Gig “War” Stories
Remember the movie “Roadhouse?” The infamous ‘Double Deuce’ club that was so rough that the band (the Jeff Healey Band) had to play behind chicken wire while the patrons were throwing beer bottles at them? Thankfully I haven’t been in any gig situations quite like that, but there have definitely been some strange ones!
The music business in itself is such a weird, wild, and odd business to be in. There really are no rules set in stone. Sometimes it seems that there’s no real reason why one person does well and another doesn’t. It’s filled with a cast of oddball characters sometimes unlikened to anything else, except maybe a carnival or circus. In spite of all that, I love it! And so do a multitude of others! When these odd elements all combine together with musician personalities, gig/club locales, and a relentless passion to do what we all love; play music…it’s sometimes hard-telling what you’re going to get into.
I’ve often joked, as have many friends that I play with, that “one of these days, I’ll write a book about some things that happen at gigs!” I think any professional musician ends up being chalked full of stories after awhile. Most of them occur on the road, which you could probably understand why. However, sometimes what initially seems like a normal, run of the mill gig can turn ugly, wild, or humorous in an instant!!!
I’m going to list a few of the highlights that I can think of with a brief explanation. Some of these are funny. Some of them definitely are not funny. Some of them are weird, and some of them happen to all of us. But before I do that, let me put one particular category under an umbrella – let’s call it the “Steel Pan Syndrome.”
Since I play steel drums, it sort of puts me, in my opinion, in a more “elite” category of weird gig stories. The reason I say this is that people for the most part haven’t been around steel pan a whole lot in this country. Hence, there’s a lot of ignorance about the instrument, its music and the culture. I think I’ve heard it all so far, although there’s always tomorrow! haha One of my favorites is when people stand right in front of us while we’re playing, then either ask “where’s the music coming from?” or tell us that we’re not making that music – it’s coming from tracks (pre-recorded music). Now most of the time it’s just pure innocent lack of knowledge about the instrument and comes from a good place. If you haven’t been up close to a steel pan, it really is hard to believe that an oil drum is producing such a beautiful sound. However, every once in awhile you run into the stubborn guy that has already decided that he/she is not going to believe a word you say. One of my favorite instances of this was when an old man came up to my pan, touched the bottom of it (albeit I’m STILL playing while he’s doing all of this), looked underneath, then went back to his friends and wife to exclaim that we weren’t playing a note of that music! We were supposedly “piping” it in from somewhere. This, of course couldn’t have been further from the truth. Let’s see…I sometimes get asked if my drum is a turtle shell. I also get “schooled” many, many times by the guy that just went on a cruise and talked to a guy playing steel drums there. I guess he assumes that even though I’m a professional musician, have spent countless hours practicing my craft, and am exhibiting a high level of prowess on the instrument, it is up to him to explain to me just what exactly a steel drum is and where it came from. Now the fact that 99% of the time they are grossly misinformed and misguided doesn’t seem to matter to them. It’s their “job” to make sure that this guy living in Tennessee playing a caribbean drum goes back and learns the proper history (hopefully you are all detecting the sarcasm in my tone here!). Here are some other gig stories:
“You Guys Are Terrible!!!” – LOVE this story. Still not sure what happened here, but while doing a duo pan gig with my friend Scot Corey, an older lady went by at almost a full sprint (while we were playing); hands over her ears; shaking her head and yelling “Stop it! Stop! You guys are terrible! That’s awful!!” That’s really the end of the story. I couldn’t hardly play for awhile because I was laughing so hard. Hilarious! Not sure what her deal was – I know that sometimes steel pan will wreck havoc on hearing aids. I think that may have had something to do with it.
Old Guy is Gonna Cut the Chords – on the theme of older people, I was met by an angry older gentlemen one time while unloading for a gig. Keep in mind we hadn’t even played a note yet, but he was in our face exclaiming that if he had it his way, he’d cut every cord that we had so we’d play quiet! Of course we were a totally acoustic band on this occasion but had a singer that was playing an acoustic guitar. After our first tune (which was instrumental, sans singer and pretty quiet) he yelled at the top of his lungs that we were too loud. Big suprise.
The Brick Will Crumble if You Play too Loud – yep – was actually told once to play soft because we were near an old brick building. Apparently the lady felt that if we were too loud, the mortar might start coming loose and the building could crumble. We ended up playing so soft that you could literally hear a mouse peeing on a cotton ball…
“That’s enough Calypso to last me a lifetime!” – this is what a percussionist said to us on break after the FIRST set break. That was his last gig with us…
“I tried to sub this gig out but couldn’t find anybody to take my place” – this is actually what a drummer once told me after getting out of his vehicle to unload for the gig. And all I said before that was “hello!” This also was his last gig with us…
Drugs on the Conga – literally had a guy come up to me while I was playing congas and yell into my ear that he’d put a few lines of drugs on my drums if I’d like. Of course this never happened. Just weird.
Coaster Pan – While performing again with a steel drum duo, we went to a “rhythm break” where we were playing congas/cajon. People were having a good time and dancing. Apparently some young lady wanted to take her shoes off and dance so her “chivalrous” boyfriend decided to help balance her. Well he surely couldn’t spill his beer so logically the best place to put his cup of beer was INSIDE my $2,000 steel pan!!! Needless to say the music stopped and the cup came out of the pan quickly. It was like an E.F. Hutton moment.
The Dog Hates Me – this was a fun one. After the first set break was over, we were invited to partake in eating some of the food being offered. This whole time there was a dog running around playing with everyone. For some reason, the dog decided he didn’t like me. I mean he really didn’t like me. As I walked past him to simply get a cheeseburger, he went ballistic!!! Everyone looked at me, wondering what did I do to the dog!? I really thought he was going to bite me but luckily he didn’t. So they put up the dog and decided after awhile he had calmed down and could come back out. What happened? You guessed it – came right for me while I was playing! Fun times…
I learned Calypso in the Caribbean – I had to get a last minute sub for TWO gigs in one day awhile back. I was so relieved to hear from this guy recommended to me that he had learned how to play Calypso in the Caribbean and he was a pretty good chart reader. He was neither, nor was he even a good musician. Two of the roughest and longest gigs I’ve ever done. Wow!
Never let anyone sit in with you if it’s THEIR idea – this really isn’t a specific story; it’s just generally a pretty good idea. I have numerous stories of bad experiences with chuckleheads that talk your ear off telling you how good they are and you should let them play. I’ve found that the players that are really good don’t try to get on stage and hound you to let them play. The ones that do this are usually doing it because they are insecure because they, well, quite simply aren’t very good. I’ve experienced it first hand!
The Money Throw – finally, this was actually a really good one. On occasion, the gig goes so well that people ask you to play longer and are usually willing to pay for overtime. On one particular gig, things got crazy. It was a convention crowd and the whiskey was flowing. So was the money – people were literally wadding up paper bills and throwing them on stage. Now we were good, but I’m not sure we were that good. But hey, the money spends either way!
These are just a few of the highlights, good and bad, that I have in my illustrious “gig chest!” I’m sure that there will be more. I know that there are some other really good ones but thankfully I have buried the bad ones in the back of my subconscious so that I don’t have to relive them! I know there’s some great stories from some of you out there – let’s hear them!