I’m here to help

I always tell people: doing security at the places I work is 90 percent helping people, 5 percent telling people that they can’t do something, and 5 percent ‘tough guy shit’. This blog is going to focus on the 90 percent that is helping people out. The part of the job that I love the most.

My boss at one of the music venues where I work security always says, “You don’t need us until you need us. Then we’re the most important staff there.” It’s true. You often think security people aren’t doing anything, and look bored. That’s why they give us other duties to fulfill throughout the shift. But when something goes down and some situation needs to be dealt with quickly, security staff become the most valued personnel there. Nobody really wants the difficult jobs of breaking up a fight, denying entry to a visibly intoxicated person, denying entry for an expired ID, intervening with sexual harassment, confiscating a fake ID, physically hauling someone outside, 86ing someone from the establishment, detaining someone while the police are called, calling an ambulance for a medical emergency, etc. That all falls on us.

When we’re not doing that ‘tough guy shit’, we are usually given other jobs to pass the time. I more often feel like a host, greeter, or concierge. I answer all of the questions, even the ridiculously stupid ones. It usually feels more like hospitality, rather than ‘bouncing’. We check everyone’s ID in accordance with the O.L.C.C. (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) regulations. Sometimes we check bags, or even pat down or wand people for weapons depending on the venue and the event. Often I end up bussing tables simply because I like to keep moving and help customers. That’s technically a barback and bartender duty. Some venues put us in charge of scanning and processing concert tickets, and assisting at box office. We usually are the ones who change the marquee sign. We answer the telephone. We monitor alcohol use. We guard the venue stage and/or green room. We act as tour guides to out-of-town guests (which I love, since I’ve lived here since 1996 I do know where lots of cool spots are). We help the bands load out their heavy touring gear into their tour bus and trailers. We lock the place down and set the alarm at the end of the night. There are numerous additional duties we take on to help the team and make the night run smoothly. We’re the first and last people you see when you are here, so we must make a good impression.

But, like I said, the most rewarding part is helping people out. That’s what I’ve primarily done for every job I’ve ever worked at since I was 19, if you distill the jobs down to their base function.

Nothing makes me happier than people making comments to me like, “You’re the nicest security guard I’ve ever met.” I hear that every couple of weeks. Or, “You win the award for nicest bouncer ever.” Another memorable one was a woman who said, “You have the most sincere smile of anybody in here.” My philosophy is that if you win people over coming through the door, you’ve got them on your side for the rest of the night. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up having to ask a patron to leave, but since they remembered me “being cool” to them earlier, they do what I’m asking them without any hassle. And no punches. Some people even shake my hand as I’m having them leave. It’s a trip.

One particular night I was working the venue and a very sweet older African-American woman was there with her family to watch her daughter perform that night. I’m always appreciative when I see older people/parents attend concerts. My parents have been coming out to see my various bands perform since I was about 19.  I appreciate when the bouncers take extra care with them and help them find seats away from any mayhem or danger. Door guys have offered to walk my parents to a good table, offered them earplugs, and even waived the cover charge.

So on this night, this very kind woman was asking me the usual questions about where she should sit, where would the best view be, what time her daughter’s band was starting and finishing, etc. I helped situate her and her family members at a bench along the side of the room that had great view of the singer. She asked if she could leave to go to her car and get some pillows, since the bench was just hard wood and not that comfortable for long periods of sitting. She did that and returned to her area. I was stationed by the curtain leading back to the green room and backstage area, so I continued to check on her and her family throughout the evening.

She came up to me and asked if there were any other tables in the venue so that she and her family could have somewhere to set their drinks. Some nights there are just a couple of tables, other nights there are zero tables, and some nights there are 10 tables set out with candles on them. I told her that I would see what I could do. I could’ve just told her that I didn’t know where any additional tables were, but that didn’t seem right. I left my post for a minute to look around backstage. No tables. I went outside the venue and looked in the indoor parking garage. Sure enough, there were a few tables out there. The tables are moderately heavy, but I picked one up and walked with it across the parking garage and back into the venue. Through two doors, down some stairs, and through the curtain.

If you’ve seen the 1990 Martin Scorsese mafia movie GOODFELLAS, you remember the nightclub scene. Ray Liotta is trying to impress his new lady, so he takes her to the club that he has partial ownership of. He walks her around the VIP line and through the basement of the building, walking through the kitchen and tipping everybody he sees. They enter the club and a famous comedian is performing. There is nowhere to sit at all, but since he is who he is, the staff brings out a small table and puts it down right in front of the performers. They throw on a tablecloth and silverware and a candle, and set them up in the best spot there is. His girlfriend is duly impressed. And it’s all done in one long continuous shot. I felt like I was bringing in the table for this woman in similar fashion. In I come with a table just for her and her crew. I put the table down right in front of her and held up my finger in the gesture that means, “Hold on a minute.” I then went and got a candle and put it down on the table for her. She clasped her hands together like she was praying and smiled a huge smile at me. Her face was aglow with gratitude.

Later I was out near the front doors saying goodnight to people and this woman found me and thanked me profusely for the special treatment. She gave me a side-hug and put a 5 dollar bill in my shirt pocket. I was so touched. That wasn’t the biggest tip I’ve ever received there, but it may have been the most heartfelt one.

One night we had a blind man with a guide dog come in for the concert. I walked them into the venue and found a logical place for them to enjoy the show where the dog could lay down and not be underfoot. That dog was so chill. I’ve worked with dozens, if not hundreds, of dogs in my life. I used to run a non-profit dog rescue so I’m quite familiar. Most dogs I’ve ever had were agitated by loud noises, in particular fireworks and gunshots and thunder. But a loud rock concert could certainly be included in that group of relatively unpleasant experience for a canine ‘fan’. This dog was right at home watching all the people walk around him and ignoring the raucous rock music. This little guy didn’t even have earplugs.

