Ask any musician about their worst gig ever and I guarantee it won’t take more than a heartbeat for them to begin regaling you with an elaborate story involving a shitty venue, or a shitty staff, or a shitty headlining band, or a band member being sick, or gear breaking, or there being no crowd, or the crowd being dicks, or Altamont, or Woodstock ’99, or anything in a long line of ultimate crappy experiences that can occur when you’re trying to play music. Heck, there’s even a great site called WorstGig.com where you can read about famous bands’ shittiest gigs of all time. But for the most part, all of those gigs are specific instances and/or surprises – in other words, the gigs would have been fine if some factors were slightly tweaked. With this list I am imparting upon you the five places where you’re guaranteed to have a shitty gig – the five places that you only see musicians playing at when they have ceded to the will of the gods and agreed that glory is not their destiny. Let me know what I’m missing.
Now I’m not talking about some big arena connected with a casino – I’m talking about playing on the actual floor of the gambling room itself, usually in a round by the bar in the heart of thousands of slot machines. First off, nobody in any sort of close proximity is either excited nor even expecting to hear music. They’re there to get drunk and gamble – anything that makes them recall the pleasures of the outside world is a knock to their fantasy. And nobody goes to a casino to be polite, thus even what you consider to be a killer version of the latest Maroon 5 hit is bound to get more vocalized criticism than praise. There’s nothing more powerful than the lack of any audible clap when a band has just finished up their third version of “Margaritaville” in the past two hours – it’s also the perfect time for somebody to shout “you suck.”
4) Sidewalk In The Rain
You see a lot of these folks out in Portland. Usually it’s either someone on acoustic guitar or someone drumming on buckets, and they’re admirably determined to not let the weather get in the way of their performance. On a sunny day, you can actually make decent money bustling on the sidewalk. But when the rain starts dumping on you, there’s no doubt that you’ve turned into nothing more than a glorified beggar. If the experience doesn’t incite one of those “what the hell am I doing with my life” moments, then I suppose your degree of self-content is to the level of true zen.
Ahh, the last remaining outpost for wielders of the pan-flute. Any gig where the central criteria is that you remain as invisible as possible is just a drag right out of the gates. There’s nothing as disheartening as watching hordes of people walk by you completely oblivious to your art. Even when you stop playing, there’s not even a hint of acknowledgment that anything has changed in the audible spectrum of the building. The shining moment may come when a six year-old brings you a dollar, but for the most part their parents will want to keep them as far away from you as possible. Want a smoke-break? Good luck with that.
2) Obligatory Wedding
I thought for a while about the right adjective to describe this one, because certainly not all weddings suck. In fact, I’ve had some downright phenomenal wedding gigs over the years. And shitty or not, they’re usually well paying gigs. But then you have the weddings where everyone in attendance is there out of obligation - that random couple that doesn’t have many friends so nobody knows each other and everyone is afraid to step foot on the dance-floor. The best is when the engaged couple gives you an advanced notice of “we don’t really listen to music.” But the worst part of it is when the band has not even been considered to be human beings. There’ll be no table for you to sit at, they won’t have any food for you to eat, and forget about trying to get a drink. Oh, and most likely they’ll want you to set up at least five hours prior to your actual start time, and expect you to be ready to play at any moment without warning.
1) Dueling Piano Bar
I know this one from experience folks – dueling piano bars are the ultimate worst. The one I played at required you to be on stage playing from 10pm to 2am – you literally could only leave the stage for an emergency. Also, you were considered an employee of the venue and thus weren’t allowed to have a single drink. Add to that the absurd notion that your tips were evenly distributed amongst all employees because sure, the coat-check girl deserves an equal cut of my pay. And while I presume not all of these bars are like this, I can guarantee they have a few things in common: You’re going to have a ton of middle-aged bachelorette parties sitting around you – guaranteed. Not only will you have to play the shittiest pop songs known to man night after night, hour after hour, you’ll also have to hear drunk middle-aged women scream along the lyrics. You think maybe you could spice things up with a tasty solo? You’ll get maybe two bars into it before they start yelping pleas to play “Don’t Stop Believing” again.