter winds and contain the heat from a small propane unit), you have to look out for your own well-being.
Oh, a bring a few bottles of water…
We left our house in Philly for a gig in the southern part of West Virginia, Bluefield I think it was. First show on a week long tour. We pulled up outside a road house looking joint made of cinderblocks. We began to unload our gear, while waiting for our promoter guy to show up, who was a college student. We got some sideways glances from the good ole boys shooting pool. Bad vibes everywhere. The promoter guy finally showed up, took us outside, and said, I did a show here last week, and it did not go well. The kind of music I want to bring in does not mesh well with the regulars. The show was canceled, he gave us fifty dollars and a cassette of the Fall playing live. We then drove non -stop to Madison, Wisconsin. The moral of the story: work with established promoters who will place you in an appropriate venue and always call ahead to see if your show is still on. This happened before cell phones and the internet!
Back in the early 80’s, I had an original New Wave band called Candy. Our agent at the time, a 6’4″ muscle bound guy who looked like a GQ model, had booked us into a bar in Queens, NY. We got there, and it turned out to be a biker bar where the patrons sold and indulged in Angel Dust. We’re dressed in spandex, young and skinny, and these guys are already yelling for Lynrd Skynrd. Walking toward the stage, I said to my partner (the other guitarist) “we’re not getting out of here alive, are we?” He replied “Nope.”
As I said, we did all original tunes. One of them was a song about Quaaludes, called “Lemon Man”. The drug had changed from Ruror 714 to Lemons at the time. We decided to lead off with that one. The club went nuts. Guys were lying down in front of us, howling “Lemon Maa-aaa-aan!” From that point on, we could do no wrong.
On the first break, we went outside to the front of the club, where some of the patrons were hanging out. Very rough looking crowd. And who do we see, but our agent – driving by, slowing down, looking at the motely crew in front, and driving off again – fast.
He called the next day to ask for his money. We told him to f**k off. If we had been, let’s say, A Flock Of Seagulls instead of Candy, I do believe I’d bear scars to this day.
There are definitely some doozies here that can’t be made up. Other than some fights going on in bars & equipment problems that I experienced; my least favorite was getting some beer spilled on my drums just before playing a Black Wed. (the night before Thanksgiving) gig. My personal favorite was playing a long drum solo in the dark when power went out during the middle of an original song in 1984 at a Chicago north side dive. When they finally got the fuses or circuit breakers reset to bring the lights back on we finally finished that same song. Too bad nobody recorded that particular version though.
I’m a retired lounge lizard of over 50 years in the business. I’ve played all kinds of venues but I have to say: One of the worst jionts I ever played (and this is a hard one to pin down) was in 1967 at a club near the Delaware River on the Jersey side of the Walt Whitman Bridge in Gloucester City New Jersey.Tthis dump was just across the river from South Philadelphia. It turned out to be a steady gig for over two years as the house band. The money was very good because it included combat pay! This area is a tough part of Jersey, not to say that there’s a non-tough part of the state, but with the South Philly crowd mixing with the Jersey crowd, it was a recipe for an instant brawl at almost the drop of a hat. The clientele was mainly made up of iron workers, ship yard workers, welders, and any job that required brute strength, and that describes just the women in the place!
I was 19 years old when I got the job through a sax player, Bob, I met in a pick up band when I covered an afternoon wedding. His regular group needed a vocalist and bass player and I had a pretty good voice and knew most of the songs they were playing. They had a steady job at a big joint, and I’m being kind when I call it a joint. To properly paint a picture of this joint, I must add that the parking lot was next to a creek that, at high tide, left my 1966 T Bird in water above the wheels. The first night we played there I got there early and parked near the door to bring my equipment in and I left the car there. No one told me that on a full moon, the extra high tide would cover the parking lot on the creek side of the building, including the entrance up to the second step of the stairs. I had to roll up my pant legs and take off my shoes and socks to wade to may car when I left that first night. This was the only job I ever played, where I had to check the tides to be sure to avoid this. I wondered why the bouncer stood at the door on that side of the building and would say to people coming in, “its high tide tonight folks.” People would go back out the door. They were moving their cars. What did I know, I got there before he did that night
The second night we played was Saint Patric’s Day. If I had known what it was going to be like, I would have brought a football helmet along with me. We backed up a comedian who was in his seventies, a very funny guy who later became a great friend. He was the MC for the amateur show every Saturday night. Every drunk from Philly to all over South Jersey flocked there to sing their favorite song. Some of which we never heard of and were expected to back. We got through that, the crowd, by that time, was so drunk they didn’t know or care what we played as long as the beat was OK. But my second night on the job was St. Patty’s Day and we had to back every obscure Irish song sung by every person from South Philly and Jersey, who’s last name started with an “O’ something or other.” The highlight of the Saturday night amateur show was an amateur stripper, named Eleanor. I’ll never forget this woman as long as I live! She was four foot nothing and weighed over 200 pounds! Her belly fell over her tiny G string, her boobs flopped against her belly and just about escaped her little top as we ground out the classic stripper favorite, Night Train! She would shake like hell as she danced. I made it a point never to eat until well after she performed, so I could get that picture out of my mind.This night, during her “performance”, a drunk climbed over the wrought iron railing that surrounded the large dance floor where the show was held, and tried to dance with her. A few remarks from a guy in the crowd about the Pope and another remark from a woman at a table near the bandstand, about the Protestants, and that was it! A guy stood up and punched this woman and knocked her over two tables and the shit hit the fan! I guess there were 50 or so people slugging it out on the dance floor right in front of the stage and among the tables that surrounded the dance floor. Tables and chairs flew through the air. Women screamed loud assaults. The foulest language I’ve ever heard blasted through the place. I saw one guy fly by me and then a woman was in the air, her dress flying over her head, no panties on either!. It was a surreal scene I won’t ever forget. Bob, the sax player yelled, “grab a chair!” I leaned my bass against my amp at the back of the stage and just at that moment I turned around, I literally caught one flying by in front of me, and quickly followed Bob, and the keyboard player, Buddy’s lead, smashing or kicking anyone away, who was thrown toward our direction. We looked like lion tamers with the chairs pushing people away. The four of us stood like centurions at the front of the stage beating back the drunken hoards and dodging flying glasses and beer pitchers! I don’t know how we avoided getting hit.
