Tag Archives: memorable gigs

Memorable Gigs

Show Me The Money: More Examples of Memorable Gigs

We’ve been talking about memorable gigs recently and I received an e-mail from Bill Yeager of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) in response to my column on interesting gigs. I thought I’d pass it along as a lesson to be learned about making sure you get paid. Sure you have a contract, and possibly an advance or deposit, but what happens when you play overtime? Do you put in an extra hour or two and just hope to get the extra revenue? Can you be sure the money will follow? Here’s what Yeager writes:

Years ago I was playing a gig with a 12-piece variety band at a big motel in Albuquerque for a veterinarians’ convention. Everyone had a great time; it was a good gig. But as we packed up to leave, one of the attendees who seemed to be a bit tipsy, started hollering about what a great band we were and urging everyone to put some money into a hat he was passing around to keep us there for another hour. He held $50 aloft and said he’d start it off right. He insisted everybody kick in and, if anyone was reluctant, he seemed tipsy enough to be excused for hassling the others and demanding big bills. It looked like that hat was going to have more money in it than what we were originally paid for the whole night! We began putting our stands back and getting our instruments out. 

At some point, we lost track of the guy collecting the money. Where’d he go?! Some of the musicians and a few of the conventioneers who’d noticed his absence began a search. But, too late! He was gone and so was the money! And that wasn’t the only problem. We had a room full of people who had contributed a lot of money to hear more music and they were getting mad because we hadn’t started playing. The smarter guys in the band, who figured out what would happen next, were already headed out the door—probably the same door the con man had disappeared through!

Maybe this is an isolated incident. Maybe not. But it is definitely something to be aware of.

Yeager also wrote about one of the weirder gigs he’s played. It didn’t involve overtime and he did get paid in full, but it was definitely strange. Yeager reports playing for a surgeons’ convention in a big room in one of the major hotels in New Orleans. He writes:

Our little traditional jazz band was set up in one corner of the large room. The other corners had either a bar or coffee service. The middle of the room was filled by a huge multi-level table of hors d’oeuvres, cheeses, fruits, and veggies, as well as ham, beef, turkey, etc. All the surgeons and their wives were milling about the room with a drink in one hand and food in the other. So far, standard convention fare, right? But here’s where it gets weird. They had combined their get-acquainted cocktail party with a demonstration of surgical equipment. And it included two actual operations! 

There was one on each side of the room with a doctor in a white smock at a surgical table. On each table, there was a heart and a pair of lungs! The heart was beating and the lungs were breathing! No, they weren’t human. They belonged to two pigs, but the pigs were not present. They were dead and gone—probably already on their way to someone’s breakfast table. But their hearts and lungs lived on—right there in the middle of the cocktail party! And the doctors operated on them! They were demonstrating how their equipment would keep the heart and lungs of a human patient functioning during an operation. 

The doc would make a few deft slashes with his scalpel, blood would squirt, and the heart or lungs would be taken out of the little circle of life that was the dead pigs’ organs. Meanwhile, machines would send oxygen flowing to the lungs, blood would circulate through clear plastic tubes. TV cameras mounted overhead projected all this onto big screens above the party. And the surgeons ate their food and drank their drinks, chatted with one another, and watched the operation, either live or on the screens, oblivious to how bizarre and surreal it seemed to us non-surgeons! And the band? We just did what we hired to do—we played happy little Dixieland tunes and tried not to look at the screens! 

Thanks Bill. Not all gigs are easy. You’re perfect proof!

Crazy Gigs Can Be Learning Experiences

Thanks for all the e-mails about the memorable, out-of-the-ordinary, and crazy gigs. Many of these events become learning experiences for the musicians involved. Rich Mansfield, member of Local 60-471 (Pittsburgh, PA) realized after playing a nudist camp gig, that“some people should never take their clothes off.”

