Gigs From Hell

moodman

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Playing the Grow's Nest in Indy '82, the owner's girl friend comes up and says "play the 'Damn You' song", what she meant was 'I'll Be Damned' by Pure Prairie League. We played it for her then went on break and as soon as I sat down with a drink, gunshots in the parking lot. She has shot her brother in the back and the owner in the arm. In a flash the place fills with police and the yellow tape is up, nobody goes nowhere. The owner's brother decides that the show must go on and we played a dirge-like 'Yakety Sax' and soldiered on. Police, trying to take eyewitness testimony, keep asking us to turn down and there sure wasn't nobody dancing. that was a long night, at least we got paid. Ronnie Grow carried that bullet to his grave.
Playing another country dive in Indy, on the west side. One entrance was permanently closed in memory of the guy who was stabbed to death there. The band drove down the street rather than use the bathroom, which always had a few inches of 'liquid' on the floor and one of those cloth towel rollers which hung to the floor covered in blood and god knows what. There was a dude there, they said he had a 'plate in his head' and you might look up to see him looking at you intently, then he would run toward you like he was gonna jump you, turning at the last minute and shyly standing at the bar. We decided that this place should have a grant to help keep people like it's patrons off the street, a worthy cause. The bartender had been hit in one eye and it was frosted over and frozen in place. Another guy had an eye condition where it looked like he wasn't looking at you, but he was. Holding a conversation with these two was a little confusing sometimes. Two nights in this purgatory and they stiffed us on the money, the owner just couldn't be found to write a check, no contract naturally.
 

moodman

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Gigs from hell?
Heck, I take at least one every year.

The latest was several months ago. Wedding reception. In a barn. for $250 each.
After driving down some jagged muddy backwoods farm roads for an hour we finally arrive to discover a tin barn with no floor - only manure.
That's the only available place we could set up to perform thanks to some plywood sheets that were provided.



Yep, I played 3 sets on uneven rickity plyboard placed atop a manure pit.
In Kansas in '93, we played a lot of rodeo arenas and, in the winter, they would cover the dirt with carpet, set up dining finery and we would play while folks dined on the finest food, best of spirits and enjoyed the ever present odor of cow poop wafting through the air like so much incense. Of course, these folks are descendants of folks who gave up half way to the west, lived in houses made of dirt that rained stuff on their dinners while they ate and salivated at the smell of burning buffalo dung... 'smells like suppers cookin,'
Just kidding Kansans, I made a lot of friends there but, you do have to get used to the smell sometimes.
 
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moodman

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I had a Jazz trio for a few years. I had the contacts and got the calls, so I always booked the gigs. We had about 50 well rehearsed tunes in our repertoire that were tailored to playing receptions, cocktail parties and dining gigs, where we were background ambiance...not on display or the center of attention.
My Guitarist one day decides to make some calls and books a gig for us. It was at a huge, multi-story assisted-living facility on Valentine's Day. The money was good so we agreed to do it. What the Guitarist held back until we started setting up was that this had been promoted as a "Dance".
I was immediately filled with dread, because we didn't have any real dance tunes, except for some Bossa Nova and thirties swing classics. We came under continual verbal backlash from numerous fire-breathing Women in their mid-80's (all "Arthur Murray" dance school graduates), who wanted Cha-Cha, Rhumba, Mambo etc. The Guitarist kept his eyes to the floor during the onslaught and I wished to offer him as a human sacrifice to the dance-starved octogenarians angrily milling about the dance floor!
My lovely Wife refers to this gig as the "St. Valentines Day Massacre"
Reminds me of the Jewish wedding I played where, at rehearsal the leader just worked out the first section of Hava Nagila. I said 'you can't just play part of it" and he says 'it'll be cool'. The gig went fine until time for Hava Nagila, we started out playing Hava and never got to Nagila and the happy faces of the entire crowd, which had filled the dance floor, turned into most unhappy campers and we looked like the butt holes we were. 'it'll be cool'
 

dale w miller

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We played a wedding reception in a Knights of Columbus hall in an upscale neighborhood next door to the township police station. During the first set a fight broke out on the dance floor - all women - and boy, can they fight dirty. Second set - same thing. Third set - same thing. The leader said to pack up, we're getting out of here so we left without playing the fourth set. Sometime after we left there was a shooting in the parking lot. Several days later we got a nasty letter from the bride's father demanding a rebate for the set we didn't play. We had to oblige because we signed a union contract specifying that we would play four sets.


Upscale and Knights of Columbus don’t go together as neither should fights and weddings, but obviously I was wrong with one of them.
 

