What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Reading about humorous accidents reminded me of a gig in my past. As the circumstances are a bit different I thought I would start a new strand. What’s the worst gig you’ve ever played?

To start us off, here’s mine.

Back in the 1980s I was living in Germany, (just about) earning a living as part of a duo playing Scottish and Irish songs and tunes. One day my mate got a call from an agency looking to replace a Scottish singer who had bailed with only a few days’ notice. We were a bit unsure since we didn’t have any information on the event, but they were offering 400 marks, which was far more than we normally got, so we decided to go ahead.

We arrived at the venue, a hotel whose function room had been booked for a birthday celebration by a bigshot who ran his own company. He appeared to have invited his entire staff, most of whom were wearing yellow sweatshirts he had printed specially for the occasion. Our first set was a mix of Irish and Scottish songs, both slow and up-tempo, interspersed with tunes on whistle or pipes with guitar backing. After four numbers Mr Bigshot came up to us and said that we “should play more rhythmically”. We didn’t think there was anything wrong with our rhythm and continued. At the interval he came up again and demanded that we should be “more rhythmical”, explaining that he had been to Dublin and knew what Irish music should sound like. He also told us to stop playing the pipes as “nobody could listen to that for more than two minutes”.

So our planned second set was effectively cut in half, since we didn’t want to antagonise anybody with pipe tunes. We figured eventually that he wanted the type of shouty, up-tempo songs often heard in Dublin tourist pubs. By this time most of the yellow sweatshirts were milling around the bar and outside, chatting and drinking and there were only about a dozen still sitting who were expecting our second half. We desperately came with other songs that we could improvise, tried to ignore all the other noise and sang to them. After two and a half hours we finished to as much applause as the dozen listeners were able to muster. We were packing up when Mr Bigshot came over to say he wasn’t going to pay us a fee because the music wasn’t what he envisaged. We were furious, and wondered whether the solo singer he had originally booked would have been any better. We found the hotel manageress and told her we’d had a raw deal, given that we agreed to fill in at short notice and in good faith. Without quibbling she handed over 400 marks. I suspect it was peanuts compared to what the hotel was earning from Mr Bigshot’s business, so it ended better that I had hoped. That was the highest fee we ever earned in three years, but the gig still left a bitter taste. It confirmed something I have learned in other walks of life, that people who are pretty well off are often the meanest.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Some years ago our band was booked to play for the grand opening of a ‘family events center’ located near a medium-sized town an hour or so’s drive away. The date was mid-May and the venue was to be an outdoor stage, a somewhat dodgy notion due to this being the Midwestern US where spring often arrives grudgingly late. As it turned out, the day was sunny but marked by a strong, frigid northwest wind that blew incessantly during setup and performance on the very exposed stage. Understandably, any audience we might have had was away keeping warm inside the building, partaking of the games and entertainment that made up the bulk of the facility– we could see them through the big windows and they could see us, but in no way could they hear us since our PA speakers were pointed away off into the empty prairies. Playing valiantly on, we could barely hear ourselves either, as the wind blew our sound (and set lists) away too. There was precisely one fellow lurking in the audience area, and I think he was tasked with being there to make sure the sound was OK, but he couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for our performance (which had, and has been, pretty well received in many other, warmer venues).

Posted by .

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

I’ve had gigs like that - but never had anyone flatly refuse to pay. I’m surprised that you would take it to the hotel management - that never would have occurred to me - and more surprised that the hotel management paid you, unless they were somehow involved in booking you … ? Maybe things work differently in Germany.

We got booked for a Christmas office party a few years back, and specifically asked to play (Canadian) East Coast music, which is the product advertised. After about twenty minutes of such, the woman who’d booked us started demanding we play “old rock” … which was a problem, as that is something I’ve never really done, and could only fake a few old hits that I’d heard countless times. Well, we got through it, and there were people enjoying themselves - but this woman and one or two other middle-management types made it quite clear that we were not giving them what they wanted. The moral, if there is a moral, is that if you’re going to do “parties”, you’d best have an idiot-proof repertoire to fall back on.

That’s not the worst gig, btw - but don’t get me started!

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

FYI, it was the hotel management that had arranged the booking.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Many years a fiddler friend of mine and I were hired to play a gig at a desert community Claddagh Club.

Fiddle and pipes, instrumental music, we were pretty clear what we do when working with the organizer to set up the event.

It’s about a 2 hour drive each way from San Diego, had to bring our own PA.

After a couple of sets of tunes, it was made extremely clear that’s not at all what they wanted.

They wanted rebel songs to sing along with and none of that pansy dance music. The organizer was pretty much in our faces about it, big drunk guy in his late 60s.

Luckily, my playing partner is also a good solo singer, and he did his best to make them happy.