After what seemed like hours of this giant brawl- in reality it lasted about a half an hour before the cops got there and banged the brawlers over the head with their night sticks and handcuffed men and women alike then they took them away. One of the cops asked if our equipment was damaged. We told him our stuff was OK. He told us that they had to get going. They just left one fight and had to go help the State Police, who were helping to cover the city that night, at another bar brawl. I found out later that there were so many bars in this tiny city that there was a fight in almost every bar on St. Patty’s Day because of the huge Irish population in the area. I drove through the little city during day and discovered every other bar and small tap room had an Irish name.
After the brawl, we stood on the band stand clearing debris away, as people were pulling semi conscience men and women out from under tables and pouring water on them from beer pitchers. There was a lot of swearing and moaning going on as bloodied people with blood stained bar towels on their heads made their way out the doors. The bouncer was standing by the one door gently reminding them to bring the towel back next week. Unbelievable! The club owner came walking toward us wiping blood off of his face and said. “What the hell are you doing? Your break is over men, get back to work!” As he laughed like hell! “Try to keep playing when there’s a fight guys, it helps to keep the natives calm.” He walked toward the mens room, still wiping blood off his face and hands, and still laughing. I stood there astonished. I turned and asked the sax player Bob, “does this shit go on all the time?” “Nah, just….well, mostly on the holidays. Usually only four of five guys fight, this was just a holiday thing”, he said it as though he was talking about getting the oil in his car changed.
‘You two are lucky”, said Buddy the keyboard guy. “I’ve got this big Hammond B3 and Bill’s got the drums to worry about. We just can’t move them out of the way as fast as you guys can move your stuff!” A year later I saw Buddy knock a guy out with one punch on St. Patty’s Day, for leaning on the organ and almost spilling his drink on it. Buddy was playing when he punched the guy and never missed a note. Bob and I hid the unconsciousness guy under a table, out of the way. I got used to all of this, and after that second night I put a night stick in the case with my bass and kept it behind my amp when I was playing. Just in case.
The moral of my story is: If you want really good pay, sometime, you have to fight for it!
Who: Just Water (a St Louis-based Blues/Rock band)
The Gig: Ballwin Days. (Ballwin is a suburb of St. Louis)
The Problem: Ballwin Days is in August. The temperature was 98 degrees and the humidity was unbearable. The stage rather than protecting us from the sun, focused the sun like a magnifying glass. Oh, and I had a migraine.
Further problems: We had never played an outdoor gig before. We had only played in clubs were put the PA mains behind us and we played without monitors. I was the keyboard player/sound man and I was dying.
We had friends help with load in and set up, so stayed in the car out of the sun trying to keep my head from exploding. When they were done with the sound check, I came on stage and we swung into our first number. I quickly realize that my friends had set me up BEHIND the mains and I couldn’t hear myself or the vocals. I was supposed to be controlling the sound, but all I could hear was the pounding in my head.
How we dealt: I motioned to my friends in the audience to let them know I couldn’t hear to do the mix. Fortunately, they quickly figured out what I needed, and they gave me hand signals so I could adjust the mix as needed. For my part, I had to play the entire gig from memory since I couldn’t hear what I was playing.
Lessons learned: Where do I start?
Epilogue: After the last song, the drummer collapsed from heat exhaustion and had to carried from the stage. Oh, and my headache was finally gone.
Way back in the 80’s we were a four piece doing all original music. We were New Wave/ Punk depending on writer and mood. We got an agent, did a video and was booked for 2 nights out on the Northfork of Long Island NY. On the way out in the truck we hear an ads for the gig. ” Come hear TuffLuck featuring the sexy sounds of Donna Summer” SAY WHAT?! Did these people not see the video? I knew they did…sooo? So we arrive. The club owner explains he did the ad to attract people. I see. Nothing to be done at that point. Let’s get something to drink and start setting up. Nice waitress gives us some beers and sodas and tells us to drink up because they don’t allow glass containers during the show as the audience tends to throw stuff at the band if they are not happy. Blues Brothers anyone. Better every min. Soon a shall we say, rather corpulent, older, comfortably attired crowd starts filing in. Cue opening act. I swear to it..an old guy in a straw hat, red white and blue striped jacket starts strolling down the isle with a Banjo. We are now entering Twilight Zone territory. What to do? What we did is break into the most hard core raucous number we had. Bass player running around stabbing his bass at everyone, guitarist foaming at the mouth. Drummer beating the skins like a mule driver. Everyone screaming at the top of their lungs. Result?
Cleared the joint in a song and a half. Told the owner he was on the hook for two days pay and the hotel room as he knew what he was doing. Got it too. Two free days at the beach children. The lesson…I have no freaking idea.
This took place about 20 years ago. I took a non paying gig with a promoter to get my name out. I was aware that the gig was in a minimum security prison. I asked the promoter was there any other singers? She said I don’t know. The truth came out. I was the only singer. Also, to make matters worse, I was with female models who was there for a fashion show at the same prison. Let’s just say, I did not get a warm welcome. I could not compete with the models. This was a lesson learned. I should have stayed home.
