Saturday, June 19, 2004

Wallpaper Hangin'

(For the benefit of the four people outside my circle of friends who read this blog regularly, I try to make this site a little bit more than just a personal journal. Every once in a while, I'll rant--or rave--on certain issues of the day, and sometimes, I'll do a post that gives the non-musician reader a little insight on what it's like to be a working musician. This is one of those posts...)

I played a "wallpaper" gig last night. For the uninitiated, that means a performance that really isn't intended to be listened to per se, but instead serves as the unobtrusive soundtrack for some other event, such as a party, banquet, wedding reception, etc. This one had a Latin theme, so we were instructed to play as many bossas as possible (no problem). It was scheduled to go from 7:30-11 p.m. (that means three sets, with breaks--about right). We were told to wear slacks and ties, and that we would be playing in the backyard by the pool (wait a minute--those two things don't go very well together). Last week's pig roast gig was hot enough; this had the potential to be much, much worse.

The thing that's always interesting about doing a "society" gig like this is that you have no idea how you'll be treated by everyone. In some cases, you're actually part of the party (like the pig roast, where we have a friendly relationship with the "pig team" and have the run of the whole food line; they even make sure to save dessert for us). Sometimes, you're treated cordially enough, but you don't get invited to eat and pretty much stay out of the way of the party (I refer to this as being a "prop"). On rare occasion, you're treated with downright hostility, such as at the wedding reception I once played where the band was explicitly instructed not to talk to the guests (my guess is that the bride here was a younger daughter, and someone must have been hit on by a bandmember at the older daughter's wedding). We also had to take our breaks in the service hallways in the bowels of the building during that gig. Miles came up with the best phrase to describe the musicians in that situation: "human debris."

I had the longest drive of anyone in the band (a small one: guitar, bass, drums and me on tenor), so I was the last one to get there at setup time. We were playing at a model home in a brand-new neighborhood, so there was plenty of street parking that wasn't in front of anyone's house. Miles was afraid that this would be a human-debris gig, because, on his way through the front of the house with his rather large amp, a lady just looked at him and motioned him away, saying, "Back! Back!" (meaning we were supposed to go directly around back and not through the main part of the house; every musician has stories about playing hotels and what-not and having to enter through the kitchen). However, I was greeted by a much nicer lady who even offered to carry some of my stuff (an offer which I, being a true gentleman--and having only a tenor, a Real Book and a Manhasset stand to carry--of course gracefully declined); she showed me a more direct way to the backyard.

Despite the hot temperature of the day, the gig actually turned out fine, save for the fact that we were set up in the grass and the drumset kept sinking. The house in question cost $1.2 million, and a house of that price (and size) provides a remarkable amount of shade to an east-side backyard, so we were never in direct sunlight. We were wondering how we were going to see after it got dark, but the floodlights on the corner of the house did the trick. We also wondered about playing after 10 p.m. (imagining that we might be running afoul of the local noise ordinance), but it turns out that the residents of the few occupied houses on the block were given free tickets to the party.

The one experience during setup notwithstanding, the ladies running the event were all extremely nice to us; one of them even was surprised that we were not requesting "anything harder" to drink than the water she brought us. Besides the general no-drinking-on-gigs ethic that many players adopt at functions like this, the fact was, we hadn't been invited to eat, and I wasn't forward enough to mention that none of us wanted to drink on an empty stomach. (It's always best when the parameters for this are specified in advance--do we get to eat or not?--because otherwise, it's just awkward, and we end up staring longingly at the food spread during our breaks.)

So we were pretty much "props" all night, though one guy did come up and ask us a bunch of questions, like how much it would cost to book a group like this and so on. He seemed amazed when we told him that the four of us had never played together as a group before tonight (though each of us had played with at least one of the others before, and I had played with all three of them), and even more amazed to find out that he could hire anything from a trio all the way up to a full big band. He didn't have any specific function in mind, but I gave him a business card for good measure.

And no, despite all evidence to the contrary, this wasn't a "people roast" after all. The weather may have said it was 80 degrees when I got in my car, but, between the shade of the massive house, the water and electric fans they gave us, and the nice breeze that blew in all night, I didn't even so much as roll my sleeves up. We even got to stop half an hour early. God was smiling on us last night.

Oh yeah, and you'd be surprised how many standard swing tunes can be successfully turned into bossas. Since nobody was really listening to us, we pretty much played for us, and we had a good time doing so.

I also found out yesterday that I have a really cool gig in late July; I'll keep it under wraps for now and post about it when it gets closer.

I got my baby back, baby back, baby back: Kevmobile 1.2 is back. I got her from the shop at lunchtime today, right smack in the middle of the time estimate I had been given the other day. With her freshly-painted coat shining in the noonday sun, she looked even newer than when I bought her in October of '02. It really wasn't all that weird to drive a stick after a week and a half, and I loved going through the TollTag-only lane on the George Bush again. I hope I can find someone with a digital camera to take a picture before the next rain.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: (overheard while waiting to return my rental car at the service place)
LITTLE KID (playing with a toy car in the waiting area): Vrrroom, vrrroom.
CUSTOMER LADY: Are you driving?
LITTLE KID: Mmm hmm.
CUSTOMER LADY: Well, I'm glad you're getting started at an early age. My daughter drove my car into my house; that's why I'm here.


G. Travis said...

I got your digital camera issues covered.. that is, if we go bowling tomorrow evening.

Zack said...

If we're still doing chipotle tonight, I can bring my digi-cam