Equipment failures. Obnoxious fans. Undependable club owners. Broken-down vans.
The rock 'n' roll lifestyle may look glamorous, but for most local bands, being successful as a live act means fending off potential disasters in front of a crowd.
Experienced Madison musicians have been put on the spot on stage more than once. They've learned the art of thinking on their feet (and on their stage pedals) to survive haywire engagements with common sense and a little luck.
I asked five local players to share stories of how they managed a gig gone wrong. The circumstances and results were different. Sometimes a set was saved. Sometimes a bad scene was simply endured gracefully.
But these stories all prove that Madison musicians are resourceful, and have a knack for staring down challenges with good humor.
Just Keep Playing
DJ Pain 1: The Fall Guys
We were performing to a moderately sized crowd.There was a member of the audience who was clearly drunk and displaying aggressive behaviors.
He began to heckle us. MC Starr, against his better judgment, made a punching gesture at the guy to accompany a line in one of his songs about a "punchline."
The drunk guy went crazy and starting spitting onto the stage. He was immediately escorted out. It all happened in a split second.
Starr forgot the lyrics and began to make them up on the spot. I was distracted but let the music play and kept a straight face. Within 30 seconds, there were no signs that a disturbance had occurred.
Had we reacted differently, we would have created a worse situation. If there's one thing I've learned from performing, it's that whenever the music at an event stops unexpectedly, the door is open for chaos.
Stop Playing and Live
Jay Moran: Know It All Boyfriends, Mad Cabaret, Emmettville
In the late '90s there was an event held in Elver Park called West Fest. It was a rainy day, but we were in the beer tent. That was a relief. It meant we would get paid and there was beer.
A storm blew in with winds so strong we thought the tent would fly away. It was filled with hundreds of people seeking shelter.
The rain pounded down as we kept playing. The rain had to go somewhere. Soon the stage and gear were getting wetter. Water flew into the air, striking the drums and congas. Then we noticed the electric panel that was powering our equipment. It was lying on the ground in a puddle. It was a play-and-die or stop-and-live moment. We chose life (and beer of course).
Get Through It
Lisa Marine: Noahjohn, Charlemagne, Mae Rae, Quickies, Pointy Birds
I've played many a haywire gig in many bands. But the craziest of all happened with my first band, the Quickies.
We were invited to play a scooter festival in Wisconsin Dells. We arrived at the venue, which turned out to be a bowling alley run by a grumpy woman. We couldn't find the promoter for hours.
When we finally found him and asked when the PA would be there, he said, "PA?" He had no idea how to set up a show or even that sound equipment was necessary.
Somehow, the bands cobbled together something approximating a PA. During this time, our singer kept begging us to get our stuff and leave. I calmed myself by bowling.
Finally, the bands played. The sound was shit, but we got through it. Afterward, we found the guy who was supposed to pay us. He was extremely drunk and couldn't find the money. Somehow, we got paid in British pounds. We never saw a single scooter all night. And we never played the Dells again.
Distract the Audience
Justin Bricco: Blueheels
At Summerfest two years ago we opened for Jakob Dylan. Our bass [mix in the monitors] was completely lost by the fifth song and didn't return for several songs. The live recording we were doing was useless.
Then a dude dressed as a devil came on stage and started dancing around for most of the set. His penis periodically peeked out of his pajamas at the crowd.
So I guess the important lesson to take from this situation is as follows: When your monitor mix turns to shit, hope and pray for an exhibitionist devil to distract the audience.
Drive Straight Through Mike Huberty: Sunspot
We've had more than our share of gigs that haven't been perfect, but our first trip outside of Wisconsin ranks as one of the most difficult shows we've had.
It was a gig in Baltimore. Driving on the Interstate in Ohio, we popped a tire. Because of the size of the tire and the time of the night, it took seven hours for us to get it replaced in gorgeous Holiday City, Ohio.
We ended up driving straight through until the morning. When we got to the bar, they let us load in early and crash on the couches.
Later that night, we met the booking agent who sent us the contract. We discovered that they didn't have a PA system. He thought we were a local Baltimore band, so we would be the only performers that evening. It was up to us to play all night.
There was nothing ideal about any of it, but what helped was the excitement of playing somewhere a thousand miles away for the first time. The sound was awful. We were so tired we couldn't think. The lights were so bright that we couldn't see a single person offstage.
But we played the absolute hardest we could, like we were rocking a sold-out stadium. In the end, the new people we performed for that night come to our shows every time we return to the East Coast.