What's Your Worst Gig Ever?

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The Worst Gig recently celebrated its first birthday.

That entertaining site (www.worstgig.com) has compiled performance horror stories from acts like Def Leppard, Gillian Welch, The Sex Pistols, Owl City, Fishbone, Pat Metheny, Ted Nugent, X, Tori Amos, Flogging Molly, Wynton Marsalis, Henry Rollins, Fitz & the Tantrums, and many more.

While these tales from the stars are certainly dramatic, I imagine that the absurdity, folly, spilt blood, hurt feelings, and hard times are even more pronounced down here in the DIY world of independent music-making.

So, tell us your stories: What was your worst gig ever? How did it go? How did it end? How long did it take you to heal?

-Chris R. at CD Baby

Sell CDs in over 2000 record stores!

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  • One night I played in a band that played at 7th st. entry in Minneapolis – Superchunk was playing in the main room, but they got done so most of their crowd was in my room – I was using a slightly unfamiliar effects unit and I thought it's tuner left a little to be desired but we got up and played well for the start

    around song 2 or 3 I broke a string – I think I had a crappy acoustic standby but I handed the guitar to a fellow musician, and got it back shortly thereafter and it was like 4 strings had gone out of tune – (this being a Gibson Les Paul with no tremolo, it wasn't due to losing the tension of one string) – but I didn't find out till I struck the chord of the song as the band came in

    it was like he detuned 5 strings to make one work – and he states he told me to check them all – but anyways, I couldn't get things in tune right with that bad effect unit, and in a packed dark room, the rest of the gig melted fast – as I kept trying to tweak the tuning, and the songs just sucking – I remember this as being worse than the gig we played in a HS gym in in WI with mega reverb, because we had such a good crowd there to impress and we totally totally blew it –

    a guy known in the scene as Hardcore Dave was there – I saw him afterwards and he said "some people just shouldn't play guitar" – I guess that was a nice way of telling me I sucked

    ah well – never played 7th st again

    RB

    • Sounds like a strange Jandek alternate tuning!

  • The Luke Schwab1

    Worst gig i've done so far was at this little hole in the wall pub. A friend of mine had booked a show there and asked me to perform so I did. A gig is a gig right? I'd never been to this place so didnt know what to expect. Well when we got there I almost left immediately, it was all of maybe 15 feet wide, there was no stage, and the Dj equipment was set up on a lone pool table that had been pushed up against the front window next to the front door and was apparently where we were to perform. All of my friends who had come along for support were in awe as was I. I found the promoter and asked, "so am I to stand on this pool table and perform or is this like the pre-party?" He laughed and said "no just stand in front of the pool table over by the front door, but we havent put together any set times yet so i'll just call you when its your turn." So the drinkers that we are, my friends and I started puttin back some beverages. I tried to drink away the fact that this was actually the reality of this show I had been telling all my friends to drive all the way out here for. Yet at the same time im thinking to myself, "I know every musician must pay their dues so suck it up and get on with it. We went on to perform to a near lifeless "Pub" crowd, and I ended up gettin so drunk that I forgot the words to the last verse of my last song and basically just walked out of the venue never to return. Since that night every show has seemed like a cakewalk.

  • That sounds worse than it sounds!

  • Ha. Well, at least it ended funny!

  • Charlie Ray

    Hands-down, our worst gig ever was at a small showcase outside a major sporting event in San Diego. A stage was set up and all the chosen acts got 20 minutes each to get as much attention as possible from the passing crowd and to sell some CDs. It was just my partner and me — my acoustic guitar and our two voices — so to boost our sound I brought backing tracks from our latest album with the vocals and guitar mixed out. The idea was to play live with the tracks and have that “band” sound with just the two of us.

    It went fine for about the first 35 seconds — that’s when the CD player skipped. Suddenly we were out of sync with the disc. There were no vocals on the track so it took a few seconds to figure out where we were in the song. We caught up and began singing again . . . and it skipped. Again. And again. And again. To simplify our performance, all five of our songs were back to back as one long track on the CD, and whatever technical glitch was causing it, it skipped a few times during EVERY song.

    During the entire horrible “performance” there was a guy with a video camera aimed at us shouting “Go on, DO something” while we stood there with that deer-in-the-headlights look trying to figure out where we were in each song. Absolutely the longest 20 minutes of my entire life!

    Charlie Ray & Linda Washington
    http://www.charlie-raymusic.com

  • Phat Cat Swinger

    We call it the “Mariachi Gong Show.”

    It all happened on a December in 2010. We got a last minute call to play a Holiday Party for this big company out in LA. The lady who called us saw our website and loved it and what we did. She thought her employees would as well. The company employs many, and we do mean many, Hispanics. I am Mexican/El Salvadorean myself, born in Los Angeles… My fellow Hispanics in the band and I felt we had a good feel for what they’d like to hear… We played and they listened… They Liked… They applauded… but they never moved from their tables. Finally a guy who had hit the spiked party juice came up and started dancing when we played a couple Rock & Roll cover songs from the 50’s. It triggered some couples to come out and dance! This is it, we found what makes them move!

    Well, the lady who hired us came and said… Do you guys know any Cumbias or more spanish style songs? I said… I’m sorry. We don’t. You hired a swing band. We specialize in music from the 40’s-60’s and our own original stuff as you saw on the website. She said… It’s okay. You guys are fantastic! They love it… But, they just don’t know what to do with themselves! We played a slower song and then brought out another song when all of a sudden from the back of a room comes the sound of Brass! Guitars! Violins 4-5 men holding out a long note and a Guitaron! It was a Mariachi band and we had just been “GONG’d.” We looked at each other in disbelief as we were right in the middle of a cover that had kept the couples on the floor to dance and we laughed… Did this just happen?!

    “Hello, we are a swing band and we just got the GONG by a mariachi band!”

    It’s something we laugh about quite often and it reminds us that sometimes, you just can’t please everyone! While it was what we consider to be our worst gig, we still walked out laughing, nicely fed and well paid for the night.

    The end 🙂

    http://www.phatcatswinger.com

  • James

    Port Colburn, Ontario. The agent booked our folk duo in a rock room. It was the time of the Nixon White House. The waitress brought me up a song request written on a napkin. It read “play suck me off in the graveyard.” The guitarist picked up a local young lady. Upon coming out to our car full of equipment, some burly pissed off Canadian guy with broken teeth was jumping on the windshield of the car, trying to break into it. Pissed. I, terrified, ran the other direction. The guitarist rushed to the car to take this guy on and save our gear. At that exact moment, down the main drag comes a cop car with his lights flashing. We got a police escort out of town.

  • Jake

    In junior high I played in a Hendrix cover band in Upper Michigan. There was no end of crap gigs, but these moments stand out:

    – I used to hang my mouth open while I played, which wasn’t cool. But, the guitarist figured, I’d look cool and keep my mouth closed if I had a cigarette. I was fourteen and couldn’t buy regular smokes, so I bought some ginseng cigarettes from the weird kind-of-Chinese health food store in the sad-ass “Mall.” The bartender thought I was smoking pot so she kicked me off the stage and right out of the bar. The rest of the underage band finished the night without a bassist.

    – our guitar teacher got us a “gig” at the Business Womens’ Luncheon Meeting. A bunch of other 7th graders were also getting out of geometry class to do this show. The fact that the other students were involved with Suzuki Violin or Gymnastics should have tipped me off. We heard polite applause and turned our amps all the way up as the magnetic plastic simulated wood grain partition slid jerkily open, revealing a group of distinguished women who didn’t seem interested in hearing “Voodo Chile,” our signature tune. We got dead stares for about fifteen seconds before they slid the partition closed again, the teacher reminding us “Smile! Smile!!!” the whole time.

    Last year – over twenty years later – I spent about five hours over the course of a month doing promotion for a show at a new venue, about another six hours rehearsing, and four hours performing in two bands. After those fifteen hours and having to pay the sound and door people $40 and $70 respectively, I walked home with $10. The bartenders were thrilled – we’d pulled a lot of people in, and they’d drank well. Unfortunately, the “40-60” people the bar touted as their standard draw turned out to be about six.The saddest thing about that is that this isn’t a horror story, it’s standard.

  • I think mostly all dance music is bullshit. It’s all fucking done on stupid computers. No talent.

    • MDC

      So… that was your worst gig ever?

      (“It’s all done on computers” = “I don’t understand how music is made with computers”.)

  • Jon Niccum

    Thanks for the shoutout to my site, The Worst Gig. And feel free to submit these same reader stories to submissions@worstgig.com, and I’ll post them on the site.

  • You know it's a bad gig when you need a police escort!

  • That Business Womens' Luncheon gig sounds familiar!

  • Oh, cool. Good to know. Thanks for the entertainment.

  • I played in Nanaimo once! It went a little better than that. But not much.

