No matter how much practice and preparation you put in, sometimes gigs or performances don’t go as planned. But in the end, it’s all about what you gain from the experience. Read on for Los Angeles teacher John P.‘s story…
Every band encounters problems when they play shows. Sometimes it’s a few small things: a PA that isn’t loud enough, a crowd that isn’t into your music, malfunctioning gear, a tough time slot. Sometimes all those things can come together to cause a storm so perfect you just have to laugh and admire it.
That’s what happened when my band The Quick And The Dead played our last show in Las Vegas. We started out with everything planned perfectly. We were going to stay with our friend Victor. The club had a new PA they’d just installed. Two of the guys were going to fly out from Los Angeles and meet us. We were well-rehearsed.
What we found, however, was that things didn’t always go as planned. When we stopped for gas in the middle of the desert, Mike, the driver and drummer of our band, noticed the engine overheating. We ended up stranded at the next gas station for over two hours until AAA came. We were towed to the next available town, which was about twenty miles south.
Even though we were pressed for time, we made the most of it as we waited. We took a guitar and a hand drum from the truck and jammed in the parking lot. Just the three of us and the wide open Nevada sky. An iPhone captured the impromptu jam, which turned out pretty fun to listen to.
As time continued to pass, we finally noticed the Avis car-rental place around the corner of the repair shop.
We shook our heads and raced inside. We had twenty minutes until they closed and the only thing they had available was a huge Ford F-150 pickup truck.
“We’ll take it.”
We ran into a dollar store to see if there were any supplies we might need. My friend Jim and I found a cheap blue tarp for ten bucks and thought we should get it so no one would be able to see our gear. Then we hurried back to the shop, took all our gear from Mike’s Pathfinder and loaded the pickup.
“We can still make the gig,” Mike said. “It’s only four o’clock.”
An hour later the storm clouds blew in. The highway traffic crawled.
Pitter. Pitter. Rain splattered the windshield. A mad dash on Xxyyxx Road allowed us to secure the tarp as best we could. The sky turned pink and then purple. The light seemed fake, like a movie set. Soon thereafter the sky exploded in rain and lightning. The storm followed us all the way to Las Vegas.
Crossing our fingers for our gear, we soldiered on. It took forever to get to Henderson. Our gear was untouched, which seemed miraculous.
It was almost midnight when we arrived, two hours past our scheduled slot. There was still another band to wait through. By the time we dragged our gear in, the clock hovered near two in the morning. Finally, we made our way on stage to play our set.
From the first note, our brand of classic-inspired rock did not go over well. Neither did the horrendous feedback, the result of the owners having a new PA, which they did not know how to use, and just let us deal with on our own.
A few songs in, Bryan, our other guitarist, suffered a mysteriously dead amp. The thing just cut out and would not turn back on. After unplugging and re-plugging it in, he finally got it to work.
That was the least of our problems. We played low, but the feedback was non-stop. Even Neil Young would have been taken aback. Victor’s turn at fronting the band for a Rolling Stones song went over horribly. The people all had their backs to us by then, drinking at the bar, probably praying it would be over. Rarely have I ever wanted to get out of somewhere so quickly. But what I did was to change it around. We’d lost the crowd, so I focused in on my bandmates. We’ve known one another for years. Bryan and I traded solos, each trying to compliment the other. I shared the mic with Troy. I locked in with Mike.
And then I looked down at my sunburst Les Paul, which has been with me all over the country, and has played shows in so many great moments, and smiled. We had earned a great story that night, one that we would be able to tell for years. No matter how much planning you do, there are sometimes things that will gather to just completely shut down a show. It happens, and the best thing to do is to just realize the next night things will be better. You can travel great distances and go through a lot, and it’s still an honor to play music, regardless of the outcome.
Until we got back to the hotel room and realized we had three and a half hours to return our rental truck, a drive that usually would take four, but that’s a story for another time.
John P. teaches bass guitar, guitar, music recording, songwriting, and acting lessons to students of all ages in Los Angeles, CA. He joined the TakeLessons team in October 2012, bringing several years of experience teaching, performing and touring with his bands. Learn more about John, or search for a teacher near you!
Photo by Hans Gotun