Pardon me, is that a beaded bra or are you just here to surprise me?

I stood there in the middle of a cavernous college student center with my acoustic guitar, singing songs for GLBT pride week. Some students were scurrying off to classes while three or four lingered around the pride week information tables. No one was listening to me until I got to my song “Menstrual Tango.” A few people turned around … “Did she just say ‘menstrual’?” Then a couple of very tall drag queens slowly danced across the floor, dipping and swaying in an exaggerated tango. At last, someone was paying attention. After the song, everyone returned to whatever they were doing as if some cop had swept in and thundered, “Move along now, there’s nothing to see here.”

In over 25 years of touring I’ve had my share of weird gigs. I’m not the only one. My friend Julie Nicolay, a horn player, performed for a Junior Miss pageant in 1977 when she was a college student. She arrived early to practice and went to the green room located in a musty basement. She was horrified to find that it was packed with overly made-up little girls sporting big hair and surrounded by their hovering mamas. Someone asked what she had in the case. When they found out one of the mothers came over, thrust a twenty dollar bill in her face and demanded, “Play ‘Happy Birthday’ for my little girl.”  Encouraged by the twenty – it would buy a lot of peanut butter for this college student – or maybe just overcome by the hairspray fumes, she dutifully played the tune.

Cellist Margaret Kelly did a gig with an orchestra playing for kids. The first two rows decided they’d see how many rubber bands they could shoot into the f-hole of her cello. Rock bands complain about sleazy clubs where they play behind chicken wire. They’ve never faced an audience of ten year olds.

Folk singer Trish Williams remembered a performance with others in the 70’s where a brick was heaved through an open window. Fortunately, they were in the middle of singing a song called “Working Woman” for which they’d donned hard hats.

That reminds me of a gig I did in Portland in the early nineties. An anti-gay law was up for vote so there’d been the threat of violence around town. The gig was at an MCC (Metropolitan Community Church), a church known for acceptance of GLBT folks. During my show we heard a big crash from outside. I saw eyes fly open and a few turned heads but I just kept playing. I figured if I was going to go out I might as well do it singing “Menstrual Tango.” Fortunately, nothing else happened but it was real hard to get that audience to laugh.

I was feeling pretty confident at a gig-in-the-round in Nashville because I’d just performed “I Wanna Be a Straight Guy” and they liked it – maybe they didn’t hear the line where I come out – so for my last number I launched into a  snarky song about our esteemed president (at the time) Mr. George W. The boos started behind me about halfway through the song and grew until it got a little scary. This was the South, after all, and some of those people owned guns. Fortunately, I could see little pockets of support all around the room so I continued on. Afterward, the performer next to me grinned and said under her breath, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t open with that song?”

My friend Paula talked about the time her thrash band played a graduation party. When one of the female partiers winked at a large dude with a mohawk, all hell broke loose – apparently her drunken redneck boyfriend did not appreciate that she’d batted her eyes at another guy, especially an African American. The resulting melee drew the cops. Paula had to throw her drums over a fence to get away.

Another musician, Shannon, told me about a gig opening for The Butchies and Gretchen Phillips that happened not long after 9/11. The cops shut down the show and closed off nearby streets because protesters outside had left noise shakers filled with rocks and pebbles that looked like white powder. Shannon had to lug her gear blocks away to her car.

It’s not just musicians who have strange gigs. Bellydancers are sometimes asked to do weird stuff  because people don’t understand what they do. Maybe they should hand out cards that say “1. No, I don’t strip, 2. Yes, what I do is work and you should pay me.” A friend of mine, Amara, was once asked to surprise a doctor. She hid in a room, covered by a blanket, pretending to be a patient.  I can only imagine the look of surprise when said patient jumped off the table, uncovered a beaded bra and skirt and began to dance. Another time, at a jewelry store, she pretended to be a customer looking at engagement rings. When the guy beside her asked what she liked – meaning the rings, of course – she responded with “I like to dance.” She then removed her cover-up, revealing a costume – I guess bellydancers do take off some clothing — and shimmied around the room. I hope she had a sure-fire way to identify the guy she was supposed to surprise.

Here’s a video of Amara doing a normal gig. I guess she didn’t tape the one done in the doctor’s office.

Performers, tell us about your weirdest gig. Bonus points if it includes the cops, a beaded bra or hard hats.