  • Joshua

    Worst gig ever: Our drummer booked us to play at Clemson University, about 4.5 hours drive from where we were located. Not only did he miss the fact that our guarantee was not, in fact, a guarantee, but i also tore a muscle in my back loading gear, causing me to have to play the show on a stool (I couldn't stand) while suffering intensely painful muscle spasms. Plus I had to drive the 4.5 hours home, all for no pay!

    Oh, and did i mention that the bar MADE US PAY FOR OUR OWN BEER?

  • Highbohemia

    Singing at an outdoor folk festival in Canada, we were doing workshop on unaccompanied Irish songs.. About 100 feet away, in another tent,booked at the same time- a bagpipe workshop.

  • I have several great ones but I will start with this one:

    I am a trumpet player and was hired to play a church service at a church I had never been to before. So I got there to the church about an hour before the service as I was asked to, and met with the Music Director and the other 2 trumpet players, whom I knew from around town. The MD asked if we knew "The Old Rugged Cross" and I said that I did but the other 2 guys weren't sure they could do it with no music and playing harmony parts. SO the MD said " well… let's have Johnny (me) play the first part and you guys can fill in the best you can."
    What we were supposed to do was play this tune super slow… like a dirge, while walking down the aisles of the church from the back towards the front. we did it a couple of times as a rehearsal and then it was time for the service.
    What the MD neglected to mention was that the church was going to be pitch black during this tune. Well… I was in the middle aisle, walking, kind of, trying so hard to see. It was just crazy how black it was with the lights off. I am walking and playing and run right over the top of this little old lady that was in the middle of the aisle in a wheel chair. We both fall over, of course, and I make this awful "bllahhfuuttttteeeeaahhh" noise through my horn and then swear loudly like a sailor when I hit the floor.
    "^%$#&^$!!!!! At which point the other 2 trumpets players lose it and starting laughing like hyenas. Like the pro I am, I jumped up and said " My Bad' and started to try to come in again, but it was just a disaster so we all 3 just slunk to the front of the church and sat down to complete silence.

    This is my first installment of several. Hope you giggle.

  • Singleopold

    Had a great weekly gig in a classy restaurant outside Sydney. Owner asked me to write a 50 anniversary song for his best friends. I said sure. I thought they had a sense of humor over there. The song I wrote was "I knew Your Wife When She Wasn't Your Wife". I was fired, discretely, that evening. I'm still humiliated when I think of it. If I was a comedian I guess I'd just say, "well, shit, I bombed." But I'm not.

  • Brian

    While on a 30 day tour of Colorado in 2003 or 2004, my Michigan based-band, Grasshoppah, got a sudden call from our agent that we could fill a supporting act slot in Denver. We opened for a "Dave Mathews cover band". One of those loser bands where all of the members dress up and try to play just like the original. They may have even done a "show" from the Mathews archive. Halfway into our set, the club begins to fill up and you could smell the disappointment in the air. Perhaps, they were hoping to hear a different cover band, covering different bad songs. Anyhow, we finish up our set and the dicey, coked-up, club owner gives us (trio) a pitcher of crappy american beer and $20. Of course many words were exchanged but we did not get anything else for compensation. Although this was the worst paying gig I ever played, the moral of the story is Dave Mathews and even his cover bands are worse than a pitcher of bud and $20.

  • Shelstev

    We were booked at a Bluegrass/Traditional music festival. Turned out that the tradtional stage was way at the back of the festival area. No sound system – in full sun – 15 feet from the porta-potties. We were about 5 minutes into the gig when the honey-dipper truck pulls up and starts sucking out the crap. We continued playing but no one could hear anything but the truck vacuum… Talk about a crappy venue!

  • Info

    Its a toss up between..
    – First gig ever and Sound engineer saying my guitar sounded like an epileptic wasp
    – small party when i couldn't tune my guitar 10 years later… everyone waited patiently for 20 mins and it was still out a mile
    – doing 3 gigs in one day, we got more and more brilliant with each one, directly proportional to quantity of alcohol consumed – even remember how bad the last one was despite remembering little else.

  • produced a metal show of several local/regional bands at the late & beloved music hall in allentown, pa someone shit in the sink, someone kicked a toilet over (still wondering how).
    had to pay $35 for a replacement and hire someone to watch the bathroom for $35 for all future shows. those were the days

  • Karen Linsley

    Oh my God that's hysterical. One of the funniest stories I've ever heard

  • Chris Fairbank

    The worst venue that I have ever played at was at the Walnut Room in Denver, Colorado. If you're unaware, there are two different Walnut Rooms. One is just a venue/bar, the other is a pizzeria/venue. I word it like that, "pizzeria/venue" because that is the order in which they operate. Now, for the record, they do have amazing food and, as a performer, you get to take your pick; however, the experience is really one of a kind.

    The stage on which you perform is above the bar. This affectively hides you from your audience as you play on what feels like a cat walk hidden in the rafters of the ceiling. Because of this, your audience is loud and ungrateful.

    I had fun and played my heart out, but when i was done, I got the hell out of there… after I got my food of course.

  • David Rosen

    Worst gig ever actually started as one of my best gigs ever. My comedy-rap group (which keep in mind, even though we're rapping our songs, it's really more of a comedy show than a hip-hop/rap show and we have skits and improv and all kinds of stuff like that mixed in with the music), Tha Killa Korpse Gangstaz aka Tha Polar Bear MC's played one of our best shows ever at a little bar in Las Vegas called Play Of The Day. It was a Friday night and we drew something like 75 people which was one of our best draws ever, especially considering it was just us and no openers.

    The show went great, everyone was loving it, and as we were breaking down, the owner of the bar came up to me and said he loved it so much he wants us to start playing every Friday night for I think it would have been $100 plus a cut of the bar or door or something. We'd still be doing this today if that had worked out, but no more than 15 minutes later, some guys came in that we didn't know, and they started a fight with some guys that we also didn't know. This fight turned into something like out of a movie with bottles and chairs flying through the air, by far the biggest brawl I've ever seen in real life. The police were called. It was the worst thing ever, and then as it's all calming down, the owner came back up to me and said "Hey, I'm sorry but the OTHER owner just told me he doesn't want to do rap shows here because of the potential for violence, so we can't do the shows with you anymore." Our career building residency lasted all of 15 minutes because of people we didn't even know that were not even the kind of crowd we would have ever considered inviting.

    I tried to explain to him that we didn't even know any of those people involved, but it was too late. I don't think we ever really recovered from it. Definitely the worst show ever.

  • Eric

    I played in an electronic band once and we got wasted before the show. We had recently lost one of our bandmates so it was just the two of us, and we were using a backing tape that we would play over. Well, we were having trouble with the levels, trying to adjust it on our side because we couldn't communicate with the guy on the mixing board. It was dark, we couldn't see. Let me say that it was my suggestion we use a backing tape, so this is my fault. My bandmate accidentally hit the rewind button on the tape with his knee and we stood there in horror, paralyzed as we watched our set begin from scratch. WHat I would do now for a mishap is to approach it with humor, because bad things do happen on the road. But back then it was so awful, what a bad feeling. But, you can't quit. You have to improve, get back in the saddle, all of that. I never forgave myself for that because the backing tape was my idea, and the other guy felt horrible for bumping it with his knee. I feel so bad. But, years went by, things happen in life and you learn, and you grow, and I can laugh about it now. Stupid human trick.

  • Tjcook_5

    Clemson sucks, and this proves it. Go Cocks!

  • Sunshine State

    About a year ago, someone called offering us about a $1000 to play New Year's Eve at a country club. A thousand bucks? Heck yes! We'll do it.

    The problem was, they wanted dance covers and we had almost none in the can. We are an original band, had very two new band members, and one day to learn 4 hours of cover songs. We crammed, just like in high school for a test, staying up, going over lyrics and chord sheets.

    Despite all that preparation, halfway through our show, we ran out of material. Our bass player had brought her karaoke machine she uses for other shows, so we began picking out songs from her list and singing to them, attempting (mostly pretending) to play along. The machine would skip and we would stop and try to jump back in. It was a riot! The drummer was cussing into her headset mic the whole time.

    Fortunately, the crowd was a bit drunk by then, and most seemed happy, anyway. We were pretty embarrassed, though.

    They didn't invite us back — big surprise! It's a shame, though, because we could now pull it off with our current lineup.

    I've never told this story before — to anyone. Shhhh!

  • Dan

    Back around 2000 my old band, Leechmilk, went on a 1 week tour from Atlanta out to Los Angeles. We were invited to play at a place called the Coconut Teaser that a local band told us they could set up. It would be our first and last time in L.A. The band that set it up seemed pretty legit since they played original music and traveled alot as well. But I never heard of the place.

