Playing The Music Is The Easy Part

Red HenryYou've seen bands on stage, right? You've seen them playing music and having fun entertaining the audience. This is good. But have you ever thought about what they had to do to get there and get ready to play? Sometimes a band's gig experience is dominated by everything besides the music. A job we just played is a good case in point:

Murphy and I recently got a call to perform one Saturday afternoon, outdoors in the City Park in Hagerstown, Maryland. That's a little over an hour away from here. The trouble was that Murphy was already committed for that date, so I booked it myself as "Red Henry and Friends". Now I needed the friends. I'd be playing mandolin, so I called up David McLaughlin, who can play either guitar, banjo, or bass, and guitarist Scott Brannon, and they both kindly agreed to play the job with me. But I still needed one more band member, someone who could play either banjo, fiddle, or bass. I had called a few people until... good surprise! Murphy turned out to be free on that day. So the job turned into a regular (and fun) 'Red and Murphy & Co.' gig. Enough confusion so far?

Scott lives not far from Hagerstown, so he'd drive there by himself, but we needed to carry David with us. Since I normally keep all the extra seats out of the minivan we'd be driving, that meant I'd need to install a seat so the car would carry three---no problem a year or two ago, but my back won't carry those seats any more. How could I get the seat in the car?

A larger problem, and one that we usually have to deal with, was the sound system. When we bought our sound equipment, years ago, it seemed fairly small and light to carry around. And I guess it was. When I was in my 30s and 40s I could toss this equipment around pretty easily, but it's not like that now. Stored in the house we had two big speakers, two monitor speakers, two amplifiers, a heavy suitcase full of microphones and cords, and several microphone and speaker stands. The light stuff (stands and such) would be okay, but my back wouldn't do the heavy stuff any more. And David couldn't make it out to our house ahead of time to help load the stuff in the car. What to do?

Well, I had an idea. Last year we had acquired a hand-truck to use moving furniture, and Thursday I decided to to try it out on moving seats and sound equipment. Sure enough, it carried that heavy car seat just fine, from where I had it stored out to the car. On Friday I got busy and moved all the heavy speakers, "tipping" each of them onto the car floor and sliding them into place. Then I put in everything else I could think of---microphone stands, speaker stands, amplifiers, and a tote-bag full of CDs and Murphy Method DVDs to sell. So far, so good.

On Saturday, Murphy and I put the instruments in the car, picked up David at his house, and drove to Hagerstown. We'd built in plenty of time because I wanted an hour and a half at the site, not only to get the sound system set up and tested, but also to tune up and warm up before the show. The trouble was that we hadn't been given specific directions, and when we got to the Hagerstown City Park, we couldn't find the stage. I looked a long way through the park and couldn't find it. Finally a passer-by said that the stage was at the other end of the park. Okay. We drove down there, and still couldn't see the stage. So I got out and explored for a while, and found that the stage was a tall, impressive building with large doors which, whatever it looked like, didn't look like a stage until the doors were opened. David was exploring independently and found the stage at the same time. I walked back to the car. There weren't any roads leading to the stage building, but I found a park walkway that was wide enough to use, and drove in and parked right next to the stage. So far so good, and it was a good thing we'd built in plenty of time---we now had just an hour to go before starting the show.

With David and Scott's help, we unloaded the speakers and other sound gear and started setting it up. Fortunately all the equipment worked the first time (some of it's almost 30 years old), and we got everything adjusted for the show with plenty of time left for warming up.

The show went great. We played a 90-minute set without any breaks---this is longer than we'd usually play without a break, but with such a good band it was a pleasure. The performing area was shady and green, and we had a big crowd. And they liked our music, proving it by buying several CDs and DVDs afterwards. The music was the easy part! Now for more of the hard part, and with us pretty tired at that.

We took down the sound system back apart and loaded it back in the car. Murphy and I drove back to Winchester with David and let him off at his house, then came on home. We unloaded the instruments and other light stuff (the microphones, the mic stands, the CD tote-bag, things like that) and I collapsed. It had been eight busy hours since we'd left the house.

Sunday morning I woke up early, drank a cup of coffee, got out the hand-truck, and went to work. I unloaded the heavy speakers and amplifiers and stacked them in the house. The gig was finally over, a few days after I'd started loading the car.

Band personnel... sound system... just trying to find the stage... Sometimes playing the music really is the easy part!

One thought on “Playing The Music Is The Easy Part

  1. Steve (in Japan)

    I hear you, Red, the audience sees you on stage performing for them, but they never think about or know what went on behind the scenes for them. I know and though I wasn’t there to see your show I appreciate all you did and all that you’re still doing. I’ve helped out as a stage hand, hauled equipment and set up tables and chairs and then cleaned up. Someone has to do it.

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