I spent most of my musical life playing in original bands. We wrote our own songs, released our own CDs, and usually played to people we knew. We started out playing to friends and family, and the bands grew to attract fans. The more strangers who showed up, the stranger they got, but there were enough familiar faces in the crowd to keep things comfortable. It was a whole lot different than the crowds I found in cover bands. A few years ago, I started playing in a cover band ('80s tribute called Spazmatics) that was one of the more popular bands in Cleveland. I’ve played with this group in Cleveland, Chicago, and now we’ve started one in Charleston. What I’ve seen is that no matter where you go, the same characters seem to show up at one time or another. Their names are different, but their titles and habits are the same.
I have no idea if she drinks a lot before arriving, or if a transformation occurs as soon as she walks into the room. However she got in this shape, drunk girl is sure the whole night is just for her. Play "Brown Eyed Girl,” and she will scream at you from the front of the stage. When you politely let her know that you are an '80s cover band and that the song she wants is not in part of your show, she will scream louder, “Play ‘Brown Eyed Girl!’” Tell it is coming up in the fourth set, so she should stick around and buy more drinks. When she figures out you're only playing three sets, she will scream at you some more, perhaps threaten to have someone throw a bottle at you. So you announce, “This next one is for the lovely lady at the front. She asked for ‘Brown Eyed Girl’” Launch into ‘What I Like About You’ while Drunk Girl dances around, thinking you are playing ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ for at least the first verse. When she complains that you didn’t play it, you can confidently explain you played it earlier, and dedicated it to her, and man did she dance great. She will lean into you, spilling her drink on your guitar, and then let you know that you are the best band she has heard in her whole life. Fortunately, almost every time, drunk girl will have sober friends who will pour her into the back seat of their car and take her home.
Sometimes Drunk Girl will try to get on stage. But the Showgirls are the real stage stealers. They might dress up as if they are going to a cocktail party at the country club, but here they are at a shot and a beer joint. They see a stage and everyone is looking at the band. “Wait a second,” they realize, “not enough people can see me and my skimpy dress.” So, what is a girl to do? Of course she and a couple of friends have to storm the stage. Raising their arms to the sky and dancing awkwardly among the guitar necks and mic stands, they are suddenly aware that they have no idea what they are doing. To sing backups or not? To get the other Showgirls to dance in unison? To pretend to be Candi on the main stage, dancing with a mic stand like it’s a stripper pole? What is a girl to do? Fortunately the song ends and they usually head back into the crowd before destroying some of our gear. That’s an expensive night if someone falls into the equipment or pours a drink into the electrical connections. Showgirls make me very nervous.
Admittedly, most guys joined bands to meet girls. The image of the Groupie is compelling. We believe that with our rock and roll superpowers, we can be transformed from total dork into irresistible objects of desire. Sure this is narcissistic and unrealistic, but hey, a guy’s got to dream. So when any woman starts giving us those bedroom eyes and the enticing hipsway – right at the front of the stage – we’re all in. She may stand up front with her tractor beam stare and “I’ve got you” smile, she may dance with another guy, but all the while she will keep her eyes on you. Oh yeah, you’re hooked. This is it, the reason you picked up that guitar in the first place. You can’t wait for the show to end and see where this takes you. Usually, it goes nowhere. She either has too much to drink and her friends take her home, she has to get up early for work the next day, or she was using you to make her bartender boyfriend jealous. Don’t get hooked by the Drive By Groupie, it won’t end well.
Rapid Fire Requester
“Santaria!” Nope. “Jumper!” Nuh uh. “Spirit Of The Radio!” Sorry. “Ace Of Spades!” Our singer doesn’t know that one. “Killing In The Name!” Great song – don’t know it. “Jungle Boogie!” Huh? “Closer to Fine!” Are these all in your iPod? “Fly Me To The Moon!” Somebody help this guy, he has song title Tourettes! Rapid Fire Requester will ask for a bunch of songs you don’t play. He or she may even DEMAND them. He could list 100 songs and never come across one from your set list. After looking at your set list, he will continue to request songs you don’t know. Ask him to write his song requests down on a napkin and you’ll see what you can learn for next show.
He will let you know your vocals are buried and the guitar could come down a little bit. How he hears any of this from behind the speakers and near the wall is beyond me. If you are running sound from the stage, all you need to do is thank him, pretend to adjust something and give him the thumbs up. Perhaps a manly nod along with the thumbs up will solidify his fantasy that he helped a band at a show with his unique listening skills. If you have a paid soundman working for you, the Freelance Soundman could end up talking to your soundman all night. If this continues, expect your soundman to be rude to Freelance Soundman, get drunk, or start a fight.
The Museum Curator
Thanks to my friend Brad Morris for reminding me of this character. Museum Curator will approach you during set up and innocently inquire about your gear. It starts off simple enough. “Do you have a Washburn in that case?” he may ask. “Is that a ’77 or a ’78?” For the most part, he really doesn’t care. What he wants to do is tell you about the gear he owns. “Yeah I have a hand coiled Dr. Z with a Custom 1964 Les Paul that had only one previous owner. That’s currently my favorite. But then my 58 Strat still has the hang tags and sounds sweet through my 1965 Twin. Not the reissue – there is no way to get that tube sound through a reissue.” This is just the start of it. While you try to get your gear out of the cases, scratches and all, he will compliment you here and there and may ask to hold a guitar. If you oblige, he may take it and not even play a note. He’ll just look up and down the neck, indicate a nick here or there, and let you know it’s a nice one. Don’t feel like your gear is sub standard in his eyes. Nobody has better gear than he does. His gear: At home. Unplayed. Museum Curator will fade back into the crowd once you’ve given him the appropriate amount of praise. Or sic him on the other musicians so you have time to set up.
