Last month I wrote about Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld talking about awful gigs. Jay talked about a bad gig he had done, and Jerry said, “Hey you got paid didn’t you? Don’t complain.” Well, in that respect he’s probably right, but some gigs are definitely worse than others. My e-mail inbox filled up over the past few weeks with your stories about bad gigs. Here are a few examples:
From Alan Thomas of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA): I am sharing my real-life stories about terrible pianos. Fortunately instruments like this are in the minority and most pianos in finer homes are pretty well maintained. But this piano was in a spacious and fine home in a wealthy enclave on the peninsula about 35 miles south of San Francisco. I think I could have actually wrung water from the felts. As I progressed with this gig, more and more keys retreated into the keybed—and didn’t return. My standards turned into minimalist renditions. By the end of the gig I estimated that at least 44 keys or 50% of the keyboard were “down” for the night, slumbering in the keybed.
From Jane Bate of Local 186 (Waterbury, CT): In a community production of Evita, the directors called orchestra members “barbarians” and worse, even though the orchestra was unquestionably the best thing about the production. Things got so bad, that I spent the break between acts dress rehearsal night in the ladies’ room crying. Opening night, the president of the union was there to prevent a walkout by the orchestra personnel. We made it through the performances—and the orchestra played brilliantly—but I knew I wanted nothing to do with the group again. Here’s the coda: The following season, that theater group put on The Boyfriend, a piece of musical fluff. The review was headlined something like, “Great Costumes Make Up for Poor Music.” There is a God!
From Robert Michaels of Local 60-471 (Pittsburgh, PA): I have had many awful gigs including drummers getting drunk, playing too fast, sending texts, drinking beer, yelling into the mic; bass players playing too loud and storming out in the middle of gigs; and getting grief from bar owners because we didn’t bring enough people with us and not getting paid because of it. One time, the band I was in got fired from a gig because a drummer attacked me and cracked my ribs.
The most memorable awful gig happened when we were playing a showcase of my band EXPEN$E’s original material at a local club. The bass player I had at the time liked to show off and toss his bass around his body and catch it. It was cool when it worked right. At the end of one of my songs, when the bass player tossed his bass the strap broke and his bass went flying. Fortunately, no one was in the area where his bass landed.
From Mike Anthony of Local 618 (Albuquerque, NM): One year in July I took off in my new Explorer to play a wedding on my classical guitar in the Tijeras mountains. I reached my destination greeted by a torrential downpour using my four-wheel drive in the mud. I still had to walk about a quarter-mile following signs to the tent. I was quite alone!
No one showed up for a half-hour. Then a large roar of motorcycles delivered a tribe of Hells Angels and their girlfriends. The wedding was delayed for almost an hour and a half while the bride and groom were having a knockdown drag-out fight in their trailer. Meanwhile, I played some classical, as the bride had requested, and a variety including James Taylor. The attendees only wanted to hear Def Leppard. I was definitely intimidated. Finally, the weather cleared and the bride and groom made up and I sat on a tree stump in the hot sun and played their ceremony. By now, I’d been there longer than the time we’d agreed to and frankly had had enough. The bride became angry with me when I told her I really needed to leave. I was thrilled to return to familiar surroundings. I washed my car and really appreciated my friendly home. I never did get paid.
From Paula Hatcher of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD): My worst gig was an outdoor wedding under Maryland’s tallest Bing cherry tree. The tree was full of ripe cherries and hundreds of birds eating them. The bride’s parents staged the wedding directly under the tree. My polite concerns were ignored. Halfway through the ceremony, the birds “let fly” and bombed purple poop over everyone, even the wedding cake! As people screamed and ran, the parents shrieked at the musicians to “keep playing!”
From Fred Gosbee of Local 1000 (Nongeographic): Like almost any full-time musicians we have had gigs where there was a poor fit, as in “what were they thinking to hire us?” We are an acoustic duo, Celtic harp, guitar, fiddle, vocals, that has done considerable research on the songs of Robert Burns. On his birthday every Scottish society in the world celebrates with a banquet, recitations of Burns’ poetry, and performances of his songs.
We were hired by such a Scottish society when we were on tour a few years ago. It seemed like a match made in heaven; we would be performing the Burns songs that we love to a knowledgeable and appreciative audience.
I suspected we were in trouble when we saw that there was an open bottle of whiskey on every table in the banquet hall, plus the opening act was an 18-piece bagpipe band (indoors!).
As part of their scholarship fundraising, the society had a silent auction, which was supposed to close after dinner when we started our set, but there weren’t enough bidders so they held it open for another hour. Potential bidders looked over the items, which were displayed at one side of the banquet hall.
Between the whiskey, the adrenalin jolt that bagpipes always cause, and the chatter at the (not so silent) auction, we were generally ignored. There was one table of folks who stayed and listened so we played to them.
We did get paid and we did get fed, but we both came down with food poisoning.
Yikes. These really are awful. To everyone who wrote in, thank you very much. What’s nice about bad gigs, though, is they make the good ones even better!