It’s safe to say that every artist who does a decent amount of touring has a few off nights. Not even on a personal “performance” level, but more so concerning the venue, promoters and other people involved in getting the show off the ground.
I’ve had a somewhat charmed touring life. I’ve primarily stuck on tours where i’m not the headliner , thus any serious responsibility (outside of getting on stage when the time comes) fall elsewhere. That said, I have had some serious stinkers in my time. 9 out of 10 times they have been the result of an ill advised “one off”. This is when someone contacts me to come to wherever they live and do one show. These shows tend to pay really well and travel and boarding are always taken care of. In theory, they’re the best. You’re in, you’re out and home before you know it , with a bunch of money in your pocket. However, the world is not perfect and these shows almost never go according to plan. I’d say the most common mistake is when a guy who had too much money and really likes your music decides to book you. Only problem is he doesn’t realize that just inviting his friends is gonna cut it. Promotion is a huge part of organizing shows and you’d be amazed how many times i’ve flown somewhere, for thousands of dollars, to play to a room of 30 people at a place that isn’t even really a venue. More like a basement in a gallery or a dive bar. The thing is, as much as I want a show to be fun, as long as I get paid and have a place to sleep, I can get over a show being a complete failure. It’s part of the job, I suppose.
With all this in mind, I’ve recently entered into the world of performing at festivals. Last year I did a few and this summer I have a few more lined up. The kind of festivals I do tend to on some “electronic/hippie” type shit. Most of them take place in the northwest , tucked away in some barren farmland. The festivals also tend to pay very well and , as shows go, are pretty low pressure. I say this cause most of these events are at least 3 days long and involve people sleeping in tents and wiping with pinecones. By the time I get to these things, most people there are in a three day acid/molly haze and could really give a shit about what I play. That said, they’re usually a good time (an interesting experience , at the least). My only beef is that i don’t do “the wilderness” so I usually ask to be put up in a hotel. This is fine and all but most of these events are pretty far from anything so getting to and from the hotel is a bit of a trek.
Anyway, all that brings me to this. The biggest failure of a show I’ve ever done…and I didn’t even perform (Spoiler Alert!). Allow me to give you the detailed rundown of this debacle. This happened a few weeks ago. I had a show at a music festival in upstate NY. It’s was about 3 hours outside of the city. I had made plans with a friend of mine to rent a car and drive up there. Figured we could make a little field trip out of it. I don’t drive so it was all on her but I was gonna cover the expenses as long as she did the driving. So, the day of the show arrives, and I was slated for a 1AM performance time. This gave my friend and I plenty of time to get up there. She went to go pick up the rental car and the plan was she’s casually come pick me up and we’d roll up there in a leisurely manner (cause, after all, we had tons of time to kill before 1AM). Around 2 PM, I get a call from her. She’s at the car rental spot and they won’t let her rent the car. Apparently, car rental spots do not accept debit cards. Only credit cards. My friend, for some reason, does not own a credit card so we were shit out of luck. So, I told her to not worry and I’d just hop on a bus and go it alone. I figured I still had plenty of time. As I go online looking for bus times , I find out they are not only scarce but very soon. I start to panic a little cause I had told them i’d get myself up there and this was my responsibility. Frantically, I look through all the call numbers I was given (these are phone numbers of the people involved with organizing the show). One by one, I call them all. Some don’t pick up. Some go straight to voicemail. All of them have full voicemails. I get to the last number and , miraculously, someone picks it up.
