I’ve been working on lists lately – lists of things that happened in the last decade as well as a list of things I need to pack with me for my trip onto the spaceship in anticipation of the world ending in 2012 just like Roland Emmerich and the Myans predicted.
One list that crossed my mind when talking with the guys in my band was a list of the weirdest gigs I’ve ever done as a musician. I’ll leave the “weirdest gigs I’ve done as a stunt gigalo” for 12/13/12 assuming we all survive…we won’t.
I’ve been through some pretty adventurous stuff in my 25 years of playing music. The 10 below represent some of the more interesting moments in Jeff Balke the Rock Star history, if by “rock star” you mean “dude who tried to be awesome playing music despite never owning spandex OR leather pants.” Enjoy.
Jack in the Box Grand Opening
Yes, I played a Jack in the Box Grand Opening in a little town just outside of Houston and my payment was a chicken sandwich. The Jack in the Box is still there. The band is not. ‘Nuff said.
Ice House on New Year’s Eve
One of my last shows with the band The Basics was a New Year’s Eve show at an ice house that is now a transmission shop of Shepherd…seriously. I remember it being really cold and pretty much everyone in the house except maybe the drummer and myself were blind ass drunk. The gig was fine, but the fun began immediately after. Since everyone was drunk and wanted to continue the party, I was charged with returning most of the gear to the rehearsal room…alone. Try making the NYE drive down I-10 into downtown at 2:30am with drunk people flying by you at 100mph. It was the last of a long line of NYE gigs and I haven’t played on that night since.
No One in Danbury, Connecticut
Touring when you aren’t famous is a funny thing. You line up gigs and it’s pretty much a crap shoot as to whether the club is even decent, let alone if the show is well promoted. Orange is in was on the road in 2008 playing on the east coast playing to mostly sold out venues (HA HA HA!!! I got you!!! Oh, man, you should’ve seen the look on your face!). Anyway, we were booked at a club in Danbury, Connecticut, home of the fightin’ Mad Hatters of the Eastern Professional Hockey League…ahem. We got lost on our way there from Jersey and a trip that should have taken about an hour took almost 3. We got there and there was not a single solitary soul in the building. It was as if we had walked into a bar that was still under construction. Oh, did I mention that the bar didn’t actually have a bar…or a liquor license? No?
Ft. Worth Festival Cold Front and Sick Drummer
One of the most painful gigs of my life was with orange is in when we played a festival in Ft. Worth. We were really excited as we got a great slot at 7pm. Of course, a bizarre cold front blew through (this was in early May, mind you) so we faced a stiff 40-degree wind blowing in our faces and a crowd of exactly 2 people – a friend of mine and the festival promoter. To make matters worse, our drummer at the time was deathly ill and finally had to stop forcing me to pick up the acoustic guitar and finish out a brutal set in the freezing cold. Awesome!
There are gigs that define you and other gigs that you hope are never mentioned again. This gig would fall into the latter category. One of my dear friends of many years threw a party aptly named “The Bash.” This particular year, it was being held in a warehouse on the southwest side of town and apparently everyone in 5 surrounding counties was invited. I got up to “jam” with several friends and we proceeded to butcher BADLY versions of Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin and Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. I think we may have tried in vein to pull off something else, but the cops showed up and mercifully arrested enough people to make the place a ghost town. I remember that when we played, we all played in different keys and at different tempos, which would be very avante garde had anyone actually known what that meant.
In some ways, I had hoped that National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) would have some decent dialogue at this fund raiser I played with a former band. I should’ve known that it would be as incoherent as the barely grammatically correct name of the organization. After several rambling speeches about “the man taking our weed,” we got up to play to a very stoned crowd that included several teenagers happily smoking with their parents. I think everyone in the band except for me took a hit from a highly potent joint the president of the organization offered them. The end result was the first couple songs at half speed and what can only be described as creative choices of song and lyric arrangement.
Denver Harbor Ice House
I would strongly recommend against ever playing an ice house in Denver Harbor. That’s all I have to say.
1am on a Wednesday
When you take the stage at 1am on a Wednesday night (or Thursday morning, if you prefer), it is logical to expect a rather sparse crowd. When we finally crawled on stage at this now-defunct venue on Washington Avenue, the only two people left in the bar were the sound man and the bartender, both of whom politely clapped as we made our way through a sleepy set – and I mean that literally as our drummer slept in a van outside for an hour before the show during a lengthy set from a psychedelic band (nothing like psychedelia to warm up a mid-week crowd!). To our singer’s credit, the first words out of his mouth during the opening bars of our first song were, “Good morning!”
One fateful Cinco de Mayo weekend, I was booked to do two gigs. The first was tepid barbeque party at one of the Houston Community College annexes. Nothing great, but not terrible either. The second was a late afternoon show in the parking lot of a large club on Richmond. The band set up on a flat bed trailer with a massive sound system. There was a spread of food and discount drinks. So, why was this gig so unfortunate? Well, it was a party for the former employees of the Houston Post who had learned only days earlier they had lost their jobs as the venerable daily newspaper shut its doors for good. To say that the most depressing sight I’ve ever seen at a gig was a banquet table set back 100 yards from the stage with about 5 sad people standing around it while we played would be like saying the move Pearl Harbor was kinda sucky.
When I was asked by a drummer friend to do a gig with her and my guitar player because it would be easy and it paid – including rehearsals – I figured it would be an easy gig. What ensued was one of the strangest experiences of my life, music or otherwise. We rehearsed several times in the basement of an office building with Pete (Kamikaze Pete as he was known to most), a long gray haired gentleman who had spent most of his adult life playing bluesy hard rock and smoking peyote (I assume). He told us odd stories of working at the Renaissance Festival as a “limerick artist” reciting for us what seemed like an hour-long poem that started with “there once was a man from Nantucket who kept his brain in a bucket.” All of the rehearsal was supposedly for a live recording in a cool venue, though the exact venue was not revealed to us immediately. Right before the gig, it was revealed the show was at a bar on a Sunday afternoon, a weird time for a live recorded show, but whatever. I got directions and made my way to a BIKER BAR about halfway to Galveston. The show was actually a poorly executed open mic “afternoon” where we were forced to stumble our way through the songs because Pete forgot most of the arrangements. We were later accused of screwing everything up and didn’t get paid for the show. Seriously.