There were a lot of funny wedding gig scenarios. Ed Weis, member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), played an outdoor beach wedding in Malibu. He wrote: “when during the ceremony the person presiding said ‘… and if anyone feels that this union should not take place, let them speak now or forever hold their peace …’ the cellphone in a musician’s gigbag started ringing. It was the old “Ma Bell” ringtone. They couldn’t find it right away, and it kept ringing. It took what seemed like an eternity to find it and to shut it off. The lesson of the story: set your phones on vibrate or turn them off when playing.

There were also quite a few “fight” stories. Ellen LaFurn, member of Local 16-248 (Newark-Paterson, NJ), talked about her bar gig on South Orange Avenue in Newark. She wrote: “I was the female singer with an organ, guitar, drums trio. As we were playing on a stage behind the bar, people started slowly leaving the club. By the time we finished the set, there was no one in the place except two men at the bar, the bartender, and us. All of a sudden one guy pulls out a gun and cocks it while arguing with the other guy. Now we knew why the place emptied out. We hit the floor—cowering behind the bar. In a flash, the two guys took off, and the bartender locked the door. We got up and sat at the bar. The guitar player turns to me and says, “Aren’t we taking kind of a long break?”

Then there was this letter from Bo Ayars, a Local 802 (New York City)  musician now living in Portland, Oregon: “Years ago, I was working in a country-western piano bar on North Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. It was right next to another famous country-western establishment, the Palomino Club, and just down the street from a large long-haul trucking firm. The place was always packed with truck drivers. The piano, a small spinet, was positioned behind a piece of furniture made to look like the top of a grand piano. During my first time there, to make friends with the local patrons, I accepted their drink offers. My favorite off-hours exotic drink at the time was Amaretto, straight, on the rocks. I ended up with six shots lined up on my piano bar. At closing, I explained to the bartender that I really wasn’t a drinker, but didn’t want to do or say anything that would hurt his bar business. He told me not to worry and for me to keep asking for shots of Amaretto.

“For the next several nights, that’s what I did. Toward the end of the evening, there were six or seven shots sitting on my piano bar. When I did take a sip now and then, I noticed each one was very weak with just a hint of liquor. Obviously, the bartender was watering my drinks, but that was his department, not mine, so I kept ordering Amarettos.

“Then, about the sixth evening, an older trucker, after buying me a drink, frowned as he noticed all the shots lined up on the piano. ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘you can’t be drinkin’ all of those by yourself. You’d be pie-eyed, that’s for sure.’ ‘Well,” I began, ‘I kind of space them out over the evening and …’

“‘Here, let me help you,’ he said, taking one of the shots and downing it. The next few moments are still a blur. It started with his yelling something unprintable to the bartender. He kept yelling and cursing about watered-down drinks, picked up one of the shot glasses and threw it on the floor. He then turned and stomped full steam straight towards the bartender, bumping into people, chairs, and tables as he went. He was really angry, and this mood transferred to some of the other truckers sitting at the piano bar. They, too, started grabbing shot glasses and tasting them. When they realized how the drinks had been poured, they joined trucker number one and headed for the bar, yelling and cursing.

“Arriving at the bar, the first trucker continued yelling about how he’d been robbed, having to pay full price for a watered-down drink, and what kind of place was this, anyway. He was egged on by those sitting at the bar and the other piano bar truckers who had now joined him. The noise intensified until the bartender pulled a handgun from under the bar and fired it once into the ceiling. It was a .45 and made a hell of a racket. That really got everyone’s attention, and it suddenly became very quiet. Looking at the ceiling, I noticed there were several holes; I guess reminders of past disturbances. I can’t remember what the bartender said, but several customers and truckers left, still upset.

“So, what was I doing prior to the gunshot? When the first trucker threw the shot glass on the floor, I instantly stopped playing, ducked down behind the piano, and kept my head low. Then, as the other truckers angrily followed the first trucker, I slowly peeked over the piano’s music rack. All the commotion around the bar reminded me of an old Keystone Cops movie. Without even thinking, I started playing in that genre—the sound of a honky tonk piano playing as the cops all pile into a small car and chase the bad guys. Everything ended all right; no one was hurt, but that was my last night playing that club.”

I know not all gigs are easy. If you got through it, got paid, and learned something from it, that in itself is a plus. You’re a professional. Just go on from there.