Later on in the evening a female friend of the blind man asked me to come over. The man was hoping to step outside and get some fresh air and take a break from the concert. We left the dog under the charge of the woman and exited the venue. This man grabbed my shoulder and let me lead him through the crowd and out to the sidewalk. He told me about how he traveled here from Eugene for this show and how much he loves this band and Portland in general. We, of course, talked about how great his service dog was to be so calm in a noisy rock concert. We walked the block several times, with him still gripping my shoulder as I steered him around obstacles and homeless people. Observers would probably think that this man was my Dad.

It’s these little connections that make my job so unique. I spent a good 20 minutes with this man, and I’ll never see him again. But he trusted me completely and we talked and bonded on music and animals and life in general. Later I helped him call a cab and watched him and his service dog hop in the car to go back to their hotel. Everybody knows when you lose one sense, the other ones get stronger. Being a blind man, I guarantee he heard that concert more acutely than I’ve ever heard a concert. I’m actually a bit envious of how he experienced and heard this show. And I really wish I could talk to his dog and ask him what he thought of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am the wristband concierge

Sometimes one of the music venues that I work security at contracts with an outside promoter. This promoter sets up shows with some national touring acts a handful of times throughout the year. These shows are sponsored by an energy drink. This sickeningly sweet beverage perhaps rhymes with the word Dreadful.

The thing about these shows is that everybody on staff hates them because of the terrible way they are set up. I honestly can’t understand why they do it this way. It is always a shit-show. We are left with a ton of unsatisfied people who make the night unpleasant for everyone involved. These dreadful events meet all the criteria for the term ‘clusterfuck’.

Normal ticket prices for concerts at this venue run anywhere from $10 to $30 on a regular night, depending on the acts. We have a 300 person capacity venue, so shows here sell out pretty regularly. For this dreadful event, they pre-sell reservations online for tickets for only $3. This ensures that way too many people will show up than will actually get in. A line will run down the side of our building and around the corner in front of another business. People will stand in this line for hours. They sell more than 300 RSVP tickets to this show, so this is technically intentionally overselling an event.

They hired two sexy women who barely looked 21 to walk around with little sponsor backpacks full of these energy drinks. I carded them even after the first door guy did because I just didn’t think they were 21. Either they actually were 21, or they had immaculate fake IDs. They actually had trouble giving away their little cans of dreadful, so they left a ton of them back in our kitchen area. I think I drank one and took one for another time. I need all the caffeine I can get tonight.

On a normal night, we have 3-4 security staff working the event. One person works the door checking IDs and assessing people for being too intoxicated. Another person scans the concert tickets and stamps your wrists. Another person sits in the venue at the curtain doing crowd control and checking for wristbands granting access to the green room. Another person is the rover, and they check the patio and perimeter and help the other staff as needed.

But on this night, we would have all security staff on shift. Maybe 5-6 people. I was given a brand new job just for this event. My job is to take the wristbands given to each person at the box office and affix them to your wrists as I attempt to explain the batshit crazy way this event works. And monitor admission numbers with the clicker. If you get all the way up to me and get a wristband from the box office, you’ve won. You already paid the measly $3 to reserve your ticket at the box office. And if you got in line hours early, you were one of the first 300 people to get processed. You were then able to pay the remainder of the ticket price to get your actual ticket, which in this case was the all-holy green wristband. Maybe $8-12 more dollars.

You can already see the flaw in this plan, can’t you? If you happen to be behind the 300th person in line, you don’t get a ticket/wristband. Even though you already paid the $3 online to reserve your spot. And after you already waited in that goddammed line for hours. So you lose that $3, you waste hours of your time, and you are extra pissed off because paying the money online sort of convinced you that you got a spot.

There’s an art to affixing those wristbands to 300 people’s wrists. They want one person to do it all so it’s uniform. You want it on the same wrist, not too tight but not too loose. The first few times I did it I sort of fumbled with it and made small talk about which band they were most excited to see. But I quickly got the hang of it and was putting those wristbands on people’s wrists without leaving any exposed sticky parts to pull on their arm hair. I got my technique down and everything. One guy appreciated my helpfulness in answering his questions and getting the wristband on so quickly. He said, “Tonight you are the wristband concierge.” I grinned at him and said, “Indeed I am.”

As my clicker nears the number 300, we walk out to the expectant faces in the line and tell them that we are 20 tickets away from being sold out. We count back 20 people and tell everybody else that they are essentially shit out of luck and should go home. Of course now we have a ton of disappointed angry people who then try to get in the bar to drink their sorrows away, and perhaps try to sneak past all of us to get into the venue. And everybody wants to argue with me about how the system is flawed and they deserve to get in. Some people try to buy their way in by offering me the ticket cost in cash. Some people just linger outside the doorway thinking that we just made that up and that somehow miraculously the venue will expand in size, adding 45 more tickets that we can sell. I’ve been telling people ‘no’ all night, and now my skills of telling people ‘no’ are activated at the highest level. And I’m apologizing for the fracas on behalf of a company that intentionally set this shit-show up this way.

Due to the over-capacity crowd in the venue, and the massive crowd of disgruntled people trying to get in the bar/restaurant section, we did something I haven’t done before at this venue. We stopped letting people in all together. We stood at the doors and told people that we are over capacity in both the venue and the bar, so nobody can come in right now. People just don’t compute that. They try to beg, bribe, and argue their way in. Some entitled assholes just act like they can’t hear me and try to walk around me. I put my hand on their arm and speak again directly to them in my loudest angry voice. “We are over-capacity and not letting anyone in. At all. You need to go somewhere else.”

