The Bar Gig From Hell, Part I


My ego was beaten like a dirty throw rug this weekend, when we played a double-header in a new bar in unfamiliar territory.

I’ve played hundreds of shows in and around Missoula for nearly 15 years, and at various times I’ve enjoyed a few peaks of popularity and occasional notoriety. Medium fish in a small pond.

But just an hour’s drive from town, I sauntered into a busy bar Friday night to overhear “who the hell is Bob Wire?” It was quite a reality check, and I found myself and my band humbly back at square one, having to prove ourselves all over again to a crowd of strangers. But we welcomed the challenge, and were eager to throw down with our gritty brand of obnoxious honky-tonk mixed with faithful covers of classic country. They wouldn’t know what hit ‘em.

I had talked with the bar owner before we left Missoula, and he informed me that we’d be starting at 9:00, rather than the customary 9:30-9:45 we were used to in Missoula. Okay, no biggie. Maybe we’d have to throw in a few extra guitar solos, or maybe play a couple songs twice.

We got there to discover an expansive stage, facing a huge dance floor. I envisioned that floor filling up quickly with two-steppers, so I front-loaded our set with a lot of classic country covers, figuring I’d blind-side them with the original material after they had a few drinks under their belts. No blow job jokes ‘til the fourth set.

But one man’s classic country is another man’s golden oldies, and our first few songs, by the likes of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, were not enough to light a fire under the crowd. There were a few tentative dancers, but they quickly retreated and sat at their tables, drinking water(!), obviously waiting for something. Something other than what we were delivering.


What? Are you telling me you’ve never heard of Bob Wire?

The large stage was somewhat disorienting, especially compared to the Missoula stages we’ve been playing, Including the one at Sean Kelly’s, which is approximately the size of a bath mat. I’d only brought two monitors, and we were so spread out we couldn’t hear each other.

But we didn’t notice that so much, because we were all verging on seizures from the sound-activated lighting system. Cross-eyed and dizzy, we staggered off the stage at the first break. The bar owner walked over and said we were too loud. Then, as I was putting on some break music, he asked me to turn it up so they could hear it in the front of the bar. Hmm. Break music needs to be louder than the band. I was confused. I turned it up, and noticed that the dance floor was becoming pretty crowded with two-steppers circling the floor to Junior Brown. Hmm. I began to have my doubts about playing to a fawning crowd of admirers.

While we huddled at our table trying to figure out our next move, a woman came over holding a napkin. Probably wants to make a request, I figured. She tossed the napkin on the table, and said, “These are the songs you need to be playing.” Old Time Rock ‘n Roll. Beer For My Horses. Proud Mary. I pushed the napkin back toward her.

“What, no Brown Eyed Girl?” I sneered.

“Oh, that’d be nice too!” she said, and turned on her heel. Another woman, wearing a fringed cowgirl shirt and red boots, appeared and asked why we weren’t playing any two-steps. I began to wonder if we’d somehow walked into a time machine and come out in 1980, on the set of Urban Cowboy. Unfortunately, I don’t know a two-step from a three-way, but I told here we’d try to find something.

Later in the evening we played Adios & Vaya con Dios, a song off our new CD. Red Boots danced right by the front of the stage as we finished the song with a triumphant flourish, and I said, “How’s that for a two-step?”

“That’s a polka!” she said, and returned to her table. A Wrangler-wrapped cowboy (I knew he was a real cowboy because he kept his cell phone in his back pocket, not clipped to his belt) approached the stage and asked if we could play a waltz, and a cha-cha.

“Well, uh, we do have a song that ends with ‘cha-cha-cha,’ we’ll play that one in the next set. And we already played the only waltz we know, but we’ll play it again.”

“Good. Also, you know what you guys are doing wrong? You’re playing everything way too fast. You need to slow it down, it’s like, three times too fast for two-stepping.”

I began to lose it. “Hey, cowboy, you better ease up on the ice water. I think you’re getting drunk. We’re not a juke box. Keep listening and you’ll hear something you like, I promise.”

We went on our last break, and the bartender brought us a each a shot, and a note from the owner: “Please play till 1:45.” Good lord, was this night ever going to end? David was green around the gills, fending off the flu, John and Bob were frazzled from trying to hear each other in the sonic kaleidoscope of the room, and we were all wearing ourselves out trying to please a crowd that seemed to be uninterested in anything new or different than the same pop country junk they’d been dancing to for years. I was yearning for the familiar confines of Sean Kelly’s or the Union Club, where my comfort level has grown to the point where I can take a lot of chances, and pretty much get away with anything. Well, almost anything (I’m still working on a plea bargain for that Assault With a Friendly Weapon charge from last fall).

Half-drunk and bristling with bad attitudes, we took the stage for the final (eighth? Ninth?) set. I turned up the volume on my Gretsch, stepped on my Tube Screamer pedal and hit an E chord. Everyone in the room jumped. I looked over at David, and he was poised. Sickly, but poised. I stared down the crowd. “You know, we’ve really enjoyed playin’ for y’all tonight, but I think we need to get something straight. Hank JUNIOR is the disease, and Hank SENIOR is the cure.” With that, we launched into a muscular but well-paced version of Honky Tonk Blues.

The water sippers rushed the dance floor. The beer swillers clinked glasses and whooped. The Wrangler cowboy brought me a shot of Cuervo. Twenty-somethings shimmied onto the dance floor and wiggled their butts. A gal sitting on a barstool in a long black dress took off her underpants. Now this was more like it. We finished the song to the biggest round of applause we’d gotten yet, and plowed ahead with our most confident, energetic set of the night (funny how that seems to happen right after the tequila makes an appearance).

Forty minutes later, as the last notes of the night were ringing in the smoky air, I thanked the hardcores who’d stuck around till the end, and asked everyone to come back the next night, when we’d be dishing out some more maximum honky-tonk and classic country favorites.

“Hell,” I said, knocking back another shot. “We might even play Brown-Eyed Girl!”

[Next: invisible set lists, color-blind guitar solos, and you, my Red Eyed Girl.]

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.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.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


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