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The Worst Gig
February 19, 2011 5:31 AM   Subscribe

"As any performer can attest, it's not always a glamourous life. There are a million stories of hardship, regret, mistakes and mishaps that can make up the landscape of life as a touring musician. The Worst Gig is a collection of those stories from some of the most influential musicians of our time, told in their own words for your entertainment."

WorstGig.com is a website encompassing 13 years of interviews conducted by music journalist Jon Niccum.
posted by soundofsuburbia (46 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Worst GUI? Type "the" in the search box, and you can get some links, and those go to other links.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:41 AM on February 19, 2011


Holy SHIT! Thanks to this site, I now know that it was BERNARD PURDIE who drummed on "Hang On Sloopy"! Whoa! Thank you!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:43 AM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow! Somebody get music journalist Jon Niccum a book deal STAT!
posted by punkfloyd at 6:09 AM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great content, what there is of it, but the interface blows.
posted by tommasz at 6:14 AM on February 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


it's not always a glamourous life.

I don't think it's ever a glamourous life. You see even pretty big stars carrying their own dry cleaning. I remember a retired Hank Snow sadly regretting all the time he'd had to waste in the company of bores and promotors, meeting the leading car dealer in town after town, answering the same questions, glad-handing morons.

There's the story of Duke Ellington in the 1960s, begging an Atlanta promoter for ten dollars in advance of the show, and being turned down.

How many hours have you spent hanging around smelly clubs, sucking up to the soundman, watching the tables stay empty while you wait to go on with your crummy band. Playing and being onstage is great, but everything about booking gigs, getting there, motel rooms, dealing with clubowners, getting paid, etc., is tedious. Even for the mega-stars.

With great adulation there also comes great humiliation. Ask any of 'em.
posted by Faze at 6:46 AM on February 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


My worst gig: I was playing in this greek restaurant in Hermosa Beach. Two sets of diners including a single old guy at one of the tables. About 20 empty tables.

I am playing, and the old guy pipes up, saying something like, "Hey quit playing you're making me want to die!" I preservered, but was not invited back.
posted by Danf at 6:51 AM on February 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Rich Williams from Kansas on playing at a nudist colony:

"... you expect up in Wisconsin there'd be all these beautiful blonde women. But the reality is never what you imagine. You get there and it looks like you walked into a Piggly Wiggly grocery store and suddenly everybody was naked. And you're standing there playing and there's some guy with a baseball hat and tennis shoes standing in front of you, wiggling around and playing air guitar with his pecker swirling around. It bothers you."
posted by gruchall at 6:54 AM on February 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


"I Killed," is similar collection of horror stories by stand up comics. Here's a link to some excerpts.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:06 AM on February 19, 2011


The Flaming Lips show reminds me of our show with the Kentucky Headhunters. We opened for them just outside of Peoria at some racetrack. It was 95 degrees and dust was flying everywhere. Our bus gets there early per the contract and there is absolutely nothing set up. Just a flatbed. KH has all their gear stacked behind the "stage" waiting around for the sound and light guys to show up. This is one hour before show time. The lighting guys show up and proceed to set up one of most rickety, dangerous lighting systems known to man. Had they tipped over, they would kill anyone in the first row. There was a light breeze and we watched from backstage as the lighting rig swayed in the wind. The guitar player and drummer from KH just stared, aghast at what they about to get themselves into and said they would not go on. As all of this is going on, a group of about 10 bikers and their ladies pull up on their choppers and make their way back stage. Our manager is going "What the fuck???" and goes to talk to the promoter who informs him that the local biker chapter is providing security. Awesome! We all pose with various bikers and their ladies for photos (they actually turned out to be the best part of the gig) and wait to see how things are going to play out. KH totally wants to stay on their bus, collect the check and move on but we've driven all the way from Chicago and dammit, we want to play.

In the meantime, local sound guy is wrestling with a 16 channel board and a ton of gear that he clearly seems to be at odds with. During sound checks (which was the sound guys playing a CD really loud), the racetrack lighting is flickering in time with the music. It appears that power is going to be an issue. In the meantime, the stands are full of people who paid to get in and see a show and we are already starting to scream at the stage for the show to start. Our manager goes to the KH guys and somehow convinces them to play by telling them we will shorten our set and have biker dudes stationed around the lighting rig "just in case." Our manager then convinces the sound guy that he can do the sound better and literally hip-checks him away from the board.