I got a call from a woman here in town who wanted a “jazz band” for a private party on an estate. She wanted to include a singer as well. Good pay so we took the gig. We showed up and discovered that she wanted to alternate jazz music with Mariachi band music. ADDITIONALLY, there had been a snafu in booking the Mariachi band so there were TWO Mexican Mariachi bands and apparently now BOTH were going to play, so, we would play 3 tunes, stop, and ‘hand off’ to the first Mexican Mariachi band, they would hand off to the 2nd Mexican Mariachi band and then when got the signal, we would perform our 3 tunes. That meant that we basically stood on a small stage while 6 Mariachi tunes were played and then it was our turn. This went on for TWO HOURS. Good money, good food, bad gig.
“Everything will be provided” said the sponsor after reading our required equipment list. So, at Fantasy Fest, full band, with 70,000 of our “best friends” celebrating, we climbed the float to play; we discovered a 100 watt Kustom PA with 2 12″ inch speakers, a 10″ beringer bass amp, a fender frontman, 2 mismatched mics and stands, and the oldest, tiniest drum set I have ever seen. Since we had performed at Fantasy Fest many times before successfully,and knew what to suspect, we thought “well we’re here, at least we can have fun and it’s for a good cause” (Historic Fort maintenance). I ran a line out from the bass amp to the paltry PA, for support. Unfortunately, by the time we exited the fairgrounds and hit the main street for the parade, the fill in guitarist was plastered, zoned, wasted, drunker than drunk. I turned off his amp and the drummer and I did drum and bass solos, and call and answer songs for 2 1/2 hours straight. Sometimes the show must go on!
The subject being ‘the worst music gigs ever,’ I have a couple of fond remembrances that weren’t nearly as unpleasant as they were peculiar. The first instance happened when I was in the Navy and on tour in behalf of Navy Recruiting. The plan, as it was explained to me, was that the winners of the All-Navy Talent Show, a talent contest among all of us who wore the uniform, would present free stage shows, and young girls who were impressed by talented boys in uniform would tell their boyfriends how cool they thought we were, and that would cause the boyfriends to join the Navy. Lame idea? Yes, but we were only there to follow orders. I had won representing the 11th Naval District, and one of the prizes was an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. A second treat, newly added in 1956, was a concert tour of the country, every hamlet, village and city, where a need was perceived. We had our own plane, and we quite often did two shows a day, one in the afternoon, another in the evening. When we arrived in New Orleans, we were told that we’d be performing on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, and that was a pleasant thought. The weather was warm, and we knew there’d be no shortage of fans for our free event. We were also told that there was a slight possibility of a hurricane, and that we’d be playing it by ear. The show started on time, but there was considerable wind, and the crowd, all seated in beach chairs, seemed restless. They were picking up their chairs and moving about, and this was very much a distraction. By the time it was my turn to sing and play, there was nobody where the audience was supposed to be in front of the makeshift stage. The audience had migrated northward, and the reason was hilarious. The wind was blowing so hard that they couldn’t hear us unless they were in its path, this being some sixty feet away.
A second peculiar incident was also weather-related. I was doing shows with my dear friend Burl Ives for the Department of the Interior. He’d been asked to help with their Johnny Horizon Program, and he’d leaned on me to write the theme song, so it was only natural that we’d soon be traveling about the country entertaining crowds of would-be environmentalists. We were pioneers, I’m told. One day we were scheduled to perform outside the Department of Interior office in Carson City, Nevada, and although the air was a bit on the cool side, there was plenty of sunshine, so an outdoor show was not an unpleasant idea. This was being promoted as a somewhat spontaneous event, no microphones, no electrified instruments, and it was mostly for the people who worked in that office. Both Burl and I had performed in musicals on the stage, so we were used to projecting the voice. The crowd was excited, and we were glad to be there, but just as we started our show, there came a very different meteorological occurrence, a very light, feathery snowfall. I had never before seen such huge snowflakes. They were the size of quarters, and very slow in their downward movement. They seemed to float in the air. I fully expected Burl to stop singing and head for the building, but he didn’t, and the audience members weren’t quitting either. We all just stood there and got dumped on by Mother Nature. I looked down at my guitar, and it was covered with snowflakes. They were piled up on the body and the neck, and when I looked at Burl, he seemed to be wearing a hat, but he wasn’t. The crowd was covered too. We all had tiny mountains of the fattest, lightest snowflakes, and you’d have thought we were in a Disney movie. When the leaky cloud had emptied itself on our event, it moved on or disappeared, but the snowflakes stayed. It was magical.
After 30 yrs in different bands, I have enough horror stories to fill a trunk…..drummers passing out mid-show, puke buckets behind the house mains, getting stiffed by club owners for thousands of bucks, and the list goes on. There are probably some gigs so bad I’ve had to erase them from memory (or got erased thru some fault of my own). But 2 stand out to me at the present moment – toward the end of a week long gig we came to the club one morning to find it burned to the ground – with all our gear inside. What the fire didn’t ruin, the fire dept. did. Fortunately I carry my guitars out with me every night. Found out later the owner torched it for insurance. The other bad gig was when a fight broke out and someone pulled a pistol and started shooting at people. It wasn’t the kind of place where that sort of thing happened so it was pretty shocking. Thankfully he didn’t kill anyone, but that wrapped up the night for us. What can we learn from these experiences? Don’t get tore up on stage, keep some Phenergen and Immodium AD in your first aid kit, do the contract thing, let each club owner know before each gig that some of your closest friends are Hell’s Angels, and always…ALWAYS wear a Kevlar vest to every show…
WHO: Utah keyboard/rhythm guitar/harmonica/vocalist Darrell Fletcher
THE GIG: Back in the early 1970s, our six-piece “soft-rock” band, all college music majors in Utah, had been together for 2 years, doing gigs in colleges, military clubs (NCO or Officer’s Clubs), etc.. This gig was in a “teen club”, across the street from an audio store called “Tape Head Company”. The club said our pay would be 15% of the “gate”, or money each kid paid at the door. Within minutes after opening, the place was packed with 600 kids rockin’ out.
