My Worst Gig Ever

I haven’t played drums in a live setting for about 18 years. Even when I did it, I wasn’t committed to it. A few weekends every couple of months, maybe.

There are things about playing live that I loved — but many more things I didn’t. Being the drummer is the worst part of being in a band, mostly because of all the gear you have to truck around with you… multiple trips to the van, or whose-ever hatchback you managed to shove your stuff into (yes, I was the worst.. a drummer with no car!), setting up everything to your liking, trying to discourage druken bros who want to discuss why I don’t play more like Bonham, and then tearing everything down again, shove it in a little car at 2:30am, and attempt to bring everything back into the house quietly so not to wake up anyone, and prevent Sam our Sheltie from happily and loudly barking my arrival.

All of this cannot compare with the worst. gig. ever.

Early 90s, my brother who played bass knew a guy named Ed who had a band called A Bunch Of Squid. Silly name, but Ed was a great songwriter and one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known. I liked his music a lot, so of course I said “yes” when a gig came up and his regular drummer was unavailable. Paid something like $50.

It was to be at this ‘festival’, somewhere just outside Winnipeg, where a number of local bands were supposed to play. I think it was a weekday too, like a Wednesday (first warning sign — who has rock festivals during the week?).

It had been raining most of the week, but it was clearing by Wednesday and we were good to go. I was told a drum-kit would be provided, all I had to do was bring sticks.

So the whole band — me, my brother, and saxophonist Bill Prouten piled into Ed’s car — the littlest car I have ever been in — and drove out to the gig.

A sidenote to give you an idea of what kind of guy Ed was: halfway there, he suddenly stops the car exclaiming “Oh my goodness!” and leaps out. “What?”, we all say as Ed runs out into this wheat field, his arms over his head going “WOOOOOOOOOO!”

He gallops around in the field for about 5 minutes, before running towards the car and leaping full-body onto the roof, which nearly caves in on impact.

He gets back in the driver seat, turns to us and says “sorry guys, I just had to do that.” And we continue driving.

We arrive at our destination, a large field surrounded by tall hedges and a gate with a solitary guy leaning against it. Ed rolls down the window and asks if this is the place. The guy says “yeah, you can park over there, behind the stage area and unload.”

“Great — by the way, what time do the gates open?”

“They are open.”

95% accurate photo by Sarah Altendorf (BY-NC)

Realizing at this point what we’re dealing with, we start thinking we should cut our losses and just go home. But no, Ed thought — he had a contract to play, and if we didn’t play he’d be in violation of it. Not wanting to get him in trouble, we agree to play.

We start to unload the gear on what was a fairly large stage, so perhaps the person who organized this festival had actually intended on it being successful. Large light racks, a huge sound system.. not a rinky-dink production.

While there was a drum-kit as promised, there were no cymbals, and I hadn’t brought any. Normally in this situation I would be embarrassed and annoyed, but since there was NO audience.. it didn’t matter. It almost became funny.

We set up, and begin playing for our audience: the sound guy. We were all jovial about this horrible gig, laughing and just entertaining ourselves at the Spinal Tap nature of it… until the stage lights were turned on.

Since it had been previously raining non-stop for days, and since we were in a field in Winnipeg — thousands of mosquitoes had been lying dormant in miniature marshes at both ends of the stage. And when the lights were turned on, they suddenly stirred.. attracted to the heat, and to us.

The rest of the band did their best to avoid the pests by running around the stage, trying not to stand in one place long enough before getting swarmed. I did my best at swatting at them with my sticks, while held hostage behind the kit.

Another band that was supposed to play after us arrived, took one look at what was going on and didn’t even unpack, but not before running up to the front of the stage to mock us, jumping up and down squealing “BUNCH OF SQUID! BUNCH OF SQUID! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”. Then they were attacked by mosquitoes and booted it back to their van.

I can’t remember how long we endured this before Ed had to stop playing guitar to slap his arms for the umpteenth time and said “we’re done”. We packed up and left.

To add insult to many mosquito bites, Ed never got paid for the gig. The festival had been a disaster from the start — we were the first band to actually show up to play on the third day of the festival — so naturally, nobody got paid. Ed offered to pay us out of his own pocket, to which we all refused. I did get this story out of it, which in retrospect is a pretty good trade, but I could’ve done without the mosquitoes.