I continue to tell people various forms of ‘no’. I don’t think I’ve ever told people ‘no’ so many times in one night.

“No there are no more tickets to the show.”

“No there is no guest list with your name on it.”

“No you can’t buy a ticket from me.”

“No you can’t come in to use the bathroom.”

“No you can’t come in the bar.”

“No you can’t come in if one person leaves.”

“No you can’t just go look in the venue.”

“No you can’t order food, the kitchen has dozens of active food orders.”

“No you can’t talk to a manager right now.”

One very attractive young woman was trying her best to flutter her eyelashes and stand really close to me and sweet-talk her way in to the show with her two friends. Numerous polite but firm ‘nos’ were given to her. She left for a while and then came back with a ripped up green wristband on her wrist. She talked somebody who was leaving the concert into removing their wristband and giving it to her. This is ticket-clipping, done by snowboarders and festival goers since the dawn of time. What this woman didn’t know was that I was the wristband concierge, and had personally attached all 300 of the wristbands to everybody here tonight. Also, the wristband was barely staying together on her wrist, as it had been cut. She was trying to hold it together under her coat sleeve. I told her I knew exactly what she just did and that I did not put that wristband on her. And that now she needed to leave.

The stupidity continues even in the venue. The energy drink sponsor set up a drink special where their product is used as the main ingredient/mixer. Bartenders were instructed not to pour the entire can into the drink and then recycle it, like they would normally. They were supposed to pour most of the can into the drink, add the hard liquor, and then give the drink cup and the little can of dreadful to the customer. The can only had a few ounces of sugary caffeinated liquid left in it. I later found out the strategy behind this. They wanted every photo taken to have a huge crowd of people with every single person holding a can of dreadful. Product placement at it’s finest.

The problem was, people don’t like to carry around a drink in both hands for very long. Double-fisting gets old fast. So they would primarily just leave the can of dreadful somewhere. On the side of the stage, the tables, guard rails, the floor. These cans get knocked over or fall off their perch, and the sticky yellow liquid gets all over the concrete floor. All night long. After hundreds of drinks being served like this, and several hours of this happening, the floor was universally covered in a sticky film of sugar, taurine,  and B-vitamin juice. If caffeine had a smell, the place would have been a hotbox of dreadful stank. When your shoes stick to the concrete floor with every step, it makes dancing and walking around distracting and troublesome.

And just when I thought this entire thing couldn’t get any worse….
The headlining band shot off a bunch of confetti at the end of their set. This confetti all inevitably landed on the floor. The floor that was covered in a centimeter of yellow energy drink paste and alcohol. Now we have thousands of little bits of paper landing in the sticky swamp. Genius. Maybe this is how you make napalm. And maybe that’s the solution tonight. I’m just glad that mopping up the venue floor does not fall under my job description. After tonight I need a drink. However I don’t think I want to drink a little can of dreadful ever again.

 

 

 

 

 

New Lace Sleeves

Sometimes there is a song that just gets to you at the right moment in your life. Then it sticks in your subconscious and kicks around in your brain for a few decades. Always striking you like it did the first time you heard it. It’s lasting power means that it never sounds dated or “of it’s time”. It just sounds perfect to you, forever.

I have a theory that the songs you listen to when you hit puberty imprint upon you in a special way, deeper and stronger than other times in your life. You move from being a child to being an adult. Your brain is awakening, your body is changing, your hormones and body chemistry are raging. You’re thinking about sex all the time. Song lyrics and feelings hit you hard. Those songs stick with you your entire life in a personal and special way. But that is a topic for a completely different blog.

This blog is about the Elvis Costello song “New Lace Sleeves.”  I first heard this moody song when I saw the video around age 11. Yup, puberty.

I almost switched the channel when I saw a black and white music video start up with musicians who looked like they were in bands from the 50’s or 60’s. But I stuck it out. Close ups of the musicians playing their instruments, and lyrics like I had never heard before kept me hooked. The singer was wearing a suit but was actually pretty nerdy. Reminded me of Buddy Holly with his machinist sunglasses that he kept peeking up over the top of. Gap-toothed and slight, he didn’t strike me as a lead singer of a band. But damn, was I wrong.

Face

The video starts with a cool shuffle beat on the drums. This was before I had started playing drums myself, but even as a kid I appreciated the odd gallop of the hi-hat and snare drum. It definitely wasn’t a generic four on the floor beat like I was used to hearing. Then a close up of Elvis playing just one string of his Gretsch guitar. Then a pretty badass bass line comes in, followed by haunting keyboards and piano. The balance is perfect, with everything sitting where is should in the mix. And then the vocals come in. And it was all over from there.

Bad lovers face to face in the morning with
Shy apologies and polite regrets
Slow dances that left no warning of
Outraged glances and indiscreet yawning
Good manners and bad breath get you nowhere
Even Presidents have newspaper lovers
Ministers go crawling under covers

That’s poetry. Some of these lyrics remind me of the great Charles Bukowski. These lines struck me as so profound that I sang along to them over and over again. I was happily surprised to find a lyricist that wasn’t just singing cliché after cliché in simple rhyming patterns. Even his phrasing was unusual to me. Stretching out short words like “Even”, and using vocabulary words not often found in pop songs. He’s almost crooning like Sinatra. I thought he said “Irish glasses” when he in fact says “Outraged glances”. It’s not about getting drunk, but is about awkward interpersonal communication. Listen to the note he chooses when singing “Even ministers go crawling under co-VERS.” It wasn’t until many years later that I would understand his words about the awkwardness of morning-after small talk with someone who you just slept with.

