By BOB WIRE
I just played a gig with my band, Bob Wire and the Bob Wire Band featuring Bob Wire, where our employers did pretty much everything just right.
This Missoula organization located downtown has worked with thousands of performers over the years, so I was delighted but not surprised that they covered all their bases. Why can’t all bar owners/wedding coordinators/lottery winners treat their hired musicians like this, I wondered.
So I’m about to clue you in.
It’s high wedding season, and you might just have a vanload of rockers slated to pin some ears back at your reception this weekend. Or maybe you’re planning on booking a 12-piece reggae band to play to a group of 12,000 neo-hippies for your Love Me Some Dirt festival at Groovy Meadows, or even just looking to hire a cellist to play some klezmer music at the after-party for your cat’s circumcision, here are some basic Dos and Don’ts from a guy who’s been there and has the collection of stolen wedding napkins to prove it.
1. Check, Please
How would you like it if it was payday where you work at American Widget, and you had to wander all over the building to find your paymaster (or even to find out who the paymaster is) and ask for your paycheck? Not cool. What if you found the paymaster and he said, sorry, pal, I don’t have a check for you. Can you come back and get it Monday? Unconscionable, right? If that happened to me, you’d be reading a story in the Sunday paper about a dude at American Widget who got bludgeoned with a Telecaster and then was drenched in an assortment of bodily fluids.
Have the check ready. When the musician has performed for the agreed-upon time, shake his or her hand, say thanks, and fork over the dough before they pack up. Don’t make them chase down their pay, or worse, have to make a special trip back to collect it. Believe me, if you do, you’ll be included in a war story at some band practice down the line.
2. Water For My Horses
Playing music is fun, but it’s also hard work. Especially when all those adorable toddlers become fascinated with shiny orange extension cord that’s carrying the single power source to the bandstand. Rocking requires a lot of effort, whether you’re playing an emotional Irish ballad to a quiet room of drunken mourners, or a Ramones-fueled version of George Jones’ “White Lightning.” (Come to think of it, might be the same crowd.)
Give the band drinks, yes, but more importantly, give them water. And lots of it. Bottles are perfect. Each musician can go through a half dozen bottles in a night, no problem. We need water even more than we need money, so don’t make us go looking for this too. A cooler near the stage isn’t that hard to set up, and the band will hold you in high esteem for your extreme thoughtfulness. Hell, they might even play “Mustang Sally” for you (if there’s an open bar). Which brings me to…
3. Beer and Other Obnoxicants
No one wants to hire a bunch of drunks, and rightly so. Most musicians imbibe, however, and it’s always nice when the employer provides them with their own stash. Comping beverages at the bar is great, but if it’s crowded we’ll have to spend our entire break procuring a beer. If that’s the case, good luck getting us to play “Mustang Sally.” Ass.
The best thing to do (like the Missoula Democrats did at their 2009 Inauguration Party) is to have a big washtub filled with crushed ice and assorted beers and bottled water set aside just for the band. The more we can be a self-sufficient island of musical revelry and hijinks, the better we’ll play.
4. It’s a Power Trip
You might be able to get away with simply unplugging a lamp in your living room to power your klezmer cellist’s music stand light, but if you’re hosting a band, they’ll need power. Ideally, it’s best if they have at least two circuits from which to run their dozens of power strips. We usually pack our own extension cords, but if you ask us to run a cable to the football stadium three blocks away, that ain’t gonna cut it. Depending on the size of the gig, we’ll be running several hundred-watt amps, a thousand watts of P.A., lights, a smoke machine, fans, and any number of X-rated Spencer Gifts animated doohickeys designed to embarrass the bride-to-be.
When you’re choosing where to put the band, this is a MAJOR consideration. Put us where the power is. Because how are you going to look when the sound cuts out and the lights go dead and that giant articulated penis stops undulating? In the dark, that’s where. Hopefully looking for our check.
5. Park Place
Pretty obvious, really. We don’t want to have to haul our gear a full city block, through the lobby and up three flights of stairs, only to be asked, “Why didn’t you park next to the service elevator?” We are probably unfamiliar with your venue, so please tell us the parking situation beforehand.
Those are a few important Dos, and I’m sure any working musician could add several more. But my space (and your attention span) is limited, so let’s get to a few of the more important Don’ts:
1. My Brother’s a Drummer
Really? Then you should have hired his band. Under no circumstances should you approach the band during a paid gig and ask them if you or a friend of yours can “sit in.” The protocol works like this: If the band wants you to sit in, THEY will ask YOU. When a person the band doesn’t know asks if they or their friend/relative/parole officer can sing with the band, it’s a sure bet that that person will suck.
Even worse than that is asking the band if you can play one of their instruments during a song. I have no tolerance for this, because if you’re bold enough to ask something like that, you’re probably pretty good and you will show me up. Can’t have that.
The worst transgression of all, and this deserves a mic stand base to the pie hole, is going onto the bandstand during a break and playing the band’s instruments. I don’t care if it’s your sister’s wedding and you used to drum for Warrant. Only two drummers on the planet are allowed to play drums uninvited: Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr. Actually, Ringo, you need to ask first.
2. Know Thy Band
Please be familiar with the style of the band you’re hiring. If you hire a nine-piece soul band, complete with horn section, don’t piss and moan at them for not playing any two-steppers. If you hire a rambunctious, adult-oriented performer like (ahem) Bob Wire, be aware that if you need me to cull all the potentially offensive songs from my extensive set list, I will be left with exactly three numbers. And one of them is the Hokey Pokey.
3. Discount City
I played a wedding reception with the Fencemenders about ten years ago in Hamilton. It was at the Daly Mansion, and the facility manager quickly got her fill of Youth Gone Wild (people taking photos of each other molesting the animal mounts) and shut the party down early. The groom approached me and asked if I would cut our fee since we had to quit early. I told him he should have thought of that before he simulated fellatio with a water buffalo in the Trophy Room.
Here’s the deal: you’re not paying us for playing music. That’s the fun part. You’re paying us to pack up our gear, travel to the gig, load in, set up, break down, load out, travel home and unload again. It’s a shit ton of work, and offering us a free wedding sandwich isn’t going to offset a cut in the agreed-upon fee. Weddings are notoriously fluid, which is why most of us use a contract. And since we’re talking about food…
4. I’m Timmy and I Wet the Bed
Don’t make the band sit at the kid’s table. Yeah, we might be closer to their age emotionally, but it’s insulting just the same. Let us mix it up with the guests. They might enjoy hearing that story about the time we went the wrong way into the Taco Bell drive-through. And let the band chow down first, because we need time to digest before we play. No one wants to be on the dance floor when those garlic mashed potatoes start off-gassing.
5. Have Fun
Maybe the biggest Don’t: Don’t hesitate to ask. My band(s) and I have a reputation of bending over backwards to provide high-octane entertainment for weddings and parties, because we work hard to get the crowd involved. We go out of our way to accommodate the needs of the party chief, and make sure everyone has a memorable experience (“Do you remember when that Bob Wire fella threw his pants at the drummer?”). Is there a birthday in the house? Let me know, I’ll get ‘em up onstage with us. Would you like to have a guest sing with the band? It can happen. Let’s arrange it beforehand so we all look good.
If you think we can do it, we probably can.
And if you’re perceptive enough to know we have our needs too, please ask and we will be the most grateful employees you ever had to pry away from an open bar.
Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.
Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.
Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.