Tmcfour

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Here's one from a very special place in hell... Northern Florida.

My band was on tour and we played this youth place... I honestly have blacked out the name in my memory... but the first 2 bands went on and the crowd was having a good time. Some "dancing" (read moshing/slam dancing) people were clapping yelling and generally having a ball. We got on and started playing and they all sat down and watched us. Not. One. Peep. No talking inbetween songs no cheers or movement, nothing.... it was like a freaky twilight zone episode. We kept mouthing "what the fxxxk" to each other. So we ended the set a little early and said thanks and packed up. Truly the gig from hell.
 

bellbrass

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I think these threads are my favorite. I've been playing in bar bands for so long that I can relate somewhat to every one of your stories. My last band played most of our gigs in pretty much the nicest place in town, so I haven't seen a fight or even a bad drunk for years.

Back in 1990, I was in a band that went from playing covers and originals to all originals. That decision ceded us to the few bars in town that would have original music, usually not the nice ones, and usually not on weekends. So, one Monday or Tuesday night, we were playing the Calico Lounge in downtown Lexington, KY. There were about 10 people in the place when we began playing; mostly in the front of the bar, playing pool. A couple of patrons were at the bar, looking at us like we were disfigured aliens. This place, to say the least, was an infamous barfly / drunk kind of hole in the wall.
So, we begin our set, and after about 3 songs, the manager walks right up to the guitarist / singer and starts talking loudly in his ear. "Uh, oh," I thought, "this doesn't look good."
The guitarist stops playing, turns around, and makes a "stop" motion with his hand. We stutter to a halt, just as police lights illuminate the front of the place. Turns out that two guys were playing pool, and for a large sum of money. One guy caught the other cheating (how do you cheat at pool?), and hit him so hard that he was knocked out standing up. He hit the concrete floor so hard that he split open his head, and remained unconscious. The guy that hit him was arrested for assault, and the guy on the floor stayed there until an ambulance came and took him to the E.R.
We packed up our stuff and were paid $50.00 for our troubles. We were glad to have it.
An hour later, after we had packed up all the instruments and P.A., the place was crowded. Two different guys were playing pool, the blood having been mopped up. What a night!
 

TheBeachBoy

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Gigs from hell?
Heck, I take at least one every year.

The latest was several months ago. Wedding reception. In a barn. for $250 each.
After driving down some jagged muddy backwoods farm roads for an hour we finally arrive to discover a tin barn with no floor - only manure.
That's the only available place we could set up to perform thanks to some plywood sheets that were provided.



Yep, I played 3 sets on uneven rickity plyboard placed atop a manure pit.
That's a pretty crappy gig :)
 
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SteveB

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I've got one. Back in the 80's we got a call to do a wedding. All I really knew is that it was on an island off the coast of Maine. I stored most of the band's equipment in my barn, so I loaded the truck like I always did and set off for Maine...2 hours. We were told to all meet in this parking lot...got there and there was a school bus sitting there, we're all looking at each wondering what joy ride were we going on. We were told to unload and reload everything on the bus, which we did. With our cars left behind we all boarded the bus and drove for about 15 minutes. We came to a dirt road where the bus had to back down to the waters edge. The island was about 5 miles out. So we pull all our stuff out of the bus and roll everything on casters or by hand truck down this very long and uneven slatted dock. At the end of the dock there was a lobster boat (seriously) waiting for us....soooooo once again we load everything into the boat and off we went. I'll mention here that we had quite a bit of gear. Everything was midi including the drum triggers. We finally see roughly where we are going, to a huge mansion up on a hill in the middle of the island. The kicker was that we got to the island at low tide and the dock was a good ten feet up above the boat. Using a wooden ladder which was attached to the side of the dock we daisy chained the equipment up to a driveway where..guess what, a pickup truck was waiting. So we load THAT friggin truck up...we were all bull&%$( at this point. It took two trips up the hill. We felt we were home free only to find out we had to carry all the gear up a flight of stairs where we would be playing on a porch. It was so windy that my crash cymbals were flopping up and down on their stands.

When the gig was over we had to do the same exact set of exchanges. I had to draw a picture to figure it out but we ended up loading and unloading 4 times each way, YES we handled the gear 16 times.............and by the way I had just had an operation on my neck...C5/C6 and I was wearing a full collar brace around my neck. I told the guys I was not going to be involved in any of the loading, risking snapping my neck, but I felt so bad for them that I got involved as much as I could. I came real close to killing the leader by the time this was all over with. I don't remember what we made but it wasn't enough!
 