She’s no angel
He’s no saint
They’re all covered up with white wash and grease paint
When you say
The teacher never told you anything but white lies
But you never see the lies that you believe
Oh you know you have been captured
You feel so civilized
And you look so pretty in your new lace sleeves

Here’s my favorite part of the song. I’ve recited this clever lyrical passage countless times. And I can always picture Elvis holding up his hand and wiggling his fingers when he sings, “With their continental fingers that have never seen working blisters.”  This is class envy of the beautiful people, mixed with judgment and derision for them. But he still wishes to be in their circle, or at least be around them. The unattainable women.

The salty lips of the socialite sisters
With their continental fingers that have
Never seen working blisters
Oh, I know they’ve got their problems
I wish I was one of them
They say Daddy’s coming home soon
With his Sergeant stripes
And his Empire mug and spoon

I always thought that he said, “They say that he’s coming home soon.” Which I interpreted to mean that the woman who Elvis just slept with has a husband and he will return soon. Turns out he’s talking about a father returning from the war. Empire mug and spoon is the standard issue gear given to soldiers. The majority of the song is about post-war adjustment and aimlessness.

bass

No more fast buck
And when are they gonna learn their lesson?
When are they gonna stop all of these victory processions?
You say
The teacher never told you anything but white lies
But you never see the lies that you believe
Oh you know you have been captured
You feel so civilized
And you look so pretty in your new lace sleeves

These lyrics moved me with their originality and ambiguous/confusing content. I had to figure this song out, and live it. I found my tape recorder and recorded the song the next time it came on. This was way before the days of being able to just google any song to find the lyrics. Hell, this was before the internet existed. If the band didn’t print the lyrics in the sleeve of their record, you really had no way of accurately determining what was actually being sung. Best-guess. I played the song over and over again, line by line, and guessed at what the lyrics were. I scribbled down the entire song this way in pencil. Then I would sing along and memorize the lyrics I had deciphered. Years later I learned how wrong I was on some of the lines.

“Even Presidents have newspaper lovers.” What the hell? I had to look that up. Silly little 11-year-old that I was. I also swore that when he said “No more fast buck,” it was really “No more fast fuck.” I don’t know why I thought that, because that doesn’t really make sense. But in the video his mouth movement doesn’t quite match up with the audio. I thought that could’ve been intentional as a distraction. There was so much sultry singing with abstract lyrics that I convinced myself he had somehow gotten away with dropping the f-bomb on daytime cable television. For all I knew, he was talking about a quickie with someone in a back alley. Wishful thinking, maybe.

There’s no cheesy conceptual distraction in this video, which I greatly appreciated. It leaves the imagery and interpretation of the lyrics up to you. It’s just the four men playing their instruments, and Elvis looking directly at the camera as he sings. Cigarette smoke rises endlessly from the ash tray on the piano behind him. There’s certainly no sexy woman wearing lace sleeves, old or new.  They probably got this video in 2-3 takes. Elvis’s voice is striking and unique. At times smooth and silky, other times slightly nasal and borderline congested. But it works. I love his voice. His phrasing of intelligent and unusual lyrics has influenced me to this day in my own lyric writing. Elvis is the man.

This song is found on the 1981 album TRUST from Elvis Costello and the Attractions. I’ve delved through lots of his other music since then. I’m a huge fan of “Watching the Detectives” (which is a karaoke staple of mine), “I Want You”, “Radio, Radio”, “Alison”, and many others. But no song gets me like “New Lace Sleeves” does. Every time. I feel like I’m eleven years old again. Sucked in and mystified by how good a song can be.

Watch the video here:

New Lace Sleeves

TRUST album cover

 

 

Hey, pass me that drumstick

Nights where I’m working in the venue are often my favorite nights.

The venue is air-conditioned, so I can stay cool in there. And my job when working venue is one of the easier ones. I essentially sit at the curtain leading to backstage and the green room. I check wristbands for access, and make sure nobody gets back there without authorization. I help the musicians out, watch over their personal belongings and gear, and assist them with load out. I can help out the bartenders if it’s a slow night. I watch the crowd for issues and remove people if they get onstage. Crowd control includes watching you while you’re watching the show. I stop people from smoking pot in the venue, and ask people to leave if they are visibly intoxicated or being too touchy with women. And I’ll sometimes physically remove people if they belligerent, non-compliant, or start a fight. That’s the actual ‘bouncer’ part of this job.

But essentially, if nothing is happening that needs to be dealt with, I get to watch a free show from mere feet away from the stage.

Being a musician in a band myself, it’s a perfect job for me. I get to be around musicians and performers and watch them perform their art. I can network with them and pick their brain about things. I love watching a pro touring band pack up their vehicles like Tetris. I usually learn a few things about packing and storing gear for long drives to the next gig.  I often am given free CDs and t-shirts and such from the bands once they figure out that I’m interested in them.

Being a drummer, I am usually slightly more focused on watching the drummer play.  I was happy to discover that one drummer had the exact same Pearl Session Studio Classic kit that I have. Same color even. I definitely see what people mean about drummers making goofy faces while they play. I’ve been told that I actually don’t do that, but I don’t really know if I do or not. I try not to. Some drummers really do look ridiculous and distract from the show with their odd facial mugging.

One drummer poked his set list on the little hi-hat pull rod. This is the pencil-sized metal piece that extends vertically above the hi-hat cymbals. I’ve never seen a drummer do this before and, I’ll be honest, I judged him for it. Every other drummer simply lays the set list on the ground for reference. Some tape it to the side of the drum monitor. But never in my decades of playing shows and attending shows have I seen a drummer stab the set list on this little metal rod. It’s now on your instrument. You might accidentally hit it with your drumstick. Were you concerned about a gale force wind blowing across the stage and your set list flying away? Were you just too in a hurry to put it in an appropriate spot? Did you leave your contact lenses out and you can’t see the list unless it’s a foot from your face? Or are you just trying to be all punk rock rebel about it?

