Not to put too fine a point on it, but many musicians lead eventful lives. And some of their most memorable experiences involve interactions with crowds—both friendly and hostile (but usually the latter, alas). With this in mind, I asked several musicians to recount their most extraordinary encounters with fans and haters. Their responses reveal a wide spectrum of unusual behavior, much of it extremely funny and ridiculous... and occasionally disgusting. So, without further ado, let's take it to the stage... and elsewhere, too.
Chloe Harris (Raica): I got kicked off the decks in Mexico by a narco's strongmen with guns, so he and his posse could listen to psycho (trance). It was really scary, tbh. I moved so fast out of that place.
Trent Moorman (Lusine, Yppah, Pillar Point, Katie Kate, Graig Markel’s Animals at Night): I played a show in New York one time and someone watching had pizza. During the course of the set, they fed me two complete slices of pizza while I played. They wiped my mouth and everything.
Jason Justice: Worst experience: Being booed and having people chant, "We want Bonobo!" when SunTzu Sound opened up for them at Neumos about 10 years ago. We knew Bonobo from his early hiphop/sample-based work for Ninja Tune. It wasn't until their set started did we realize that they had totally changed their sound. The crowd wasn't feeling the downtempo warm-up vibes.
Best experience: This happened recently. Kid Hops, Atlee, and I did a TRUST party in Georgetown the week that Aretha Franklin passed away. The last tune of the night was "Never Grow Old" from Amazing Grace. The remaining crowd circled up and held each other in group hug for the entire song. I've never than happen before.
Mitchie Vega: When I was 18 I got booked to DJ at my friend's full moon party in rural Whatcom county. I only played minimal techno at the time, and half the attendees were the host's middle-aged country hippie or "dreadneck" relatives around a fire while the other people I knew did nitrous in a school bus, and only a composting toilet to shit in. One of the aunts of the family asked me to play Bruce Springsteen, and I informed her that unfortunately I did not have "The Boss" but that I could play some '70s disco and classic house.
She was apparently not satisfied with that answer and came up 15 minutes later screaming "THUMP THUMP THUMP! That's all you have, it's driving me nuts!" and then yanked on my cord to try and pull my headphones off. At that point I was like, "Mess with me if you want, don't touch the gear," and experienced what it was like to be feebly attacked by a woman who was probably 90 pounds soaking wet; it was like getting pummeled by a bird's wings. Finally the host notices and intervenes, and I put on a pre-recorded house mix. He came back to apologize profusely, and explain that she was undergoing opiate withdrawal. I was sympathetic to her moodiness, but not to her taste. Still the only time I've gotten assaulted behind the decks.
Eric Padgett: First steady music gig out of high school landed me in a solid B- cover band playing at the Muckleshoot Casino. First day on the bandstand, the singer offered me to the audience as a joke sacrifice and a slew of ladies in the 45-70ish age range pulled me off the stage, dragged me forcefully by my arms across the floor, and took turns bouncing me on their laps, screaming and yelling. In retrospect I should've sued the establishment.
Mike Dumovich: I once asked a frat dude who was giving me shit while playing how he would feel if he had to tell his friends he got his ass kicked by a folk singer. Glad he laughed. He’d have whooped me.
Whitsitt Goodson: Got a phone call from a friend: "Can you get down here quick? I'm playing hiphop at a frat party and it's not going well. I know you've got the cuts... please help." So we roll up to save the day. Start off playing some classics, but they don't want to hear it. Requests are getting hostile. I threw on 2 Live Crew's "Fraternity Record" because fuck the Deltas, fuck fuck the Deltas, which got at least a chuckle from a few people, but one guy yells "play some hip hop, fuck this techno shit." Put on something from Blowout Comb and someone came up to ask "Do you have any Digable Planets?" while it was playing. Dude really didn't know. Finally, someone did that air-scratching thing over my homie's copy of Digital Underground and scratched the needle off the record, so we pulled the plug and packed up rather than get into a fight with all of them. The party continued with the fraternal brothers popping in a Grateful Dead tape and peace prevailed.
Jeff McIlwain (Lusine): My worst show ever was 2001 at Ostgut in Germany, which was the old Berghain. I had played the Panorama Bar upstairs the year before, and they were interested in "moving in a new direction," from the crazy hard techno they usually played there, so I guess I was sort of an experiment for one of the bookers to see if my music would work in the main room. It did not go well. People yelling at me from the crowd and coming up to me throughout, trying to get me to stop as I played my weird experimental "dance" music. I was kind of escorted out of the club by a friend after my set and wasn't really told until the next day the extent of the crowd angst. I've played a lot of shows in Berlin since then, but I think that one kind of haunts me when I think about what to play and whether my music will fit a certain venue or not.