THE PROBLEM: About an hour and half into the gig, our business guy (saxophone player) told us Tape Head Company across the street had been doing a promotion the week before, and given out free tickets to the gig we were playing. Our total payment was based on actual cash coming through the door. We only got $50, split 6 ways. So, we just jammed for another 20 minutes, wrapped up and left. Word to the wise: GET THE MONEY UP FRONT, or be sure you have an “iron-clad” contract up front.
This is an old , old tale . I was the background guitar for a local group called the Flames at the ripe old age of 14 . It was 1958 . We went into the lounge and the manager told us that if anyone raised their voice or we heard a ruckus we were to drop our instruments and leave by the door behind us . I , of course asked why . It seems that a patron had been ” cut off ” by the bartender and objected loudly . The bouncer escorted him out the door and everyone thought that was the end of it . About 1/2 hour later he returned , verrrrryyyyy drunk and armed . He started shooting and fortunately didn’t hit anyone . I asked the manager if it was alright if I took my guitar ( Les Paul Custom ) , with me . He said ” is it worth that much ” I replied yes but , holding it over my chest , it’s a solid body guitar . We both had a good laugh but I listened and watched the rest of the night carefully ……Cliff Jordan
We had played this bar 100’s of times. We load in for a weekend stand only to be told that last week’s band was so loud the neighbors complained, cops showed…please set up over there. This new spot was just adjacent to where we’ve always played. No big deal. Just as we get ready to say, “hello and welcome to…” and launch into our first song, our bass player, Lindz, is making these wild yelps and screams. I’m thinking to myself why is Lindz fucking around and doing a James Brown impression? No sooner did that thought transpire, BOOM! he goes flying into the drum kit with mic stand in his hands…writhing and screaming! Oh God he’s getting electrocuted!! I run over to him with my guitar strap around my neck and I know if I grab this mic stand we are BOTH going down! So I grab and release at the mic stand. After 3-4 attempts, the stand comes flying at of his hands and from lying prone on his back Lindz jumps to his feet in one motion. “Gig’s OVER!!”, he says. I said. “I’m with ya!” But I gotta hand to my buddy, after a few shots and a few beers, he said,”Let’s play…” And we did. We set up in the old spot and we rocked that little ol’ bar. And after 30+ years I’m still playing with one the greatest bass players.
We were playing at a church where my bass was directly plugged into the sound system. The only problem was when we started playing there was no bass in the monitor and I was hearing the bass echoing off the back wall from the main speakers in this huge sanctuary. I had to keep my eyes focussed on the drummers kick drum pedal and ignore the echoes from the back wall to keep time with everyone.
After playing 1300 wedding receptions, I can recall lots of sucko gigs. Among them, a going away party for a guy who had one week to live, a wedding in a mortuary, a marriage that ended 45 minutes into the reception, two receptions where shots were fired, one heart attack, one that was broken up by the SWAT team. Also, show up at the gig and find that you’re playing with an accordion player who cannot play twinkle twinkle without the sheet music or another who read from a homemade fake book that had wrong chords throughout. Not to mention the “singers” who wanted to sit in with the band….one so bad that I literally fell off my drum stool laughing! Oh, and another which was me on drums, a sax player, and an acoustic accordion player who played into a mic…..oh, and the wedding on a boat in SF Bay at 10 am New Years Day. Ever play “The Love Boat” 20 times??
Here’s a story about a band’s worst gig…
Not the worst, but the sleaziest. On my part. Booking agent secured a $300 guarantee at mid sized Mid West city for our four piece from another Mid West city, contract and all. We arrive to find we’re last on a 3 band bill. End of gig, the rest of the band heads out for the 5 hour drive home leaving me with said contract, I was staying overnight. Approach bar owner, who is working the door, who tells me “talk to my bar manager”. Show bar manager contract, he calls me a fuckhead, and nods at owner, who proceeds to give me the money from the door, $285, plus a 20 from his own pocket, and says “you’re gonna have to tell the other bands they ain;t getting paid”. Understand, no one showed up to hear us, they were there for the locals. So… I head backstage to grab my bass and clothes, listening to the band guys saying “it was a good night, we should get some bucks, let’s swap some shows” etc…Needless to say, I said nothing and left by the back door. Who knows what lies our agent said to get to get us the gig/guarantee.
Q: What’s worse than music? A: Musicians.
I still feel bad about this incident, but we needed the cash for rent, man. Sleazy.
The gig: Hard Rock Cafe, Dallas
The Problem: After driving 12+hrs from Nashville, resting for a few hours at a friend’s house, all 4 of us headed to the HRC. Upon arrival, par for the course in a major metro area, parking was impossible but we expected as much.
The real problem begins here: After weeks of my agent being in contact with the management there we roll up ready to rock. After an expedited load-in, set up & sound check we start to realize there has been ZERO publicity – and I mean NO posters and not so much as one of their signs notifying anyone of an event happening at the HRC. 2nd. there is no one to take the cover (and there was a large crowd), even worse, no one wanted to TAKE a cover for the show – management or otherwise. I call the agent & inform her of the details before I blow a gasket & have a stroke on site. Management is somewhat apologetic but nothing can really be done. They bought us dinner & a few beers(gee, thanks) & gave me what added up to about $100 in gift cards (2nd gee, thanks).
