Monday, May 9, 2011

The bad gig - survival and recovery

We've all been there! One of the biggest mental disappointments, and often beginning of the next great slump is the gig that goes awry. I hate them when they happen, but always learn from them, so I guess that makes them ... good?? This past weekend, I played with a blues/rock band at a private party function. It was a 50th birthday party for a very cool guy who frankly deserved better.

Firstly, the crowd was slow to warm up. Appreciative definitely, but not a dancing group - least early on. I find that whenever it is a get-together of old friends, they are MOSTLY interested in catching up - as they should be - and less interested in listening or dancing. There is nothing less inspiring than looking at the backs of people's heads all night! But you still gotta bring it.

Secondly, they had a series of speeches / announcements that came at impromptu times. Nothing can kill momentum more than sudden stoppages in a set. All agreeable and all handled with care and respect by all parties, but a momentum killer for sure.

Thirdly, and really totally, was the smoke that started coming out of the PA!! Then again out of the back-up PA! Which abruptly ended our evening with a splat. Just before the final knockout it began cutting out intermittently, all but destroying some otherwise fine performances. We FINALLY had them up dancing for 7 or 8 songs when WHAM! Show OVA!

The hosts were super cool and understanding, we got paid, and all was enjoyed. Fortunately, we performed for a couple of hours all totaled so the mission was at least mostly accomplished. But it left me with some crappy negative feelings that I am still in the wake of.

Whenever this happens the only thing that you can do is accept it. It was bad - OK now GET OVER IT! Seriously, the best thing you can do is try to laugh it off. At very least - get to the root causes of what went wrong and take whatever steps to ensure it doesn't happen again. Feel good? How bout if I tell you it WILL happen again!! Maybe not that same scenario but one equally bad ... or quite worse! Anyone who has performed can rattle off stories for you. So if you don't have the ability to bounce, ya better acquire that skill. Performing is not for the faint of heart.

Bad gigs happen, just like bad notes happen. So accept them, welcome them, laugh at them and MOVE ON. These are the stories that grow funny with the passing of time. You are earning your stripes so learn to at least tolerate them. One day you will be laughing as you tell the story of the gig where, "not one but TWO P.A.'s crashed and burned!". People LOVE hearing these tales.

What can be done?
Well in the case of equipment failure it's tough. The best thing to do is to have back-up gear of your critical components. Make sure you have GOOD power bars with surge protection. Another handy thing for total Armageddon is to bring an acoustic guitar so that at very worst you can go into campfire mode. Be ready! Bring flashlights, songbooks - whatever you need to entertain. I have an assembled 'gig box' that houses all my emergency items: Tape, mics, markers, flashlight, picks, guitar strings, slide, cable ties etc. It grows with each passing need, so the next time you are playing and you need something, remember it, and add it to your box.

The cool thing is, in the end if you can put on a good show, in light of these conditions, people can be MORE entertained. Remember, they are in it with you. They came to be entertained. They are bummed out when the power crashes. They will also appreciate your professionalism more if you can rebound and still put on a good show! Plus preparation is the key to not being nervous. If you know you have what you need, plus a plan in place you are golden. Turn it from "I saw this band, their PA blew up - it was hilarious!" to "I saw this band, their PA blew up, so they pulled out acoustics and rocked the place. We had a sing-along it was awesome!"

Nobody is happy about a bad gig, but you CAN learn to live with and eventually accept them. The worst thing you can do is get mad and start throwing blame around. Give it a smile and a hearty nod of acknowledgement - then throw its sorry ass out the door!


  1. Right on Brother, spoken like the true PRO that you are. Like the saying goes, we all can learn from the mistakes we encounter. You said it Move On! NEXT - No Soup for you!

  2. Man, I've never thought of taking an acoustic to a gig ... food for thought.