Study Hall

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Road Stories: From The Sofa To The Rodeo

Everybody’s been in a small bar when all of the lights go out and the PA and cash registers fall silent… there’s a full two seconds of deathly calm and then… well, “road story.”

Sixty minutes ago I was wearing bunny slippers and watching Mexican soap operas with my robe open.

Then the phone rang.

Now I’m dressed and making small talk with management at 40,000 feet on a Gulfstream G150. In 120 minutes or so I’ll start mixing a show absolutely cold in front of 60,000 people at the Houston Rodeo.

A mere 360 minutes after that I’ll be back in my robe in Nashville with or without the bunny slippers. As the Buffet song says, “Oh the stories we can tell…”

As I’ve aged, I’ve developed the ability to focus my perspective at will.

I have two tested methods. The first is to block, deflect and neutralize any hostility or adversity with a simple quip, “Let’s have a show and tell stories about it later.” The second is to hum “Amazing Grace.”

The first gently corrects any false notions that my job involves curing cancer; the second keeps me from throwing up in a road case when I can’t get myself to believe I came up with such a bullcrap first method.

It works too. That gig at the Houston Rodeo? We were a last-minute replacement for a headliner that canceled. When we got there, the plan consisted of this: Start playing, we’ll line check during the show.

The desk was the (then) new Midas XL8, which, I must admit, is pretty nifty… but just like it’s analog brethren, unless you put a mix on it… it’s still factory fresh.

And that’s how we began the show… live and factory fresh. Just before we hit, the monitor guy, whom I’ve known for 15 years, deliberately held the Clear-Com beacon over his head and yanked the cable out. As his sled was dragged by a tractor out to the stage, he looked me dead in the eye and mouthed the words “every man for himself.”

I hummed 60 bars of “AG” to myself while I watched him fade to the other side of the stadium.

Release The Hounds

I’ve only cried at one gig. I was 19 and had agreed to provide production for a South African anti-apartheid artist who was performing his first U.S. show.

The extremely earnest and angst-ridden suburban Volvo pilots who were footing the bill had impressed upon me, for the preceding two weeks, the international importance of this gig and the desperate need for everything to be perfect.

They had even paid me an extra $25 over my $150 asking price to assure my cooperation. For this tidy sum, I pledged lights, sound, and a spotlight… none of which I owned nor had even priced, prior to my promise.

But, promises are promises, so I temporarily relocated a spotlight and four PAR 64s from a theater department, rented two Community PBLs and a Yamaha P-2200 from a local PA company, liberated a pair of Vector Research amplifiers from my roommate’s stereo and chose a selection from the TAPCO professional line on which to mix the whole thing.

I wound up $50 over budget so I couldn’t hire any help. It was me, 300 feet of zip cord and a whole bunch of stupid poised to open America’s arms to Africa’s plight.

Read More
Making It Work: A Conversation With Veteran Production Pro Bill Di Paolo

Here’s a good time to mention the importance of having a fleeting grip on the fundamentals of electricity before leaving the house in the morning.

My plan involved plugging all four 1,000-watt PAR 64 lamps into a plug strip, which ran out to the Front-Of-Bar, where I was running the spotlight and mixing the show from.

As lights either work or they don’t, there was no need for me to turn them all on during the day; they would have just added to the already potent thermal signature of the non-air-conditioned room. I did test them one at a time and then knighted myself a working LD after they passed muster.

The spotlight worked too, but I realized I was going to be in trouble as the duplex on the wall had but two outlets and I had three plugs: lamp bars, PA and spotlight.

Again, since I’m clever and resourceful, I quietly kidnapped a Tri-tap that was powering a couple pieces of neon and, voila! Four outlets! I figured I’d jam the Edison plug feeding the lamp bar into the wall, dramatically illuminate the stage during the pulsating rhythmic opening beats… then mix that African fete as only a little kid from South Philly could.

“Crest Factor” was a term I’d come to be familiar with later in my career, but now, fueled by my halcyon youth, I had no need for such details… I was too busy stamping out injustice and making a living in the music business.

I gotta say, I love road stories. They’re always there to fill a vicarious void.

Me, I take the time to jot 1,200 words or so of an anecdote down from front to back, but most people have already successfully concluded the endings to my tales.

Particularly when they’re laid out as the written word, the finale always seem to be waving a flag and keying an air horn, yet none of that seemed evident at the time.

The above tale is a good example; I don’t need to finish it, everybody’s been in a small bar when all of the lights go out and the PA and cash registers fall silent… there’s a full two seconds of deathly calm and then… well, “road story.”

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