How I dealt: Since we had fans there from local to 2+hrs away, we trudged through & did a great show. I paid the guys as promised, & lost my proverbial ass on that one.
LESSONS LEARNED: Even with a contract signed, sometimes you can take one in the seat with no grease. Be prepared to lose an occasional battle.
Copied from my yelp review of Jonny V’s in San Jose, CA
So I manage a band that played here the other night. I’m a very adaptable person, and much like the artists I work with, we pride ourselves on being able to build positive and cooperative relationships with other artist and businesses in the local music scene. That being said, I’ve had my fair share of lame gigs but this place was by a wide margin one of the most unprofessional, and outright UNDIGNIFIED gigs I’ve ever been a part of, and for a dive bar that’s saying a lot. But lets break this down and keep it to the point :
-Management not only forgot they had a show booked that night, they forgot they had DOUBLE booked 3 bands that alone would have stood well together, but they were alongside a metal band from LA who was very obviously not a good fit for the congruity of the show. Seriously guys? If you’re going to host live music, and expect musicians to use their time and money to travel to your establishment and perform at their best to a crowd that will hopefully remember both them and your establishment in a positive light, do your goddamn homework! How hard is it to send an email/text/sticky-note/calendar-note that you have a show booked that day? Get it together!
-Sound guy showed up totally sh*thoused. I’m a sound engineer as well and I’ll have a few drinks on the job, but getting obliterated before a job is entirely unacceptable, even in this profession.. moving on!
-All bands were good, but management was not being at all assertive about set times so the opening band started late and still got a 1 hour set, 2nd band (who booked the show) was cut by 20 minutes, and the two bands that followed (including my guys who were bumped from 3rd to 4th to make sure the other outta-towners got to play before last call), got 30 minutes each. Also, only the band from out of town was (under)paid for taking their own valuable time to come to San Jose and perform that night
-Absolutely obnoxious DJ blasting music ALL night, even while live bands are trying to perform, which is just downright disrespectful. Then again nothing helps you keep a beat like dubstep blaring from the other half of the building that is only separated by a very thin curtain. If there’s a large group of people dancing, fine… I saw maybe 2 dancers the whole night; everybody else was just trying to talk over the music. If you want to run a joint that has two rooms for live music simultaneously, then make sure those rooms are SEPARATED. If you can’t do that, show some courtesy to the people who are bringing in your clientele and when their band is playing, you tell that iPod with a head to shut the hell up!!
-Outside the venue, the following things occurred in the last hour : A trash can caught fire, the same guy was ejected from the club by the security personnel multiple times (the only people there who were sincerely trying to do their job that night), saw some dumb drunk girl get punched in the face so of course a fight broke out, and when the cops across the street heard the commotion, all they said was “Keep it down!”
If ever there was a night to get drunk, it was that night, but I chose to stay sober because I REFUSE to give this establishment even 1 dollar! This place, the staff (sans security), the neighborhood, the natives… not crackin’, not even a little bit. If you want a drink, go to another bar. If your band wants to play a gig, play somewhere that will treat your talent and professionalism with the dignity it deserves. It makes me livid that they can take time, gas money and emotional energy from 15 people who put all their heart and soul into what they do, and act like what they bring to the table has absolutely no value. I wholeheartedly believe this place and its management personify a complete and utter lack of integrity. If Jonny V’s burned down overnight from an electrical fire the world would be a better place
I’ve got several, but I’ll provide one. I am a children;s entertainer and educational service provider. In the early 90s I booked a show with a center near Atlanta. Three weeks latter I got there and the teachers said they knew nothing about it, but directed me back to the kitchen area. The mother of one of the owners: the one who agreed to let the other decide on booking the show, came out of the kitchen screaming profanities. I agreed to leave and wait for one of the owners to show up and straighten it all out, but that didn’t satisfy grandma. She started tossing my props out into the lot: still screaming obscenities. When both owners showed up we eventually sorted it out: they ahd books but Mom had upset the kids too much to do anything that day. The daughter apologized for her mother, saying, “Mom does get a upset sometimes.” I almost laughed because all I could think of was Psycho and, “MOTHER! MOTHER!”
One of MANY stories.
We were hired to back up two female vocalists for the governor’s inaugural ball. They promised a sound system and operator. The operator they provided was hearing impaired (I’m not making this up!). The two girls were in the dressing room drinking vodka while politicians were giving speeches. As the vodka kicked in they got loud and boisterous with a lot of laughter. The deaf sound man came backstage to tell them to shut up.
I’ve been through a lot of adventures as a professional musician, played song requests at gunpoint, watched a bass player pick a fight with a band leader because he wanted to play a drunken bass solo and was told no, (the drummer came over the drumset and kicked his butt),had a keyboard player walk out after being told to turn down by the club owner. I could tell stories for days, in fact that is my point, all of these challenges can be learning experiences but ultimately they become great stories to share with friends and family!
