Saturday, April 21, 2012

Applebee's, April 20, 2012

...Or Not.

Well, here we go again, another date mix-up. How could this possibly have happened? I don't know. As far as we knew, Friday, April 20th at Applebee's had been confirmed months ago when we sat down with Applebee's manager Paul and booked the next few gigs. But obviously something went wrong somewhere. 

For us, there's really no practical way to get to Applebee's other than straight down IH-35, right through downtown Austin. Which, as we all know, can get pretty backed up at certain times of the day. So in order to minimize the time spent sitting motionless on the highway*, we try to leave as early as possible. Plus, it really helps to get there early enough to miss the dinner crowd -- otherwise we're dragging speakers and drums and things through a restaurant full of people, and that's no good. What usually happens is Bill comes by my house and we caravan down there together (can you call two vehicles a CONVOY? I say YES!), and we have found that the latest we can leave and still avoid the worst of the traffic is about 3:30. I know, 3:30 seems ridiculously early, but leaving at that time makes it about a one-hour drive (a while back we tried leaving at 4:30 and it took us TWO HOURS to get there).

Sean usually isn't able to leave quite as early, so he arrives a bit later, usually right about the time Bill and I have finished moving the majority of the gear inside (thereby earning him the nickname "Frank").

On Friday the 20th, everything was going according to plan. Bill and I left my house about 3:30. Traffic wasn't all that bad (maybe everybody took the day off to witness the unveiling of the new Willie Nelson statue). Everything slowed to a crawl going through downtown, as usual, but the sun was out and I was listening to the Johnny Winter-produced Sonny Terry album Whoopin' (from 1984), so I had no complaints. In fact, we made it to Applebee's in record time: 52 minutes, 30 seconds (yes, I timed it).

When Bill and I walked in, Paul the manager was talking with one of the the other employees, and when he saw us he came over and greeted us with a smile. Paul is a really cool guy and always goes out of his way to be sure we're taken care of. "Hey guys," he said, "what's going on?"
"Workin'," said Bill.
Paul looked a bit puzzled, so I said, "Playing here tonight."
"No, not tonight -- y'all are playing NEXT week," he said.
All I could say was, "You gotta be kidding."

I called Sean as I ran out to retrieve my band calendar.
"Have you left yet?" I asked.
"Well, don't. They've got us down for playing on the 27th and some other band is playing tonight."
"You gotta be kidding,"  he said.

When I got back inside I still had Sean on the phone, so Bill, Paul and I gathered around a table with our calendars. There was ours, with Applebee's clearly marked on April 20th, and there was his, with SUIT clearly marked on April 27th. A different band was listed for the 20th. "Can we get in touch with those guys? Maybe they would be willing to trade," I suggested. Paul explained that trading wasn't really an option, since the other band already had several birthday party reservations and was expecting a very large crowd, so much that he had already lined up extra security for the night.

Playing on the 27th wasn't an option for us, though, since Sean would be out of town that weekend. This is further proof that the mix-up was NOT on our side, since Sean had had those dates blacked out for quite a while. The one clue we have, however, is it turns out that Paul did not book the other band himself (which is rare, he said). Hmm.

To his credit, Paul was VERY apologetic about he whole thing. He said it wouldn't be a problem to find another band to fill the slot, so we shouldn't worry about it. We went ahead and booked Friday, August 17th, but said we would have to get back to him about any other dates.

Bill and I sat at a table on the patio where he finished off a beer while I got out my phone and posted "No Applebee's tonight!" messages on the SUIT and my Facebook pages. Paul had offered us "anything we wanted from the menu on the house," but as we sat there we realized the longer we stayed the more traffic we would have to deal with on the way back, so we set off for home.

What did we learn? That we've got to be more diligent about verifying bookings as the gig date draws closer. This kind of thing has never been a problem in the past, and I suppose we got complacent about doing the follow-up call or email. No more. From now on we promise to double- triple- quadruple-check all the gig dates in the future, to hopefully prevent this from happening again. The thing that really bugs me is the thought that someone would show up somewhere expecting to see us and we're not there. Regardless of whose fault it was for the date confusion, in the end it's us -- the band -- that comes out looking irresponsible.

So please accept our apology for these last couple of gig-date-mix-up situations. We feel truly blessed to not only to have the opportunity to play music we love, but to have folks actually listen, appreciate it and sometimes even pay us to do it. :) Thank you all.

But you wanna know the real bummer? I was all psyched up to play and didn't get to do it!

Until next time,


*A note about traffic: Anytime I catch myself complaining about Austin traffic, I try to remember to keep in perspective and remind myself that it's really not that bad compared to some places I've lived (Houston, Los Angeles) or visited (Boston, New York City).

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Roadhouse, April 6, 2012

Oh, What a Day (and night)

Ever since it got booked back in January, we had Friday, April 13th as our next date at The Roadhouse in Round Rock. We had purposely avoided Easter weekend -- Friday the 6th and Saturday the 7th -- because it's always tricky to get much of a turnout on a holiday weekend. Plus, April 6th is Bill's birthday, and even though he likes playing on his birthday, doing a gig is a HUGE amount of work (the setting up and tearing down, equipment loading and unloading part, anyway). And who wants to WORK on their birthday?