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Playing the '86 NAACP Blues festival in Sacramento, we set up my drums, my Carvin PA, the guitarist's Mesa Boogie and a an Ampeg bass amp. The stage got accidentally wired with 220 and when the power was turned on, my Carvin board, sitting on my kick case next to me, started vibrating, actually moving. The ampeg gave out a cloud of smoke.
Lights for dance groups and DJ sound systems fried too. Instead of playing, we made a trip to Skip's and put stuff in the shop. The Boogie skated as it hadn't been plugged in, the Ampeg cost $150 to repair and the in the Carvin, the electricity had arced past the fuse, without blowing it, and was stopped by a $1.69 part that was there to do just that. We got paid and reimbursed for the equipment repairs, I kinda hated it for the NAACP. We played another gig for them opening for Hank Ballard.
YOU opened for Hank Ballard? That's heavy.
 

Doof

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I've got one. Back in the 80's we got a call to do a wedding. All I really knew is that it was on an island off the coast of Maine. I stored most of the band's equipment in my barn, so I loaded the truck like I always did and set off for Maine...2 hours. We were told to all meet in this parking lot...got there and there was a school bus sitting there, we're all looking at each wondering what joy ride were we going on. We were told to unload and reload everything on the bus, which we did. With our cars left behind we all boarded the bus and drove for about 15 minutes. We came to a dirt road where the bus had to back down to the waters edge. The island was about 5 miles out. So we pull all our stuff out of the bus and roll everything on casters or by hand truck down this very long and uneven slatted dock. At the end of the dock there was a lobster boat (seriously) waiting for us....soooooo once again we load everything into the boat and off we went. I'll mention here that we had quite a bit of gear. Everything was midi including the drum triggers. We finally see roughly where we are going, to a huge mansion up on a hill in the middle of the island. The kicker was that we got to the island at low tide and the dock was a good ten feet up above the boat. Using a wooden ladder which was attached to the side of the dock we daisy chained the equipment up to a driveway where..guess what, a pickup truck was waiting. So we load THAT friggin truck up...we were all bull&%$( at this point. It took two trips up the hill. We felt we were home free only to find out we had to carry all the gear up a flight of stairs where we would be playing on a porch. It was so windy that my crash cymbals were flopping up and down on their stands.

When the gig was over we had to do the same exact set of exchanges. I had to draw a picture to figure it out but we ended up loading and unloading 4 times each way, YES we handled the gear 16 times.............and by the way I had just had an operation on my neck...C5/C6 and I was wearing a full collar brace around my neck. I told the guys I was not going to be involved in any of the loading, risking snapping my neck, but I felt so bad for them that I got involved as much as I could. I came real close to killing the leader by the time this was all over with. I don't remember what we made but it wasn't enough!
Oh that’s just brutal. I have a story similar to yours but pales in comparison:

Played a yacht club on Toronto island. Driving downtown Toronto around the time both a Blue Jays game was letting out and an Argos game was going to start. That in itself is hell. But then had to drive onto a pier on a Saturday afternoon, packed solid with pedestrians. A cop out front just told me to put my hazards on, people will move - well they didn’t. Riding my brake while asking folks to move for about 15 minutes, while being cussed at and told several times that I’m “not supposed to drive on the pier!” - it put me in a foul mood early.

Finally get to the dock, no boat waiting. The rest of the band is there with gear loaded on the dock. We call the yacht club and are told the ferry drivers are on a meal break, it will be another 45 minutes. I already know this is not worth it.

Ferry finally arrives, we load the gear, 2 band members go with the gear, 3 remain to go park 2 vehicles. I repeat, 3 remain to park 2 vehicles. Why the so called band leader, who booked this gig and deals with the clients, stays with the other guy to park their vehicle is beyond me.

I go and try to find parking on a Saturday afternoon in Toronto. I eventually find a spot in a garage about a block away. I walk back to the pier and wait another 45 minutes for a ferry. We are brought to the island where the 2 guys who went with the gear had to lug the majority of it up 2 flights of stairs. We bring the rest up, have no time for soundcheck, the house PA is garbage-no sub and not enough channels, and the sound tech is some 15 year old kid who knows nothing.

We play 3 sets in front of no more than 30 people. We teardown and reverse the process, but we’re all on one ferry with the gear at least. You could feel the tension in the band on the ferry back It was so bad that we all sat or stood apart from one another.

That was the beginning of the end for me with that group.
 

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Yes...we were asked to play "Achy Breaky Heart" twice in one night. Horrible!!

But seriously, too many to mention. Had a guy killed in the parking lot, shot by a crossbow.

Then there was the time we drove four hours up to a mountain resort and found out the band leader had the right date but the wrong year!