    As we pull into the parking lot, we were charged $10 just to park in their lot. We were scheduled to play 3rd with the other local playing last and 2 more locals playing 1st and 2nd. We were not sure who the other locals were but they brought in 200 plus people when they were playing. Turns out they were both hair metal cover bands. Duh! Sunset Strip trying to revitalize itself somehow in a bad way. As soon as we set up, everyone cleared out. There were 3 people watching us. And they were in another band!

    Adding insult to injury, the door man said there was no money for us since this was one of those type of clubs where the patrons come in and tell the doorman who they are there to see, and the doorman writes down the numbers on paper. Since we've never played there, there was no-one there to see us. 3000 miles for this? L.A. sucks, even to this day. Play San Diego or anywhere else up in northern CA! Just not here!!

    ~Dan

  • The G Man

    I once played at a high school in the late '80s, where we were the out of town headliner (an original heavy metal band). A really crappy high school aged cover band went on as the opening act, and played a pretty horrible 45 minute set. During our show, a pretty girl kept trying to get my attention to say something. I finally leaned over to her and she said "can the other band come back on now?" Pretty humbling, but at least we got paid!

  • eberhard kobryn

    in a show called spellbound, we were working in texas at a hugh air force base, they let us stay in the officers quarters, well, we were getting ready to set up for the engagement, when we got a call from the general saying to pack our stuff up and get off the base, omg, we drove half way around the country, and now we dont have a gig, little did we know that our bass player,would feed his boa constrictor once a month, then he would be very placid, for awhile, we used him as part of our show, one of the girls would bring him out as her boyfriend, very funny, well,,,,as we were setting up he never told us that back at the offices quarters, he had bought 100 baby chicks to feed the snake, he would only eat things alive, but what he didnt tell us is that he had put the snake and the chicks in the bathroom together so the snake would catch them while we were setting up, well,,,,,,,, the maid came in the room to clean, you guessed it, she opened the bathroom door and you know, we heard she was running down the hall screaming at the top of her lungs, well,,,,,,,,,,,,, the general had a change of heart,,, when everyone on base heard the story, they all wanted to see the snake, we played the shows, and you know, there was lines around the club on base to see this thing, needless to say we didnt stay on base, but we got a chance meet the general and apoligise to the maid, had a good laugh together, worst and best together

  • dmorris1

    While playing in the parking lot of a bar (no stage) for their July 4th party in 1985 , a drunk zoomed across the sidewalk into the parking lot and smashed into the right PA stack, it belonged to the sound company who was doing all the sound for the event and was a lot bigger than our little PA. A large speaker box came flying off the top and hit our guitar player, breaking his leg and cracking several ribs. The drunk then continued on into the tent that housed the outdoor bar, going through there and finally smashing into the building.
    According to the local paper 26 people had to be taken to the hospital and several dozen others suffered cuts and bruises.
    And, we didn't get paid!!! (Possible the worst thing of all 🙂 ).
    At least the drunk did some jail time, it was a miracle no one was killed.

    • dude

      Wow! This gets my vote as the worst gig ever………what a nightmare!

  • Liz K.

    Yours is the first story I've read and already I can't imagine anyone trumping it. (Notice I didn't say "trumpeting" it…. heh). Very funny … after the fact!

  • Liz K.

    Giggle? I howled!

  • Petescott5

    I was on my way to a gig in a folk club I never enjoyed playing at in a car we had just bought from my wife's father.Half way there,the car broke down and I flagged down a taxi while she waited for the recovery service.I arrived at the gig,paid the taxi driver who then drove away with my guitar in the boot.I did the gig with a borrowed guitar and when I came to leave,found that someone had stolen my coat.

  • Liz K.

    GROAN! Great story. You can lead a horse ….

  • Liz K.

    He could have at least given you an imported beer.

  • Eddie-g

    Was booked for a Smooth Jazz- Latin Jazz- R&B Event and when we got there it was a Polka event they where dressed in the traditional attire and it was like an October fest Celebration, luckily the guitar player was from the Check Republic and he knew every polka known to men so we just followed ,

  • T.C. Folkpunk

    Playing bass in a 60's British Invasion tribute band at a Toronto pub full
    of ex-pat Brits the night Princess Diana died. We started our first set
    and the TV's in the pub were tuned to sports (with the sound off), but by
    the end of the set, they were tuned to CNN, with the sound still off, but
    the words "Princess Diana Injured" scrolling along the bottom of the
    screen. I didn't pay much attention, since at that time Princess Di could
    get news coverage by twisting her ankle while skiing. We played a second
    set, at the end of which, the scroll read "Princess Diana Seriously
    Injured". Okay, now they've added the word "seriously", so the volume was
    turned up on the TV's. And then just as we were about to start our third
    and final set, the news broke that Princess Di had died. The mood in the
    place plummeted, but after a quick discussion with the manager, we decided
    to try to lift everybody's spirits with some rousing old Beatles tunes.
    Anyway, it didn't work, partly because many of the patrons were filing out
    of the place to call their relatives back home, partly because many more
    were sitting there crying into their drinks (literally), and partly
    because our first song was "One After 909", which we realized too late
    starts with a line about driving. At least we didn't open with "Drive My
    Car".

    T.C. Folkpunk http://www.folkpunk.com

  • Vangroovygirl

    Nanaimo, BC, Canada. On my CD release tour in Sept. 2008, I was excited to play my show in Nanaimo, since my Dad had not seen me sing in many, many years. I (falsely) thought the venue had a bit of a built-in crowd, since the owner seemed enthusiastic on the phone, and offered a decent guarantee. My trio played to 8 people, my Dad and step-Mom and their two friends being 4. the next day my father pointedly told me that maybe I should reconsider the music career thing… while I’m ON tour, after having invested over 10K of my own money to record the CD!!! grrrr…. things have picked up since then, but I will never totally recoup those costs. 🙁

  • Anne

    My worst gigs: Any gig that includes swarms of biting black flies, angry wasps, hungry mosquitos, and of course, stinging bees. You haven’t live until you’ve had a wasp fly up your dress while playing the wedding processional.

  • thebeauman

    Playing at a 60’s Battle of the Bands I loaned my guitar to the guy I had bought it from who was competing in a different division. When he brought it back to me he said it was perfectly in tune and a quick ear check confrmed that. Well in all the excitment I had forgotten we tuned to F so our sax player could play in his favorite key of G and my buddy had changed it back to E. Our opening number was Nowhere Man by the Beatles and the opening vocal harmony had me in E while the rest were in F. To make matters even worse the curtains had not opened all the way and were covering the PA speakers. We were halfway through the number and completely frazzled by the time I stopped playing, got my voice back in F, and those #$%%&!! curtains all the way open. It’s 47 years and counting but the embarassment hasn’t faded one bit.

  • Karen Linsley

    I’m posting this on behalf of some musicians who are no longer with us. My father, a member of a small jazz band told me this story when I was a child.

    They were booked to play at a legion hall or some such venue. The piano player, Mac always played acoustic piano, this was a long time ago you see. I am sure you can imagine that some of these old pianos were clinkers with terrible tuning and equally terrible tone. But on this gig, as Mac played a few chords to see what he was in for this time, it was not a horrible sound emanating from the piano, it was a horrible gag inducing stench. While investigating and simultaneously resisting the urge to retch, the band discovered that a rat had climbed into the piano, and decided it would make a lovely final resting place. Yes it smelled like something died in there because, well, something died in there. In order protect the attendees (and the rest of the band) from the noxious fumes Mac and his piano/coffin were producing. Mac his mobile funeral home were placed well apart from the rest of the musicians, where he had to endure comments from the crowd like “Mac, you shouldn’t have eaten those beans tonight”

  • barstar

    I’m a singer/acoustic guitarist and got a gig on a boat cruise in Southern California only to find out it was a reggae cruise, and I play originals and classic rock, Neil Young, Beatles, etc. I seriously thought I was going to be tossed overboard but got out of it unscathed. The woman who hired me had seen me at a previous gig and really liked what I do and thought I would be well received on the reggae cruise playing Bob Dylan tunes. Looking back it all seems hilarious now but at the time it was pretty frightening dealing with a hostile alcohol fueled reggae crowd.

  • Sandro

    Worst was probably the one that didn’t happen. I got a call from a lady booking entertainment for a country club restaurant to replace an act on a very short notice (3 hours before the gig was supposed to start). I agreed, we discussed the price, she said she’d call me back, I said in the meantime I’ll get ready. I cancelled all my other plans, got dressed, loaded the van with my gear. …never heard from her. Sent her an e-mail – nothing.

  • Mark Potvin

    This happened about 6 years ago …….I had been performing around my town under my own name for quite a number of years by this point and I had started to garner somewhat of a following. The year before “The Gig” I had played at an outdoor festival and one of the patrons in the audience was a prominent member of my community accompanied by his wife. They really dug the stuff my band was doing.