************

Amara is also a wonderful photographer. She took the photo of me at the top of this post. Check out her work here.

Thanks to my Facebook friends who contributed to this blog – Julie Nicolay, Margaret Kelly, Trish Williams, Paula, Shannon and Amara.

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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
This entry was posted in Folk music, Stories from the road, Women's Music and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Pardon me, is that a beaded bra or are you just here to surprise me?

  1. Tiik says:

    My weirdest gig was in Paris in the Latin Quarter back in the day. I was singing “Piece of My Heart” by the gr8 Janis Joplin when suddenly the crowd rushed me excitedly shoving small pieces of paper in my face and screaming french words I did not understand. My bi-lingual pal, Patty broke through the crowd and body blocked them for me and shoved me off against a wall. She exclaimed, “They think you’re Janis Joplin and they don’t believe me when I say you’re not, so you’re going to have to sign autographs or we’ll never get out of here.” She was right, so I did and it took another 45 min. to calm them down. Patty told me to say “paix mes amis”. Then a handsome elderly french gentleman came over and announced something in french to them and they let us 3 leave together. He took us to dinner and explained what he had done. He announced to the crowd, “Thank you for your love. Ms Joplin has a busy schedule and needs to leave now. Please let us through.” All in all it turned out fun and exciting. I was mistaken for Janis many times back then. Even in the 90’s a friend came to my apt., saw a poster on my wall of Janis sitting next to Grace and said, “Oh…that’s an awesome pic of you with Grace Slick!”

  2. Robin Renee says:

    There was a club in New Brunswick, NJ in the 80’s called Patrix. My old band Chapter 12 showed up for our gig there and apparently before the club opened that night someone had let their dog run around the place and there was dog crap on the stairs and on stage. No one there currently was willing to clean it up – the best anyone could do was throw a piece of newspaper over it. So yeah… we had to get ready to play and my keyboard setup was pretty much right on top of news-covered poop. In retrospect, why we agreed to even set up before that little problem was taken care of I have no idea, but I distinctly remember thinking, “This must be what they call ‘paying your dues.'”

  3. Robin Renee says:

    Then there was the time I sang Hindu chants at a clothing-optional BDSM festival in the woods of Indiana… but that is a surreal tale for another day!

  4. steph pappas says:

    I was weirded out when i noticed from the stage that no one had cut into my famous well liked home made chocolate b day cake i made fer a friend. So i hadda wonder, maybe it’s not so good after all. From the stage i asked why no one was eating the cake.
    The responce was nervous laughter w/ some hesitance to tell me it was because people thought the cake was laced w/ mushrooms or acid. Naturally i inquired furher why they would think this.
    Apparently it took one person to spread the false rumor which caused this concern, albeit the cake did look as mysterious, as was the The Steph Pappas Experience music and the room lighting. If ya were to read my bio on line at http://www.stephpappas.com and wonder why it talks about late night secret venues, thats why.

  5. Kurt Fortmeyer says:

    I was at the Bluebird show. Nashville has never been the same.

  6. mefoley says:

    Alas, no truly weird gigs. Drunken architects at a convention once, that was about it. Unless you want to talk about singing for weddings. Weddings are seriously weird at the best of times, with all that pressure for everything to be perfect. The worst were the ones where I was supposed to play while the groom sang something like “Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady” to the bride as she came in. Oh, the flashbacks! PTSD, I’m tellin’ you.

  7. Marcia G. says:

    I think one of the worst gigs was when we traveled a good distance away with all of our sound equipment, full set of drums, guitar, etc. We anticipated a great crowd. We were told that the women in that area really like to come out and support “new talent” they aren’t familiar with. It was a large bar and restaurant with a dance floor. They brought in extra staff to handle the expected crowd. Unbeknownst to us, there had been a music festival in the area that weekend. It was not a festival we were familiar with. Long story short, no one and I mean NO ONE showed up! It was a Saturday night with great weather! After waiting to start playing, we wound up having a music rehearsal on the stage, playing for the staff (until most of them were told to go home!) Finally, when we were mostly packed up (around 11PM), one patron showed up. She was told that they were going to close early so she left. We were “promised” a good amount of money but had no contract. We were not paid that night but had gas, hotel and food expenses. Such is the life of a musician! And no, I’m not going to name the city or the venue. I don’t think they are in business anymore anyway!!

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