The gig paid $300, I think they even tipped us an extra $100, so we powered through it, but what an awful day.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Our up-tempo, part-electric ceilidh band had been booked for a Hogmany gig in a rural Aberdeenshire pub, this after we had done a very successful dance for the local International Tennis Club at the same venue. We had also been asked to provide some disco music and some kids’ games, as well as our fiddler playing pipes at midnight. The audience was rather hostile before we started and during the gig we got a lot of racial agro from audience members as our caller was English. One lad looked at him and mimed zipping the lip and we were also told to stop playing Irish and American sh..e. At one point the landlady came in to say that if we did not liven it up we would not be paid. Bear in mind that this was the same band playing the same music in the same style as we had done 3 months before. Despite the difficulty and having considered pulling the plug before midnight we slogged on through the gig and completed the job as we had a contract to fulfil, even in the face of the foul atmosphere from the audience. At 2 in the morning we were in the landlord’s office where he told us we were only getting half the fee; naturally we did not agree. After much discussion we said that we would take him to court which did not faze him, “I’ve been taken to court lots of times” . We did, he lost and had to pay the full fee and costs. It came out at the hearing that the local Hogmany audience really wanted a traditional, strict-tempo dance band (fiddle, accordion and snare drum) not the driving sound that had done so well for the Tennis club. The landlord had neglected to consider that taste of his local punters. Our case made the national press and radio and many of our gigging friends commended us for sticking out for our fee.

Posted by .

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

There must have been many, but one I remember -

Was playing pedal steel in a ‘classic country’ band. Got to gig and found we were ‘booked at the wrong gig’ (don’t know how this happens, I wasn’t responsible for the booking - just a sideman 🙂 ). The audience was a holiday party for Hewlett Packard - when they discovered we were ‘country,’ they said we didn’t have to play. But we did, one set I believe, and it was like a rehearsal for the lack of attention from the ‘audience’ - great big ballroom, smattering of polite applause - prbly from the wait staff.. I think they wanted pop/top 40, Commodores, whatever… Well ya it was very good money for very little work, but…

Later in life I was a drummer and played with a number of bands. Every time I had to share a hotel room with snoring ‘band members’ - was the worst gig I’ve ever played.

Posted by .

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

@Borderer: thanks for the clarification!

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Typo in my post, should start with “Many years ago…” We only did that gig once.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Not an Irish date for sure. In Philadelphia, early 70’s, basement club with a bad vibe. A fight broke out. On my way to the door the guy next to me jumped up on a chair, the guy next to him stabbed him in the throat. Yeah, that was a bad one.

We didn’t get paid either.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

It was a pig farmer’s wedding.

Well, maybe not the worst… but it was certainly one of the most memorable, with highlights such as:

- A 10 hour drive. 5 hours each way.
- A wedding speech by the groom that went for an hour, without a single bit of humour.
- A meal provided that consisted of a single piece of cold steak, on a paper plate, at the kid’s table.
- In our breaks, they wanted to play their own music through our sound system… which they did, complete with the iPod clicking noises while they were searching for the next song.
- As part of the gig, we were booked to call a Ceili for 45mins… which they decided they wanted to continue this for the rest of the night.
- They forgot to bring payment, so we had to follow them back to their place after the gig to get the money.
- Oh, and on the way back, one of the band members did a fart so toxic we had to air the van out for 15 mins.

If it wasn’t for the company, and amount of laughter we were having at every weird bit of the gig, things could have been much, much worse. 🙂

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Many years ago I got a phone call from an agent wanting a band to play for ‘country dancing’ at a pub in a village about 15 miles away, that very same day. At such short notice I managed to recruit a friend who plays fiddle and a dance caller and set off for the venue. While we were setting up the clientele began to arrive in pickup trucks - stocky, tattooed men festooned with ‘bling’ and their peroxided, fake tanned wives and girlfriends. The caller’s attempt to get them on the floor for the Circassian Circle was greeted initially with blank incomprehension , turning quite quickly to hostility. It transpired that we should have been a Country and Western band to play for line dancing - the agent obviously equated line dancing and country dancing as the same thing. If this had happened more recently I could probably dredged up enough Johnny Cash and Hank Williams songs to save the gig but back then I was relatively naive so we persisted in ‘entertaining’ the punters with jigs, reels and trad songs. After a relatively short time it became obvious we were flogging the proverbial dead horse so we turned over the mics to members of the audience who then performed acapella C&W ballads and truck driving songs to thunderous applause. We left the pub without payment but feeling lucky to have escaped uninjured - subsequent acerbic phone conversations with the incompetent agent failed to reach a settlement but at least it taught me not to take on gigs at a couple of hours notice.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

@Christy: your experience sounds very familiar. I have the impression that a lot of disastrous gigs have occurred because the agent or person making the booking either was unable to articulate what they wanted, or failed to grasp the type of music that the band was offering …

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

The worst ones are the ones you don’t get paid!

Around 20 years ago I was hired to play the Recessional at a wedding, the preservice music was a harp & cello duet. I chatted with these guys prior to the gig starting and they said they made their livings doing weddings, and they demanded to be paid in cash before they played. Their point was that once the music had been provided the client had what they wanted, and had no compelling reason to pay.