The man on the other end of the line is a thickly accented russian guy. I ask him if he knows how I can get in touch with the promoter. He tells me, he can’t help cause he’s still in Brooklyn but he’s about to head upstate to the festival. Ding! I sheepishly ask him if there’s any chance of him driving me up there with him. He agrees and tells me to meet him in an hour on Houston st. and the FDR drive. I quickly gather my shit up and jet over there (it’s a pain in the ass to get there and pretty far from any train stop). I arrive there and I wait. I wait for a long time. I can see Traffic is bad on the FDR drive, so i’m not really mad, just impatient. After all, this complete stranger is doing me a huge favor. How mad can I be? An hour and 15 minutes pass and his car finally pulls up. Inside are 4 men. The russian driver. Another russian guy. A french trance music DJ and a South African trance DJ. While this may sound like the beginning of a good joke, it is not. All four of them were stuffed into a small 4-door car, which I then forced myself inside of. It turns out, the russian had been making runs all day and the other DJ’s in the car both had just been picked up from the airport. No one in the car knew each other (or knew of each other) and we all pretty much had nothing in common. So, we’re all sitting there having super awkward conversation , while deeply stuck in traffic. We had a full 3 plus hours of this ride ahead of us and , within 15 minutes, all topics of discussion had been milked. Not to mention, no one bought music to listen to. I mean, I had my IPOD but I wasn’t about to bust that shit out and play old rap for a bunch of trance DJ’s. As far as I was concerned, These dudes were from a different planet than me. I mean, fucking Trance music? Really? I don’t even know what the fuck that is.
Anyway, The never ending ride proceeded and somehow 9/11 came up. French guy made some off color remark. Now, I’m truly the last person to give a shit about a joke. I’m also the last person to be patriotic about anything. I seriously don’t give a shit. But there is something so offensive about a smug frenchman popping shit about 9/11 to a new yorker who was there when it happened. Without being a dick about it, I mentioned that I was downtown for that and I could feel the ground shake from when the buildings fell, even though I was about 25 blocks away. That shut up everyone for a bit and ride remained quiet pretty much the whole rest of the trip.
Finally, we arrive at the festival. It’s about 9:30 at this point. We’re parked on the outskirts of the festival. I get out and look around and it’s pretty much looking like what I expected. A bunch of weird hippies walking around on drugs. Good times. I come across the organizer of the event and he’s super excited to meet me. He’s extremely nice and very accommodating. Turns out he had only first heard of me about 3 months earlier but thought I’d be a great fit for this festival. This was the first warning sign. As we walk deeper into the festival, something feels weird to me. This crowd, while somewhat typical of electro-music fests, seems slightly off (if that’s even possible). I notice the majority of the people around me are speaking in some sort of eastern European tongue. Not an issue at all, but unusual. I listen to the music playing in the distance, and it’s some straight up raver shit. At this point, I turn to the event organizer and ask
“is there anything I should know about this crowd? Like, what are they into?”
“oh, you’ll be fine , man. They’re gonna love you. Just don’t play anything to rappy”
I stopped dead in my tracks.
“what? huge portions or my set have rap in them and I’d say my overall vibe is fairly ‘rappy’, I mean, you know I produce rap music right? ”
He reconsiders his words and tells me
“well, just not raps…nothing with words. This crowd won’t get it and , honestly, they’ll hate any rapping”
My live set consists of various little mash ups and a bunch of them are classic hip hop shit. On top of that, a lot of the appeal of my live set is it’s referential quirkiness. All these things would be lost on a crowd who came to Austria’s own “Dj Klaus Shnitzle” or Prague’s world famous “DJ Wizard Hands” (Note: not real dj’s i’m just saying) However, I accept this and ask him if there’s a room I can go to to re-work my set. basically, I need to fill in all the rap parts with something else. He took me to a random cabin but the door is locked. We ride around in a golf cart searching for whomever may have that key, but to no avail. By now it’s about 10. With all his other options exhausted, he says maybe he will get me a ride to my hotel so I can fix my set there. I agree and hop in a car with two russian dudes who look armenian rap/rockers from the future. Turns out, the hotel is about 45 minutes away. As we pull in, let’s just say the hotel was “quaint”. It was about 10:45 and , for all intents and purposes, it was closed. The organizer had given me the key so I could get into my room but this place was a ghost town. I walk in the room and it’s fine. No different from hundreds of other shit bag hotels I have stayed in. The organizer had told me my cell wouldn’t work in the hotel (AWESOME) so I should call him from the phone in the room when I got there. I tried but i couldn’t even get an out going signal. I even called the operator. Nothing. Fuck it, I had to fix my set so I just forgot about that for the time being and got work. Around 11:30, I had patched up the set best I could. It was extremely half assed but it would have to do. I try and make a call again, but no dice. At this point, I’m worried for a few reasons.
