The Frat Gig
In the early 1980s, I was employed by a local Atlanta band called the Swinging Richards. At the time, they (along with the Producers and the Satellites) ruled the club scene. We played 4 to 5 nights a week, which for a local band playing original music is a rare thing. We had opened for Duran Duran, Ted Nugent, Leon Russell, the Fixx, and many more. We worked enough that no one in the group had to work a day job – and with our schedule, it wasn’t likely that anyone could have, anyway. We played clubs, bars, and outdoor gigs – whatever came our way. So when a group of college students contacted us to play at a frat party, we gritted our teeth and said yes.
Frat gigs are a unique and horrid aspect of a touring band’s life. You are hired in large part because of your cover material – they want a jukebox. We were not that kind of band. In fact, requests were responded to with scorn. Frat gigs gather up all that is annoying, costly, and painful about performing, and gives it to you in one night. Why does a band do it? Because the money is, as we put it, “silly large.” You might make $1500 to $2000 for a night’s work. Not bad. You would put up with a lot for that amount of money.
This particular show was at a college out of town, which meant we had to leave earlier after playing the night before until 4, and would have a longer drive back when we were done. So, in no way bright-eyed and certainly not bushy tailed, we arrive at the frat and attempt to find the guy who booked us. He wasn’t around, naturally. (First rule of a rock band on the road – the person you need is never there when you need them, and always around when you don’t). We began to unload the equipment, noticing the storm clouds above. Just at the moment we got the last amp in place, it started to rain. We scrambled to cover the gear, and another member of the crew went to find another place we could play. Unfortunately, he found one. We hustled the equipment into a dank, nasty smelling basement with a gravel floor. Ominous stains drenched the walls, and glass shards mixed with the gravel to form a lethal flooring.
As the night went on, and the frat boys began to empty the kegs, things got strange. Lingering near the back of the room with my little light board, I heard over the din of the music the sounds of someone becoming violently ill. Soon as they quit, a loud cheer rose up, and someone yelled “7 feet!” I turned my head and discovered the origin of the odd chunky stains on the walls. These boys bet on who could projectile vomit the farthest. Future leaders of America, these chaps. At the front of the room, near the stage, things were getting ugly. The band, unable to sway the crowd with their self-penned tunes, had started to take requests. And then proceeded to slaughter them. “Born In The USA” became a Sex Pistols-style thrash, “Suspicious Minds” a dirge. The band thought it a hoot; the locals, less so.
By the end of the night the room was rank. Sweat, beer and other substances less enjoyable coated the walls and floor. Rainwater had begun to cascade down the winding stairs into the room, the same stairs we would be traversing with heavy equipment cases. We began to pack up, while the drummer went to get our money. One hard fast rule that every band learns about money is this – never take a check. Billy came downstairs a few minutes later, cursing because frat boy had tried to pay with a post-dated check. Meanwhile, we in the crew were looking around for the people the frat supposedly had arranged to help us move the equipment back upstairs. The largest of them, a rugby player, was passed out on the floor, face first in gravel and vomit. Things were looking dour. So we began to trek the stuff upstairs ourselves. It was now 2 in the morning, it was raining like a bitch, and we were looking at a 2 hour drive home, arriving only 4 or 5 hours before we were scheduled to load in at a afternoon show. So, in the time-honored tradition of roadies everywhere that are confronted with adverse conditions, we began to drink. And drink we did. We drank up the kegs. We drank up the few lukewarm beers floating in a bucket of warm water. We found cooking wine in the kitchen [^]drank that, too.
Billy had found the geek who had hired us asleep in the den of the house and, between all the frat brothers, had gathered our money in wrinkled bills and change. So, drunk, sopping wet, and extremely pissed off, we go to leave, only to find our truck blocked in. By now it is almost 4, and except for the shouts of the house’s inhabitants telling us off and on to shut the hell up, the house was silent. We turned back as a group and stared at the dark windows. The prospect of going back into the house and reawakening someone to move cars was more than we could stomach. So, with plenty of starting and stopping, and at the cost of some frat boys fender, we freed the truck.
Only to hear a voice bellow from an upper bedroom, “Shut the hell up, ya faggots,” clearly directed at us. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war, as the bard would say. We walked back into the house, intent on rearranging a face or at least cause some general mayhem. Standing in the doorway of the place, another crewmember and I spied it at the same time. There, on the wall beside the door, was a beautiful red fire alarm.
We finished the rest of the beer sitting across the road, watching fire truck after fire truck pull in, rousting the comatose party boys and marching them outside. What a great night.