OK, that might be too picky. But this example is certainly a valid one of an unprepared and unprofessional drummer.

A fun band was onstage rocking some funk/dance music. This band shall remain unnamed. The drummer dropped a drum stick while playing.

OK, let me go back here and give you the background before I launch into this guy. Drummers break sticks. Drummers drop sticks. I’m not begrudging him for this, nor am I innocent of this faux pas myself. It happens. You’re gripping these custom cut pieces of wood and hitting things with them thousands and thousands of times during the performance. They chip away as you play, they crack, and then they break. You’re sweating. Shit happens. I pride myself on not dropping sticks very often when I’m playing drums onstage. But I hit pretty hard and the stage lights make you sweaty. I break sticks during shows and occasionally drop one.

But what you do is, keep playing the beat while you grab a replacement stick and forge ahead. Most people don’t even notice this happening unless they are a drummer themselves. You have extra drumsticks placed around your drum set for this very situation. You can just set some on top of your bass drum. Or buy a cheap clamp-on stick holder and clip it to the base of your hi-hat stand or any cymbal stand within reach. Or, your stick bag itself unfolds and hooks onto your floor tom. Any of these methods work to prevent being stick-less after a break/drop of a stick.

But this particular drummer on this particular night had a very unfortunate circumstance. He dropped a drumstick. But instead of it just dropping down to the floor around the drum kit, somehow it was flung sideways towards his fellow musicians. The drumstick went laterally to the right and hit the keyboard. On the keys. Stopping the keyboard player from playing. The stick bounced off the keyboard and hit the other guy in the chin. This completely stopped all keyboard parts in the song and made the musician recoil a foot away from his area.

That’s embarrassing and unprofessional. But accidents happen and you must expect misfires, and just deal with them like a trooper. But, this drummer had no replacement sticks set out anywhere on or near his kit. He was just screwed. He kept playing what he could of the beat with just his one hand and his feet, but the beat essentially disappeared. There was a gasp from the audience as they all worried if the keyboard player was ok. Part of me expected the keyboard player to launch himself at the drummer and wrestle him to the floor. A drumstick flung at somebody (accidental or not) could really hurt somebody. Especially hitting you in the eye.

But the keyboard player recovered and moved back up to the keyboard again. At this point I realized the drummer truly had no backup sticks anywhere in sight and this could be what’s called in the business a “Trainwreck”. That’s where somebody screws up the song so badly that the other musicians can’t maintain the song and it falls apart completely. But, the bass player came to the rescue.
He had to stop playing as well, but it was for the salvation of the song and the band at this point. He walked across the entire stage, crossing in front of the drum set and the singer and the guitar player. Somehow he had seen where that drumstick had landed and took it upon himself to go get it. He picked it up and handed it to the drummer, who sheepishly grabbed it and was able to play the full beat again. The other musicians could then return to the same part of the song and keep playing.

I was sitting in the backstage curtain shaking my head. Such a newbie mistake. I’ve seen high school drummers that had no experience bring backup sticks and recover from a dropped stick better than this guy did. It’s the same issue with guitarists having extra picks taped to their mic stand or the guitar itself. You’re gonna drop a pick and you know that you will need another one during the song. For the love of gawd, come prepared. It’s kind of just a given. There are enough other things that can and will happen on stage that you aren’t ready for. But hedge your bets and have a plan for the problems that you can foresee.

I would’ve loved to have been within earshot of the discussion after the show in the green room. The discussion where the keyboard player asks the drummer why he tried to skewer him with a flying machete-drumstick.

Maybe I should just double as a stage hand while I’m working security. I can bring my own drumsticks and carry a pair in my back pocket. When somebody drops a stick and has no replacement, I’ll just scramble up onstage with my flashlight and security shirt and hand the drummer new drumsticks.

I will accept tips, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onstage with Denzel

Working security at music venues continues to put me in odd situations that I never thought I would be in.

I usually do the expected things like greet patrons, check IDs, scan the concert tickets, stamp wrists, and bounce drunk people out that need to leave the venue.

But some nights I end up onstage.

Some touring bands with a fervent fanbase request that one or two security guards from the venue stand onstage during the set. This is to prevent overzealous (or over-drunk) fans from climbing onstage and interfering with the performance. And to prevent stage-diving or accidental damage to musical equipment.

On this particular night, we had a rapper on tour that requested security presence onstage. With only a DJ table onstage, there was more room than normal for the performers to run around. But also more room to entice a drunk fan to try to come on up and have a moment with their musical idol. So once the show began I positioned myself stage right.

I’ve been on lots of stages performing with various rock bands I’ve been in, so I’m quite comfortable on stage. But, as the drummer, I am the furthest away from the crowd and am somewhat hidden by my drum kit. It is indeed a strange thing to be onstage in full vision of the entire crowd and not be performing in any way. I’m literally just crouching down on the side of the stage looking out at the crowd. I try to make sure that my walkie-talkie is visible by hanging it off the front of my hoodie. The word ‘security’ is clearly printed on my hoodie as well. My boss actually hates being onstage as security, and he probably offers the spot to me because I don’t mind it.

My friends know that I’m a big teddy bear, and friendly as hell. But as a security guard I’m sometimes required to be the tough guy. When on stage as a preventive measure my job is to at least attempt to look intimidating. The message we want to send is, “Security guards are onstage to prevent you from coming up here, so don’t even think about trying to get up here.” So I’m crouched onstage wearing all black scanning the crowd for potential problem patrons. Frowning, of course. And my brow is seriously furrowed.