I thought their attitude cynical, until I got stiffed at a wedding! Ever since I’ve done the same. It solves so many things, especially at weddings (where everybody is rushing off to the reception, including the person who was supposed to pay) and at funerals (where the musician has to intrude upon the grieving family).

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Worst gig would be back when I was living in the States - my punk band was doing a West Coast tour and had a gig in Portland, OR, at someone’s house where they had a performance space for bands. The day we arrived Portland was in the midst of a hellish heatwave. It was sweltering outside and even hotter inside the performance space. Two songs into our set our drummer collapsed on top of her snare drum, yelling “I’m done, no more!” and then got up and went outside. Not even a lovely cold beer could convince her to come back and finish the gig, so no gig, no money and on top of that no place to crash for the night because the folks at the house had originally invited us to stay there but were fairly annoyed at that stage and changed their minds. So we had to pile back into our old van (parts of it were actually melting because of the heat) and had enough money between us all to rent a crappy motel room. The bass player and his girlfriend rented the room, and then over the course of an hour the rest of us (the drummer, two of our mates who’d tagged along on tour for the craic, and meself and my Staffie mix) all snuck in one by one so the motel manager wouldn’t see us. The room was small but it had air conditioning so that’s all that mattered. One of our friends was a notorious sleep walker and sure enough in the middle of the night they started sleep walking, drawing the curtains back and mumbling to themselves - cue my Staffie barking like a maniac (he didn’t shift off of the bed mind, just lifted his head and let loose with the barking from there). We were sure the manager would hear and boot us all out into the heat, but I guess the noise of our air conditioner and his air conditioner masked the volume of the barking.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Wow, some nightmare stories there. I’m more of a session player, but have occasionally been asked to do gigs. Like some of those above, the bad sh!t usually arises from the organiser/s not understanding what it is we actually play, ie jigs, reels etc.
Myself and a fiddle player, who has since become quite well known, did a gig for a scouts’ jamboree thing in Dulwich Woods, SE London. The two of us bent down into one mike which blasted out a distorted sound scaring all of the wildlife in the woods. Looking at the “audience” of a load young teens and boys we could see they were totally bemused.
After a couple of sets, the lady who booked us came over, thanked us profusely, asked us to finish up then paid us. Quite good dosh if I remember (long time ago), especially for something like 3 sets of tunes. Not a very satisfying musical experience though. I don’t think she had understood what sort of music it was we played.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

The worst gigs of mine playing Irish music in Sweden:
3. The railway hotel bar in Ljusdal. When we had just gotten onto the stage and were going to start, a guy stumbles up onto the stage, knocks down a few mike stands and shouts “play Credence or I’ll kill you!”
2. A hotel bar in Linköping on the 1st of May weekend. Turned out to be the first really hot day of that year, and the town was empty since everyone went out into the countryside. So was the bar. Nearly empty. Apart from the staff there was one guy in there, and he was watching ice hockey on the TV while we were playing, which he obviously enjoyed more than our music.
1. My first public gig in the 1990s. A party after a viking crafts market in Stockholm. The organisers had rented a nice venue and had some bands performing various “folky” music, including an Irish music duo (my friend and I). The problem was that this event had attracted 150 neo-nazi skinheads. Before our gig there were bar room brawls among them like I had never seen before, and never seen since. When we got on stage and played our set they appreciated the music very much, but showed their appreciation by synchronised raising of their right arms. This made my band mate feel rather uneasy, since his father is Jewish. When I sang a solo song one of the skinheads stood alone right in front of the stage staring at me, which made me feel a bit shaky too, considering the fighting I had seen. But he obviously liked my song and showed this by clapping slowly while still staring at me “clap – clap – clap – clap”. But we survived and we got paid!

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Not sure that I have got any one gig that stands out as being the worst ever, but there are some pretty bad moments from a number of them - thinking mainly of the 2 ceilidh bands I play in.
1) Food and drink - usually we get pretty well fed at any ceilidhs we do, at the half-time break when the the dancers stop to eat. And quite often we get given a jug of water between us, or maybe even a first drink from the bar. But there have been a few where we have been offered absolutely nothing at all, all evening, despite having arrived an hour or more before the guests and then well after they have gone, so maybe a total of 5 hours or more. In one of the bands, we do have a written application where we ask: will there be refreshments provided for the band?
2) Access and parking problems: absolutely dire in central Edinburgh: pull up on a double yellow line, wheels on the kerb, on an approach to traffic lights, so that you can offload equipment: just thanking your lucky stars that it’s after all the traffic wardens have clocked off for the day - then having to drive half a mile away to find somewhere to park your car legally!
Or on another occasion parking down a dark back lane and breaking your toes in an unseen pothole on the way back to the car - 2 days before a walking holiday!
3) PA problems: Being promised “a full PA system” on site, and turning up to find one cabled voice mike between a 5-piece band and the event MC!
One of the guests wants to plug in some piece of his equipment to your system to show a slide show: it blows the whole system beyond repair.
4) Accidents: at the same gig as the PA disaster, we carry on playing acoustically, and a lady falls and breaks not one, but BOTH wrists in the final manic “Strip the Willow”.
5) “I don’t wanna dance” - happens at those ceilidhs which are tacked on to a wedding or birthday celebration. You end up just playing the tunes for wallpaper music.
And there are probably more examples…………..

