*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine May 2016
Throughout my illustrious and surely un-famous musical career I have been plagued with nightmares between the restless hours of three and five a.m. But they’re not your standard falling, drowning, getting chopped up kind. They are about my gigs. They usually come when I have a big show coming up, or when I am completely prepared for the show, or if I have serious doubts. I had a gig coming up at a prestigious folk venue in Pomfret, Connecticut. In my dream, when I started to play my guitar that night I noticed too late that it had no frets, no little dots, and the strings were arranged upside down. I was guessing where to play the chords, and they were all wrong. I was doing a slow, haunting melody, and one of the band members started helping me out by playing along (with a proper guitar) and turned it into some zydeco foot-tapping thing. The whole place started dancing crazy, while I tried to sing my heart out. There was this plastic cover on the microphone, like a prophylactic, and my mouth kept swallowing it up. This in turn would choke me, and I kept screwing up the words, so to speak. As the place is hopping, and I’m mortified, this horrific thunder and lightning storm comes out of nowhere, and the power goes out. People start screaming and scrambling, and I figure, I’m a professional here, so no matter what, I am going to finish this song. I get to the epic final note, without the help of my Creoles, and the place erupts into hysterical laughter. “What a stupid way to end a zydeco song!” somebody yells, and the laughter continues.
This is the stuff dreams are made of people.
I often dream of my Junior High. I am walking the halls like I own the place, and disapprove of the changes and new paint. But in reality, Junior High held such promise for me, except for one fateful night when somebody thought it was a good idea for me and three others to perform as a barbershop quartet a Capella at the BIG high school in town. When you’re 12-years old and can sing harmonies with others, teachers and parents think it’s just so wonderful and cute. Unappreciative, rebellious teenagers in high school… not so much. So we break into a rousing rendition of “Jeepers Creepers” in perfect four-part harmony, just to show them how great we were.
It took the audience about 10 seconds to start giggling – softly and respectfully at first. But then, before we knew it, the place was ablaze with uncontrollable laughter. My barbershop mates and I looked at each other as if they must be laughing at something going on behind us. We finished the song and were rewarded with more laughter, and not a single hand clap. I guess you could call this my first experience with celebrity mortification. This humiliating event appears and re-appears in my dreams, and is right there on the surface every time I start a show. Will they buy and appreciate my music, or will they think it’s a “Saturday Night Live” skit?
Gigs that can easily turn into nightmares include: playing to empty bar stools, competing with sporting events on a TV set right over your head, equipment malfunctions, band members not showing up, and bartenders forgetting how to turn off the jukebox. But there’s more!
Charity gigs can be emotionally rewarding while you give your talent away in exchange for a good cause, but can occasionally be nightmares.
One time we went to Woodstock, New York to do a benefit and our pay was “gas money.” We pull into town, and it didn’t take long for the reefer to permeate. It was everywhere man! The scene: Kids riding bikes with joints hanging out of their mouths, seriously good musicians on every corner with bongs next to their tip jars, nostalgia boutiques with Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix tapestries covering the door. Far out stuff here.
It is still 1969 in this town.
There’s this 100-year old dude who rides around on quite a fancy 10-speed with all kinds of voodoo stuff hanging off it. He calls himself Grandpa Woodstock, and flashes the peace sign more than New Yorkers flip the bird.
Protestors show up every day on the green with freshly made signs advertising the cause of the day. Our day was “Free Gaza” day. People in this town are either pacing back and forth for a cause, sitting on a bench eating ice cream, strumming a guitar, or just flat-out wasted on the sidewalk.
So we get to the venue (a church) and expect hundreds of these modern moguls to pack the place and rock out for the cause. There are only a couple places for live music in the entire valley so our hopes are high.
Not to be.
Turns out, people just didn’t want to hand over the $20 cover charge to help out the church – no matter who was playing in there for free. We played a Woodstock-inspired set to five people. One was the pastor. We never got the gas money. We drove back to Connecticut in a blinding rain storm at 3 a.m.
Sign of the times I guess.
Another nightmare gig to EVER agree to is the abominable “Play for the Door” gig. This means there’s a cover charge and the band is presumably paid what is collected at the door.
Lies. Lies. Lies.
Unless you’ve got one of your own groupies watching every move the door-collector guy does, the band ain’t getting nowhere NEAR what’s collected at the door. It’s their word against yours. If you count 50 people in the room, at $5 a head, then you would think if you graduated Junior High, it equates to $250 for the band. When they hand you $100 at the end of the night with a nice smile and a thank you so much, you can cry foul all you want, but stupid you, you agreed to this stuff.
One time at a bar in New London this exact thing happened, and the drummer got so mad he literally punched the bartender (or slightly missed him, can’t remember.) “You’re full of crap! We can count! Give us what we’re owed!” But unless you’re going to break the poor bartender’s knee caps, you really have no choice but to take what you’re given. Better than nothin’!
This other time at a bar in South Windsor, we were again, playing for the door (STUPID!!!) Having learned from our mistakes, we actually left our own scout at the door, to count every dollar. The door-collector guy kept letting people in for free, and this was immediately reported to us. We approach the guy.
“Why aren’t you charging these people? We’re the entertainment and we get the money collected at the door.”
He says, “I can’t charge my regulars or they’d never come back here again.”
Turns out, every single person who walked in the door that night was a regular, except for my brother and the sax player who showed up late.
We made $10.
Sweet dreams people!