We go on nd there is so much gear on stage (two bands worth) that we have about three feet of space to work with in front of us. There is so little space that our drummer who is normally center, is set up far stage right and I am on the opposite end. There are cables, mics, stands, effects boards and dust everywhere. We are all soaked in sweat and we begin. The sound is tolerable and the crowd is digging it. In the middle of our third song, EVERYTHING goes dead. All you can hear are our three lead women singing acapella, the drums and the murmuring crowd. The girls keep singing acapella and we keep playing as if the power never went out. A verse or two later, it comes back on. Then it goes out again. Then it comes on. Then it goes out again. Finally we say "fuck it" and end the set. The KH guys are laughing their asses off and shaking their heads. So are we as we get off the stage. They were extremely nice guys and we all had a "What are you going to do?" vibe going. Of course with all of our gear unplugged and off the stage, KH played an uneventful and rocking show.

That was my worst gig ever.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:10 AM on February 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


My husband worked as a sound engineer for a local Celtic band before I met him, and went on tour with them once. One of his bag gig stories involves instructions for what he should do and how he should assault the paying patrons if there worked out to be a riot/brawl in the pub (fortunately not needed). I bet he'll enjoy this.
posted by immlass at 7:16 AM on February 19, 2011


One time, at band camp...

There's the story of Duke Ellington in the 1960s, begging an Atlanta promoter for ten dollars in advance of the show, and being turned down.

"The Real Frank Zappa" bio, Zappa writes that he decided to disband the Mothers when he saw Duke Ellington "begging for a ten-dollar advance." I have a hard time believing that story. Did you see that happen?

Don Preston: I think I read that, too, but that's not what happened. A lot of stuff in that book is bull shit. It was just his imagination. There were a number of reasons why the Mothers disbanded. One of them was that Zappa was paying us all a salary. Now this kinda sounds stupid to me. He couldn't afford the (Mother's) salary, but he kept hiring more and more musicians. So anyhow, when he had to pay nine people in the band, it's gonna cost a lot of money. So, don't hire that many. He didn't have to hire nine people. That's what he was doing at that time. So his reasoning was that he couldn't afford to pay all the musicians with all his money. Sure, so don't hire that many.

The other thing was that he used to get very angry when people would respond to the solos more than his compositions. So that was one of the things that was making him angry at the time. The other thing was that we sometimes during a concert would only play 3 or 4 songs. The rest would all be improvisation. That's the way the band was working. And working real well that way. We could handle that reponsibility and people loved it. It wasn't just jazz but like all kinds of weird time changes, experimental types of music. So I think he wanted more kinds of control on the music. Lastly, a lot of people were geting laid and he wasn't. That was probably a cause of friction. Per
posted by hal9k at 7:37 AM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


My worst gig was on a boat running a bunch of Yalies up the Connecticut River for a party. It was a stormy night.. a dark and stormy night. The boat was fairly good-sized, with a metal deck, and the guy in charge of entertainment wanted us to set up on the bare metal deck in the open. If we had done that, we'd have been either 1) blown overboard by the storm, or 2) electrocuted by our own instruments on the deck. I simply refused to set up there. I didn't argue, I didn't say a thing. I simply set my drums up where I wouldn't get rained on. Everyone else followed suit.

Up the river we went and before long our sound man was puking over the side. Mike stands toppled; music stands skittered away. Rain and spray still managed to wet us but no one got shocked, for a miracle. It was horrible.

Then, after we got back to shore and packed up all our gear, half the band headed back. The bassist and I were together and he was driving. We got into his van and he dug for his keys.

No keys. Where the fuck are the keys?! Can't find the keys.

We looked at each other. "Maybe," he said, "maybe I dropped them in the van when we were loading?"

So we had to unload the entire goddam van -- in the rain -- and sure enough: the keys were on the floor at the very front.