The rapper is Denzel Curry. I had never heard of him and hadn’t had time to google him before clocking in to work tonight. The show was sold out and the venue was packed. His DJ/partner came out on stage and started playing the intro tracks. Denzel then came out and the crowd went wild. Little clouds of pot smoke puffed up over various spots in the audience. Denzel is an attractive young African-American man with huge thick dreadlocks. He was shirtless and pretty ripped. He reminded me of a leaner and younger Busta Rhymes. I later found out he was 22 years old. This dude wasn’t born until I was already out of college.

So he starts running all over the stage and getting the crowd going. He had a lot of room up there he could cover by running around and engaging with the crowd.  He sees me crouched over on the side of the stage. Now, just to recap, I am a Caucasian man twice his age, probably have 80 pounds on him, also with dreadlocks. I am quite sure that I looked….out of place onstage. I keep trying to look out at the crowd to make eye contact with people. Some patrons are just a foot away from me trying to hold up their smartphones to record the performance.

Off to the side of the stage were two sexy Latinas pushing right up against the stage. Each of their boyfriends were pushing right up against them too. The men were definitely grinding their crotches into the asses of the two women. Everybody was so into it, with the booze and the weed, that I almost thought that these two couples were actually having sex. The faces the women were making were straight out of a porn movie.  Mouths wide open in a huge O shape, flipping their hair around, and grabbing the hands of the boyfriends. The dudes were behind them doggy-style gripping their hips and sometimes their breasts. I felt like I was inside their bedroom witnessing a personal private moment. If I had seen belts come off I would’ve had to go over and ask them to leave. Because, you know you can’t have sex at the front of a rap concert. That might distract from the musical performance happening. Of course they weren’t actually having sex, but the dry-humping in unison continued for a few more songs.

Some things that run through my head as I’m looking out into the crowd include:

“So if somebody gets up onstage should I throw them back into the audience like fishes into the sea? Or should I escort them off to the side stairs?”

“Man, I don’t even like rap music.”

“Some of these fans would pay money to be able to stand on stage with their rap hero. Maybe I can have one of them trade with me?”

“What if Denzel pulls me out onstage like Bruce Springsteen does with Courtney Cox in the Dancing’ in the Dark video?

Denzel makes his way over to stage right and is standing right by me now. He looks at me. I’m wondering if he doesn’t know that I’m security and is questioning why the hell I’m even onstage right now. I look back at him and he raises his hand high. He wants to give me a high-five. I raise my hand and we give each other a huge high-five clap. I grin a little bit, and the crowd right around us cheers.

Was it that we both had dreads? Was he thanking me for working security onstage tonight? Was he bridging the gap and being inclusive? Did I just get vouched for?
I have no idea, but it was a special little odd moment. I know that the crowd found it quite unique to see this 22-year-old African-American rapper high-five this middle-aged white security guy onstage. I wish somebody would’ve recorded this.
Nobody tried to get onstage for the rest of the night. Denzel put on great performance. Being the only person onstage with a DJ behind you, the responsibility all falls on him to be the entertainment and engage the crowd visually. He probably sweat out 10 pounds during his show. At one point he laid down on the stage and rapped from a prone position, twitching almost convulsively as the music traveled through his body. Great show, great performer, great vantage point.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow night has in store for me.

Let me stamp your wrist

I’m a security guard at several music venues around Portland, Oregon. It’s probably one of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few. You come in to a music venue to see a band or a DJ perform. To dance all night, drink, flirt, and tell loud stories. To make bad decisions and have great stories to tell the next day.

I’m the guy at the door checking IDs. We are going to have a brief little moment together. Usually polite, usually friendly, almost always pretty surfacy. Our special interaction takes anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. In that time I’m trying to do several relatively simple things.

I’m trying to be friendly and welcome you to the venue. Then I’m engaging you in small talk, looking at your eyes and your gait to assess if you are already too drunk or high to allow into the club. I’m checking your ID to be sure that you are actually the person on the ID. I’m making sure that you were born before this date on 1995, and if your ID has expired. I’m examining the ID to see if it looks fake in general. I’m also trying to keep an eye on people in my peripheral vision that might be trying to sneak past while I’m engaged with you. Then, depending on the event or venue, I’m also scanning your concert ticket and giving you stamps on your wrists. Usually you get one stamp for having a valid ID and being of age, and then you get a different stamp for having a valid ticket to the concert.

I’m also the guy who escorts people out if they’re fighting, or simply are too intoxicated to be there. I answer a lot of questions. The most common things I end up saying besides the usual include, “Yes, there is re-entry. The bathroom is over there. No we don’t have a coat check. You can’t take your drinks outside. The ATM is just outside by the door. The box office is just over there. Yes the show is sold out. No there aren’t any more tickets available.”

Depending on the venue, and my specific duties that night, it is possible that I will have anywhere from 150 to 600 small interactions with patrons of the venue. We’re  going to handle all of these things as quickly as possible, and I’ll try to not ask the same questions several hundred times.

Since I’ve lived in Portland for 20 years, it is a rare night that I don’t see at least one person that I know from my various circles of friends and acquaintances while working the door.

When I ask to give you a stamp on your wrist, we have a strange little physical interaction where a complete stranger is touching your wrist and putting a little ink mark on you. It’s actually sort of intimate. I’m cradling your hand in mine with one hand, then stamping your wrist with my other hand. We’re close and looking in each other’s eyes. It’s almost the way you would cradle your lover’s hand if you were proposing. Sometimes you have to remove gloves, move bracelets, or switch your phone or beer to your other hand. Very often you have wrist tattoos that make it difficult to find a good visible place to put the stamp. And sometimes you have a scar on your wrist.

