Author: Campbell, Bruce

Murphy Was Right

Note: I'm trying feverishly (pun intended) to get over a nasty cold before this weekend, so I am running this re-run of a column I did back in 2005.

Anybody that spends any length of time performing music knows how many things can go wrong. The Gods must be laughing all the time, as they lounge around on clouds and watch us rehearse, and make set lists, thinking we’re prepared.

Just getting to gigs can be an adventure. Back in the 70’s, every rock band had a band van, so at least you could keep all the members all together, so if the van broke down (which it always did) you could send one guy for help while the others tried to fix it.

Many gigs, every band member is coming directly from a day job and that quadruples or quintuples the chance of broken down cars or somebody being hopelessly lost. Ever heard this “Oh, we’re playing at the [fill-in-the-blank] café? Yeah I know where that is.”, followed by (usually on a cell phone 10 minutes after the show is due to start) “Oh, I was thinking the place in Marin, not San Francisco!”

When I got into Bluegrass, I sighed in relief, because the days of hauling amps around and dealing with bad or missing cords was gone forever. How naďve could I be?Now most gigs we have to bring the PA, and that stuff is NOT light! And there’s a plethora of cords to go be forgotten, disappear, not fit, make horrible noises or quit working.

At a recent gig at McGrath’s, I simply forgot the most important piece of the PA – the mixer/amp! I loaded the speakers, the speaker stands, the mics, and the cords with utmost precision, breathed a sigh of relief and drove off without the head! (The PA head, not mine – mine is still attached, thank God). Luckily, McGrath’s has an in-house PA (thank you, Peter!), but I sure felt stupid!

Every try to play a guitar when you’ve forgotten a strap? Or a banjo, which weighs about the same as a gas range? Or something as little as a capo, which can really throw a wrench in the old set list! Ever shown up at a gig and realized you didn’t bring the bow for your fiddle? Ever show up with an empty instrument case? Perhaps you’ve played a whole gig with a freshly broken nose (I have!). Or maybe your bass player gets stung on the hand by a bee on the second song of your set.

Next time you watch a bluegrass band, take a second to marvel at all the things that had to go right to make the show happen. Of course, the musicians have to know the songs, but there’s a whole world of Murphyisms lurking that must be avoided for every show. The good news is, once you’ve played a few hundred shows, you learn to deal with the kooky things that go wrong. And maybe you learn to prevent a few of them!

Posted:  1/4/2012

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