I've had bad gigs since, but never anything like that.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:57 AM on February 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm not really a musician but since I go to about 3 gigs a week I feel like I should have stories about shit gigs. Except I remember the good stuff, and if a local band is bad I forget it.
Ace Frehley was pretty shit. And The Vines at Homebake. But I've even seen Cat Power, The Fall and Brian Jonestown Massacre do good, professional shows
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:58 AM on February 19, 2011


Not a band story, but decades ago --playing the role of Paul, the sensitive, shy, gay dancer in a production of 'A Chorus Line'-- I was two-thirds of the way through the emotional, 5-minute monologue about the devastating way the character's parents found out about his sexuality when an octogenarian in the front row yelled, "Sing, dance, do SOMETHIN'!" It seemed horrible at the time, but in retrospect, the story has almost been worth it.
posted by umberto at 8:05 AM on February 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was in a rock/pop cover band for many years, mostly the 90's. We were booked by a local talent agency that specializes in this sort of thing -- old school, cigar-chomping type - we'll call him Tomahawk Talent. Our singer had cut short a Caribbean vacation to fly home especially for this gig at the promoter's insistence, because these folks had asked for us specifically, having seen one of our previous shows, and apparently no other band would do. He was a little miffed about this, but it was one of those deals where if you start turning down gigs, the promoter will pass you over for other bands when the choice ones come up, and this was supposed to be a choice one. So, he bit the bullet and got off the cruise ship in Martinique or somewhere, and left his family to finish the vacation without him.

We were booked to play a party in Flower Mound Texas, which is about an hour north of Dallas -- about a five hour drive for us. Suburban hell on earth. Strip center after gated community after strip center. I recall being kinda stunned by how long we drove through the never-ending TGI Friday's landscape. The gig was a "sober" high school graduation affair being thrown by affluent parents for the benefit of their precious little... I digress.

The agency sends us directions to the gig about a week in advance -- some sort of party barn out in the sticks a good ways down a 2-lane blacktop off the interstate. We pull in, there's an outdoor pavilion, bartenders are setting up, etc. Everything's normal. "Hey, we're the band!" "Great! Set up over there." In fact, we're ahead of schedule, and things are going great. We get through a nice smooth setup, and are on our second song of soundcheck, looking forward to an imminent dinner, and noting the large quantity of babes that are beginning to stream into said venue, when someone walks up and says "The Alpha Sigma Nu sorority is really happy to have you guys here," at which point the singer says "Sorority? We thought it was a hight school party?" and the guys says "Wait... you're not the SuperFunk Extravaganza show, are you?" Oops. Our first clue should have been the bartenders.

We were at the wrong venue.

Hello, Tomahawk Talent? "Oh, didn't I send you guys the revised itinerary? They moved your event to Party Barn X -- about 20 miles away. Sorry about that!"

It's now about 7:30 PM and we're supposed to play at 9. Choice words were spoken as we made a mad dash to tear our shit down, cram it in the Uhaul and careen off in a cloud of dust to a vaguely distant location we had no map to. Dinner? Fuhgeddaboutit. We managed to make Party Barn #2 at about 8:30, and through gymnastics and magical contortions, were ready to play by about 9:15. To... no one.

The kids who had "specifically requested" us were all off in a field, having fun on one of those bungee jump contraptions. The Helicopter Moms Of Flower Mound LLC had arranged a plethora of activities for their wunderkinds, only one of which was the band. In the middle of the second set, an hour into our show, 250 kids suddenly ran into the pavilion where we were playing and all began to dance with reckless abandon... for three songs. Whereupon, they all ran en masse back out of the pavillion, off to shoot fireworks, or something, never to be seen again.

We finished the third set to a couple listless parents, the high point of the evening being the doe-eyes I got from one tipsy dark-haired mom who seemed to linger under this palpable veil of mid-life suburban regret. She must have sneaked in her own stash, and alas, vanished without a trace as we finished the last song. I was gonna ask her for a beer.

I'm in a band again with the same singer now, and let me tell you, I still get to hear plenty about his aborted Caribbean cruise.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:06 AM on February 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


I wonder sometimes if SuperFunk Extravaganza was in a van hauling ass in the opposite direction. I bet they have their own story about that evening.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:12 AM on February 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


Musicians are a bunch of crybabies. Ditto stand-ups. You don’t know bad gigs until you’ve worked the performance poetry circuit. I’ve travelled thousands of miles in order to read poetry to 6-year-old Greek kids in the corner of a noisy trade fair; I spoke only English, they spoke only Greek. I’ve performed on the top deck of a double-decker bus where I couldn’t stand up straight. I’ve been given a slot between bands at an outdoor festival where the tech crew were setting up the next act’s equipment around me – they unplugged my mic a couple of times. I’ve done readings in a muddy corner of a field at Glastonbury which were interrupted by the sewage truck turning round in my stage area. I’ve done entire gigs which were booked based on a misapprehension about the genre I worked in.