This happens far more than you would think. I look at the scar on your wrist and sometimes I know it’s from a suicide attempt. Or that you are or were a cutter. If you and I ever had a personal talk you’d probably tell me it was from a car crash. I’d probably smile and agree with you. But cuts from windshield safety glass can look like cuts from your broken wine glass in the bathtub. Or a straight-razor. If the scars go across the wrist like where your wristwatch band would be, maybe you weren’t that serious. If the scars go up the length of the forearm, you were more dedicated. If there were numerous scars of differing healing patterns, colors, and scar tissue, you might have tried a few times.

I think about all of this in the few seconds before I stamp your wrist. Occasionally I have a debate in my mind deciding if I should put the ink stamp off to the side of your scar, or directly on top of it. Some people must wonder, “Why did that door guy just stamp my scar?”  It’s a strange little moment we have where neither of us acknowledges it or says anything, but we both know what just happened. Two complete strangers now sort of share a secret. When I stamp you on your scar I think of it as a protective seal. It is a magical binding. Don’t open this again. It’s me placing my sigil of safety over your wound.

It is a sobering thought to imagine that every person who has a scar on their wrist may have been so depressed and dejected that they tried to end their life at one point. I hope I’m wrong about this. Because I see a bunch of them each night. But here you are, out and about trying to have fun. Not staying home in your apartment where the darkness can take too strong a hold of you. Don’t paint it black.

Maybe someday you’ll try to take your own life again and succeed. Maybe you’ll never try it again. Maybe that was a specific dark time in your life. Or maybe you have to fight off suicidal thoughts every day. You may be here because music is the only thing in your life that keeps you going. Or you’re here meeting the one person that you’ve met that understands you and gives you reason to keep going.

I’m just glad that you are here. And I want to see you here again. Music heals.
Maybe tomorrow morning you’ll wake up and wash the stamp off of your wrist and remember what a great night it was. And maybe you’ll think again about how that scar got there in the first place.

Maybe I’m overthinking all this and I’m just a guy putting a stamp on your wrist.

But I don’t think so.

I’ve been having this dream where dozens of people are stumbling into the venue holding their bleeding wrists out towards me. I’m supposed to suture everybody’s cuts shut but there’s too many of them and I can’t close the wounds fast enough. They all are asking me to help them and pulling up their sleeves to show me their wrists. The crowd starts pushing past me into the venue. Both wrists of every single person have been slashed open and they won’t stop bleeding.

Everybody streams past me into the venue and I hear the music start. Then a figure slowly strides through the doors and stands in front of me. This tall robed figure gently lifts up my wrist and pours candle wax on it. This doesn’t hurt. Then he stamps a sign into the wax, just like Kings in ancient times would do after sealing a private letter. I look up to see his face and I just see light. And then I wake up.

Going on tour

I’m in a rock band called The Shrike. We go on a small tour annually in October.

As we just recently completed our Chase the Sun tour, I have lots of recent memories and observations to blog about.

Most of my friends probably don’t understand the gritty realities that being on tour actually entails. It’s certainly not glamorous or particularly easy. Touring is quite possibly the most fun I have playing in a band, yet also the most challenging. Many better writers than me have written entire books about tour life. But here is a glimpse of my shift from regular dude to on-the-road musician.

Before leaving for tour, my life centers around the regular things that we all do.

I am a new stepfather, so I spend a lot of time with my step kids. We have one girl and one boy in elementary school. I wake up at 6:15am no matter how tired I am to get them ready for school and walk them to the bus stop. I’ll go to their school with their Mom to meet with their teachers. Set up some volunteering opportunities at their school.

Of course I take care of my own mundane life needs like paying bills, grocery shopping, and keeping the household and vehicles going in smooth order

At night I enjoy running the bedtime routine for them. I’m in the bathroom with them, all brushing our teeth together. Or sending them through bath-time. The girl loves to create concoctions like she is a chemist making new cremes and body washes imbued with magical powers and named after celestial bodies. The boy likes to hold his breath underwater while I time him, also searching for bath toys and identifying them by touch. Every night I’ll read out loud to each of them for a long time until they fall asleep.

Before I headed out for our tour I printed a map of our route so they could follow along and know what state and city I was in while I was away.

Then before you know it….we launched our tour.

Now the focus of every day is event planning, coordination, networking, traveling, and juggling the minutia of spending 11 days on the road and managing 9 shows in 7 states.

Most of us have extensive background in attending the Burning Man festival and regional events, so packing some clothes and food in coolers for two weeks is something we can do in our sleep. Most of us have dietary needs and restrictions, so packing our own food is helpful and cheaper. Eating on the road is necessary but challenging to say the least. Some days you really only have time to find some food at the deli in the gas station while you’re gassing up. They’re known mainly for deep fried, unhealthy meat-based items. Or processed desserts and chips and donuts. Teriyaki beef jerky, goodbye to you.

We’re already spending too much time sedentary sitting in a car. We don’t have any opportunity to exercise or work out, so any poor eating choices we make we will pay for later. One of our band members is vegan and one is vegetarian. I decided to try eating vegetarian this tour out of solidarity, and for ease of choosing places to eat. The other band member decided to take that challenge along with me. So when we stopped at the gas station food marts, my stand-by item became egg salad sandwiches. Or, as they became known on this tour due to my tired slurring of my words, exile sandwiches. I must have eaten a dozen of those. Pro-tip: grab the condiment packets before you leave and add relish, mayo, and mustard to the exile sandwich to spice it up. Also, buy one to eat immediately and one to save in your cooler for later.