1)The only bus leaving this town tomorrow , leaves at 10:30 am. I have no phone service (It couldn’t even connect enough to get a time reading), no internet, and no alarm clock. assuming I get on stage at 1am , I’d finish at 2 and hopefully be back in the hotel by 3. I had pretty much just accepted I’d have to wake up on my own the next morning , get out of bed, walk into town and find where the bus leaves from. SUPER AWESOME
2)I was worried they would be late to take me back to the festival. The later they were , the later I go on, the later I get back to the hotel, the less chance I miraculously wake up at 9 am to go find this magical bus pick up spot in the middle of fucking nowhere.
3)I had literally no way to contact anyone. I began to think about what would happen if I broke my leg or something. I would just die there like an asshole. Do people in the town of Phonecia (that’s where I was) just die of neglect all the time?
So, I took it upon my self to walk into town and see if my cell worked there. Turns out, Phonecia is a cell phone free town. After realizing this and cursing all that is rural, I get to town and find a working pay phone in the only open place , a bar. I call the organizer and it rings twice then goes straight to voicemail (which is full). I call again. Straight to voicemail. Defeated, I walk back to my hotel. I’m not even sure this guy knows what room I’m in, let alone that his runner will be able to find this little shitty motel I’m staying in.
12AM rolls around. This is when i’m expecting to be picked up. It hadn’t been discussed but , for a 1am performance, it seemed logical. After all, I’m 45 minutes away from the event. No one comes. 1AM. No one comes. I make a deal with myself, If no one comes by 2, i’m getting in bed. 2AM , not a peep. Fuck it. I turn the lights off and watch sportscenter and eventually drift off into uncomfortable, anxious sleep. That is until I hear a knock on my door. I’m half naked in the dark but not exactly rattled. I was almost expecting it. I ask who it is and a voice from behind the door says “It’s a runner from the festival, you ready to go?” I quickly dress myself and let him in. It’s him, some random girl and another artist who i’ve met before who wanted to say hi. The entered my room and we all sat down and discussed what the next move would be. I told the runner that there is no way I can perform at 4AM and get back here at 6:30am if i’m gonna catch that mystery bus (with no alarm clock). He was very understanding and totally sensitive to my predicament. He decided to call the organizer and see what he had to say. I told him go ahead (knowing there was no way he was reaching anyone from that dead zone). obviously, his attempts were futile. It was now around 3:20 and it was clear that me performing there was not gonna happen. The runner was extremely cool about it and assured me he’d pass on the word. honestly, It was the type of thing that had that runner been a different person, shit could have gotten really ugly. But he was a good guy and that made all the difference. Anyway, they all eventually left my room and I fell asleep around 4:30. Around 8:15 , I woke up to piss and realized I would pretty much just have to stay awake. I got dressed and headed into town to find the bus station. Fortunately, it was right there. I got on my bus and got the fuck outta dodge. Part of me was relieved. That show would have been a disaster. I was wrongly booked at an event I had no business being within 200 miles of. Another part of me was nervous that there would be some serious backlash to me not performing but I knew it wasn’t my fault. They had put me up in the the black hole motel and they were the ones who missed my pick up time by 3 hours. On the bright side , I did get paid. Paid to sit nervously in the bates motel and watch baseball highlights. I guess that’s really not as bad as performing for a bunch of angry trance music fans.
If there is one thing I came out of this whole worthless experience thinking it would be this: Fuck quaint.
“Quaint” is a word used to spin something bad into a positive. When someone says “quaint” , they paint a picture of a simpler life. Everything is old fashioned and unaffected by technology and other new fangled nuisances. in reality, “quaint” means “from the 1950’s”. If i never go anywhere quaint again, it’ll be fine with me. Keep your fucking bottled soda machines and old timey water pumps. This is 2010. Motherfuckers have needs and expectations. Phones. Internet. Basic ways to communicate with others. The ability to not die after 10 pm due to no phones or internet. Basic needs really…all needs that “Quaint” just shits all over. So, in reality, It wasn’t my fault or the organizers of the event . I’d say it’s clear that the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Phonecia, The quaintest little shit hole on the planet.