I met an old blues player when I was young.  No matter what happened, he would say, “Just do the Gig”. If the equipment blew up, he’d say “Do the Gig.” Drummer’s late? “Do the Gig”. Find out you’re only get paid half what you were promised? “Do the Gig”.  For him it was all about playing.  It was all that mattered.  Making music. Everything else was inconsequential so there was no sense getting upset about it. 

“There’s that moment we strive for when it doesn’t matter if your bills are overdue, your girlfriend’s mad at you, or you’re down to your last hundred bucks.  The performance is smoking, the mix is in the pocket…”

Last year I spent some time with my old blues playing friend, and he gave me a book written by a Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.  In it, the author states that one should strive to be “Present” in whatever endeavor they are engaged in. By being “Mindful” and devoting our whole attention to whatever we’re doing, or to whomever we’re with, we practice reverence and spirituality. Gardening?  Be “Gardening”. Playing with your kids?  Don’t be thinking about work, play with your kids.  You get the idea.

I started thinking about music and production. “Doing Gigs”. There’s that moment we strive for when it doesn’t matter if your bills are overdue, your girlfriend’s mad at you, or you’re down to your last hundred bucks.  The performance is smoking, the mix is in the pocket, the crowd is rocking, and it all comes together making “Doing the Gig” worthwhile.  At that point in time, nothing else exists. You don’t hear the drunk guy yelling at you, “What’s that button do?” You only see and hear the show. 

Last month “Arts Midwest” held a convention in Grand Rapids, Mi. It’s my hometown, and I was hired to provide a PA system for one of the ballrooms in the hotel where the convention was held. I had never worked this event before.  I was hired by a Booking Agent out of Detroit who sent a very general description of the four acts that were performing.   I called another local Sound Tech, Jay, and asked him to work the event with me. He had just gotten a Presonus Studio Live back from the factory totally updated, and I thought that using that board and a powered speaker system would work out well since I found out the load in/out was through a loading dock into an elevator, up a floor, down a corridor, into another service elevator, up a floor, down another corridor, through a kitchen, into the ballroom. The less gear we had to haul, the better.  With the powered speaker system and the PRESONUS, we were able to leave amp and processing racks in the shop.

When we got there, we found out that there were four acts consisting of a three-piece Jazz/Blues Band with a singer, an eight-piece  a capella “Beat Box” act, an eightpiece all-female “World Music” influenced Jazz Band and a duo consisting of the world’s fastest violinist and a Flamenco guitar player. (Thank God for Direct Boxes.) Here’s the kicker. Each act was scheduled to perform 20 minute sets with precise three minute changeovers to the next act, AND THEN DO IT AGAIN STARTING OVER WITH THE FIRST BAND.  The Talent Buyers at the Convention went room to room finding acts to book for their Colleges or Performing Arts Centers, and according to the Booking Agent, “If they walk in at 9:20pm to see a certain act play and they aren’t playing, at 9:21pm they’re on their way to the next Ballroom so everything has to be ON SCHEDULE!”  Three minute changeovers, two Techs,   Hmmm.

I looked at Jay, Jay looked at me, and we got to work. We set up the speaker cabinets and then Jay hooked up the board and I pinned the stage and ran power and cabling.

We sound-checked each band, labeled all mics, stands and lines, and saved all mixes, (FOH and MONITOR) in the Presonus.  Jay manned FOH and I ran the stage. Four bands, 2-20’s each, three-minute changeovers, precisely done. Band played, got off, recalled mixes for next act, reset stage, next, next, and did it all over again.  Perfect gig, everything was on schedule. Client was happy, performers were happy.  We got paid. Just like it’s supposed to happen.

When we were loading the gear out of the truck and back into the shop, Jay said, “Hey man, sorry you didn’t get to mix, after all, you booked the gig.”  I said, “Jay, I ALWAY’s want to mix, but sometimes you just have to ‘Do the Gig’ and the way it worked out was the way that gig needed to be done.”  

Ego is not my friend.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have done everything from taking tickets at the door, driving the limo, or loading the truck, to mixing FOH at Day on The Green and the Texas Jam and I’ve loved it all.  I try to be “a part of” in whatever capacity I can contribute. 

My daughter Sarah’s mother passed away in 2000. Two weeks before Sarah was scheduled to start Kindergarten.  Some of her Mother’s family members at the time we’re talking about taking Sarah and raising her themselves.  Right. Like I’d let THAT happen.  My “Gig” for the last 12 years has been “Single Dad” and it’s been incredibly rewarding.  I’m extremely proud of the person Sarah has become.  Now that she’s graduating from High School, I hope to be able to do more Sound Gigs.

“Doing the Gig” is the same whether you’re slogging through Bars and Honky Tonks,  or you’re fortunate enough and talented enough to be doing Arena’s.  It’s also the same in life.  You do what’s in front of you, its acceptance.  It’s doing what you need to do,  no matter what,  and being “PRESENT”.  We might learn these skills doing shows, but if we apply them to all aspects of our lives we can find a deeper fulfillment and appreciation of life.

Oh, the old Blues Player?  I heard his motorcycle got impounded, his car got repossessed, and his wife just left him.  He’s somewhere in the hills of Pennsylvania putting another band together.  He’s got a gig coming up.

Highlights From Arts Midwest Conference 2012