Regardless of genre or tenured status, a common thread among all musicians is the nightmare gig, the gig that just did not go the way you expected.
It's the gig where that bassist shows up so hammered that he thinks he's the singer. Or maybe it's the night you forget the lyrics to all the songs that you've sung hundreds of times. Or the sordid affair with between that last shot of tequila and malfunctioning zipper that results in revealing more than you planned onstage. Or when your band shows up to open up for a buzz-worthy headliner for a sold-out show, and the drummer shows up after the headliner finishes.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not always the drummer's fault. Sometimes the sound guy just shows up in a bad mood, and that night was just destined for disaster. Singers get sick, PA speakers blow, bassists break strings, riots break out and hurricanes happen. There's an ever-rising tide of rationalization for why that did not go the way you expected it to.
We asked a few local musicians for some of their worst gig nightmares come to life. Like the music spectrum, their stories vary in weight and scale, but they all sound like days better off spent in bed.
Jacob Sereno (American Shit Storm, Dallas Über Alles, MoonVerse)
"Well it wasn't the worst gig ever — the gig was great, but it was the worst thing to ever happen at a gig. Dallas Über Alles was playing the Elm Street Music and Tattoo Festival, and we were headlining Wit's End. About midshow, as I was singing a very high-energy song, I took a deep breath though the microphone and sucked seven bands' worth of spit and beer into my mouth. It was the most disgusting thing ever. I almost threw up all over the audience, but I played it off with stage antics. I will never forget that taste. To this day, I always bring my own mic, and just the thought of that makes me gag."
Jordan Edwards (House of Reveries and IAMYU)
"With my band House of Reveries, we get to the venue, loaded in and watched all the acts perform. Once it was our time to play, we started setting up, got the keys set up, and then the main act's manager comes up and apologizes to us and says that they've run out of time and we can't play. So we were basically just moving our gear for the show of it."
Poppy Xander (Poppy Xander, Starfruit, Helium Queens, Levi Cobb & the Big Smoke, Panic, Primadonna)
"I don’t know about the worst gig, but the most painful gig was when I was playing a songwriter set on the lawn in front of the Courthouse-on-the-Square in Denton. Must have been about three or four years ago. I got shocked in the mouth so many times, I finally declared it an S&M act and called it a day. It must have happened 17 times. And every time, a new set of swear words that I had never previously strung together would fly out of my mouth. Really feel like I made an impression on the people of Denton that day."
Beau Wagner (DARYL, Go Imperial, The West Windows, These Machines Are Winning, Sunshine Village)
"It's 2004, and DARYL was doing a run up the Midwest and then east for the CMJ festival. We arrived in Grand Rapids after a long drive from Chicago and immediately started unloading our gear into the venue.
"As we were pushing a large road case to the stage area, a wide-eyed, completely perplexed manager asked, 'Hey guys. Who are you?' We pointed to our tour poster that was on their wall and said, 'We're the band that's playing here tonight.'
"'We don't have bands play on Mondays nights,' he said.
"'Yes, you fucking do. We booked this months ago through our label. Our poster is literally on your wall.'
"'Well, I don't know what to tell you. Mondays are karaoke nights, but you can still set up if you want.'
"'What the fuck did you just say?' Pretty much describes the look on all of our faces. We conferenced together on whether or not to just bail or go ahead and play since we needed the gas money.
"'I'll be honest, I wasn't prepared to pay a band tonight. Mondays aren't exactly big show days around here.'
"'But, dude, we have a guarantee.'
"'I didn't book the show, and I'm the manager and I don't have any evidence of that or this show,' says the man, completely not giving a shit about the predicament we're in. At this point, we were totally defeated.
"'Where'd you guys come from?' he says, feeling our exasperation.
"'We just drove from Chicago, but we're on tour from Texas.'
"'Texas, huh? Are you guys aware that there are 49 other states?' You've never seen six normally happy-go-lucky faces turn into complete disdain for another human being faster than that moment.
"'Tough crowd,' says the douche.
"In the spirit of tour and a barter of probably 10 pitchers of beer, we decided to power through and play. The rest of the story involves a sunglassed Nascar fan who just got back from cleaning up 9/11 (three years after the attack), Aerosmith, and a trio of AFI-looking rappers all becoming our opening act for the evening."