So there we were, secure in the knowledge that our next Roadhouse show was on Friday the 13th, when suddenly, about 2:00 PM on Friday afternoon, we found out otherwise. Bill was minding his own business, leisurely getting ready for a quiet family birthday celebration at home, when a friend of his dropped by to borrow a lawn spreader. As he was about to leave with the spreader, the friend said offhandedly, "Lookin' forward to seein' y'all at the club tonight."
"What?" Bill said. "We're not playing there till NEXT Friday."
"Oh no," said the friend, "I just came from there and they've got posters up all over the place about y'all being there tonight."

Bill immediately picked up the phone and called The Roadhouse, who verified -- by checking the entertainment calendars scattered around the club as well as making a call to the owner -- that, yes, SUIT was scheduled to play on April 6th. 

He got hold of Sean fairly easily, but I turned out to be a bit more problematic. You see, on Thursday afternoon, my iPhone took an unexpected and unfortunate tumble from my hand, landing face down on a concrete floor. Turns out iPhones don't like that very much. In fact, it pretty much killed it. Of course, I looked online and tried all the various solutions I could find, but none of them worked. I got to the Apple Store as soon as I could, but since I didn't want to spend Thursday evening waiting around for them to see me, I made an appointment to come back at 1:00 on Friday. You see where this is going, right? So somewhere around 2:45, when I finally had a working phone again (they couldn't fix the old one so they ended up selling me a replacement at a reduced price), I happened to look at it and saw that I had a whole list of missed calls, voice mails and text messages. For the past 45 minutes or so Sean and Bill had been trying to get in touch with me but my phone was broken, leaving me completely oblivious to the situation. Just as I was in the process of retrieving one of the voice mails, my phone rang again. It was Sean: "We've got a problem."

He proceeded to fill me in on what was going on, and since now all three of us were up to speed, we agreed that the best plan was to drop whatever we were doing and get to The Roadhouse as soon as possible. The normal plan for this particular venue would be to arrive at the club at about 2:00, which not only allows us plenty of time to get everything set up and tweak the sound system, but gives everybody a chance to go home, eat a proper meal, rest or do whatever for a little while, then come back and be ready to play at 7:30. Now here it was almost 3:00 and we hadn't loaded a single piece of gear. We didn't even have a setlist made! (And I HATE repeating a setlist.)

Bill got his stuff ready and headed over to The Roadhouse. Sean got on Facebook, changed the event date, posted it on our wall and sent a bunch of invites, thew his stuff in his car and did the same. I got home as soon as soon as I could, slammed everything in the truck as fast as possible, then got on the computer, where I sent some more Facebook invites and posted yet another notice to the SUIT wall as well as my personal page. I also composed and sent out all the email invites to everyone on our email list in -- for me, anyway -- record time. Normally I agonize over the details of the email letter until I feel it's "just right," but there was no time for that now. So I did the best I could given the circumstances and hit send, but I noticed after the fact that I had committed a typo: instead of The Roadhouse" it read "he Roadhouse." Oh well, I guess at least I got the dates and times right.

By the time I arrived at about 4:30, Bill and Sean were already inside. The next two hours or so were a frenzy of setting up and trying to get everything adjusted. With all the hard, sound-reflective surfaces in a place like The Roadhouse, getting the sound right can be a bit tricky, so there's a considerable amount of time spent ferreting out and getting rid of all sorts of unwanted audio anomalies. Plus, in our haste, we (okay, I) overlooked a couple of buttons that were set wrong, sending us on a wild goose chase for a while. By 7:00 we had everything worked out as best we could, but we still didn't have a setlist. Bill needed to sit down a get some rest if he could, so Sean and I grabbed Sharpies, leftover copies of last week's setlist (from Junior's on March 31st), and went to work. We ended up just making a few small adjustments. That left just enough time to change clothes, tune guitars and use the rest room before the 7:30 start time.

There was just one problem: apart from the three of us and the bartender, there were about six people in the whole building.

So what do you do? You play anyway. Play like you're playing to a packed house (just try not to notice the deafening silence and the end of the song).

But very slowly, little by little, more people started to trickle in. It never got to the level of "packed house," but we ended up with enough people to fill up a few more seats and make some noise at the end of the songs. We even had some dancers, as well as contributors to the Tip-Toon (in case you're not familiar with it, our tip jar is an old spittoon that Sean dubbed the "Tip-Toon").

Frank Calcagni and his wife Jan came to see us for a little while, too. Frank got up and played a couple of songs with us, which is always fun for me because it's like an "original three-piece Rhythm Dawg reunion." We did "Howlin' at the Wrong Moon" and "Hoochie Coochie Man" just like the old days. Also, since Frank has been taking care of our booking with The Roadhouse (and we are VERY appreciative of this), he was just as surprised as were were about the date change. He had also been in contact with the owner, and it became clear that it was neither he nor us that mixed up the date. It's important that the owner understands this, therefore shifting the blame away from us (and Frank) for the club having such a slow night. We could have had a much better turnout if we had had more than four hours to promote the gig.

But, in the end, I would say we pulled it off. No, we didn't pack the place, but we started and stopped on time and put on a professional show. The people that WERE there seemed to be having a good time, and I think we played pretty well. No major train wrecks that I can think of, anyway.

The amazing thing, really, is that all three of us were "findable" at all. By some chance alignment of the stars, we found out about the date change in time and everybody was available. It could have very easily gone another way.

And so that's the story. A little long, but, well, you know. Some stories are like that.