She has to sing a song. She must sing a song. Her friends say she is awesome. She waves at the singer to give her the mic. This MUST happen, in her mind. What if he makes the mistake of letting he have the mic for a second? She forgets the words, or she can’t sing a note and proceeds to scream. Dogs on the next block make a mental note to bite your legs if you ever come near, because even they know you NEVER get a good performance from Karaoke Girl.
Cant I Sit In Dude
A guy you have never met, is perhaps visiting for the night from Montana, wants to know if he can sit in. Sure, give him your $1,000 guitar and the crowd that your band has worked a long time to build. Let him take over your stage. Happens all the time with fantastic results. Never. There is no reason to let a stranger have your gear and crowd. You let one guy in and anyone who ever hammered out "Smoke On The Water" will want a shot.
I Know A Guy Guy
This guy knows someone who you should know. It’s his cousin or a his uncle’s friend outside of Topeka. This unknown person lives in a place so remote, they just got cable last month. With nothing else to do, he has become the next great shredding virtuoso guitarist. He’s been playing since birth and one time when Satriani came through, he heard this unknown guy and said something that was interpreted as a coronation of this unknown’s clear genius. He may even have a million views on YouTube. Now, nod your head and tell I Know A Guy Guy that you will keep a look out for his friend/cousin/fictional character.
Occasional Booking Agent
At so many gigs, someone will want your card or number because they have an awesome gig that your band would be perfect for. The details are sketchy; such as date, location, and pay, but they are sure it is going to work out great for everyone. Do not expect a call or email from this person. Ever. Until the next gig at the same bar where they show up and let you know the gig was cancelled, it is still being planned, or someone else organizing the gig booked another band. If they do call, nine times out of ten, it will be a request that you play for a hugely discounted rate because their budget is very tiny, yet you will get great exposure. The Occasional Booking Agent is always well-meaning, but it rarely works out. (Then again, one Occasional Booking Agent did get us a spot on the main stage for a regional nudist colony camping retreat/conference. But, that’s another story.)
This guy is a cross between Drunk Girl and the Showgirls. He is compelled by an otherworldy force to grab the mic at some point and shout something incoherent. This is an uncontrollable urge for him. I wonder if he has been staring lasciviously at the mic all night. He may even major in communications. But when he grabs that mic, you’d think the PA system at the drive through is easier to understand. With his eyes as wide as a deer in headlight, and lips that have temporarily stopped working, he shouts something that sounds like “ebredub a how lin ver can ca….REAL!!” and expects some grand reaction. He will continue shouting “Yeah, yeah,” while being separated from the mic by either a band member or bar employee. Nobody seems to care. Someday I expect one Megaphone Man to grab the mic and yell, “Let’s go streaking in the quad,” before falling off the stage, flat on his face.
Drunk Bro (Sometimes, just Bro)
Your new best friend. “I love your band,” he will tell you while swaying counterclockwise and staring into your eyes. It’s always counterclockwise. I don’t know why. It will start with the uncomfortable greeting where he is unsure if he wants to shake your hand, fistbump, clasp right palms and shoulder/chest bump, or possibly hug you. It could be all of that at once with a mutual finger snap and high five. You have no idea what his preferred Drunk Bro method of greeting may be. He genuinely loves you at this moment but he has lost all sense of personal boundaries. In fact, if the stage is not high enough, he may walk right up on it between songs and start a conversation with you. Drunk Bro is typically bigger than you and as maneuverable as a hundred year old grandfather clock across a slippery floor. But maneuver you must, if you are to get him off the stage so you can continue your set. If you try to go about your business on stage, he may get upset that you are ignoring him and you may suddenly turn into his enemy. For this guy, and a few others, it is not a bad idea to leave the ends of your guitar strings untrimmed. Those six pointy metal wires can be used as deterrents in many situations. (Thanks to Dan McCoy for that tip).
Guitarist From Another Band
Unlike the Museum Curator, this guy has almost the same gear as your guitarist. He plays the same songs. However, he may not talk to any of you at all. Upon staring at all of the guitar pedals with a mix of derision and praise, he will set himself up on the guitarist’s side of the stage, fold his arms across his vintage Van Halen t-shirt and stare motionless at the band while giving the “I can play that better” look. He is under the assumption that if anyone in the crowd knew who he was, they would want him up on stage instead of the guitarist playing. Once you do acknowledge him and chat him up between sets, he will announce he has to leave and needs to get ready for a couple of really super awesome gigs coming up.
These are the most common characters I can recall, but there are more such as Likes to Fight Guy and Wanna Get High? Guy. Every one of them came out to have a good time and your job is to make sure they all leave with good memories – though some may not remember the night at all. They’re all paying your bills and giving reason for you to be able to play live music. You’ve got to treat each with various amounts of caution and friendliness. Some of them have ended up as friends.
You can play great music all night long, but if you can play the crowd well, they’ll thank you for it by coming back with more characters next time.
Artwork by Steve Stegelin