Bunch of crybabies.
posted by him at 8:33 AM on February 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


"I Killed," is similar collection of horror stories by stand up comics. Here's a link to some excerpts.

On that note, Bill Hicks' worst gig ever is worth of inclusion.
posted by Adam_S at 8:44 AM on February 19, 2011


Awesome, Alice Cooper's worst gig ever was at my university. Way to go, U of G!
posted by torisaur at 8:54 AM on February 19, 2011


him: "Musicians are a bunch of crybabies. Ditto stand-ups. You don’t know bad gigs until you’ve worked the performance poetry circuit."

Me: "There are two things in my life I'll never ever do. One - I'll never attend a poetry reading and two - I'll never engage in beastiality."

Brother: "You don't have a very open mind when it comes to beastiality, do you?"
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:57 AM on February 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


You don’t know bad gigs until you’ve worked the performance poetry circuit.

Hey, we're talking bad gigs, not intentional masochism.
posted by Aquaman at 9:05 AM on February 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


I dunno that these are exactly Worst Gigs: a really bad gig does not make much of a story. I have played a few gigs with a sparse or inattentive crowd, an under-rehearsed or distracted band, a technical obstacle, or more than one of the above. Such gigs are just kind of sad.

A true Worst Gig for the ages requires a special combination of circumstances and attitude as seen in several fine stories above. My own, told in my own words for your entertainment:

I was playing bass and mandolin and concertina with a singer-songwriter-guitarist. We were loosely connected with a local five-piece Celtic band (their accordionist had joined us in the studio when we were recording a couple of songs; I had filled in for their absentee bass player one or twice, etc.).

The accordionist mentioned to use once about mid-October that he had been asked to play an Oktoberfest show for a community group. He had protested to the promoter -- a local punker legend, now working behind the scenes to atone for his misspent youth -- that he didn't really know much Oktoberfest sort of music; the promoter stressed to him that it was very casual and that once he got beyond the few standards that everyone knew ("Roll Out The Barrel," etc), he could just play his usual jigs and reels with an oom-pah-pah beat and all would be well.

The accordionist reluctantly agreed but said he would not be doing this alone. He recruited the three-fifths of his band (himself, the drummer, and multi-instrumentalist) that was available and supplemented the three of them with the guitarist and me. The multi-instrumentalist from the band and my guitarist knew enough suitable material that we all agreed we could fake this stuff well enough by following them. So: no rehearsals.

All I knew of the show was that it was at a school a few blocks away from the guitarist's house. Accordionist, guitarist and I would rendezvous there and meet the other two at the school. I arrived chez guitar player an hour before the show and noticed the accordionistmobile was there already. I knockled on the door and learned that both the other two were absent: the accordionist had arrived doubled over with terrible abdominal pain and the guitar player had driven him to the hospital.

I legged it for the school, keenly aware that my bass was sitting in the guitar player's car. "No worries," thought I, "Mr. Multi-instrumentalist always has a few axes with him, so maybe I can borrow a bass off him; failing that, I can play one of his banjos or balalaikas or somesuch."

I arrived at the school and ran into the drummer, who was carrying a bodhran (hand drum, for the uninitiated). He told me the multi-instrumentalist had been called into work and could not make it. We got in touch with my guitarist and found out that the accordionist had a kidney stone and was in considerable pain; the guitarist was staying at the hospital until the guy's family got there.

I said to the drummer, "Well, I guess that is it -- there is no one left to play." At that moment the promoter hustled up and said they were ready for us. We explained that we could not play because of having almost no personnel or instruments: in the course of an hour we had dwindled from a five-piece band to me and a drummer and a drum.

He said, "No, these people have been looking forward to this for weeks -- you HAVE to play." It turns out that the community group was actually a group of developmentally-delayed adults and the idea of live music was the high point of the season. The drummer and I were greeted with the kind of enthusiasm and excitement that I daresay neither of us ever has been before or since.

We stood at the front of the room and led singalongs, with the drummer tumping out the rhythm on his bodhran. People jumped up and danced wildly, braying loudly in the chorus. One guy in the audience had a harmonica, so we recruited him into the orchestra. When the audence liked a song, they would want to hear it again right away, and sometimes a third or fourth time as well. "The Fat Lady Polka," "The Woodpecker Song," "Hot Pretzels." -- it was like playing a kids' show.