    As it turns out the fella ends up being diagnosed with terminal cancer. So He has a vision that he would hold a great party for all of his friends and relatives to say good bye with the hopes that their last memory of him would be at this great party…. A living wake. So his wife hired me and gave me good money to hire the best musicians in town which included a 4 piece rhythm section with 3 horns….as entertainment for this party. She wanted me to sing and play the kind of music that I had played at the outdoor festival …. which was Blues. She also insisted that her husband wanted us to open with “If The House Isn’t Rockin’, Don’t Bother Knockin'” ….. Now I told her when she made these request that I really didn’t think that it was appropriate and explained that the guests might not appreciate it…. but she insisted. I even suggested that it might be more befitting if we played some soft background jazz as people talked, but she politely adamant. When she called to confirm the gig a week before, I brought up again that I thought the opening song and the type of music might be ill-suited to the occassion. She politely stated that they were paying us good money and this is what they wanted.

    Well as per our instructions, at the gig, we open with the song….. and every mouth in the place is wide open in complete horror. Everyone in the band could plainly see that none of the audience is really getting the gist of what the husband and his wife had in mind. Well by the middle of the second song…. his elderly Father comes up to the Bass Player (I might add that the Bass player is 6’7″) and tries to start a fight by belly bumping him and screaming in his face that we are disgracing his son who is about to die…. and of course the wife and the now very sick husband are no where to be found. You could hear a pin drop….You can only imagine that as I look around the room and everyone in the place looks at us like we have trampled on a not yet deceased persons grave. At this point…. I am ready to pack it in…. as were some of the other members of the band. The piano player says to me why don’t we try some soft jazz standards( My other band was a Swing/tradtional Jazz band)…. So I figure we might as well play some background music until I can at least speak to the wife. Well as you might expect, everyone in the audience leaves early and the wife and her 2 teenage kids show up with about another 45 minutes left until the end of the gig. She apologizes for not being around when the all the trouble started but her husband was not doing well and had to be rushed back to the hospital. She also apologizes profusely saying that she should have listened to me about the choice of music and especially the opening song….. At this point she asks us to play some Blues for her 2 children and herself in honor of her husband. We were happy to oblige her and it was kinda a silver lining to the worst gig I had ever played.

    Mark Potvin
    http://markpotvin.com

  • Gene Burnett

    This is easy. No contest. I was in folk duo with my buddy Victor Cummings in Seattle in the late 80's through the 90's. He was working at this group home for developmentally disabled adults. Sometimes the people who lived in this house would come to our shows. None were severely retarded or disabled, most of them had day jobs and just needed help around the edges of life. They were super sweet and very enthusiastic fans and I was always happy to see them come…One time Vic got us a gig at this place called Fircrest which was kind of like a mental hospital…We were somehow under the impression that the people we'd be playing for would be similar to the cool folks at Vic's group house. Wrong. The quietest person in the room was bellowing like a water buffalo. One guy was trying to eat a Tonka toy while another was trying to hump a beanbag chair. There was one supervisor guy for the whole room of maybe 20 or so people. He stood in front of the stage area and grabbed people as they came running towards us, arms windmilling at full blast, often grabbing them just before they reached us. We played very rhythmic extended "dance mixes" of all of our tunes and counted ourselves lucky to get out of there in one piece. This was clearly not the right venue for our kind of music. For years afterward, whenever we were playing in some noisy as hell club with no one listening one of us would mouth the word "Fircrest" to the other and we would just crack up. It was kind of scary and awful at the time, but I still laugh my ass off when I think of it today. ;~) GB

  • Sue Wolfsong

    Two of my musician friends and I were booked to perform for an Arts in the City program close to the entrance inside the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. However, when we got there, we found that the space where we were supposed to be setting up had been taken over by people registering kids to get on buses to head to camp. We went to the people in charge who decided that we were to do our thing on the second floor. The problem was that the second floor is simply a concourse where people head to the escalators to go up to the level where the buses depart. Without shops or even benches on which to sit, there's absolutely no reason to go to the second floor except to head directly to the buses. We were a complete surprise to everyone, since there were no posters or announcements made for our performance.

    Anyway, there were the three of us, with our instruments and amps, etc. plugged into a pillar in the middle of the immense space with nothing but people hurrying on their way. The only chance our migrating 'audience' had to hear a full song was if we did very short numbers which were only a minute in duration! The only ones who were standing there and listening were the homeless and the unemployed people with nowhere else to go–they really enjoyed the unexpected entertainment. It was really strange seeing hurrying people watching us as they walked by and applauding our efforts without missing a step as they hurried to catch their buses. But at least we DID get applause! It was the exact opposite of watching a band in a parade–the audience was marching by and we were stationery!

  • John I attempted to email you but it came back.

  • Sue Wolfsong

    Of all the places one can be embarrassed, I think a somber church service would have to be the worst! But your predicament did give me (& probably others) a good laugh!

  • Sue Wolfsong

    At least your were fed, paid and treated with a modicum of respect. Not bad for your worst gig!

  • Janclark1

    My jazz trio was hired by a shopping mall magnate’s personal entertainment director/assistant to perform for an internationally fabulous event at his Palm Beach estate. The trio’s personnel consisted of me on electric harp, violin, and drumset. Odd combination, but it worked. We had been playing no more than five minutes when the magnate’s wife rushed up to the stage and hissed, ” What the hell are you playing? This is a french opera event and I expect french opera music! And your drums are too loud. Just use the brushes!” The blood drained out of our faces. The violinist and I only knew one french song between us, and it was “Gigi”. We played variations on Gigi for five hours straight as the hostess wouldn’t let us take a break. Their personal entertainment director/assistant was most apologetic for leaving out the details. They never hired us again…….

  • Stevenmays

    booked to sing in a casino the stage was a pallet with carpet and the audience were swaying from side to side but not in time to my song i looked over my shoulder and the big screen tv was on and they were trying to watch football then the slot machines started chugging out money and to top it all i was singing a quiet love song and this bloke shouted shhhhhhhhush for gods sake mate we are trying to play cards here not a good gig

  • Patricia Theodoridi

    Crazee Baldhead did a show at an old Church in Shoreham for a festival and no one turned up. To add injury to insult , the engineer read the paper throughout the set. It was a great rehearsal for things to come!!!!!!!

  • Chris1901

    I’m going to call this: Bad things Happen in 3’s!!
    Our band had a gig in Valdez over New Years in the 80’s. If you know anything about Alaska…we tend to get MUCH snow, especially this area we were traveling to. I was riding in the vehicle behind our band leader, JK, and thinking we had plenty of space between us, my guitar player didn’t slow down after JK stopped his vehicle in the middle of the highway to look at the sheep that were on the mountains. As we approached JK’s truck, PP started to slow down and then realized that he couldn’t stop…we were on black ice!! Here were are, Swerving from side to side, and inches before we stopped… JK slowly pulls ahead of us…Never realizing we were about to Crash!!..Whew!! Miss that one!!
    But! I’m not done yet
    ….same highway…a little further up the road, my drummer is driving another vehicle in front of us and all of a sudden we see this HUGE PUFF OF SNOW flying in the air!!!….and no drummer! Where did he go?? Well…he went FLYING off in to the ditch after missing the curve in the highway!!…He’s OK…but a few hours later, a Snotrack cat had pulled him out and we were Back on the road again!! ..But wait!!! I’m not done yet!
    We played the gig without out incident and spent the night and started for home that next morning. We managed to make it to the start of the 4-lane, 35 miles north before Anchorage.
    My guitar player decided that he could take the truck out of 4-wheel drive now that were off the 2-lane highway and so he stopped the truck to unlock the hubs and we started back on the road
    ….but as we approached the first bridge, PP started losing control of the truck and we started SWERVING SEVERELY back and forth!! And as I glanced behind us…. quickly approaching is a semi tractor with trailer and a Saab right next to him!!…At this point I’m thinking….OH S**T!!
    We did a 180 and BAM! Hit the guard rail with his rear left corner of the truck…then went into ANOTHER 180 going the Opposite direction and BAM! we hit another guard rail on the right rear corner!! And as I look at this semi that was Closing in on our Tail ALMOST hitting us, He started swerving Almost into a FULL jackknife, and JUST MISSED hitting the Saab!! By this time my heart is racing and I’m thinking that ‘this is it! We’re ALL about to meet the Almighty!’ But NO!..God had other plans, thankfully!
    PP FINALLY gained control of his truck, and we pulled over to the side of the highway….the semi driver pulled over just behind us….all of us probably needing a diaper change by then!… we met each other and asked if all were OK. “Yes!” we were all fine, no damage to any vehicles!! But I think we lost a few years off our lives due to being scared out of our minds!!
    Once my guitar player dropped me off, I was on adrenaline for the remainder of the night! PP went home, and NEVER AGAIN did he drive that truck! THE END!!