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

So the owner of a B+B has a daughter getting married. They decide to have the reception at the B+B. The owner of said B+B (mother of the bride) decides it would be a hoot to hire a bluegrass band. We get hired and I am the lead singer/guitar player. Halfway through the gig the bride is in tears. She wanted dancing to pop music at HER wedding, dj style. God I felt terrible. Got paid but felt like crap about the whole thing. My personal rule now playing Irish Trad at weddings,
Cocktail Hour only. Way better way to go. Short and sweet, good crowd, good pay. I tell people, get a dj.

T

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

@trish santer – Some of those scenarios are rather familiar.

There was one wedding I played for that seemed to be a marriage between feuding families – the atmosphere was toxic. There were fist fights going on outside. The guests really didn’t appreciate being told what to do by a caller. There were requests to play more songs instead of all that ceili music… then requests to stop playing songs and give them something they could dance to… and when we helped ourselves to their fish-and-chip buffet, we got evil glares.

“The worst ones are the ones you don’t get paid!”

There was a gig I played in Latvia with the band I was in there. We were booked by an acquaintance of our singer to play ‘Irish music’ at a party. We did our thing, but the client declined to pay us because it was ‘not the kind of music they wanted’. I’m not sure what they were expecting – The Pogues, Daniel O’Donnell? This was post-Soviet Latvia, but these youngsters (~18-early 20s) had apparently not got to grips with the ethics of a market economy. After some negotiation, they agreed to pay us *half* of the original fee.

An averted PA disaster story: It was a booking to play a ceilidh at a garden party in Wales. We were assured that we would be under cover in case of rain. The cover turned out to be a small Middle-of-Lidl gazebo, into which the PA and five band members were crammed. Naturally, it rained – and this was rain of the wettest kind. Before long, there was water dripping through, then running through, onto the PA. We managed to find some plastic sheeting to protect the equipment from damage, but it was not safe to use. So we unplugged everything and played acoustically. The dancers danced in the rain, the caller called in her natural voice and we played unencumbered by wires – and it turned into a very enjoyable, if damp, gig.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Many years ago my fiddler friend and I were hired to play a very large wedding ceremony outside under a huge tree in the mountains east of San Diego.

We have what they call “Santa Ana” winds here where the humidity goes essentially to zero, the temperatures are high, and often times we get massive brushfires as a result. Turns out there was going to be Santa Ana conditions the day of the wedding, plus the location was at about 4000 ft elevation.

Wedding starts, we start to play the processional and no sound comes out of my chanter. Reed had died as a result of the dry air and heat. Fiddler has to go it on his own. I scramble to find another chanter reed for the bridal march/recessional, and the tuning on the spare is crap, but I just do what I can.

The chanter reed never recovered. I had 10 years on that reed. Basically spent the money we made on the gig to get a new chanter reed.

Playing these days on a spruce chanter reed, but still very hesitant to play any outdoor gig unless it is near the coast.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Bouncing off what Richard D. Cook said, “The worst ones are the ones you don’t get paid!”, it occurred to me many years ago that much like aircraft pilots who maintain that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing, any gig you actually get paid for is a good gig.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

“Around 20 years ago I was hired to play the Recessional at a wedding, the preservice music was a harp & cello duet. I chatted with these guys prior to the gig starting and they said they made their livings doing weddings, and they demanded to be paid in cash before they played. Their point was that once the music had been provided the client had what they wanted, and had no compelling reason to pay.

I thought their attitude cynical, until I got stiffed at a wedding! Ever since I’ve done the same. It solves so many things, “

Yes, this, absolutely.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

“like aircraft pilots who maintain that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing, any gig you actually get paid for is a good gig.”

When I think of some of the gigs I’ve had, and some I’ve read about in this thread, I’d be tempted to take that a bit further, and say, “Any gig you can walk away from is a good gig”!

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Hah, well I have a reverse PA story. We get a gig in a converted church. We give the usual list of sound equipment we need. (There’s seven of us, so it’s a fair bit, but most of the venues we’re playing have no problem at all with that kind of thing.)

A few days before the gig, we get some convoluted message from someone at the venue, to the manager, to a guy in the band, about them not having enough mic stands or something. No problem! We’ll bring our own.

The day comes and we set off. Five of us in the one car and the other two have made their own arrangements. It’s pretty cramped between the guys and the instruments and the mics and mic stands and leads and stuff.

