Music-venue staff has threatened to pull the plug on me and have told me “not to bother” on playing a second set. That’s nothing.
But in all of these years of playing shows, the owner of a bar-venue had never physically attacked me onstage during what was basically the sound check.
A few months ago, while visiting family in north Texas, I was asked by some buddies to sit in with their improvised music project. I brought some experimental music bread-and-butter equipment to the gig – cassette tapes, a Walkman, loop pedals, a small mixer – and set up the gear on a bar table onstage.
The vocalist/keyboardist and guitarist flanked me stage right as we tried to figure out the P.A. and soundboard since the person running sound had deserted his post. I sent a signal to the board, creating a simple two-second loop that sounded like it could’ve been the start to a Björk or Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti song. Nothing too insane.
This went on for maybe 30 seconds as the guitarist and keyboardist adjusted their levels. Then a bandmate cranked up the volume on my loop, signalling that the wholly improvised set was about to begin.
What had to have been 15 seconds later, an angry-looking bearded dude was onstage and in my face.
“What is this? What the hell is this?,” he yell-demanded.
I blankly stared at him, legitimately confused.
“What the fuck are you doing? This is fucking annoying.”
Huh? Who is this clown? I then noticed his black T-shirt emblazoned with the bar logo. I also saw that one of his biceps may have been as big as my head.
I figured he was a bartender or bouncer at this trash heap. This particular town’s music venue options had been recently cut in half due to a variety of factors, leaving local promoters scrambling to book weirdo shows at any place – even if it was an ill-fitting dump – that would say yes.
Turns out, he wasn't just a bartender. As I would find out after the fact, the guy actually owns the joint. An Internet search of his LinkedIn and Facebook pages, together with Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission records, confirms it.
I told the guy to talk to one of my bandmates. He clomped back over to the guitarist, who wouldn’t play a single note on this night, and then to the vocalist, who stuck the mike halfway into the owner’s mouth as he shouted at us to stop.
I laughed. The bar owner, who I still thought was an ordinary staff member, stormed over to me.
“Why are you laughing? Do you think that’s funny?”
“Why did he stick that [the microphone] in my face?”
“Because he wanted you to say something to the audience.”
Something about that comment turned his anger into fury.
He ordered me to stop playing. I refused. He went over to the guitarist and vocalist/keyboardist and demanded the same. They obliged.
“He’s an asshole,” the hot-tempered man said, pointing in my direction. “He’s a fucking asshole.”
Looking back, I probably should’ve packed up at the moment. I’m not particularly afraid of large humans, but I indeed fear for my safety when it’s a muscular and super pissed-off person.
However, this once-in-my-lifetime scene was too unhinged for me to want it to end. Plus, I wanted to play for more than one minute.
As he continued to yell expletives, I kept playing and added to the loop. He once again thundered over to me. He went over to the wrong soundboard, a backup device that wasn’t set up, and tried to unplug it. (He eventually found the correct board and killed the music.)
Now, you’re the owner of a bar in a college town. It’s a Sunday night. School isn’t currently in session so you’ve agreed to host some entertainment in order to actually generate some revenue on what would ordinarily be a dead night. What’s the one thing you don’t do?
Shove the booked entertainment over an amplifier.
I actually got lucky. I’m convinced he would’ve taken a swing if not for the bar-cum-gear table that separated us. Instead, we argued. At a stand-off, I asked him what he was going to do, which, in my mind, wasn't a whole lot since he had just pulled the plug on us. That's when he aggressively shoved me and I fell backwards over a bass amp. My gear tumbled harder than I did – the amp actually cushioned my fall.
A friend of mine from the audience jumped on stage to try to calm down the dude who still hadn't identified himself as the owner. I heard him say, “I’m going to fucking knee him in the head.” That’s probably not a good brand-marketing strategy, just FYI.
I noticed that my musical equipment was scattered within inches of his feet and I started freaking that he was going to stomp all over everything. I got up and said, in my most peaceful voice possible, that I’d be packing up and leaving. He told me to get out of there and that they’d bring the stuff to me. Sure you will.
Sensing my panic about the potential destruction of hundreds of dollars of musical equipment, some of it irreplaceable, my bandmates and friends somehow distracted him enough so that I could get on all fours and sweep the gear into a pile. With the help of some friends, we grabbed everything and got the heck out of there.
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In the days following the incident, word spread. A festival scheduled the following week moved to another venue and other bands promptly canceled. Contrary to some ridiculous social-media inflammations, no, I did not get punched nor did I lose a limb. Aside from minor scratches, I was fine and thankfully – since I was about to begin a three-week tour – so was the music gear.
Though I think the assault was incredibly messed up and doesn’t adhere to organic brand growth principals, I don’t wish ill will on the dude or his silly bar. That’s one reason why I’m keeping the who/what/where/when details fuzzy.
What irks me is his response/non-response. According to always accurate hearsay, he was at first contrite but then started saying that I put my hands on him first. Bollocks. I didn’t touch the guy, who has still never attempted to apologize to me, at all.
Maybe he’s waiting for me to thank him. For what? The most memorable gig I’ve (never) played.