My first band was called Time of Survival, and our first and only booking was on New Year’s Eve, December 1973, at a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn. We had no worthwhile amplification equipment, so we had rented one huge guitar amp – an old Gibson “piggyback” unit – and we proceeded to plug two guitars, a combo organ, and two microphones into that one amp. Needless to say, the sound was mushy at best, the show was a bust, and the management of the restaurant did not ask us back. The band disbanded less than two months later. As far as I know, I (then organist, now a lead singer) and the lead guitarist are the only Time of Survival members still active in music. I can laugh at the debacle now, but in all seriousness I’m still proud of what we accomplished as a band. Time of Survival wrote, arranged, and played much of our own music, which was quite rare for high-school-age musical groups back in 1973, which were mainly playing what would now be known as “classic rock” or “classic soul.” Instead, we were playing our own brand of pop-rock and folk-rock and doing it the best we knew how. If there is a lesson to be learned from all this, it’s that musicians need to follow their heart and do what they love best, but also that they need to be prepared for an event before agreeing to play it, in terms of both the musical aspects and the equipment aspects. Even if you only use cheap 5-watt amplifiers, each player must have an amp of his/her own, and there needs to be a separate amplifier and speakers (public-address system) for the singers. And if you’re renting equipment, always test-drive it before signing the papers and putting out the money. But hey, you live and learn!
I second the “get it in writing” comment. Once drove an hour and a half only to arrive at the outdoor venue to find another band not only on the stage, but already playing. Vocalist/guitarist who supposedly booked the gig swears he has a contract. Where is it? Must be back at my office, an hour and a half away. The venue folks say, you produce that and we’ll pay you. Ok, I’ll go get it, you guys wait here. Yeah, you guessed it, he never returned, nor answered his phone when we called to see if he found it. He still owes me a dinner for that night…
Better still is this one though. I was way new to gigging and was playing with country outfit that had a different lead singer every time this guy had a booking for the band (none of which were ever closer than an hour drive if not more) and a drummer that would set up his kit close to the wall so he could lean back and take a nap during songs. I kid you not, the guy could actually keep the beat while asleep (on a simple country song anyway). Anyway, it’s 1991 and we’re playing at a club called Tomorrows on the outskirts of a small town while the Judds are having their farewell tour and playing in a town nearby on the same night. Needless to say, that was the big draw in the area that night. We arrive and unload. No one is there. We get set up. No one is there. We start playing. No one is there. By no one, I mean it’s the four piece band and two people working the bar. Finally four people show up, two couples. Now, keep in mind, they arrived together in the same vehicle. In short order they get in a knock down, drag out, breaking bottle over heads, call the law fight with one another (that we played through a good part of) and are hauled off to jail. The club manager comes over and pays us our money and sends us home. Actually one of the shortest, easiest gigs I ever had, but memorable.
Flash forward a few years and I am subbing in on bass for a couple gigs and we are to play a venue I’ve been warned about there being fights at, especially ones involving knives. You hear that all the time, no big deal. Well, we made it through most of the night before this gal wearing and American flag as a halter top erupts in the back of the place. Now, I mean this was a flag mind you, like, literally made into a halter top because she was six foot something and bigger than nearly any man I know and she has just gone into a full blown berserker at the pool tables. She’s flinging guys off her like rag dolls trying to get to the person who offended her delicate constitution and there is blood and beer flying everywhere. This little, normal sized gal who seemed to be a friend of hers comes up behind her trying to calm her down only to be lifted off her feet and sent several feet through the air by an elbow the big gal threw. Broken nose and blood ensued. Finally enough people pile on her (and we’ve about finished wrapping our cords up to get the hell outta there by this time) to subdue her until the deputies start pouring in. Fine, let’s get out of here. To get out, we have to travel the length of the place, hang a right which is right where they’ve got this gal pinned and go out through double glass doors to the parking lot. At this point I’m still using my “Big Bertha” rig, a Peavey 1820 cabinet and a Megabass head. No fast toting here. Luckily the cabinet was on casters, cause she breaks free of the folks holding her just as the party she was trying to kill starts to exit right by us and here come the pool balls whizzing past our heads, smashing into the plate glass as she trys to take out the offending party once again. It was unreal. We loaded up and spun gravel on the way out dodging the ten or so cop cars in the parking lot. I haven’t looked at a halter top nor an American flag the same way since…
I’ve got others, but those are some of the best, er, worst ; )
I have played a fraternity party where the college boys got drunk and broke some of our gear; a club date where the second band’s pyro-technician (I’m sure he was certified) ignited an entire can of flash powder in a moment, filling the club with dense, black smoke and causing everyone to run for the exits; a birthday party where the drunken birthday boy stuck one of our microphones into his chocolate birthday cake (no, it did not work afterward); a club gig where the lead singer/bandleader left the band house in the middle of the afternoon to attend happy hour at the club and later fell over drunk in the middle of a set. After removing him from the stage, we played the rest of the night without him and sounded better as a result. One can easily see that a theme of alcohol abuse and poor choices runs through most of these tales.
However, for out-and-out strangeness, the gig where a fellow died stands out in my memory.
This took place in Tulsa, OK at a well known C&W dancehall near the Interstate highway. Our band was playing, people were dancing, nothing was really wrong. For no apparent reason a man who had been playing billiards fell to the floor, dead. I guess he had a cardiac arrest. There were a couple of physician’s assistants in attendance who attempted to resuscitate him. They had no equipment, no medicines, just their training. I have to hand it them as they continued to work for about 20-30 minutes until the EMT’s arrived. The EMT’s determined that the poor fellow was indeed dead and that further treatment options did not exist. They removed his body from the premises.
Where it got strange was when the club owner, not to lose a moment’s revenue out of respect for the dead, directed us (the band) to resume playing. We were professionals, we were being paid to do a job; so we did our job. We played music as if all was well. People danced as if nothing had happened.
And the man from the pool table? He was still dead.