  • Jon Niccum

    Reminder: I’d love to add these great stories to the Reader Submissions section of my site, The Worst Gig. Just send them to submissions@worstgig.com, and I’ll get them posted.

  • jp90405

    when ever you have to play for the other bands girlfriends. after every song they just ignore you. this only happens in joints that book the “locals”. you drive for hours to some redneck shithole. the rule is, there are bad gigs and really bad gigs.

  • BOWLING FOR DANCERS

    I normally don’t drink on stage, but the last set of our two-night show was going GREAT, so when the shots came around, I uttered the words that seem to piss off the universe itself, “Sure, why not?”

    I was nowhere near inebriated, but I was feeling the kind of relaxed bravery that comes from knowing that the sound is right, my playing is particularly “on”, and the dance floor is packed with people having a GREAT time. On the last song, just before the last great Tony Barker guitar solo, Mr. Cuervo whispered in my ear that jumping on the giant commercial-washing-machine-sized speaker would really ROCK, and…

    ….I had no idea that the drummer had put wheels on it that morning.

    It took off through the crowd like a motorboat in a bowl of cereal. The local Rock Jock, who was kind enough to make a Celebrity Appearance (at my request), went down like a chihuahua on the freeway. Made almost the same sound. (I could hear it because the speaker was unplugged.) To this day, I think about him whenever I see the picture of the protester at Tienanmen Square in front of the tank.

    (Attention Fellow Animal Lovers: No chihuahuas were harmed in the recounting of this story. Get off me.)

  • Tony solo

    Booked a gig in st Louis at a club called fubar that was supposed to be ” the live loud and local fest. We got there early to find out half the bands canceled. We ended up playing last. The band before us sang about poop and raping women ( I kid you not) for about an hour. And the band before them had a lead singer who collapsed on stage and had to be rushed to the hospital. By the time we got on all of our fans left and we played to about ten people who spent their time yelling at the previous band for having ,multiple songs about raping women. We brought like 30 people and didn’t get paid a dime and the promoter never called us back about getting our money….By far the worst gig ever.

  • not my worst gig, but a story worth sharing.
    a guitar player friend of mine was playing with a band at a local bar near my house. he called and invited me down to come sit in. i got down in time for the second set, and it was a packed bar, a hot summer night in full swing.
    apparently, the drummer and bassist had some tension going on, and in the middle of a tune, the drummer whipped a stick at the bassist and hit him in the head. the bassist was a big dude, and he shoved me out of the way, ran over to the drummer and punched him square in the eye, knocking him off the stool. there was a huge crash, the band ground to a halt, the crowd of dancers and drinkers stopped, and everyone is looking at the stage. the drummer is rolling on the floor holding his eye, moaning, “you dick, you punched me in the eye” the bassist is glowering down at him, yelling “what’d you throw a stick at me for, man?”
    so, the drummer gets up, a huge shiner forming on his eye, and says, “that’s it, i’m going home’. My guitar player friend, a black belt in karate, whose day job is repo-ing cars and bounty hunting, goes us to him and says, “dude, my kid needs shoes and i need this gig, you’re staying”. takes off his sunglasses, puts them on the drummer and says’, “see, ya look great, ace. now get back on the stool and lets finish this gig”. the crowd went nuts, cheering, as the dude got back on his stool, and we whipped into “Born to be Wild”. one of the highlights of my bar gig career.

    • SidneyVaught

      Now that’s what I call a well rounded night…LOL!!

    • Sue Wolfsong

      He handled it beautifully in my humble opinion. Not many people could be so cool in a situation like that!

  • Jazzy

    What great stories! So funny in retrospect but so terrifying when they are happening to you live in front of a crowd.
    My worst gig was probably my first one in NYC. I was very nervous of course and this was a new experimental direction for me- electro house jazz. So a combination of computer and live improv…
    When it came time for me to set up, turns out the PA is broken, so they hook up this speaker to my rig using like telephone wires! The speaker is a single mono speaker and my set is full of stereo effects… I plow on nonetheless eventhough I am loosing like half of my tracks because they are panned to the non-existant side. Then right in the middle of my set this crowd of drunk frat boys barges in to the room intent on yelling and cursing louder than the music which was easy considering the lame speaker half of my music was coming out of. It looked like these guys were intent on cracking some heads so I abridged my set and made a hurried but dignified exit.
    Yes this was in NYC and yes I did play the gig again, many times…

  • Anonymous

    Festival gig, unpaid, in the beer tent.

    A friend has kindly agreed to drive me to the festival, which is in a field about 2 hours away. Unfortunately, the motorway is closed and we have to find an alternate route on small local roads. I call the organizers to let them know I will not make it in time for sound check. They say that's okay, they're running behind.

    When we arrive, an hour late, the sound check is still going on. It consists of one guy on stage mechanically whacking a snare-drum while the sound man tries to eliminate the feedback. This is a lost cause because the beer-tent stage has been set up with its back to the mainstage speakers, so that the five-piece band on the mainstage is feeding directly into the microphones.

    The result is so painful that the tent is empty except for a small crowd of people huddled at the far end. They are only there because it's raining, and, well, there's beer.

    When I arrive, they give up on the sound-check and put me (solo singer-songwriter) on stage. I try the loudest and most raucous thing I've got. I cannot hear myself at all over the noise from the mainstage. I do a few more and then give up and finish my set with an a cappella song in French, taking my pitch from the band on the mainstage.

    My friend assures me that nobody could hear anything anyway. We drive home in the rain without dinner.

  • Jcphillips

    1970.
    Just before leaving Detroit for a series of college and coffee house performances
    in the Pacific Northwest, my songwriting/performing partner and I, Diane, had a last minute “booking”; It had been represented to us as “not the nicest of places to play” by our agent, but for the five nights we would pick up $450 in extra gas money for the journey ahead.
    The first night as we arrived to set up the amplifier, and check out the stage and dressing room, we found ourselves in a seedy bar, which apparently had recently hosted strippers.
    Not our venue, but oh well, the show goes on; bar blender and all; “We’ll get through it.”
    Not many patrons that first set, or for that matter, would there be for the subsequent sets or for the rest of the week, but one heavily tattooed and unkempt guy sat spellbound throughout the very first set, and seemed to hang on every word.
    After we finished, he insisted on buying us both a drink, and proceeded to interview and hold forth.
    No rest for the weary; just mind numbing conversation right into the next set, and then a repeat of the same thing after set two. There was really no place to hide, and as twenty year olds, we were ill prepared to handle the rather aggressive overture of friendship from a scary dude. Think; all those movies that you’ve seen that start out with some innocuous situation.
    It was feeling a bit like that.
    As his conversation increasingly became more slurred, he disclosed alarming details about his past, while professing his fondness for our music and, of course, us, individually and collectively.
    One thing I knew; I was going to stay on Roy’s good side or this was going to end badly.
    Roy would be my best friend for the duration of the gig.
    For my part, cautious conversation and a receptive ear continued between sets and throughout the week.
    Sometime on the last night of the engagement, “Roy” whispered that he was recently out of prison; actually that he had escaped; and that he had killed a couple of (insert some racial epitaph here)
    I had already figured out the prison part, but whether he was a murderer or not, I couldn’t evaluate.
    I was hoping that this was a case of “the unreliable narrator”. Who knows?
    He had made quite a few wild and alarming assertions over the course of the week, and surviving this gig from hell was very much on my mind. No questions, no challenges;
    just get through it, collect our pay, and get on the road to the west coast.
    After the fourth set, Friday night, and with “Roy” uncharacteristically nowhere to be seen, I ventured back to the bar-owner’s office to collect the check.
    Our car was outside; all packed and ready for the road, but no bar-owner.
    Anywhere. Anywhere. Anywhere.
    Finally, I realized that there would be no check; it had been a freebee; more than a waste of time; life endangering without the “hazardous duty” pay.
    Stepping over Roy; unconscious and lying in beer and broken glass outside the door, we gingerly loaded the equipment and pointed the Toyota Land cruiser west and drove off into the night.