Someone decides to call the venue just to make sure we’re all good for the equipment. He gets a guy on the line who’s saying things like “monitors? What are those? No I don’t think we have any of those. How many channels? I couldn’t tell you.”

Absolute panic. After various phone calls we take a long detour to borrow everything off a mate. A couple of speakers, another one to hook up as a monitor, a mixing desk, everything. It all goes in the boot of the, small, car and the instruments go into everyone’s laps. I’m boxed in between the car door and the guitarist, with my fiddle between my knees. There’s a banjo and a guitar across the knees of all three of us in the back. We’re festooned with leads and cables.

And so at last we set off, late, for the venue which is maybe five hours away, down a few back roads.

When we arrive of course they have everything. We could have been a twenty piece band and they would have had enough monitors. Great big storage crates full of mics and leads.

But! There’s no sound guy. He’s apparently on holiday. There’s a guy who’s there but he’s the guy we got on phone. So we do the sound ourselves. (Well, mainly one band member who knows a bit more about it.) and try to teach the guy at the venue how to tweak it during the gig. Except just before the gig he wanders off. And we realize he’s on the front desk as well. Someone runs off to bring him back before we start the gig and he says, “well I’ll try to get over there during the interval if you need to change anything, but I can’t be long because I’m selling the refreshments.”

But the gig went ok in the end anyway.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

This thread has got legs…. so many gig warriors! I’ll step back in with a couple of PA disasters, which isn’t hard since I’ve always been the PA guy, we typically bring our own setup, and Murphy’s law* being what it is.

First off, we were playing a contradance in a beautiful old barn stocked with hay bales and whatnot, and halfway through my powered mixer gave up the ghost - literally started smoking, as the sound suddenly died. Fire hazard in an old barn? Oh yeah. I unplugged it before things got out of hand, and we finished the dance in the middle of the room as an acoustic band – which worked fine in the end!

Directly as a result of this, I invested in a then-new type of mixer where all controls are accomplished from a tablet app that talks to the mixer over the mixer’s own wireless network– super slick technology; what could possibly go wrong? What I failed to appreciate was that the wimpy, built-in wireless radio could easily be brought to its knees by a couple dozen smart phones pinging it. This is exactly what happened at a large-ish wedding where, as the guests started filing in, my tablet first intermittently and then irrevocably lost all contact– couldn’t move faders, mute/unmute, nothing! Fortunately during one of the brief spells of regained control I made sure all channels/buses were open for business, and the rest of the evening I rode the gain from the power amps… nothing else to do! Right after that I bought an external, dual-band modem.

*or Sod’s law (https://www.michael-scannell.com/jottings/journ2.html)

Posted by .

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Straying farther and farther from Irish music… there was that time I was on stage at a fashion show in Moscow with Russian super-models.

In my alter ego as a tango dancer, I had to perform one of the breaks between runway sets, while the Supermodels were changing back-stage. While that was an obvious distraction (and another story), the problem really came when the DJ pulled the wrong song from the set list for my dance.

My partner and I walked dramatically into the stage lights in front of thousands… Instead of a a classic Tango as agreed upon, the music was the great Gershwin song “Summertime”… but the hip-hop version by Sublime. Youtube that one, and you’ll understand. For all I know, the audience got a bigger kick out of me tangoing to American Hip-Hop than old-school tango, but my partner sure chewed me out in very colorful Russian. Fortunately, I only understood the word “padruga”, probably “Why the F didn’t he do THAT with his girlfriend.”

Oh, and I second the suggestion to be sure to get paid before the gig.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

“It was a pig farmer’s wedding.”

Every gig is a pig farmer’s wedding. That’s an unbreakable rule.

There was the gig where:
- I fell off the stage onto a table in the orchestra pit and, pain or not, had to get back up and keep singing.
- All our equipment was stolen out of our touring van
- The “fog” system went into overdrive and flooded my lungs, making it impossible to sing.
- Regarding ITM, any gig on St. Patrick’s day that wasn’t until closing, when the bar fights were breaking out.
- Performing for Bishop Desmond Tutu in Manhattan, and our whole trio being so nervous we f*d up pretty much every tune.

- Gig I most regret giving up: Closing party for the movie Green Card. I gave it to another band (Greg Ryan and friends) because I suspected we weren’t ready for it. Mostly regret not meeting Andie Macdowell because of that.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Ooh! There was the wedding reception, in a pub where there was no sound system or stage or anything so we went acoustic in a gap between the hot buffet and the big screen which was showing some vitally important match everyone wanted to watch. The singer started going hoarse from trying to project over the commentary and the general noise, so we switched to just playing tunes.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

And yeah, get at least half in advance. Ideally the whole lot. Especially if it’s a one-off thing.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

I was never much of a gig musician, but I just remembered one particularly awkward situation I was put in during a gig.