(I also had Linda Blair in the audience once)
 

Lorenzo1950

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Last summer it was pouring down rain when I got to the gig. I brought a towel, a change of socks, shoes and a shirt. Didn't have to park too far from the load-in but I was still soaked.
When we left it was raining even harder so I said hell with it and got completely soaked while loading my car. When I got home the rain had slowed down but I was still soaked.
I was working with a blind vocalist that night and we only had one rehearsal. The vocalist tends to speed up or drop lyrics. It was more the weather than our sound. We sounded pretty good.
We met a sax player who was in his 80's and had worked with Elvis Presley and he had newspaper articles about his long career. That made my night, he was a very nice man.
 

Old Drummer

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My worst was a bar in a small town in Georgia we'd never played (and I don't remember who got the gig or how). We showed up and the place was mostly empty. Well, OK, it was early so we unloaded and started to set up. Along comes the owner, seemingly psychotic, yelling at us incomprehensibly. Well, what do you do? We quickly realized that we had to get out of there fast, forget the gig and the pay, but the problem was that we'd already unloaded. To get out of there with our equipment required crossing this crazy man's path multiple times, and he continued to yell at us for unfathomable reasons and no logic any of us could understand. Fortunately, we managed to get loaded and out of there, but needless to say we neither played nor got paid. We felt lucky to get out unhurt, and there was never any explanation for what happened.

Runner up was a gig in which a one-armed keyboard player wanted to sit in. Well, OK, no problem. While he was singing, though, the guitarist was singing made up humorous lyrics in my ear and I laughed. The one-armed keyboard player thought I was laughing at him. He and his son came over to beat me to a pulp. Good thing my drum kit was a barrier. My band mates talked them down, but the guy refused to believe that I wasn't laughing at him, which I wasn't.

Then there was the older guy on the dance floor who chewed me out for screwing up his dancing. Hello? I didn't understand, though after the lecture gathered that the guy took pride in his dancing and blamed me for his screw ups.

Fortunately I never played any biker bars, but the non-biker bars have their perils as well. It's best not to rely too much on gig money, since you never know when you'll be content to escape with your life and your equipment.
 

moodman

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YOU opened for Hank Ballard? That's heavy.
Yes, and knowing we would, I meant to ask him what he thought about Chubby Checker copying 'The Twist' and having such success. I was a big fan since 'Finger Poppin' Time'. I expected to see an old dude, so when I passed a slim, not really old looking guy, as I went to the stage I nodded and thought the guy was a younger band member. It was Hank Ballard and I didn't get to ask my question, though I'm told he was fine with the royalties and popularizing his song.
 

moodman

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I was playing the Sutter St Saloon in Folsom, we were just getting ready to start when, from the stage, I see a guy apparently arguing with patrons at the first table. As he proceeds from one table to the next, he seems to be starting arguments with each table, When he goes by the stage, he gives us a ration of crap too but was ignored. As he completed his table by table antagonizing, he comes to the bar where, he has a couple of words with a guy who then, knocks him cold, AH! The police come and arrest the guy who punched the a-hole, who walks free, there is no justice.
 

Lazmo

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My gig from hell I was on guitar with a Spinal Tap tribute band. I was Nigel BTW, knobs went to eleven, one louder, etc. It was a very big venue, with a real nice double four way with very good sound and foldback, great lights and a huge stage. All good. The place was packed and going off. We were last on, after three other bands. Setup. Launch into the first song, and it sounds great on stage, we were loving it, and about half way through the song, bam. The PA blows up. Dead as. The sound guys run around like crazy, and while they were trying to sort it out, the vibe in the place starts to get weird. The crowd turns from having a fun good time to jeering slow claps. We realise the PA is stuffed, so our ever intrepid and courageous leader/singer/bassplayer (RIP) says let’s just wing it with our own amps on this enormous stage. So, we plug the vocal mics into a borrowed amp and away we go. I had my 50 watt amp cranked but it still sounded like a tinny transistor radio and I couldn’t hear anyone else, let alone the vocals. We struggled through a few songs, but the crowd had given up and the place was emptying quick smart, so we thankfully pulled the pin. The whole thing was atrocious and it was to be that bands last gig. At the time, even though it wasn't our fault, I’ve never felt so mortified after a gig. But we did get to laugh about it later.
 

