Weather can play an adverse or inspirational role in outdoor gigs. Either way, be prepared for anything.
When I was first starting to gig as a teenager, I had the privilege of playing at the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. The trees were beautiful, the audience enthusiastic, and the city’s monuments shining in the distance. The only problem? It was unexpectedly freezing.
This was the first of many outdoor gigs I’ve played where the weather has made things interesting. Through trial and error — and from watching other gigging musicians throughout the years — I’ve picked up a few strategies that have helped me focus on my music making, whatever the weather may throw at me and my bandmates. I hope these ideas can help you navigate intense weather gigs.
Take it in stride
Live performance always includes unpredictability, and weather can be part of that. Whether you expect sun and get hail, or your mildly chilly sundown set takes on the humidity of a steam room, roll with it and focus on creating great music, no matter what the circumstances.
Check the forecast and have contingencies in place
Leading up to an outdoor gig, I check the weather regularly — at least once several days out, once more before I start packing for the show, and again before I actually head out. This may seem like overkill, but with increasing weather severity these days, conditions can shift quickly and it’s best to know what’s coming.
It’s also helpful to plan ahead for what happens if the weather does turn itself inside out. Are you playing an outdoor stage but an indoor one is available in case of rain? If so, does that affect what you pack and what you wear? Will you be under a well-built tent, so you can expect to play as scheduled, unless a tornado strikes? Are outdoor heaters available to keep your throat and fingers warm in case the temperature drops? And will the whole thing be canceled or rescheduled if conditions dictate?
Anything you know ahead of time will decrease uncertainty and stress in the moment and increase your ability to devote your attention 100 percent on making music you’ll be proud of.
I’ve played outdoor gigs where the band is nicely shaded and shielded and others where I’ve been in intense sun and/or wind throughout. And while such conditions can feel okay for the first ten or fifteen minutes, things can get pretty brutal by the end of a 70-minute set.
If you’re likely to be playing in direct, intense sunlight for an extended period of time — especially if you’re behind a sedentary instrument like a keyboard or drum kit, plan ahead so you can stay comfortable. Sunscreen, sun hats, and sunglasses may seem frivolous for the first five minutes, but vital after half an hour. Similarly, if you’re likely to be in a particularly windy spot, plan your outfit for stability and comfort. The last thing you want is to be distracted by sand blowing in your eyes, loose clothing whipping in your face, or a hat flying off-stage in the middle of your show.
Showing up early can go a long way towards making sure you’re safe and comfortable during your set. Use any extra time before downbeat to see if you can adjust your location on stage, or tweak anything else about your position and setup, to stay protected from aggressive weather.
Finally, remember that keeping yourself solid during an intense-weather gig can also be about food and drink. If you’re doing a monster jam band set on a hundred-degree beach with no shade in sight, cool drinks will help you stay hydrated and in the moment; if it’s frigid, sipping from a thermos of hot tea between songs can make a big difference when it comes to comfort and your ability to focus on making great music.
Protect your equipment
My primary gigging keyboard is a Nord Electro that I carry in a heavy cloth case that I wear like a backpack. Even if I leave it in direct sunlight on a sweltering day, it would take hours to overheat, and the case also does a good job with mild and moderate rain. But in case of a deluge? I bring heavy-duty trash bags to wrap the keyboard in — before it goes into the case — just to be safe.
In your own gigging, think ahead about what will keep your gear untouched by the weather, both during the gig and in transit. I’ve played shows where the stage is comfortable and sheltered, but the distance from the train stop or parking lot is long, exposed, and very, very wet — so plan ahead. Luckily, there are many good choices when it comes to waterproof amp covers, guitar cases, and more.
Secure any papers
If you’re reading sheet music or chord charts — or even referencing a paper set list during your show — make sure your papers will stay in place when you need them. One straightforward strategy is putting your music in plastic sleeves in a heavy binder, with clips or fasteners ready in case the wind decides to turn your pages for you. Or, if you need to have more than two sheets of music laid at the same time, bring small, weighted objects to keep the manuscript in place. There have been plenty of times when I’ve brought gaffers or painters tape to stick my set list to the floor so I know it won’t get kidnapped by the wind right when I need it.
Many gigging musicians load their charts or sheet music onto a tablet, which can be a great solution. Just make sure your tablet stand is strong enough to withstand wind and that the device itself is protected; weather-proof tablet cases are a good investment if you have intense-weather gigs on the horizon.
Use the weather as inspiration
In 2004, I attended two memorable Phish shows in Brooklyn. Midway through one of them, the sky cracked open and the audience got drenched. The stage was covered and the band played on — but they took things a step further. As the rain increased in intensity, so did the band’s improvisations. From where I stood, it felt like they were jamming along with the storm.
Regardless of whether your music is improvisational or not, pay attention to the energy of your audience and surroundings and use whatever beauty, calm, or chaos nature throws at you to further fuel your performance.
Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.
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