Monday, August 27, 2012

Why don't tribute bands have tribute sound engineers?

I virtually never have the time to take a family vacation. The touring musician's  life can be lots of fun but the fun usually has to be woven into the tour schedule. I can't even remember the last time I went on a vacation the was totally unrelated to my job. The good news is my job takes me to some of the most amazing places on Earth. So I'm not complaining. I am simply saying any family vacations involve the family coming along with me to gigs and finding fun stuff to do between.

Well this week is one of those family vacation weeks.

I have three gigs with the Ugli Stick around Boulder, CO at the end of the week. The last time we played these festivals mom and Leon came along and we had a blast. Therefore, once the Ugli Stick booked the festivals again, we started planning our family vacation around the trip.

We packed up and left this morning before dawn. (Side note: It just so happened that our leaving coincided with the mandatory evacuation of both my house and my parent's house in the city's preparation of Hurricane Isaac''s arrival. I truly believe all will be well in our area due to the westerly turn it took earlier. I hope New Orleans fairs well).

Anyway, we road tripped all day. Mom insisted on driving. So Leon and I did Sudoku puzzles, discussed the different crops we passed and generally bugged mom. 

We found some cool places (my favorite was "Jehovah Java" in Lake Providence, LA. Very nice staff and good strong coffee. Even though the entire time I was there I could not stop imagining Bart Simpson repeatedly writing on a chalk board "I will not say 'This coffee is strong enough to wake the dead' at Jehovah Java' . I will not say 'This coffee is strong enough to wake the dead' at Jehovah Java' . I will not say 'This coffee is strong enough to wake the dead' at Jehovah Java' ….)

We saw a lot of fun scenery along the way but our goal destination for Day 1 was Little Rock. I knew mom and Leon had never spent much time there and I thought they would enjoy seeing the Riverwalk Market and the nice park they have along the Arkansas River. We made it to Little Rock in the evening time and the weather and sky looked like something off of a postcard.

We went into a couple cool shops, then we explored all up and down the large river front park. We saw the walking bridge, the playground, the historic plaques, the beautifully manicured foliage lining the walk ways,  I even showed them the actual little rock that the city was named for (Le Petit Roche).  We all three enjoyed our adventure and I was proud to have been able to play tour guide a little bit. 

After all the walking we began getting hungry. We were really close to a Restaurant/Music Venue I had played at multiple times a few years back, so I suggested we eat there. 

The place is called Stickyz (The Rock n Roll Chicken Shack). It has a very very House of Blues type vibe to it. The walls are covered in music themed folk art, the food is spicy but great, and they tend to have good music all week long.
If you make it to Little Rock I highly recommend it. Try the Stickyz Fingers Sammich with Voodoo sauce. Strong.

As I was scarfing down the Fiery Voodoo drenched Chicken, I decided to check out the music calendar. It just so happens that Touch: the Grateful Dead Tribute Band is playing there later tonight. Of course we aren't staying until the band cranks up (all though I am sure they are good if they are playing Stickyz), but the thought of Grateful Dead reminded me of a story from long long ago.


When I was a very young solo artists I played at a couple of places in downtown Mobile, Al. At the time I was in college and I had a good sized "following" which basically just consisted of my friends from school. Well because a local bar owner realized I could account for an extra 20-30 warm bodies in his club he asked if I wanted to be the musical entertainment for his weekly "Drinkin with Lincoln" night. This night would be set up so the patrons would pay $5 at the door then be able to buy $.01 draft beer all night. My college buddies thought this was great. They could listen to me and drink the cheapest beer in town. Well every other drunk person in town knew a good deal when they saw it too so eventually the club was packed. Week after week. Packed. 

(NOTE: I am definitely not too proud to admit or too dumb to understand that I was there for background music. The reason for the party was cheap cheap beer. The good news is the people were very nice and supportive and a lot of my longest friendships and fanships started on those "Drinkin with Lincoln" nights.)