Erik

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the band I joined after to Pocatello episode was playing the Cowgirl Corral in Sandpoint ID. Great place, we had played there a few times. Nice place, big stage, great PA and the people treated us well. 2 things happened the last time I played there. Early in the week, probably on a Wednesday the place was empty. We were playing to the staff and maybe a couple locals. The owners brother rode his Harley into the bar on started riding around the dance floor (it was a big place). That was cool until he smoked his tires doing donuts on the dance floor. The place filled with burnt rubber and the smell lasted the rest of the week. Same week, Friday or Saturday night a patron was Sh!! Faced drunk before we even started. Once we began, he came over and laid on the floor with his head inside one of the 2x18 bass bins. He did that for a few songs then decided that our female guitarist should come home with him. He kept trying to grab her feet, he grabbed her pedals and threw them on the dance floor. Then he tried to climb on stage! Our guitarist casual undid her strap, hit the guy in the forehead with the butt of her guitar, attached her strap and plugged directly into her amp. It was so smooth that I later asked her if she had done that before (no). Unfortunately for the guy, the strap peg tore into his forehead and I have to think he still bears the scar. The bouncer finally took notice and threw him out.


This is a great thread!
 

speady1

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I've had my fair share of memorable bad gigs, but the one that I'm sharing here was actually a great gig that ended horribly.

Halloween night 2009 I played a nice bar gig with an Americana/Alt-country group. Huge crowd that was really into it, having fun, no trouble of any sort, etc. The band played great and we got some really big money thrown into the tip jar on top of the above-average guarantee for that bar. We were exchanging congratulations and high fives as we were about to pack up. The guitarist opened up his duffel bag that he kept his cables in and discovered someone had yakked in it from the side of the stage and zipped it back up. Not a little...A LOT...It could have been multiple people. I will never forget the smell. I have no clue how it happened without someone noticing, but it was awful. It was disgusting and he was furious. Obviously, it went straight to the trash with about $200 of cables still inside.

I swore off Halloween gigs from that point on. Anonymous drunks in costumes are a recipe for disaster in a bar setting.
 

TheBeachBoy

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My gig from hell I was on guitar with a Spinal Tap tribute band. I was Nigel BTW, knobs went to eleven, one louder, etc. It was a very big venue, with a real nice double four way with very good sound and foldback, great lights and a huge stage. All good. The place was packed and going off. We were last on, after three other bands. Setup. Launch into the first song, and it sounds great on stage, we were loving it, and about half way through the song, bam. The PA blows up. Dead as. The sound guys run around like crazy, and while they were trying to sort it out, the vibe in the place starts to get weird. The crowd turns from having a fun good time to jeering slow claps. We realise the PA is stuffed, so our ever intrepid and courageous leader/singer/bassplayer (RIP) says let’s just wing it with our own amps on this enormous stage. So, we plug the vocal mics into a borrowed amp and away we go. I had my 50 watt amp cranked but it still sounded like a tinny transistor radio and I couldn’t hear anyone else, let alone the vocals. We struggled through a few songs, but the crowd had given up and the place was emptying quick smart, so we thankfully pulled the pin. The whole thing was atrocious and it was to be that bands last gig. At the time, even though it wasn't our fault, I’ve never felt so mortified after a gig. But we did get to laugh about it later.
Although that must have been terrible at the time, it's a fitting story for a Spinal Tap tribute band, especially since you can laugh about it now.
 

EvEnStEvEn

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Hilarious reading all your gig fiascos!

Today I remembered one I previously posted about in 2009.


I once got a call from a pick-up band I barely knew to play for a Jeeper's Jamboree campground that was so deep into the Sierra mountains it could only be reached by helicopter or a 2.5-day jeep journey. The band chose to take the copter - so our PA, drums, guitars and amps were transported in a giant net swinging beneath us. Really scary.
I was reassured the pay would be "well worth the trouble" after it was all said and done.

Load-in took three chopper trips in and three out for us & our gear. We played on a huge flat rock in a large natural ampitheatre stage made of giant rocks surrounded by a meadow and pine trees. This was an annual event so they had actual electricity on site. no generators, thankfully.

It looked pretty cool when we got there, but after 3 evening shows and 2 nights of camping there I was miserable.
NO showers - had to bath in the creek.
Our sets were from 9pm to midnight. The audience were Jeepers + wives & friends numbering in the hundreds except by 9:30 pm most of them were back in their tents bedding down after each days events which began at 6am so most of our performances were played to tents with sleeping Jeepers inside.

After the gig I was informed the pay only worked out to be about $75 a day after all that work & hassle - a complete waste of my time for approximately 250

During the long awkward drive home with the bandleader I firmly expressed my disinterest regarding any future jobs with them - I couldn't even look at him anymore, lol.

I was so exhausted getting home that I slept for 16 hours.
 
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