  • Jonnysmokes

    Back in the 90’s my original alternative band from Reno started touring around the Western states. Our guitarist was fond of booking us through a DIY punk rock network that usually worked out pretty well. We were a rather eclectic mix of styles, so we played with lots of variety bands and did well. One gig in Salt Lake City proved disasterous however. We pulled into town in a rental van and started passing out flyers to sheepishly frightened teens at the mall, all of whom looked at us like we were from Mars. Okay, so Mormon kids are put off by anyone not wearing a tie… We started getting feedback from a few people who weren’t so shy: “is this place even open?” Not a good sign… So we head to the venue and discover it looks like a homeless shelter that was hit by a tornado, nestled underneath a freeway overpass in the worst part of an otherwise beautiful town. We swore it was condemned, but as we pulled up, someone opened the front door and started loading drums in from a nearby car, so this was the place after all! We loaded in and the place somehow was worse inside than out, with a lumpy stage that seemed intent on displacing our drummer’s kit at every possible contact surface. The “PA” (joke!) was two 10″ speakers and a Radio Shack power amp with one mike that looked like it had been used to hammer a stray dog to death. We set up since we were the openers, then discovered the other 3 bands were all seriously pissed off hardcore straight edge punk/metal badasses, also all from out of town. As show time arrived we started playing to one homeless looking kid and the other bands, all of whom looked ready to beat us to death for fun. After our first song I told the guys to play our heaviest number, extra fast! It didn’t even make a single toe twitch. The other bands stood menacingly lined against the far wall with crossed arms and kill gazes. I stepped up to the mike and said, “sorry guys, guess we are at the wrong gig. Have a great night!” and started packing up as fast as possible. My drummer had the sense to join me in our frantic evacuation, but our guitarist’s pride was hurt, so he went off on us, bitching that we didn’t even play any pop songs. Somehow we managed to get loaded out without being killed, and I even saved the guitarist from certain death by literally carrying him away from the club owner, who he was trying to get gas money from… (idiot!) We made it home to Reno and to add insult to injury, the rental van, (which was supposed to be $100 with unlimited miles,) charged us almost $500 because the “unlimited miles” were only good in the state of Nevada. Thank God we played several great shows in the next month, otherwise we would have all just quit after that horrible weekend!

  • When I arrived at the gig,the police were there investigating an assault.
    The funny thing is it was the bouncer that did the assault. A patron got
    drunk and pick a fight with him.This guy is like a gorilla,she’s lucky to
    be alive.

    I went in and did the show anyway,I good even chance to leave
    the show alive,so I thought,what the hell.After the show I called
    a taxi,the driver said,this part of town gives him the creeps,and
    there were a lot of creeps.

    When I think back to that time,I remind myself to do only
    quality shows.One thing I did get out of it was a story to tell.

  • Mark_mars23

    This is a story of a worst gig that actually turned out to be pretty fun. We had driven from Austin, TX to Bellingham, Wa (north of Seattle) to play a gig with 2 other bands that we were touring with for a short time on the west coast. When we get to the venue, a kind of indie art gallery/ music venue, we find out it had been shut down the night before due to fire code violations (which had not been tended to yet). So here we are thinking we're just going to have to turn back around and head back to Seattle for the gig the next night, when the guys that run the gallery end up making some calls and setting up the show at the local bowling alley. (Bellingham is not a large town, BTW) We get to the bowling alley and there is a small "basement room" under the lanes, with a ceiling about 6' 1" tall! We ended up playing in this little "box" under the lanes and you could hear the balls rolling and the pins crashing in between songs or during quiet sections. However, there were enough people there that the little room was constantly packed, everyone was sweaty and dancing and as long as you didn't jump up or swing your guitar neck up too high (because you would hit the ceiling) everything turned out to be a pretty raucous, rockin good time! We actually crashed on the stage of the original venue that night and stayed up pretty late partying with the locals.

  • Back in 2006, my band Mythica won a state-wide contest on a very popular rock radio station, and we were invited to open for Spin Doctors and Sister Hazel at a big summer festival. Of course, we were totally psyched. We took the stage (it was a secondary stage next to the main stage) and almost immediately the problems began. The sound system (which was pretty large) completely failed. We weren’t sure what happened – if a few blew, or the board fried – but it was dead. Trying to hold the attention of the 1,000 people watching us, my backup singer and I went into the crowd with my guitar and sang an acoustic cover song. The crowd was very sympathetic and clapped along and cheered. We went back onto the stage and finally the sound system started to work again, but just as we were about to launch into our final song, some guy from the Sister Hazel crew came over and told our sound guy to cut our sound because Sister Hazel was starting. The sound guy cut our sound MID-SONG. The crowd started to boo the sound guy. I cried for about two days….

  • Anonymous

    There was a restaurant in Roanoke, VA called the Ground Round which about once a week had a sign up talent show for people to compete via applause to win a 50 buck prize…this was about 1981 and I was 18 years old. I had a pianist friend who I had worked with before who said let's do this thing and maybe get 25 bucks a piece. I'd never been to this place and my pianist friend didn't bother to "take the temperature" of the room to figure out what kind of music the patrons liked and I, being very young, had assumed he knew what this place was and the type of people who went there. We worked up a little two song set to sing which consisted of a faster popular song of the day and a ballad.

    We got there a little early and decided to have a burger and fries before we went on…good enough and signed up for the show and I believe we were about fifth to go on. Shortly before the show started, the place filled up with a bunch of rowdy, obnoxious rednecks and the few acts that went on before us were all country and bluegrass…we're talking about true twang here…not to insult country artists but this was very far removed from my genre.

    I was sitting there thinking, “oh my God," and coming up with about a few hundred ways to kill my friend. We should have left but no, why get off a sinking ship when you just as easily drown in the ocean? Well we go on and me, being dressed in modern type fashion of the time with no cowboy hat was instantly greeted by a silent, suspicious crowd who sat glaring at me. I did my first little song and nobody moved except for a few awkward moments of shifting around and then to boos and hisses at the end. Starting the ballad, the boos and hisses got louder and I then thought "F— it" and threw down the restaurant's mic, walked off the stage and started for the exit while the house full of rednecks still booed and hissed.

    I remember while walking out I heard the owner screaming at me, "you better not have broken my mic, " and I returned with a very loud "F— You!!!" which I know everyone heard before making my exit. I have a very loud voice and can over-shout a multitude of people even to this day. Actually, I found out later I did not break their mic and if I had, they could have gone to Radio Shack and gotten another one for 10 bucks.

    My pianist friend called me the next day, apologizing, saying he didn't know it was that kind of place and all that. I basically said, never to include me in any more of his bright ideas…blah…blah…blah…and licked my wounds until I eventually got over it.

    Much to my joy and pleasure, the Ground Round in Roanoke, VA went out of business a few years later as an aftermath of well publicized Health Dept. fines due to rancid kitchen conditions, bugs, filth and God knows what all else. Eventually even the building was torn down. Buwah ha ha ha ha!!

  • Barihart

    I was in the Serendipity Singers and even though we were a world famous group we did our share of strange shows only this one was by mismanagement. We had to do a county fair and perform in the middle of the rodeo ring on a stage on a flatbed. But we did costume changes and had our van with the uhaul trailer empited as our dressing room and trucking through the dirt as they were using the ring for the local tractor pull and we were the entertainment between. Yes life on the road is soooooooooooooooo glamourous!!!!!!!!

  • TandrewV

    Back in the 90’s, I had an original folk vocal trio that played at a particularly nice coffee shop as our regular gig (2-3 times every week) and place to try out our new material. One evening the place was packed with about 60 people that came in from a tour bus. we were already playing, and when the people got settled, I noticed that things were a bit quiet in the audience and they were all just staring at us. Our mains were in a place where we couldn’t hear them well (and we weren’t using monitors) so I kept bumping up the main volume on the PA. After several times of bumping the volume, the audience stopped staring and started signing at each other! Yes – in American Sign Language – they were all deaf. Finally, I asked over my mic if anyone could hear me. All ignored me except a little old man in the back that spoke loudly in a Kermit the Frog tone, “I can hear ya just fine!” The next time we came in one of the workers told us that there was a complaint that we were too loud.

  • Big Bad Bob

    I was playing in a heavy funk band in the 90’s. The low end of the PA was thumping like crazy, so much that the friction from the drivers heated one of the bass cabs to the extent that the inside of the cabinet caught on fire. There was smoke coming out of the cabinet since it was a folded horn enclosure. The more bass it pumped the more smoke billowed out. Finally we had to stop playing due to the smoke and discovered the fire blazing inside the cabinet. Someone got a fire extinguisher and sprayed it into the front of the folded horn enclosure to put out the fire. It did put out the fire but the powder from the fire extinguisher got channeled right back into the room due to the nature of the folded horn. The entire room filled with smoke and fire extinguisher dust. Dust was all over everything including drinking glasses, the bar, tables, the floor, guitars, mics etc…. the gig ended with all patrons leaving. I don’t remember if we got paid or not.

  • Patricia Shih

    Hi friends,

    You have to check out my book “Truly Rotten Gigs from Hell: The Funny, The Sad, The Unbelievably Bad True Tales from the Music Trenches”. (www.trulyrottengigsfromhell.com) . 75 stories from 35 artists in 3 countries and 11 states. Some are famous like Pete Seeger, Tom Chapin, Bill Danoff of The Starland Vocal Band, and Jim Babjak from The Smithereens; most are from indies like us; those are the worst, but still very funny!

