Outdoor concerts are a rush! Elevated onstage overlooking the crowd with an expanded outdoor panoramic view is a rush of the senses. And with mother nature as your backdrop, the experience from a bands point of view is unlike no-other. Yet putting on a show outdoors does come with risks. Unlike the controllable environment of indoor gigs, outside, mother nature is in charge. If she decides to rain on your parade there’s not much you can do. You can either give up and quit, or continue — Singing in the rain!
Tales of a Road Band is an ongoing series sharing my experiences as lead-singer of a touring Country Road Band back in the early 80s. — Corky and The County Outlaws. True tales (memories) about some of the more colorful experiences that we shared together. — Band member disclaimer
Playing outdoors is a sensory delight. Compared to indoor gigs, everything and everyone seems more real, more alive, sharper in focus! Sound travels differently outdoors as well. Like switching from monotone to stereo, the sounds from a larger audience afforded in an outdoor venue comes at you from all directions. It’s Surround-sound in mother nature’s great outdoors.
The smells, the visuals, the touch of a fresh breeze on your skin, so unlike the usual indoor gigs that perception is noticeably enhanced and reality sharpened. These enrichment’s of the senses playing an outdoor gig cannot be overstated because their effects can directly influence the performing members of the band.
Standing onstage with an elevated panoramic view overlooking a large crowd can be, not only visually stunning, but empowering as well. Who hasn’t imagined themselves onstage wowing a huge crowd during an outdoor concert like one of their favorite Rockstar’s? It’s human nature!
For famous or well-known bands, ego likely does play a part. However, my experience in a band not near-famous dictates a different story. For bands like us, regardless of the venue or size of the audience, there is no room for ego onstage. Focus is paramount. Because no-matter how well-prepared, once you take the stage, control and preparation gets left behind and it is fate that now controls your destiny.
When famous bands play an outdoor concert, they come equipped with a huge crew. They have sound technicians, a team responsible for the light show, an onstage setup and trouble shooting team, musical equipment management team and roadies to do everything else in between.
The band simply plays the songs. Songs they’ve likely played hundred’s, maybe thousands of times before. Songs, so ingrained in their memory, that making an error onstage would be like forgetting how to breathe!
Not so, for your average touring band. Bands who don’t have the kind of money to spend on a take-care-of-everything-else road crew. For them, like us, performing live in front of a large outdoor audience means worrying about what could go wrong playing outdoors! Because there’s nobody to fix it, but themselves!
There’s concerns about wind feedback on the microphones or guitars falling out of tune due to the heat, the cold or dampness. Of course the biggest worry is the possibility of bad weather. Wind and dampness a concern but lightening and rain? Well, now your talking real panic!
THE CRAZY CAYUGA-CAMPERS
It was a long-weekend holiday gig, starting Friday night and ending on a Holiday Monday. The campers started to make their way to the Bandshell an hour or so before we started. A huge gathering, bringing coolers and chairs and blankets and as it turned out, a robust enthusiasm to party. From the first song to the last encore they were “whooping it up” on the huge concrete outdoor dance-floor in front of the stage.
The first 3 nights were amazing! The big crowd was friendly but boisterous, expressing their excitement and unabashed joy in having a good time. Their was an instant band-audience connection right from the start and lasting long into the night. A good-old-time had by all, including the boys in the band. Three fun-filled nights with one left to go and with a party-crazy audience that was a joy to play for.
But it wasn’t till Monday night (our last night) that we’d learn just how party-crazy these people really were. Because that’s when halfway through the show — the storms began!
When the skies first started to light-up and flash brilliant-white far beyond the back of the crowd, I started to get worried. There’s nothing more dangerous than lightening and rain to a band playing outdoors. With all the electrical wiring and cables running taped across the stage floor and the plugged-in electrical speakers, monitors, amplifiers and guitars — we were prime candidates for electrical shock.
When the heat-lightening looked to be moving off in a different direction there was an audible sigh of relief from the boys. I expressed this to the crowd by making some fool remark over the mic. about how “Mother Nature could kiss our party-asses cause she wasn’t going to ruin our fun this night!” The crowd went wild! Cheering and raising their drinks in salute as they crowded onto the dance floor.
However, as I was about to find out…
You don’t ever raise your middle finger at Mother Nature.
Because that would be — A BIG MISTAKE!
DOWN COMES THE RAIN!
