Gigs–‘You’ve got to be kidding me . . .’   1 comment

By Robert Wagner, a singer-songwriter from Pittsburgh, PA:

My soul being intact and wisdom occasionally asking permission to enter, I can report that most of my negative experiences with gigs have arisen from my own ego and vanity, the belief that I deserved better, that this performance was to be a stepping stone to something involving money and recognition. Thus blinded, I was unprepared for realities that I did not want to face.

The first soul-sucking gig of my so-called career took place at a house party.

An important scene-maker agreed to host a performance by a touring underground band on the threshold of mainstream success. The band would be passing through the area, and because fans in the area were largely responsible for helping this band establish its stellar reputation, the band wanted to do an intimate show as a gesture of gratitude.

The scene-maker asked my band to be the opener. All the “cool” people would be there. We would be seen and heard by taste-makers who would recognize our brilliance, talk about us for days and weeks to come, and the word-of-mouth would lead to more and better gigs, up to and including rock stardom.

In the words of John Fogerty, “There were many things I didn’t know.”

We played about as well as we could have and were quite elated afterwards. We were enthusiastically accepted, applauded and patted on the back. After our set, we sought and received affirmation, and at least one person confided that she heard a conversation in which people agreed that ours was the best band in the city.

My bandmates and I experienced joy. It was a high previously unknown to us.

A week or so later, I ran into one of the scene-makers who’d been so unfortunate as to have missed our performance. He smiled broadly as he greeted me on a busy sidewalk outside a cafe in the university community, evidence that word of our greatness had reached him.

Sorry to hear about your show.”


Yeah, everybody was saying you really bombed. That’s too bad. I don’t care what anybody says. I LIKE you guys.”

I was so traumatized that my memory of the conversation is surely faulty, but I recall probing and being informed that some of those who had congratulated us the night of the show were among those now declaring that my band sucked. I probably succeeded in appearing to shrug it off, but I recall having to concentrate simply to take another breath.

To this day, I relive that moment. Had I been deceived or had I deceived myself?

Likewise, I replay the performance in my memory–the faces of the audience, their response to the songs, the visible signs of pleasure. What had I missed? How could I have been so wrong? I heard what I heard. I saw what I saw. I remember the enthusiasm. I was NOT wrong. My band kicked ass that night.

I continue to write, record and perform music as does at least one member of the headlining act and a handful of the folks in the audience that night. None of us became stars. I occasionally crave a broader platform for my songs, a wider audience, a financial windfall, but I’ve learned to focus on the moment: HAVE A GOOD TIME RIGHT NOW.

To the extent that each of us stars in the movie in his own mind, the pivotal moment in my imagined drama required the participation of individuals who hadn’t been informed that I was in charge. I now understand that I was the bit-player in somebody else’s production. The director (God, maybe?) didn’t want me to spoil the performance with self-consciousness. If my performance is edited out of the picture, I’ll know I gave it my all.


Posted February 20, 2012 by bluesdawg

One response to “Gigs–‘You’ve got to be kidding me . . .’

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  1. I was Filk Guest of Honor at a convention in Chicago a bunch of years ago. One night at an open filk (think ‘jam session for geeks and nerds’), I found myself backing up another pro who was doing a very good job on the old standard, ‘Shenandoah.’ The room was packed, but absolutely still and Howie gave me space for a lead as well as a lot of riffs. I thought I was nothing less than brilliant and, judging from the response we got when we finished, I’d say everyone in the room agreed with me.

    Several years later I saw video of that song. Howie was every bit as good as I remembered. I sucked. My riffs were so bad, I could’ve been playing a totally different song. My lead was even worse.


    In that particular ‘movie in (my) mind,’ I should’ve been cast as an extra and then gone to lunch when film started rolling. I sure hope someone burned that tape.

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