I was commissioned to play piano for a wedding reception. The venue was a local bar restaurant that I officially street performed for, owner’s blessing. As I get settled in the dining hall and start my set, I was told abruptly by the events coordinator that the client was told directly beforehand that live music was not allowed for the event. To add insult to injury, the client was a former employee of the venue who quit without notice and ghosted them. They allowed me to continue playing because of our established semi-formal relationship, but not before giving me a very strict sound check.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Not worst from a musical standpoint, but we did have a gig where a guy died while dancing to our Ceili music.

These stories bring back so many memories!!

What just came to mind was the time I was hired to play Highland Pipes at an Easter Sunrise service.

Not a beach one (common here) but in a city square in the middle of downtown. Unfortunately the square was right beside a high-rise apartments complex.

First a guitarist played some mellow music. Then it was my turn! And the moment I struck up the pipes a guy stuck his head out the window of his apartment high above us and started screaming “SHUT THE F**K UP!! SHUT THE F**K UP!!” over and over until my tune was over.

It didn’t set the reverential mood the organisers hand in mind!

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

@Jerone: Yes, it’s awkward when there’s a conflict of interests between and you’re caught in the middle.
When in Porto, Portugal in 2006, I was asked to play one night in an ‘alternative’ cafe-bar-type venue – just informally in the background, for a couple of drinks. I’d only been playing fiddle for about 2 years at the time (although I suppose I can’t have been *that* terrible if I was invited) – so I was happy to do it for the craic. I started playing and it seemed to be met with a combination of appreciatiion and ambivalence, which was fine. Meanwhile, at a table nearby, there was a small group having some sort of meeting. After I’d played a few tunes, one of the group turned round and snapped, “Could you please stop playing? It’s making it really hard to concentrate on our meeting,” or words to that effect.

I stopped – it wasn’t as if I’d been paid money for my services – and I don’t remember there being any complaint from the venue about my non-delivery. But it was a difficult situation, being unable to deliver on a promise AND being a source of annoyance, neither through any fault of my own (Well, maybe I would have been a bit less annoying after another 10 years of practice… but I don’t think the quality of my playing was the real issue in this case.)

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Since the early 1990s, the number of gigs that have stood out in a POSITIVE way can be counted on one hand. Three gigs. Maybe four.

Other than those, pretty much every gig has been awkward in one way or the other. Mostly due to bad return of investment - regarding enjoyment, “personal development”, repertoire, money… I don’t think I’ve ever had played a gig where I had full control of the repertoire. The setlist has always been someone else’s work. And that’s boring as hell, no matter the payment.

Some highlights:
Gig where the host offered payment in crates of beer.
Gig where the backer was a half-beat ahead and I had to cut parts of the melody to make it sound decent.
Gig where a singer “forgot” to split the money.
Gig where the host “forgot” to pay.
Gig where a drummer played polka rhythm to a song in 6/8.
Gig where a fiddler skipped a half-beat and we backers had to adapt.
Gig where a drunk person complained about our set list - and the host told us afterwards that “the customer is always right”.
Wedding gig after which one of the toastmasters had to leave because a relative had just died. (Toastmaster #2: “…but the party will continue.”)
Numerous gigs where the setlist was improvised on stage.
Funeral gig where the host decided to postpone payment (it never arrived).
Numerous gigs where the leader of an impromptu setting forgot to split the money.
Gig where a drummer was a half-beat late (and nobody adapted).

None of the above gigs have been ITM. And only one of the three-four positive gigs was ITM.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

I’m in the lucky position of never having had to play for a living. And, if I had had to, I don’t think I’d still be living – I’d have starved to death a long time ago. Living where I do there’s just not the population to support gigging musicians full time and there also seems to be an attitude that you’ll play for the love of it or for beer money.
I would guess that I’ve been paid at about 20% of the five hundred or so events I’ve played at in the last ten years. But if I’m not being paid, for whatever reason (community group, charity event, fundraiser, etc), then I don’t feel under such pressure to do what the audience want.

However, the worst gig was probably with a band I was in, going through a transitional phase. We had been asked to entertain at a St Andrews Night dinner at a local golf club. I wasn’t particularly happy with our set up (we we’re experimenting playing round a single condenser) and we were under-rehearsed. When I got to the venue, I saw that the dinner was set up at one end of the function room and we were separated from the diners by a lot of empty tables, creating an immediate barrier. I suspect what we played was not really what they wanted because the response was polite but lukewarm and I personally didn’t perform with assurance (if that indeed is ever the case). But we got through the night, and I was glad to get it over. A couple of weeks later I bumped into one of the organisers who told me how disappointed she had found us, adding that, of course, she would never say that to the other long-term band member (who was a friend of hers). “Stuck up …”, I thought to myself.

The next year I and the other long-term band member played the same venue as entertainment for a golf club party, without the intervening empty tables, and got a great reception and they paid us more than they had originally offered. Having said that, we probably gave them more that they could latch on to musically.