The Gig From Hell
My band, Good Time Country, was booked at a small town called Iowa Hill. Although I had never been there, we accepted the booking. The road to Iowa Hill begins on an access road near the Colfax exit off Highway 80 (California to Reno Nevada highway). The road to Iowa Hill was paved, but only about the width of a single car. The geography was so rugged, very short straight aways, were alternated with hair pin curves, that dropped about ten feet on the corners. My drummer was driving a Maxi-Van which hit bottom on both ends, even though he was only doing five miles an hour. The Singer/MC was driving a very long Crew Cab Pickup, which also drug the pavement at both ends on every hair pin turn. Every few turns a wild man on an ATV or Motorcycle would come whizzing around the corner and almost hit us. When we finally got down to the river and crossed the bridge, it was the same on the other side, except that the road was on the edge of a cliff all the way there. When we arrived we discovered that the ‘town’ consisted of a tourist shop and an all purpose bar, that also served as the Post Office, Mayors Office, Pub, and only toilet for fifteen miles. Power was provided by gas generators. Our ‘Stage’ was the front porch of the Bar, facing the street. The audience had to put chairs in the middle of the street, because the far side of the street was a cliff. Every so often a monster truck, or pickup pulling a boat would come down the street, and the audience would have to pick up their chairs and get out of the way. Some of the audience were so hammered they didn’t notice when a cur dog would urinate on them. After dark, the parade began. There was a procession of pickup trucks overflowing with drunks, driving by waving their bottles of beer in the air as the whooped and hollered. The grand finale of the parade was a huge pickup truck full of drunks dragging a boat that wasn’t in a trailer. When we were home after the gig, we were afraid to go back the way we came, so we went back to highway 80 via Forest Hill. That took a while, because none of the highways had signs, except for the RV Parks. I ran out of gas, but fortunately the drummer was carrying a gallon of gas in a can, which got me all the way to Auburn. We never played there again. Since then I have been playing with a new band… the Lincoln Highway Band.
STRANGE HALLOWEEN GIG
There are many stories about gigs we musicians have to tell. When one tells folks outside the music world you can kind of tell people might think we are stretching the truth a bit to tell a better story. They say truth is stranger then fiction. And in that light, I would like to tell about one gig that was indeed a bit strange and on top of it all everyone was dressed for Halloween, perfect.
At the time I was with a duo, Tim and I playing the hits in the bars mostly. I think we were living in DC and we got a call from a guy we use to play for in VT. The pay was good so we headed up that way.
It was another small bar in a very small town, not much went on except this bar that was kind of like the hangout. I remember the bar owner telling us he would like to have us back except the people there would tear out the urinals every time we played there. Kind of like a complement is the way we looked at it, because here he was calling us to come back. We would be taking turns with a local rock band. They would do a set then we would do a set, back and forth, sounded good,ok.
We got to the gig early did a sound check and then hung out with some friends to get ready for the gig. The sun was close to setting down and it was going a be a bit cool which for VT was not out of the ordinary. People were already getting dressed up walking up and down the main street. So this looked like it could be a good night or so we thought.
We were to start the night around 9PM. When we got to the bar we were impressed how good the costumes seemed to be. There was the green man, a guy as a tree trunk, a guy that was dressed like a beer can, a roman centurion, some very wild looking women. So it looked like we were going to have some fun that night.
What I can remember of that night is I was dancing with a girl while the rock band was playing. The dance floor was very crowded and things were getting wild. All of a sudden I felt a big push and I turned around to see there was a fight on the dance floor. Then there was another fight, and another one. So before you knew it ,there were 3 fights going on. And the band did the worse thing a band could do…they stopped playing. And when the music stops it only get worse. Rule # 135 do not stop playing music no matter what. Keep in mind all this happened very fast. I stood on the dance floor watching a beer can fighting with the green man, a very strange, a very comical, a very absurd, and a very burlesque kind of night. When this kind of thing happens I always put my ax in its case and try to find a safe place and protect it. So things were flying all over the place, maybe like a John Wayne bar brawl scene but dressed like a bad acid dream that you want to wake up from. Before I knew it this guy dressed like a roman centurion and he took over the mike and started to talk sex…I mean down and dirty sex. Funny thing is when someone starts to talk about sex…no matter what, people seem like they want to hear more, male and female alike. This roman centurion really got into it and ya know what? Slow but sure people started to stop fighting here and there. I mean it was really working which did not slow this centurion down a bit, he just keep on going and people wanted to stop and hear him. I never did find out who that guy was.
But of all the strangest gigs I have had that was one of the worse. There might be more but I have a tendency to remember the good ones not the bad ones. Other folks have to remind me,”Hey, Bill do you remember…..?”
Oh lordy… there have been many questionable gigs, but the one that takes the cake would have to be one that my band and I did at a certain midwest venue. Highlights include a guitar getting stolen, the sound guy leaving the venue halfway into our first song (later on we found out he left to meet his pot dealer). In the meantime, a drunk guy at the bar attempted to do our sound (but only managed to make things worse). At one point I was standing behind the soundboard myself, mic in hand – still attempting to sing, as I did sound for my own concert. This was also the venue where we were promised lodging – and the “lodging” ended up being the floor of one of the waitresses apartments. I’m not against crashing on a floor, but she had cats – lots of cats. Oh… and they were in heat. There was cat pee and cat hair all over the carpet we were supposed to sleep on – and the cats kept jumping on my band and I as we tried to sleep. At one point in the early morning hours – the waitress’s boyfriend showed up and they got into a huge shouting match. That’s when my band and I decided to make a break for it. We wound up at a scary motor lodge on the outskirts of town. The room was filthy – but we slept in our clothes and laughed about the whole ordeal the next day.