Well the club at which "Drinkin with Lincoln" was going on was named Southside. Well Southside (like Stickyz) was a fairly renowned music venue in the South East. I saw many serious touring acts play there over the years. 
The reason I tell you this is because I want you to understand that the bar was set up around live music. It had a nice stage, great view of the stage from most anywhere in the bar (upstairs or downstairs), and it had a full sound booth. The club had the premier sound guy in town as the house sound guy for the weekly concerts. 

"Drinkin with Lincoln" was not concerts. They were more like back yard, frat house, parties. There was no need for the sound guy on my nights. There would be a DI and a mic already run when I got there. I just had to plug in and play. The board was left covered (so drunken yahoos didn't mess with it).

Well my mother has always been my biggest fan and she has always been my best supporter. She loves to hear me play and she gets to every gig she can get to. Since I was just getting started at that time and not touring much at all, she was at virtually EVERY gig. I loved having mom there (I still do), but I'm always worried about her being in a bar and far away from me on stage (in case a fight breaks out or something like that). 

Well people tended to get more out of hand at "Drinkin with Lincoln" than normal so I was even more concerned for Mom's safety. Great news: Southside has the sound booth. It was perfect. I could get mom a Diet Coke, have her sitting in a comfortable chair behind the sound board, she would have the best view of the stage, I'd be able to easily keep my eye on her and most importantly she would be a safe distance away from the rowdy drunk folks.

I played that gig weekly for months and months and months. Mom sat in her sound booth perch and enjoyed the show every time. 

I never gave that arrangement a second thought...UNTIL...

I was playing a completely unrelated gig and venue. At this gig mom was just sitting at a table. During the middle of my show I notice mom involved in a conversation with some people I had seen at many of the "Drinkin with Lincoln" gigs. I could tell something was not quite right but I obviously couldn't hear what they were saying. I could see mom being polite but confused meanwhile the guy was seeming to get more and more frustrated. He was almost mad. At this point I began to get down from the stage and go see what the problem was but luckily the guy cooled down and he and his girl left.

I gave mom the "Are you ok?" look. She nodded and smiled as if to say, "Boy, I can't wait to tell you about this one".

I played a couple more songs but my curiosity got the better of me. I took an early break and went to interrogate mom.

What had happened was the guy mistakenly thought that mom was running sound for me at every "Drinkin with Lincoln" gig simply because she was sitting behind the soundboard all the time. 

With the idea in his mind that mom is a sound guy, at some point he misheard someone else, or totally fabricated it in a drug or alcohol induced state, that mom had run sound for the Grateful Dead years ago. 

It should be said here that although I'm sure my mom would have been a great sound engineer had she put her mind to that, she has never turned one knob or pushed one fader in her life. She is definitely in no way a sound guy.

This guy had brought his girl up to my mom and introduced her to mom thusly, "This is Eric's mom. She used to run sound for the Grateful Dead. Now she runs his sound."
At which point mom laughed and then explained to the guy and girl he must be mistaken because she has never run sound for anyone. This must have embarrassed the guy. He thought she was being modest or didn't want to toot her own horn. Therefore he got more insistent. Understandably this confused mom further as to what to do next. The guy got more emphatic and more emphatic until mom eventual just gave in and said, "Ok."

The guy took this as some what of a validation and a victory and left with his girl.

Ever since that time, my mom and I get a kick out of every time we see or hear the Grateful Dead. I'll be like, "Hey mom it's your band". Or she'll say, "Hey, Isn't this the band I used to run sound for?" 


Well tonight in Little Rock , I had an epiphany. When tribute bands tour why don't they bring tribute sound engineers also? The band playing Stickyz tonight should have asked my mom.

I mean wouldn't be cool to have someone who never mixed the original band's sound,  mix for the band that is emulating the original band's songs.

I think so.

I asked mom if I could tell the band that she was in the building. I am sure they would be honored to have her guest mix tonight's show. After all she has been mistaken for running sound for the Dead.
I would think a tribute band would love a tribute sound engineer.

But again she was too modest. She said that we needed to get some rest before the drive tomorrow. 

Damn that Juanita. Too humble for her own good.

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