It was a blast, but I never want to do that again.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:45 AM on February 19, 2011 [48 favorites]


"Man, I hate playing vampire towns."
posted by Jacqueline at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


ricochet biscuit, that's a BEST gig ever story.
posted by msalt at 9:59 AM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I expected stories so much worse than the ones in this thread. I've had someone from the audience walk up onto the stage and unplug me while I was playing. That's just off the top of my head.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:33 AM on February 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow, this is exactly what I would ask a professional musician if I was killing time next to them in a bar or on a flight. Thanks for the post.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:33 AM on February 19, 2011


Now I can add "Good thing I didn't go to Crested Butte" to my collection of George Winston quotes!
posted by swift at 10:46 AM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I had been studying for a few years under an experimental composer. Art music. The guy wanted me to listen to more Haydn but I was more of a Merzbow dude. I learned alot and we got into hella arguments. As he neared his death I finally started working on my first ever piece with a paper score and strict timing on all events etc. I mean it was a graphic score and the instruments were things like pieces of paper and styrofoam and a window pane and a handheld tape player but I was making some real concessions to my mentor's sensibilities and criteria here.

He died before it was done, but this made me all the more determined to make it *the piece* that would prove my time with him was not wasted, that I had learned something of what this great man had to offer. I got some friends into an ensemble to perform the piece and I conducted and it had a great premier with a reasonable response from the right people considering it was such an difficult piece to listen to and that was that.

A couple of years later there is a performance tour and some of the folks decide that my piece should be performed, with me as one of the performers this time. So one of the other folks on this tour we were doing gets us a gig in Bloomington Indiana, the crowd being some New Age organic food eating permaculture doing collective housing living free love types. Hippies can be pretty open minded so I wasn't too worried.

About 1/3 of the way into the piece there is this moment where all the performers are doing a very low and sustained fry, while Olive scratches a cookie pan with her fingernails (amplified with a contact mic). I notice some harmonizing sounds (definitely not part of my composition). Suddenly all the amplified sound drops out. The performers are startled and stop making the vocal sounds. The audience members have unplugged the amp and are toning.

I don't know how the rest of the show went. I stormed outside and started chain smoking. Somebody tried to explain what the fuck was going on with the audience but I wasn't interested. I didn't want an apology and I never got one. Fuck Bloomington.
posted by idiopath at 10:47 AM on February 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


I expected stories so much worse than the ones in this thread. I've had someone from the audience walk up onto the stage and unplug me while I was playing. That's just off the top of my head.

There were a jillion little incidents like this - none ever added up to THE WORST GIG EVER, though. I have broken strings, blown up amps, blown up PAs, had drunks fall into mic stands, have drunks gain the stage and refuse to stand down, had the power pulled on me, had the power go out accidentally more times than I can count, played gigs without a strap, played gigs on borrowed gear, been so cold on the end of a wharf I couldn't feel my fingers, had the wind blow drumsets over, fallen off the stage (twice), been nearly electrocuted, had gear stolen during load-out then led to the dark side of town by someone who knew the thief to negotiate return of said gear in the middle of the night, broken down by the side of the road at 4 AM, had the driver fall asleep at the wheel and take the whole band into the ditch at 60 mph, witnessed shootings from the stage, had heavy objects brandished at my head by a disgruntled LD who wanted his money NOW although the frat boy in charge of paying was holed up in his room with a girl, had knives pulled on me by other bands that had broken my shit, seen people beaten unconscious, been accosted by (multiple) Parrot Heads who can't get it out of their heads that we're not going to "PLAY SOME FUCKING BUFFETTTTT!" no matter how loudly they yelled, had beer spilled on my shit, been walloped in the head by guitar headstocks (accidental) bashed my bass into the ceiling fan jumping too high, had my bass taken from me by a biker who clubbed me almost unconscious with it (cracked it from the neck bolts though past the bridge) -- I wobbled but I didn't fall down, and I've been tipped $100.00 by a Saudi Arabian prince in a dive on Telephone Road.