Your entire day is structured around the 45 minute set you will perform later that night. Sometimes it will be a longer set, depending on if we’re headlining and how many other bands are on the bill. But you don’t really think like you do when you grind away at an office job for 8 hours, looking forward to your breaks, slacking off, and trying to look busy. We are busy. Traveling, securing housing at friends or getting a cheap hotel. Reminding yourself the names of the people I’ve been communicating with for weeks if not months. The minute we enter the venue it’s time to interface with the booking agent, talent buyer, security guard, sound engineer, bartender, the other bands, managers, promoters, radio staff, and anyone else you might need to. Loading in heavy gear, making sure we locate safe storage and never leave the trailer unattended. Staging my drums, warming up, practicing. Creating a custom set list for this venue. Securing any food and drink tickets if applicable. Determining the correct person to find after the show se we can get paid out. Is it a door split or did we work out a guarantee? How much does the venue take out of the money for their expenses? How much does the sound engineer get paid from the door? Are the bands doing an even split, or if we are headlining is it more like 60% for us, and 20% each for the two opening bands?

This year we got to make a stop at a drum store so I could replace some gear. I noticed not one but two cracks in one of my cymbals during one of the early gigs. That makes the cymbal sound like crap, and it could easily destruct onstage during a show. I went to a drum store in Boulder, Colorado and found a great Zildjian rock crash cymbal. I also bought all new drum heads because I hadn’t changed my drum heads in months. I beat the hell out of my heads when I play, so they need more-than-regular changing otherwise they sound bad.

Then let’s load all our gear onstage for a sound check. This is where the sound engineer mics everything and tries everything out to ensure good sound. Each musician tries out their instruments while the sound tech dials it in so it sounds distinct and balanced. We’ll run through a song or part of a song so they can balance everything out in relation to each other. Supposedly these levels are recorded and saved for when we return to the stage later. Often we then remove all gear from the stage and store it backstage somewhere while the other bands go onstage and do the same thing for their soundcheck.

We wait. We get in our stage clothes, put on make up, put in contact lenses, try to find some healthy vegetarian food, finalize the set list. Put some friends on the guest list so they can get in free. We are all crashing on their couch later tonight, after all. If there is a green room, that’s the perfect place to tune guitars, play a challenging solo, warm up, and try to get in the right head space. Often our friends are outside and want to talk with us. Honestly, sometimes we’re on a mission and don’t have time for more than a 30 second check in. I used to think musicians that hid in their dressing rooms before the show were being arrogant wanna-be rock stars who wouldn’t take time for their fans or friends. Now I get it. It’s  possibly the only time where you won’t be ‘ON’ and having to be talking with someone about something. It’s the last-minute calm before the storm. And we’ve got shit to do.

This tour we were on the ball and had a few live interviews set up with some of our favorite internet radio stations and honest-to-goodness real FM radio stations. Gotta set those up from the hotel room, at the venue, or even on the road when we pull over to talk on the phone with less road noise.

Did we make money at the door last night? Great. Let’s use it to fill the gas tank so we can drive for 7 hours to get to our next gig. Did we make more money selling merch last night? Cool, we can use the band bank account card to fill the tank up with gas. Some gigs don’t bring much money at all. But some gigs bring enough to splurge for a Motel 6 room with a shower, and a couple tanks of gas. I call that slingshotting us to the next gig with the money from a show where we actually have a following/crowd. If you can stagger those shows so you either have a decent guarantee, or you know you can bring a bunch of your friends, you’re golden. For this tour, our slingshot gigs were Portland, Billings, Reno, and Boise.

Hopefully we’ve delegated and divided duties so the merchandise table is set up and ready. Our cash box has appropriate change for people buying with cash, and our Square card reader is working and compatible with the smart phones of the band members or friends who are staffing the merch booth for us. For the love of all that is holy, please PLEASE buy some merch from a local band you like. That usually ends up being the only area that they may actually make some money. Door money is unpredictable and at the mercy of many factors and fees and charges that you often don’t know about until you’re being handed a too-small wad of cash at 2am.  If you like a band at all, please drop a little cash to purchase their product and you will be loved forever. It really makes a huge difference. Much as we love playing music in a venue live, most bands are actually trying to run their band as a business and profit from their art. Bands are up against it already. I’ll blog another time about all the expenses and dedication and trying to get people to attend your shows.

Further, all the big established bands that you love  started like this. There’s pretty much no such thing as an overnight success. Bands grind it out in clubs for years and put out numerous albums before that one thing happens that gets them on the radar of a crowd outside their hometown. Support local music. Bands play in small rock clubs charging a cover and trying furiously to build a following and a strong fan base for years before ‘making it big’.

So after the show it all begins again but in reverse. Break down our gear and get it the hell off the stage as fast as possible. Get it in the trailer. Thank all the other bands that played with you and try to get them to play with you again either in your town or theirs. Try to sequester some of your biggest fans to help you load out your gear quickly. Grab the money from the manager, sign any forms you need to sign, and drive to the hotel.

Your night is not over yet. Bands get all of their gear stolen all the time. Any trailer is a target. Any evidence that you are a touring band will draw attention you don’t want. Much as you’d love to have a huge tour bus that has your band name emblazoned across the entire side panel, don’t do it. That basically says, “Hey, there could be $20K of musical equipment in here. Want it?” We spend the extra time to load all of our gear into the hotel room with us. Piece of mind is priceless. If we had any of our gear stolen while on the road it would bankrupt us and possibly end the tour. Can’t take the chance. We have a story of a band we played 2 shows with on tour having this exact thing happen to them. So after loading all of our gear in the tiny hotel room, we might scarf down some leftover Chinese food and take a quick shower before passing out on the beds. Send a quick text to our partners back home so they don’t worry. And dream about starting this process all over again tomorrow.

And I honestly thought that I would have time to read books or write lyrics or blog from the road. Since it was October I even brought some horror films on DVD to play on a laptop at night. Silly Darren. Didn’t happen.