  • wp

    At a Senior Convention, we were asked to perform as a new band, and we had only a small PA system. The Venue had rented a Sound Contractor which had six clusters of speakers in the large room. The room was so large you couldn't recognize the people across the room, so we carefully set up the sound the night before with a plug in to the larger system and we sounded awesome. The guitar player was using a small 8" speaker with a mic, and we really sounded good. Fast forward to the next day and none of the sound people showed up from the contracted company, and the system we had was borrowed. The guy we borrowed it from thought it would be a good idea to turn on his fog machine and get some ambience into the show. What it looked like was our sound system was pushing the limit in the room, and the little guitar amp was smoking. We sounded horrible….

  • BrianW1957

    I knew I should've cancelled… I had a bad chest cold but needed the $150 for the night… being a trio with piano, guitar, and drums and me the main singer, I thought I could do it… well, by song three there was no way… we struggled our way thru set one and the piano player told me to relax, so I got my first shot and a beer… well too many of both later and the next set, I didn't sing at all, the piano player taking over… by the middle of set two, I could barely remember intros and leads… the only saving grace was that there was a small crowd and we cut set three in half and got paid (don't know why)…
    The next practice, me and the piano player got into it and I quit…
    Lesson learned, cancel if you have to, don't fight about it afterward… and now the same piano player and I play acoustically at lounges and even opened in that same club…
    Rock and Roll Never Forgets…

  • Loony_Spectre

    My worst gig was last year. My band played in a well-known Moscow club; we have already played a gig there, and everything went very smoothly. So we just rehearsed our program as usual and went there.
    The gig was scheduled to begin at 6 pm – there were several bands to perform, everyone knew it would last long. But when we got to the club, it turned out that there was some kids’ event before the gig, it took too long, and so the sound check actually began at 8 pm.
    Well, OK, never mind. All bands were asked to trim their set lists a bit, we decided to throw away a long number and make the other song shorter.
    An hour later, it had become clear that even with trimmed set lists, the gig would continue well into the night, so the bands playing last (us included) only get to play THREE songs.
    OK, to hell with that, three songs will do. We got to the stage… and there it really went down the hill.
    I’ve got a six-piece band, with two keyboard players with back vocal duties (our harmonies and arrangements tend to be complex). And there was NOT ENOUGH CHANNELS in the soundboard – some of them apparently stopped working since our last gig there. So, instead of two keyboards and three microphones, we got only ONE keyboard and ONE microphone. One microphone for two, yes. We were angry and confused… we didn’t quite botch the songs, but the performance was obviously below par. I wanted to hang the sound engineer on my guitar strings, honestly.

  • Claedag74

    That is funny. Reminds me of when I was playing with a youth band and the singer got excited and jumped up on the drum riser with his back to the kids and decided to jump of the riser backwards while spinning. He also was playing an accoustic giutar btw. Well, he did not realize how close the kid playing keys was and smacked him in the back of the head with the stock of the guitar. The kid almost went to his knees. What made it more funny was the fact that the kid he hit was the youth director's son. The youth director also happened to be the pastors brother. We laughed about that for weeks.

  • Mike

    I attended the Art Institute of Boston in the 90’s and they were having a screening of student animation in the auditorium. I was one of the musical acts scheduled to play before the screening. Unbeknowst to me, a guy I knew, Steve, and another student signed up to do a performance piece before me. Steve came out wearing a hunters cap, placed down a portable CD player, and it started playing the dueling banjo song from Deliverance.
    Steve then took out a bag of popcorn and proceeded to eat. The other student walked out with a bucket, placed it down on the floor next to Steve, and stuck his fingers down his throat and threw up, hurling into the bucket. His continued to induce vomitting during the song as Steve stood there eating popcorn. Everyone just sat there staring, like looking at a car wreck, we couldn’t turn away. I was actually thinking, how is it posible for someone to throw up that much? When the song ended, Steve and his buddy quietly walked off stage and out of the auditorium. Everyone was just sitting there, it was so quiet. And then, it was my turn to get up and play a few original tunes. How do you follow an act like that? Now I look up on the stage and realize the mic and stand are right next to the bucket, which was left on the stage. I very quickly got the stand and moved down to the floor in front of the stage and played from there. Later thinking about it, I should have started my set playing the beginning melody of the dueling banjo song (oppurtonity missed). Let’s just say any time I’ve heard that song since, I get a slight queasy feeling. Hope I haven’t soured anyone on this song.

  • Gbisel

    the worst gig I have ever played would have to be new year's eve with this four piece band at an old folks home. the drummer never showed up and I had to play tamborine all night so the others could keep a beat! prune juice was served instead of champagne…

  • Candy “Parsley” Davis

    MY WORST-EVER GIG

    I’m a singer-songwriter, and though my band and I mostly play out locally, we will occasionally cross the river to do a gig over in Missouri. I got what appeared to be a legitimate invitation to do a gig for a
    “Womyn’s Festival” and had been promised a little money, plus tips, to do it. None of my bandmates was able to commit to that date or time, so I decided I’d do the gig myself. When my friend (and music student) Di heard about this, she asked to go along and be my roadie.

    The gig was supposed to be at a pavilion in the Mark Twain National Forest, and sure enough, there were signs leading to it. When we got to where the “paviliion” was supposed to be (according to the signs), there was a block house, one picnic table, and a very smoky fire burning in the middle of the clearing. Two or three of the scruffiest looking women I’ve ever seen were hanging out there, drunk and getting high–unwashed, had about six teeth between the three of them–and there was no sign of any kind of preparation for bands of any kind: no stage (or even a shelter), no sound equipment or any place I could see to plug in my own equipment.

    When I inquired where the organizer was, one of the women told me she “isn’t here yet” (! half an hour before the festival is supposed to start?!) and then proceeded to hit on me in a very suggestive way. Another woman asked if we were going to stay the night. “I could put you up in my trailer,” she suggested. “We’ll kick the dogs out for the night. Ain’t too clean–my couch has fleas–but we could cover it up with a sheet.”

    Di shot me a look, and I said, “Excuse us. We’re going to go take a walk for a little bit before I perform.” We got in my car and drove to another place in the forest, where we, indeed, took a hike. Di told me all she knew about these “womyn’s festivals.” “Hillbilly dykes!” she said incredulously. “I’ve been to a lot of womyn’s festivals–legitimate ones; they cater to lesbians–but this is something I never thought I’d see.” When I told her the name of the organizer, she even rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, HER! She’s always planning events and gets no one to organize them, and they always fall through. It’s up to you, but I’d suggest we turn around and go home.” This was a lot for me (a straight woman and quite naive when it comes to lesbian culture) to digest. But I agreed with her–this had the potential to be unsafe. So we drove to Cape Girardeau, had a bite to eat, laughed about our misadventure, and drove back to our own town.

    Candy “Parsley” Davis of the Parsley & Sagebrush Band

  • Heather

    This too funny, but I can totally relate to suddenly trying to play an instrument when you can't see. About 10 years ago I was on stage, with my guitar in hand, for a Celtic Celebration in a gorgeous Town Hall where we were performing a storytelling event, (I'm a storyteller and singer-songwriter) and although we rehearsed ahead of time, and all went super, the artistic director decided to have lighted candelabras on either side of where the performer would stand, or sit. Well, this was fine and dandy for an oral presentation, but for anyone with an instrument it was awful! I was blinded. And, to boot, someone left the back door behind the audience open to a winding staircase strung with white lights! I sweetly asked for the lights to be turned up and curtsied in my wee kilt. I quickly learned to pre-arrange with the lighting person wherever I perform (cafe, theatre, bar or whatever) and ask what is going to happen on stage!

    • Clare

      Not being able to see what you’re doing brings back so many memories! Years ago my band had a steady gig in a bar (remember those??). Their lighting setup was minimal, but included a strobe light. For some reason the sound and light tech liked to turn on the strobe whenever I took a solo. Cool effect for the audience maybe, but it completely blinded me and destroyed my concentration. No matter how many times I asked him not to do it, the asshole always did. My bandmates and I started hatching a plan to get there early and disconnect it, but the club closed unexpectedly and it was no longer a problem.

      Years later, I was musical director for a friend’s cabaret show, and the encore was a beautiful ballad. We had a tech rehearsal that was fine, but for some reason when it was time for this number in the actual show, the lighting guy came up with the brilliant idea of turning off all the lights except for a spot on the singer. Again, I’m sure it looked beautiful from the audience, but I was in total blackness and couldn’t see the music – or the piano keys! I had to destroy the dramatic atmosphere by whispering to the singer, who then had to tell the tech to give me some light.

  • Really 2 stories but one tour.

    On our way to a big tour in Mexico we got to the border at Nogales and the tour buses were supposed to meet us at 11 am. Well, this being Mexico, the time thing didn't really work and the buses didn't show. 9 hours of standing on the border waiting for 4 buses to show up (we had a huge dance troupe as well). The good news, one more day of border town partying, the bad news, well we had to do it all again the next day.