Sometimes it’s easier just to give the punters what they want.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

As a comparatively novice uilleann piper I was asked to play a wedding; a full dress MGM-type affair with four full-dress uniform cavalry-types with swords and four full-dress Marines, again with swords. A gaelige ceremony conducted by a priest from Killarney. The Bride chose ´I won´t be a Nun´ to be piped to the altar. The priest nearly got the giggles when he recognized the melody. The groom had only just suffered the loss of a favorite Aunt and had insisted that a friend, a grade 1 Scots Piper, play a short keen in tribute to her as an integral part of the affair. He was arrested as drunk just before the wedding and couldn´t be bailed. I was called upon to fill his bit. Un-rehearsed, I picked the most mournful snatch of Emin melody I could think of and gave a few short slow riffs on it but had to cut it off when I saw both the priest and the groom start to sob.
The only complaint from the groom: The keen was too short!
I did get paid! And for the Scots Piper´s bit as well!

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

> Sometimes it’s easier just to give the punters what they want.

Quite. Even if we’re booked to play trad by someone who likes and appreciates what we do, what are the chances the rest of the room shares their view?

One thing I have always found true over the years is that the more you charge for gigs, the less hassle you get.

Posted by .

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

“One thing I have always found true over the years is that the more you charge for gigs, the less hassle you get.”

And THAT, could be the last word!

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Thanks for asking! I have a story that may be long, but it has quite a punchline…

I was playing second guitar for a folky pop singer in Maine in the 70’s. He booked us into a ski resort over a three day New Years weekend. It was a very long drive but the money was great and we had a signed contract. It was a ski lodge and we had a room and all meals included. The owner had just bought the place and it was his opening weekend. We played in a room downstairs with a bar and a good sound system and the first night was fantastic! All the locals were there, including the Mayor, and they loved the show! BUT the second night was New Years Eve and it was a Saturday. We set up on our stage and started at 8pm but nobody came in. We played on. 9 pm and nobody. The bartender was our audience instead of the packed house. The show went on, and on, until a few people trickled in at 11 pm. Then the crowd showed up and sat quietly while we played. When the show was over and we had packed up, The manager and a lawyer came down to tell us that the owner had been cooking in the hot kitchen until he stumbled out, had a heart attack, and died at the top of the stairs that led down to the club. An ambulance had been called but it took over an hour to get there. The widow decided to let people into the club after that because they were completely broke with no cash at all. The lawyer said everything was going into probate and our contract with the owner was void. We could challenge for it in the probate court eventually but we’d get pennies on the dollar and the court was over a hundred miles away. And our third night was obviously cancelled, as was our room and any further meals. We had to pack and leave immediately, with no pay, no food, and an all night drive.
It gets worse! There were no cell phones at that time. I got home to an empty house. My wife was out cheating on me and my marriage dissolved.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Ken! Oh my gosh. I’m glad you got a story out of it, if not much else.

Posted by .

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

My worst one was with our little fiddle orchestra. We were the finishing act in a local charity concert. The pipe band had played earlier in the evening, and near the end of our set we were playing a set of retreat marches when someone backstage decided it would make a great finale if the pipers joined us on stage (you can probably guess the rest!). They marched on, not only their usual 3/4 tone sharp, but playing at a completely different tempo, and starting the tune at the beginning when they started marching, while we were half way through. All we could do was just put down our instruments and leave them to it. So instead of ending the evening with the whole audience standing to sing Lang Syne and We’re no Awa’ , things just petered out and people drifted away, muttering.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

When you played Jazz in the 80’s, there was a fair bit of work playing for dances at the Old Folks homes. To be sure, these were low paying gigs ($100- 200 for 2 hours split between 4-6 players) but they gave you a chance to practice and network with other players with better paying gigs. At one of those dances, the guitarist asked me if I could put together a band for an old folks dance he couldn’t make it to. He said it wasn’t the highest paying job, but since I was still in High School, living at home, he figured I’d be the best to ask. I took it without asking questions….should’ve known!

I called some kids I knew from the High School All City Jazz band and we headed over there with 5 players. Turns out it wasn’t a dance- it was an afternoon concert for a group of lovely folks who were all wheelchair bound. Only a few of them were active enough to show they were listening. We brought our 1940’s-50’s big band book which was about 20 years too new for this crowd. After about 5 or so pieces, and no one even looking up, we pulled out our only ragtime 1920’s piece. That got the crowd going…well, a few of them smiled and some even clapped. The head nurse came up to us after that and asked if we had more of “that type of music?” When we didn’t she said it would be OK if we just played that piece a few more times. We ended up playing the same piece 4 times in a row. They loved it- kept asking for more! The saving grace was their need for sleep in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. Mercifully, the head nurse called a curtain, payed us $30(!) and we beat a speedy retreat!

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

I’m a fiddler mainly, but there was a time when I used to do a “single,” singing and playing guitar. For a few years I had the St. Pat’s gig at a local restaurant/pub. I’d do 12 hours. Start at one in the afternoon and finish at one AM. The difficulty was that as the night wore on, and I was wearing out, the intensity would start cranking up.