A few songs later, it started to rain. Not just rain, but a heavy steady downpour! There was no real wind to speak of, still, the very front of the stage was slowly getting wet. By the middle of an outlaw party-song we were doing, it was clear that we’d have to stop and move the equipment out of the rain. Shit! I thought. The bands having a good time, the campers are parting crazy… And now this?
As we neared the end of song I started wondering how the hell was I going to tell this wildly enthusiastic crowd that their party might be put on hold? Maybe even, for the rest of the night unless the rain stopped. And by the looks of things, there wasn’t much hope of that happening anytime soon.
As the song was ending, I happened to be looking down on the stage floor concerned if the rain was reaching any of our equipment when a loud rousing cheer exploded from those crazy (and now totally rain-soaked) partying campers. They were loving it! Soaked to the gills, dancing in the rain, crowded on the dance floor and whooping it up like there was no tomorrow! It was quite the sight!
Clothes and hair dripping, soaked in the heavy falling rain yet their spirits not dampened one little bit. In fact, it looked like the rain only spurred then on, bringing their wild, fun-loving-antics, up to even greater heights.
In a middle of a rain-storm, these crazy-campers were having a good-old shit-kicking time!
So now what? What should I do? It was obvious that the crowd wanted us, almost needed us to play on… but… was it too dangerous to do so? I huddled with the guys on stage and then announced a short break to rain-protect our electrical gear on stage.
Then added, to a large cheer, that as per the consensus of the boys in the band — we would do our best to keep the party going!
NOW THAT’S SHOCKING!
We did what we could, moving speakers and mic’s, cables and amps, back deeper into the shell and out of the rain. When we thought we had most everything covered I sent our bass player up to the mic. to rile-up the crowd again. I was watching him out of the corner of my eye as he approached his mic and just as his lips got mere inches away — a spark jumped!
You could actually hear this happening and he jumped back from the mic. in shock. (pun intended!) “Holy Crap! You alright man!” I said worriedly and as I approached him you could smell the electrical discharge in the air. And perhaps just a hint — of burning hair!
As it turned out, he was okay. He did get a jolt from the jumping electricity but wasn’t seriously hurt or injured in any way. But now there was this new problem with our overly-electrified mic’s? There was no visible water on or around them but nobody was going near them like that! One of the guys figured it was from the dampness and that the stands needed to be grounded with something nonconducting.
Rubber would be best, he said! Or cork?… Cork? I remembered the custom cork-bottom I put in the base of our large metal carryall to provide a safe soft bottom for our delicate microphones while in transit. Yep he said! That should do the trick! So we de-corked the carryall and made two inch thick square bases for our mic stands to sit on. Now all we needed was for one of us to test them. A Guinea Pig for our shock-test!
The base player of course was having none of it. He was telling the rest of us (true or not?) that he could still smell burning hairs coming off of his mustache! “Com’on Hot Lips, don’t be a baby” one of the guys teased him. But no-way was he going to be the one to see if the shock and sizzle was gone!
So we turned the power back on and I slowly approached the live microphone standing there all menacing-like on its steel stand. Closer and closer my lips neared. I was bracing myself ready for the expecting shock when my lips touched and..? Nothing happened! I tapped it with my finger and again… No sparks! No Jolt!
Do mine! The base player pleaded. And his mic was okay too! Soon everybody had checked theirs and ya-baby we were good to go! We all had a chuckle when the base player (still not 100% convinced) tentatively inched his lips closer, inch by inch, slowly and warily until finally touching his lips to his mic. Okay! The homemade cork-bases had worked like a charm and the party was on!
The rest of the night was equipment uneventful. The rain never did stop, only slowing now and then before another heavy downpour would open up again. The campers stayed with us through it all, whooping it up, having a grand old time dancing in the rain in mother natures great outdoors. They roared us back to do two encores that night. And we were more than happy to oblige.
Yes sir! That was definitely one of the better nights to remember in the history of Corky and the County Outlaws! What you might call, a real electrifying night! But in the end, just another sweet memory in the archives of — Tales from a Road Band.
MORE BAND TALES COMING SOON!
RELATED POSTS — Memories of an Outlaw Band — Tales of a Road Band: Seedy Bars — What could go wrong Did! — Tales of a Road Band: The Groupies — Boy Wonder: Tales of a Road Band — The Real Outlaw: Tales of a Road Band
All authoring rights reserved by the WordofWayne.com