I've been planning on posting a series of stories from some of my road trips, and today on twitter I got the inspiration to kick it off. Guitarist Rob Michael (@AtmosTrio) sent out a 'tweet' with the hashtag #cheesegigthrowdown, asking musicians to share their lamest gig moment. It got me thinking about not just my most lame gig but one disastrous road trip.
When I was living in Brooklyn, I had avoided touring the US because the cities were so far between and so much driving was involved with shitty food along the way. In 2003 I decided to go for it. Yeah! My album "Live in Europe" had just been released, I had hired a radio promoter and I had invitations to play at nice venues in North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and Michigan. So I grabbed my boys, bassist Matt Pavolka and drummer/hubby Scott McLemore and off we drove in our fabulous Ford Windstar.
We left Brooklyn on Wednesday August 13th and drove all the way to Cleveland, OH. We arrived around midnight and spent the night in an apartment owned by the venue. We hung out the next day 'til it was time to go set up. When we arrived at the venue we heard the news about the massive widespread power outage, later to be called the Northeast Blackout of 2003.
Apparently, the venue (which was also a restaurant) was the only one in town with a backup power generator so they were expecting a BIG crowd. Around 6pm the senior citizens just started rolling in. The promoter looked puzzled and said it wasn't their usual crowd. Well, they were coming for the air conditioning, maybe some food but mostly the air conditioning and definitely not the music. The venue was completely packed and we got pushed up against the wall to make room for more tables.
Now I had a 7-foot concert grand piano between me and the guys and I swear the chatter was so loud that I couldn't hear Scott's brushes at all! So, we decided to switch to standards since the environment was hardly conducive to a concert of original music. This soon turned into a cocktail gig of the worst kind. Towards the end of the standard "If I Should Lose You" I noticed a frail elderly gentleman hovering over me yelling something. He got right in my ear as I'm laying down the final chords and yelled "Can you play some American music?" I replied "This is American", to which he said "I mean something I can sing along to."
It was awfully disappointing. The next day we got up wondering if our gigs in Detroit were even happening. I couldn't reach the club, the Harlequin Cafe or the owner. We were also supposed to do a live show at a radio station in Detroit so I called them and whoever I spoke with told us to come on in, they had power and were still broadcasting. Cluelessly, we continued on the highway until we were really close to Detroit. Then I called the radio station again for directions and this time got the host on the line. He said he'd been trying to reach me all day. Most of Detroit had no power and it was not safe for us to come in to the city. They didn't expect to have the power on again until Sunday so we might as well drive back to NY.
Holy crap! It felt like we had spent 3 days in the car. We were almost out of gas so we turned of the highway into a small town and realized that power really was out. It was freaky. Lucky to get some gas (since most of the pumps were electric and non-functional), we drove back to Toledo to wait for further instructions. I still couldn't get a hold of the club or the owner so after a few hours we voted on going back to NY. Bummer!
We were driving back through PA, probably about 1.5 hours from the NJ boarder when our front tire popped. There was a ramp right there and we got of the highway just in time. We had to unload the van under a lonely lightpost to get the doughnut out. My phone rang. It was the owner of the Harlequin Cafe joyously exclaiming "we've got power!" I couldn't believe it. It was around 10pm or so on a Friday night and no way that we were driving back to Detroit. Who the hell thought of making the spare tire a doughnut? There was no way we were driving all the way back to NY on it so I called the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Watergap, where we played regularly, and ask Chris the owner if he could hook us up with some rooms at a fair price. No problem there but we still had a problem. There wasn't enough air in the doughnut so we drove to a gas station and tried to inflate it, only to find out the valve on the tire was defective, and would only deflate. (Sweet mother of pearl! Why hath thou forsaken me?)
Apparently, we were spending the night in this little town. A friendly police officer, who kept checking on us, told us about a few motels but to definitely avoid a particular place that was really skanky. We made our rounds from one hotel to the next, admiring all the vintage cars we saw along the way, but all the hotels were fully booked and it turned out there was a vintage car show in town that weekend. We were getting really desperate and ended up at the skanky-place-to-avoid. They had one room left so the three of us spent the night there and didn't even dare to get close to the shower.
The next day we had the tire fixed and when we got back to Brooklyn that Saturday afternoon the power was back on and we had basically spent 4 days driving for nothing. However, had we stayed in NYC we would have probably gotten trapped in a subway. I'm not sure which I'd prefer.
To put the icing on the cake Hurricane Isabel, the costliest and deadliest hurricane in 2003, washed away my gigs in VA and NC but this time we stayed put in sweet home Brooklyn. We became unofficially known as the "Natural Disaster Trio" from there on.