About six PM a bouncer/cop would show up to stand at the door, but the drunks - after partying all day - still got in. I’d make a point of going to the bouncer and asking him to keep an eye on the stage in case I needed help. It typically turned into a tough night, with me re-doing the songs I’d been singing in the afternoon and the drunks getting more and more rowdy. Plus I had to watch the stage in between sets - no more going and hiding out in the owner’s office. A few times I had to jump on stage between sets to walk a customer off the stage with him saying “But I just want to sing a few songs.”

Fond memories.

Posted by .

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

The one where nobody came! Not much more to tell…

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

@bbarton: I did one where the audience comprised a few relatives of he band, the band we were sharing the bill with and a young Ukrainian man without much English who had accidentally bought a ticket to the wrong gig (we were in the basement whilst another band was playing upstairs). Whoever was on the ticket desk refused to give him a refund(!), and he stayed, bless him.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

If I may teak the question a bit to “oddest gig” it would be when I was playing GHB and people applauding “Amazing Grace” especially in church. “Amazing Grace” does not seem to be a performance piece to be received that way.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

It’s probably not the worst gig, but certainly the most unique I played. This was in the late ‘70s, we were approached by a booker who had heard us at a local bar. I was the lead guitar player and singer. The booker wanted us to play in an out of the way bar about 40 miles from our regular haunts. We loaded the van with gear and while driving tried to decide what we’d play for an unknown crowd - all the hits, seemed to be the consensus. When we got to the gig (a ramshackle wooden lodge in remote forestland) we started to load in gear and, to our surprise, the first thing we saw was the floor to ceiling chainlink fence between the band and the audience. Undeterred by the intimidating nature of the stage, we started to play on time, and as we played we heard the din of motorcycle after motorcycle arriving in the outside lot. Within the hour, we realized what the chainlink fence was for - - - it was to keep the beer bottles that were being thrown at us from actually hitting us. That is to say that the glass of the bottles was less of a problem than the beer that completely soaked us. Being professionals, we finished the last set, and quickly packed gear, hoping that we wouldn’t be pummeled by the drunken (and not to be reasoned with) bikers who were just having another night of fun and comraderie. It took several days to clean up the beer soaked gear. It took 3 seconds to decide we’d never talk to that booker again. (Here’s the unique insight: only the ladies were throwing bottles of beer. The fellas just hurled insults. Curious.)

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

Please tell me you played “Rawhide” at least once?

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

@Last Posted — Did any of them approach you at the end, shake you by the hand and tell you what a great night it had been? At the very least, the bar must have made a killing on bottled beer that night.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

We had a gig in January on the other side of the Pennines. A couple of days before there was heavy snow on our side. Two band members, with most of the PA, were snowed in a farmhouse up a mountain in Wales. They were able to walk out carrying instruments, but no PA. Another, with most of the rest of the PA, phoned to say his van had broken down. The wife of another was 9 months pregnant, so there was every possibility he wouldn’t make it, or would have to dash away. I set off with another band member and the remaining bits of PA.

Somehow we all made it to the venue, and were able to hire in the missing PA. There had been no snow there and they didn’t understand why we’d had any difficulties getting there. Our hosts were the local morris side, who insisted on practicing their dance set during our sound check.

The gig itself went fine, although the expectant father kept disppearing to phone home (this was before mobiles). We came out to find thick freezing fog. We made our way home very slowly and cautiously in zero visibility. When we stopped at a motorway services the expectant father found his fanbelt had broken. We left him there trying to fix it, and I got home at 5am after a long and stressful drive.

The entire fee went on travelling expenses and hiring additional PA.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

I can think of of only two occasions I haven’t been paid. One was a local pub who stiffed us, but it was in the early days of the band and we treated it as a live rehearsal. It was annoying, but a lesson learned.

The other was a wedding, where the best man had forgotten to bring the cash. We’d played a little beyond the agreed finish time after starting late (those who play weddings will recognise this) and he was annoyed when we finally stopped and wouldn’t carry on despite his urgings. He was a large rugger-bugger type, a bit drunk and a bit aggressive. Fortunately a couple of the lads in the band are quite big and weren’t intimidated. I just happened still to have a mic boom in my hand I’d not yet packed away, just in case it blew up. Eventually he went round the hotel knocking on guests’ doors and came back with the money, which he hurled to the floor in front of us while bad-mouthing us. We just picked it up and left without comment.

Re: What’s the Worst Gig You’ve Ever Played?

@ airport: Yes, exactly - that was the vibe, and no - Rawhide wasn’t on the list. Our gig was a couple of years before the movie, (maybe a writer was there - who knows. Stranger things have happened).

& creadur: No. No handshakes - that may have needlessly incited a riot. We got paid, and escaped with only a thorough soaking, and a week long stench of stale beer. Yes, it was probably a profitable night at the bar…