I could go on, but the meetup's in an hour.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:00 AM on February 19, 2011 [14 favorites]


Huh, I was right down front at the Wilco Sasquatch gig they talk about on the site. Just goes to show when a band is really good you can't always tell if they are having trouble. I remember the amazing sunny summer day vibe, joints being passed around the open area in front of the stage, and some ripping guitar work on "Muzzle of Bees". If you'd have told me the band was miserable and having technical problems, I would've been totally shocked. I also like Kevin Mahogany's response, basically saying that any gig you get to play your music is a good gig. Pro attitudes are inspiring!
posted by chaff at 11:03 AM on February 19, 2011


I could tell stories about drunken microsoft HR departments and undercooked brownies on a 3-hour boat gig in rough weather but I like you all too much to ruin your day.
posted by Aquaman at 11:05 AM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Aquaman, you have already ebbed my will to live.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:24 AM on February 19, 2011


God, I'd never previously heard of Otep, but after reading her story, I loathe her completely. Possibly unfair, I'll admit.
posted by KathrynT at 12:03 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Joe Satriani on the other hand wins the PRIZE. Yikes.
posted by KathrynT at 12:10 PM on February 19, 2011


stinkycheese: "I expected stories so much worse than the ones in this thread. I've had someone from the audience walk up onto the stage and unplug me while I was playing. That's just off the top of my head."

My first blues jam in Chicago, I had the other guitar player (who is a well known bluesman) literally slap my hand away from the fretboard in the middle of the song and tell me to "quit." Game, set, match.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:14 PM on February 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


again, closing the tag.... ugh.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:15 PM on February 19, 2011


My worst involved a last-minute invitation to open at a band's cd release party. The place was pretty packed but it quickly was evident that most people there were friends/fans of the main band, cause we were pretty much ignored and talked over during our set, but when they took the stage everyone in the place crowded up to the stage to dance/jump around/whatever people do to shitty Nickelback-wannabe music.

But, when I say everyone, I mean everyone, including the people who had been manning the merchandise table. One of my friends who I had invited on short notice was ... well, she was something of a wildchild, free spirit, didn't-give-a-fuck type. She decided to take the entire stack of t-shirts and walk around the venue, handing them out for free.

This eventually led to the band stopping their set and chasing us out of the club. Literally, it was like a get the van going down the alley, and the rest of us (band and a few friends) running alongside it jumping in, while the other band their fans chased it. I think the best part was we were all wearing their shirts during the getaway.
posted by mannequito at 12:46 PM on February 19, 2011 [13 favorites]


Seems to me an excellent bad gig should have several elements -- chaos, artistic ambition and dramatic failure, audience insanity, and physical danger, at a minimum. A good example would be this play.
posted by msalt at 1:42 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Faze: Playing and being onstage is great, but everything about booking gigs, getting there, motel rooms, dealing with clubowners, getting paid, etc., is tedious.

When I was a young musician, an older and wiser musician friend once told me "I play the music for fun. What I get paid for is practicing, traveling, booking gigs, dealing with jerks on- and off-stage ... all the other stuff."
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:44 PM on February 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


I forgot to include "loading and unloading equipment". I once played with a keyboardist that had a full Hammond B-3 - with the big-ass Leslie cabinet, no less. What a beast that was. Sounded freakin' great, though....
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:47 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


School concerts. A semi-scenic program with pseudo-programmatic Baroque music played by three egg-laying and swooning chickens, two fighting roosters, all on authentic Baroque instruments, and one farmer on a historically responsibly built harpsichord. Start before dawn, drive 1:45, including an open ferry, destination a cold gym hall on one of the rocky islands outside Gothenburg, first concert 9:00 a.m.; two to follow.
1) Parking lot, base station. All the stuff goes into Chevy Van, which takes a while.
1a) Chevy Van doesn't start. At all.
2) Harpsichord, decorations (you know, meters of chicken wire and stuff, a bunch of really long poles, two heavy theater weights, a few dark blue fake dogs and cats with glitter, a hat with a green bird on top, a metronome, a candle, three over-sized plaster eggs and a plastic plant in a pot, a pair of oversize farmer's boots, and rooster and chicken costumes), all the other instruments and all six participants distributed into private cars. Late exit of chickens with one car. One rooster, a violin, harpsichord, more stuff and a small suitcase with the farmer's music still to be packed and driven away in another car.
3) Farmer and rooster manage to squeeze harpsichord in car.
4) Exit farmer, rooster, car, harpsichord and "stuff", later than late.
5) After 30 minutes, farmer misses suitcase among "stuff". It is standing in the drizzle on parking lot, farmer recalls. Farmer thinks that he can play from memory. Drive continues.
6) Time gets short. Rush not to miss ferry, while trying to miss the other cars. Reflections about the sense of this existence racing through farmer's mind.
7) Ferry reached. Ferry departs.
8) Rooster begins to laugh uncontrollably, while farmer tries to soothe him and to get out of him what's wrong.
9) Rooster has left his violin inside door at base station. No violin, no chicken fight.
9a) Ferry arrives. Drive through the rocks to find school.
10) Arrival at school. Rooster tells other chickens that there's going to be a problem.
11) Other rooster discloses that, TA-DAA, by sheer coincidence, he has his big violin case with him, and brought two violins, which he otherwise never does.
12) We change, we play. We drive home. Suitcase still on parking lot.
posted by Namlit at 3:53 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did a gig where this slightly vagabondish looking gentleman opened a door at the side of the stage while I was on, hurled a handful of broken biscuits at my feet then released three dogs. I also did a gig where a drunken builder leapt up on stage and held a Stanley Knife to my throat. I think both men meant it as a joke.

