Protocol for my shows is a 30 minute piano set, 10 minute break, and 30 minute guitar set. On occasion, I’ve had someone play between sets for 20 minutes; so when I was asked to do “my show,” at a local coffee shop last weekend, understandably I thought it would be along those lines…
Now rewind about two weeks, and I am playing a show when a friend of mine mentions they have connections to a local coffeeshop and could land me a show. I had been emailing the owner but just hadn’t the time to follow up so I took them up on their offer to arrange it.
I love coffee. I love music. How could this be bad?
If I’d only known…
The first call I got about it was that my friend had to pay $20 to reserve a spot at the Drowsy. Whose ever heard of paying someone out of pocket to let you play in their venue? I mean, even if I really sucked…and then they wanted to charge a cover to recover that money. Evidently the coffee shop owner takes 40%, my now-bookies took a small portion, and the opener and myself got the rest. I’m so new on the music scene I’m more than happy to play for free to get exposure but I wasn’t going to sneeze at money; something seemed off though.
My MO with shows is to arrive about an hour before I meant to play (sooner if they’ll let me set up earlier) because I’ve learned that anything can go wrong; I wasn’t prepared for what was going to go wrong Saturday night.
It was ninety degrees and I was scheduled to play outside. When I got there at 6:30 for my 7:30 show, I asked the owner if I could move inside. “Sure,” he said. I set up, do a sound check, and one of my “bookies” finally shows up at 7. Immediately there is a problem. I’m supposed to be playing outside because that is the only way they can collect a cover and recover their $20 fee. I don’t want to play outside because it looks like a 10-year-old birthday party threw up everywhere and I didn’t want to take my valuable equipment out in the dust-filled wind. I didn’t relish the idea of sweating while I sing either; not pretty.
Despite expressing this to my bookie, a few awkward moments later I’m helping haul my equipment outside and setting it up again. Nearly done the assembly – for the second time – the owner comes out with a leaf blower and starts blowing a birthday blizzard frantically trying to “clean up” in the five minutes before I’m meant to start. Along with the confetti was a massive amount of dirt being blasted in the direction of my $5000 keyboard, priceless guitar, PA, speakers…I’m freaking out. Waving my hands wildly, I demand the owner stops. We disassemble my equipment…again…as he refused to cease because he “wasn’t going to let anyone watch a show in that mess.” All I’m thinking is, ‘why wasn’t it cleaned before I arrived at 6:30 when the plan still was for me to play outside?’
We do a sound check and I roll it right into my piano set. A few people trickle in and I watch the people going in and out of the coffee shop wishing that I had been playing inside. Luckily the breeze picked up, the air cooled off, and the acoustics made what I was doing sound great. I began enjoying myself, and was excited to take the break and sit and talk with my friends.
The opener arrived well after I started and he had a side-kick. They set up an electric guitar amp, cranked the volume, and began playing at a cacophonous distorted level where – maybe my age, or the show I saw in DC where I nearly blew out my ear drums – I eventually went inside with two of my friends to escape the pain. About 30 minutes later all the other people who came to see me left. An hour later I’m sitting inside really wishing I could have a milkshake, but not doing so because I’m supposed to play another set; yet another 30 minutes later and the “bookies” are asking me if I still want to play since nearly everyone had left. Of course they did, they’re used to a 20 minute break max, not an hour and a half!
My friends – who had paid six dollars to see me, had sought auditory shelter with me and hadn’t hear me sing a note – were the reason I literally took over the mic at 10pm and sang a shortened guitar set. Seriously, how did this happen?
Days later, I am hoping my keyboard doesn’t need cleaning and my PA isn’t affected because the $10 cut I got that night will not cover their repair.
Sometimes no matter how hard you prepare you can not be ready for the unexpected.