For a number of years I ran a successful DJ business — mostly weddings and corporate events. At this one wedding, we were set up in a corner with a wall behind us (this turned out to be a God-send). During the evening, this one woman would come up periodically and ask for songs, becoming more progressively drunk and “friendlier” with each visit. Later in the evening, the room was rocking pretty good and all of a sudden out of the crowd, this particular woman comes flying. I don’t know if her partner was spinning her and lost control or what, but she was FLYING toward my DJ rig. I had been through this before, so I “assumed the position” — back foot braced against the wall (why I was glad it was there) and my hands outstretched to hopefully make contact with the hurtling body before it made contact with my gear. At the last minute, the woman slipped on her kiester and slid under my table, fortunately, not hitting anything. She crawls out and gives me this Cheshire-cat smile while rolling her eyes, as if to say, “Well, shit happens” and then rejoins the fray. I was pretty amazed until later in the gig the bride and groom got into a knock-down drag-out on the dance floor. Nobody knew where to look — pretty embarrassing. Fortunately, my balance was pre-paid, so I didn’t have to face them except to say thanks (really?) for the booking. That was the wildest gig I’ve ever done — it belonged in the newspapers..
WHO: Dicey Riley – New England Celtic Rockers
THE GIG: 6-piece band at a good-sized pub
THE PROBLEM: It was St. Patrick’s Day and we were on our second gig of the day. Our guitar player (me) was just recovering from a nasty bout of the flu. The afternoon had gone well and I’d felt pretty good through it. But as we arrived for the night gig, the chills and muscle ache returned with a vengeance and I was barely able to set up my gear. We started the show with me shaking like a leaf and the nausea building fast. I thought I could make it through but I kept feeling worse by the minute. I was now afraid I was going to vomit on stage any moment so after the fourth song I turned to the drummer to say, “Don’t start the next one” so I could run to the bathroom. However, now words came out, I fainted and (they told me later) I fell forward off the roughly two-foot high raised stage like a tree. Tim-berrrr.
I smashed into our unsuspecting female fiddler from behind, breaking her electronic fiddle in the process and bouncing off the monitors. When I came to, people were helping me to a chair. Miraculously, I’d landed like a rag doll and was not injured. A local EMT happened to be in the audience and monitored me. He diagnosed dehydration, though I’d had only one beer all day and plenty of water.
HOW I DEALT: The EMT nursed me back to consciousness and luckily, our fiddler had a backup instrument along. After having a bite to eat, more liquids and some rest, I was able to play the rest of the night from a chair. My energy was low but it sounded OK.
LESSONS LEARNED: If you start to feel sick on stage, don’t try to tough it out. Stop and deal as best you can before it reaches a crisis!
Boy, if those are your worst gigs ever, you all lead charmed lives!
That’s what I’m saying!! Lol
WHO: Southern California-based singer-songwriter Bob Bennett.
THE GIG: Solo acoustic performance at an ocean-themed amusement park.
THE PROBLEM: A local radio station was hosting an event and had contracted several artists to play throughout the park. (The place was called Marineland, now long-closed.) I must’ve drawn the short straw, because I wound up on a small stage adjacent to the killer-whale tank. I’m a solo acoustic, fingerstyle guitar guy, so it was challenging by definition. Here I am, doing my sensitive, somewhat quiet songs … as a giant killer whale was surfacing and shooting large streams of water out of its blowhole. It was horrifying … and, of course, extremely funny.
HOW I DEALT: I attempted to form a duo with the whale and envisioned multiple albums and extensive touring, but he was already hooked up with his trainer. Anyway, I just laughed, hunkered down, and played. It was so surreal!
LESSONS LEARNED: The old show business rule of never follow kids or animal acts is true … especially when the animal is a large, ocean-going mammal!
Get It In Writing!
You may think getting a contract in writing is overkill but if you are playing out of town, its definitely a necessity, especially if the venue is telling you they will provide things (ie: gear, food, lodging, payment).
I handle booking and typically sound for our band. I set up this show for the band which was about 6-7 hours away from where we live and the venue stated they would provide an adequate sound system, sound person, food, lodging and pay for the band. I sent them a contract spelling out everything they promised, the specs of the show (when we’d show up, time frame we’d play, etc).
I couldn’t get out of work that weekend and since the venue said they had a sound person and sound system (and we had a signed contract), I felt safe sending the band on their way. However, being a naturally worrisome person, I had them take a minimal amount of gear with them (a couple mics, cables, stands, DI’s and a couple powered monitors. You know… just in case.
I got a call from the band saying A.) Our contact was not at the venue B.) The bar manager had no knowledge of food or lodging C.) The venue only had 1 stage monitor (for a 5 piece and with a drum kit) D.) They only had 1 mic and stand.
I kept trying to call the contact who signed the contract but never (even to this day) heard back from him. Luckily, since the band had a signed contract, the bar manager followed it and fed the band and set them up in a motel. And since the band brought a “Just in case” bundle of gear, they were able to actually have enough monitors to hear and enough mics, stands, cable, etc to put on a show. Unfortunately they also said the sound guy was also the bar manager who just got them set up and then was busy running around the bar the rest of the night.
What it boils down to is… ASK ASK ASK, get everything spelt out in writing so you know exactly the situation you are walking into. There is no reason you can’t ask “How big is the stage? How many outlets are there? Is there a dedicated sound person who will be running sound all night? How many stage monitors are there? Who will be our contact when we get there?”
By having that signed contract, if they dont provide you with what you need in order to put on a show, you have the right not to perform. Will the signed contract mean you’ll still get paid? Well probably not. If you are only getting paid a few hundred bucks for a show, you might end up spending more money on legal fees but having the signed contract shows the venue you are a serious band and it sets up expectations on both ends.