I agree with Bill Hicks' sentiment above that any scenario where you're in physical danger counts as the worst, but the gigs I tend to replay in my head are the ones where I had a good audience, and I lost them. The occasional gig playing to bona fide unambiguous assholes is good for the soul (note occasional) - it makes you feel like you're earning your chops, and it often provides you with an amusing anecdote that you can share with other performers. Gigs where you rocked it don't make for good stories, but stories about the time you bombed are funny, and can make you seem non-threatening and down to earth, even if you're secretly a rampant egotist.

I think I'd be a bit suspicious of a band or stand-up who'd been playing for any significant length of time, if they didn't have at least one tale about a terrible gig.
posted by RokkitNite at 3:53 PM on February 19, 2011


There were a jillion little incidents like this - none ever added up to THE WORST GIG EVER, though. I have broken strings, blown up amps, blown up PAs, had drunks fall into mic stands, have drunks gain the stage and refuse to stand down, had the power pulled on me, had the power go out accidentally more times than I can count, played gigs without a strap, played gigs on borrowed gear, been so cold on the end of a wharf I couldn't feel my fingers, had the wind blow drumsets over, fallen off the stage (twice), been nearly electrocuted, had gear stolen during load-out then led to the dark side of town by someone who knew the thief to negotiate return of said gear in the middle of the night, broken down by the side of the road at 4 AM, had the driver fall asleep at the wheel and take the whole band into the ditch at 60 mph, witnessed shootings from the stage, had heavy objects brandished at my head by a disgruntled LD who wanted his money NOW although the frat boy in charge of paying was holed up in his room with a girl, had knives pulled on me by other bands that had broken my shit, seen people beaten unconscious, been accosted by (multiple) Parrot Heads who can't get it out of their heads that we're not going to "PLAY SOME FUCKING BUFFETTTTT!" no matter how loudly they yelled, had beer spilled on my shit, been walloped in the head by guitar headstocks (accidental) bashed my bass into the ceiling fan jumping too high, had my bass taken from me by a biker who clubbed me almost unconscious with it (cracked it from the neck bolts though past the bridge) -- I wobbled but I didn't fall down, and I've been tipped $100.00 by a Saudi Arabian prince in a dive on Telephone Road.

I said 'yep' to myself more often than not, reading through this list. It's funny to me that, after a lot of gigs that included one or more of the events above, we as a fairly new and mostly naive band often wondered if maybe we were doing things wrong. Other than doing the thing in the first place, I've come to believe that the answer is probably not.
posted by invitapriore at 4:04 PM on February 19, 2011


Surprised that my favorite story was from Drowning Pool.
posted by makabampow at 11:41 PM on February 19, 2011


My worst gig: Camden Underworld, 1997. The headliners cancelled so we became the headliners. Cool! Except...only about twenty people showed up because, err, the headliners had cancelled. And then we had to go on after a band called, I think, "Jesus Underground", who were sort of art-pose-noise merchants whose act involved them spitting and pissing on each other, amongst other things.

That stage was nasty. I spent most of the gig trying extra hard not to fall over. The leaping about was severely inhibited.
posted by Decani at 9:10 AM on February 20, 2011


Along related lines -- but about actors, not musicians -- check out the book, "Standing Naked In The Wings: Anecdotes from Canadian Actors," edited by Lynda Mason Green.
posted by bentley at 11:09 AM on February 20, 2011


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