John Schiller (Tyrannosorceress, Dead To A Dying World, and Kólga)
"I'd say the worst show for me was a festival Cleric was invited to play in El Paso. The fest was in a warehouse, kind of a DIY type of fest, which we are used to playing and suits our band pretty well usually. We were the headlining act for Saturday night, but the place was way too big for the number of people who attended, and then our power got cut midset. Needless to say, we weren't very happy about having driven nine hours to have our set fucked up because they didn't account for the noise created by the bands in that space."
Burette Douglas (The Cush)
"Buck Jones ASCAP showcase at The Mint in Los Angeles 1996. By the time we played, we’d been up over 24 hours, and as soon as we started, our drummer's nose started bleeding pretty bad. He ended up playing with a napkin up his nose. Awesome."
Jack O’Harris (Bloody Knives, Street Preacher)
"Probably when I was 21 or 22, and they were trying out a new sound guy at the Ridglea Theater, who was 18. I threw my guitar at him if I remember correctly. Not super proud of that."
"Worst gig was probably Hailey's Club in Denton about 2006 with History at Our Disposal with some band from L.A. we all hated. We kinda decided to 'throw' the show on purpose — we did a lot of improv back then, which has a lot to do with facing your performance fears.
"Chad DeAtley and I had a discussion before the show, and we added up all the things that were wrong with that night. Several of the band members had been traveling and unable to rehearse, and we were trying a lot of new material that didn’t feel ready. A lot of HAOD shows we’re seeing where the edge of terror was, and usually we ended OK. It was way harder when the band got too big. It was much easier to take chances when it was just Clay Stinnett and myself.
"Anyway, we played a very, very loose show and just decided to let ourselves fail as hard as we could and to see that it really wasn’t that scary. At least it wasn’t for some of us. One regular player packed his stuff up that night and told me, “Well, I’m never doing this again,” and he never did. It was fun to touch the bottom of the barrel and survive."
Rob Michaud (Bullet Machine and Responsible Johnny)
"So many bad shows to choose from. My favorite would be booking a punk show in Houston, finding out when we got there that it had turned into a thrash metal show and we were now the only punk band on the bill — and the other bands were not happy about that fact — then having a woman rush the stage because she thought we were making fun of her during our set, going outside for a smoke and hearing that her boyfriend was going to stab us, telling the owner we were leaving because some dude was going to stab us, him laughing and saying, 'Who said that?', us pointing him out and the owner saying, 'Yeah, you should leave because that guy will totally stab you.'"
Bryan Gonzalez (Mayta)
"I've had a lot of bad gigs, but the worst was me filling in for a drummer with close to no practice and losing my sticks during a song and not having any extra ones on me, so I had to get up and go get it. Things that should have been covered in Playing Live Music 101.
"But worst gigs — fuck. Playing with Mayta. We once had to play in an old warehouse (not the cool kind) where the paint and dust from the insulation and the ceiling fell on us when the music would hit. It was pretty shitty. But there's been a ton of that stuff."
Sean Kirkpatrick (Nervous Curtains, Mirror Box, Little Beards)
"The first show by my former band, The Falcon Project, comes to mind. The show was at the Melodica Festival, organized by the bandleader and the journalist of this piece, Wanz Dover, at Austin's Electric Lounge in 1998. We had been working on an album for a while, but we'd only had a few rehearsals with this lineup of the live band. The rehearsals had gone really well, though, and we were psyched.
"Seeing as how this was a psychedelic music festival and we were a psychedelic rock band, I thought it would be a great time to take acid before the show. Apparently, I was a little too concerned with remembering my drugs and completely forgot to bring my MIDI piano module. Several of the songs were based around my piano parts, which were now nonexistent.
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"Also, at least half of the band had the same idea I did and showed up blitzed on various chemicals, too. By the time we got onstage (after stellar performances by Texas dub kings Sub Oslo and others), most of us were just deer in the headlights. Nothing went the way we'd rehearsed it. Parts were missing or in the wrong key. Attempts at improvising mostly stumbled and fell flat. I felt exposed and paralyzed. The crowd was just staring at us.
"After the set, I packed up and tried to beeline through the room without talking to anyone. This friend of mine stepped in front of me and loudly exclaimed, "THAT WAS AN ABORTION."
David Bikowski (Hands Free)
"I was booked for a show in Norfolk, Virginia. The promoter was upset because I wasn't playing EDM for some reason. They kept badgering me to play vocals and threatened to not pay my fee after the show. Was pretty crazy."