    Finally the following day at about 3PM the buses show up, we cross the border and without much fanfare start our trip to Hermosillo, the first stop on our tour. No problems.

    The following day, we have to do the whole publicity thing since this was co-sponsored by Coca Cola and after the obligatory photos on the stage we finally got to leave and enjoy the refreshing taste of warm, I should say hot, Coca Cola products. See, ice isn't really called for there.

    Not 10 minutes later, one of the lighting trusses has a welding failure and collapses… on the stage where about 90 of use were just standing. That was really a crisis averted because there probably would have been deaths.

    Part 2 – Mexico City

    Well there are lots of mini-mishaps but nothing that important so we jump ahead to Mexico City, our crowing jewel and the Plaza del Toros was packed. So many people that there were people climbing the light poles to watch.

    Over 50,000 people and we were jamming, until the power went out for half the stage. The mics worked, but only the guitar amps still had power. This was the 80's and e-drums were hot… until the power failure.

    The bass player was singing and his part was being played by the midi track along with a lot of backup DX-11's. Gotta love those digital keys!

    So there I am having to play guitar with just a singer and me, in front of 50,000 people. That wasn't the problem. I had to create a harmony part since I was just playing a single funk line and had long ago forgotten the original harmony (you tend to memorize songs after playing the same sets for months 😉

    It was a good lesson though, and one I remember to this day. The audience usually doesn't know what is wrong with the set, only you do. Keep playing and pretend this is the way it is.

    • Hey John, I also played a gig in Mexico. I went to visit my folks and was asked by a group of friends that have a band to fill in for their their organ player which had run out on them. Anyway it was the inaguration of a bull ring in a small town near Puerto Vallarta.
      After the bull run, some clowns and comics performed while the roadies set up just a bare setup inside the bull ring off to a side. A basic drum set, a Yamaha YC 20 organ for me, a bass amp, a guitar amp and a couple of mics on stands. The manager asked if we were ready to start because we were running late. We said yeah and didn’t even do a sound check and just checked we were hot and in tune and so the drummer counts off and we start the first tune.
      Halfway in the first tune, we hear a very loud AHH!! from the crowd and I figure.. Damn, were good!..but as I turn my head to my right I see three enormous bulls with humongous horns, running toward us. Apparently somebody didn’t securely close the hatch door where the bulls were and they were heading towards us…and by the look on their faces, didn’t seem to want to make new friends nor seemed to be enjoying the music very much..on top of that we were wearing bright red sequin vests and red hats on white slacks and shirt. The nearest door was about 60 feet away which seemed like 60 miles as we ran for our lives. I felt a sharp strong tug on my back but did not look back. We made it to safety thanks to the clowns that distracted the bulls, but the back of my shirt and vest were torn to bits. I looked into the bull ring when we were safe and one of the bulls had a drum tom on one of his horns and another had a speaker on one of his. Only a pile of torn speaker cabinets, remnants of drums and black and white keys strewn everywhere among colored wires and flattened mics were left. Every time I see a bull fight I get the chills just remembering…

  • We played mostly original and classic Hawaiian with some country.. It was Valentine's Day. My boyfriend was our lead male vocal, and back-up guitar. The venue was a rodeo. I had written a couple of country love songs as a Val-Day present for my BF. We got to the gig. Outdoor stage. It was pouring. No BF. Sheet plastic was stretched across the stage. Water was pooling under the electronics. I got a mild zap from the mic stand. No BF. We finally got set up, tarps and plastic wrapped around everything. No BF. Finally managed to find a phone and get through to the BF's house. It was too wet. He wasn't coming. A female was giggling in the background. Ripped the love songs out of the book. Lead guitar said he could take the male vocals. That worked. Audience wanted line dance covers. We had. . . . one. BUT, I figured, if we got a strong contry swing bass line going, I could fudge every country song I knew into a dance number. Lead guitar liked it. Banjo liked it. Bass player. . . not so much. "I don't play contry dance." Ok, then. Fortunately, there was a sweet little girl who had just won an `ukulele competition. He uncle asked if she could play between our sets. I said, "Why, certainly!" The little girl totally smoked. i invited her to take the rest of the set. The music community in Hawai`i is pretty small, so we all run across each other a lot. It's been a real pleasure to watch Brittni Paiva bloom into a mature musician and make her mark. I know she'd have done fabulously whether or not she played our stage, but sometimes I pretend. . . . it's nice to think you may have helped someone get a little bit closer to her dream! http://www.brittnipaiva.com/home.cfm Oh, yeah – I ended up ditching the BF.

  • Neil

    Ah yes – it comes back like it was just yesterday, I was invited by a bunch of musicians back in the 80’s to join their “country” band – although it was semi-country rock (ish) they way they were playing. I was a rocker myself so couldn’t even give them a hint as to how it SHOULD sound. But for jamming it was fine, grab some beer, play some tunes, all good until someone loses an eye.

    One of them booked us into a local country bar, and despite my better judgement I went along to play.

    Crowd was disappointed, so the lead singer (!) got just wasted between sets (to be fair, he’d started early) and during our final set – which was our second set – he screams out “You want F***’n country, I’ll give you F***’n country” and proceed to lead us on a rollercoaster 15 minute medley of all our songs – with no warning as to what would come next (usually half way through a verse.)

    Talking with a co-worker who knew the rest of the band (yeah small city crowd) – he says “Yeah, maybe I should have warned you about him, he did that in a play we put on.”

    Co-worker said I’d played great, too bad about the band.

    I never went in that bar again.

  • Nick

    Love it – a topic after my own heart. I have just published a book on this very subject, "Another Nightmare Gig from Hell" (Nick Zelinger & Tammy Brackett). Here's an excerpt, from Charlotte-based
    Simplified:

    Several years ago, the band Simplified, from Charlotte, NC, played a regular Sunday night show at a friend’s popular watering hole.

    The Press Box was small but always brought in a decent crowd and a lot of friends, so it was kind of a second home to us. One particular evening it was a bit busier than usual. It might have been a holiday weekend when people have Monday off. I recall having a few drinks and a good time while we were playing. I was in the middle of a guitar solo when I looked up and saw three guys walk into the bar wearing what I thought were costumes.

    The three guys were covered with sheets and had pillowcases with cut-out eyeholes over their heads.
    I thought it was a joke until I saw each of them had pistols with barrels the size of a baby’s arm! I quickly realized this was no joke and set my guitar down. The rest of the band stopped playing as the crooks started shouting for everyone to throw their wallets and purses out in front of them.

    One of the threatening pillowcase-clad trio members was screaming at the bartender to open the safe, grab the weekend’s deposits, and add in the cash in the registers.
    I was wondering whether they were going to start shooting and wondering if I’d be alive after it was over.

    They ended up taking the audience’s wallets and purses. Oddly, except for our band mate Clee Lasiter’s wallet, the crooks left the rest of the bands’ wallets intact.
    After the incident, I was flooded with a feeling of peace that came over me as the police showed up to take the report. I found out a few years later that they were hitting all of the bars in that area of Charlotte and some other areas. One night, they weren’t so lucky, and one of them ended up getting shot by a bar owner. The last I heard they were all in prison, and the guy that got shot was paralyzed.

  • Ummmm. Speechless. We'll be reading this on our latest Podcast, for sure.

  • Kungfuhorn

    O.K…..Installment #2.

    I was playing trumpet on a cruise ship and we had a Magician that came on as one of our live on acts. Meaning..he lived onboard as opposed to flying in and out of the various ports we went to.
    Right out of the gate, the first show was a disaster. On this particular ship (Which was older..maybe vintage late 50’s or early 60’s in design) there was a very large highly polished stainless steel plate that ran all the way around the front of the balcony and faced the stage. It was probably about 3 feet tall. This is in the Main Lounge which seats about 1000.

    Now…TM ( The Magician) had a very very large parrot that he had trained to do tricks as part of his show. He would make him appear (or not…that is another story) and do card tricks and so forth with him. At the end he would have him fly around the room and come back and land on his arm as he was saying good night and taking his bows. That was the plan………………..

    Full House.
    So….TM does his show (Which is a disaster in and of itself…more on that later as well) and goes for the finish. The parrot takes off to fly around the room and right away we can tell from the stage that this is not going to go well. He is heading full speed at this stainless plate because the lights are just about blinding coming off of it. A big bird like that can get up some speed, so, by the time it hit the plate it was a big green blur. BANG!!! Face plant for the parrot. The parrot is almost knocked out and falls into the audience. This thing has a wing span of probably 7 or 8 feet. It is woozy and flapping its wings and snapping and biting at the people in the audience, who of course, go running out of the lounge in terror.
    We couldn’t even play the last song to get him off of stage we were laughing so hard.

    I have several other TM stories as well and batches more of cruise ship stories.
    This one time, at band camp……..lol.

  • You need to write a book! For real.