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.