Ricardo Wang: The night Joey Ramone died I was DJing an '80s night at Thekla in Olympia. I decided to play all Ramones for the rest of the night, but only had one Greatest Hits CD on hand. So I announced the deal, and proceeded to re-cue the disc after each two-minute song. I explained this over the microphone, and somebody yelled, "Fuck you!" Without pause or hesitation I replied on mic, "Fuck me? You come up here to the booth if you want to fuck me. But take a number."
Nathan Carson: In the early ’00s, I had a weekly Monday night gig at the Tube in downtown Portland: Heavy Metal Ladies Night. One evening, two young women (who I presume just turned 21 that week) came into the bar. I was playing raging metal music, but they begged me to put on something they could dance to. So I looked through my wares, and the closest thing to accessibility that I could find was a 7” of Van Halen’s “Jump.” I dropped the needle, and both girls immediately frowned and sat down. That’s when I realized that Van Halen probably sounded like Frank Sinatra to them. So I gave up and followed with “Where the Slime Live” by Morbid Angel. That must have sounded remotely like modern music to them somehow, because they immediately jumped up and started to dance.
Around that same time, same gig, a bunch of medical students came in to celebrate their graduation. One young guy (who was not white) begged me to “play some Kanye.” I didn’t have any, of course, so I offered to split the difference with some Herbie Hancock. “Who’s that?” the kid asked. It made me very sad.
Scott Weaver: FILE UNDER “WTF, I DIDN’T KNOW THAT”
DJing @ Que Sera in Long Beach @ The Good Foot back in the early 2000. We were recording the DJ set on my laptop and the needle on the record picked up the sound of the crowd cheering when a big break occurred in a popular song we were playing. I didn’t know needles on tables could pick up the sound of the crowd.
FILE UNDER “WHY DO I DO THIS”
DJing @ Alex’s Bar in Long Beach @ The Good Foot again, playing "Little Red Corvette" by Prince, a 20-something comes up to me and asks, “Can you play some Prince?”
FILE UNDER "WOW"
DJing @ The Kitsch Bar in Costa Mesa, a DEVASTATINGLY beautiful girl comes up to me asking me to play a bunch of dumb, Top-40 songs. Of course, I don’t have any of them. She then proceeds to try to give me money to play songs off her mobile phone. I kindly refuse. She escalates it by saying, “Want to see my pussy, then?” I say, jokingly, “Sure, but you have to give me a $1 bill to look." She whips out a buck and pulls her pants down right in front of me. I tell her, "Um…gee…thanks, I guess," and she walks away. Dumbfounded, I’m standing there wondering what the hell just happened.
Jarrod Bramson (Solvents): I was playing a solo set at this sports bar in Sitka, Alaska. Three rough-looking fisherman sat down at the table in front of the stage. I had just started to play an original tune and I broke a string. I decided to do the rest of the song a cappella. I noticed that most of the bar was getting somewhat uncomfortable. The three fisherman were visibly not into it and I overheard one of them say "I'd like to smash this fuckers head in with a hammer!" I got scared, but I finished the song for some reason. Afterward, I quickly changed the string and broke into "The Joker" by Steve Miller and kinda won the bar back. I proceeded to do some Johnny Cash and some Syknyrd and had those three guys in the palm of my hand! They tipped me well and bought me drinks. After the set, I ended up partying with them till the bar kicked us out!
Kurt B. Reighley (DJ El Toro): I met my husband because he came up to me, unintroduced, at a gig where I was spinning and said, "Hi, you're gonna be my new boyfriend." There's more to it than that, but this definitely is the most memorable.
Maga Bo: Not sure if I should write about being teargassed while playing a club in Johannesburg, getting shut down by the police at a medieval fortress in India, or that time a drunk, rogue tractor driver ran into and destroyed the generator during a gig at a festival in the Irish countryside, or...
Carlos Tulloss (Afrocop, Screens): I was playing bass in the Friday night house band at the Sea Monster. “Purple Fridays,” as they were called back then, were usually pretty crowded. We’d do a lot of Prince and funk covers, there were drink specials, people would get lit. This was around 2009, before the bar expanded to have an elevated stage. Back then, the stage and dance floor were on the same level, it was like a long narrow hallway. People would be drinking and dancing right up against where the band would be playing which made for good energy and interplay between the band and the audience. Sometimes it got so crowded that there would be no distance between the musicians and the dancers, everyone packed tightly together.
One night a bachelorette party came through. It was a large group of women who had clearly started the party elsewhere and were already drunk by the time they had arrived at the Sea Monster. They infiltrated and then took over the dance floor. One of the women was really feeling the music and started grinding against me, very unselfconsciously/aggressively, to the point where she was pressing her boobs against my strings so I couldn’t play. I remember being pretty uncomfortable but also not wanting to stop the song or kill the vibe, so I just tolerated it for a few seconds. The band noticed what was happening and started laughing at me, and to emphasize the moment, the drummer called out for a bass solo. The whole band stopped playing except for the drummer, waiting for me to take a solo, knowing full well the only sound I could produce was that of her boobs against the strings. Interestingly, she didn’t seem to notice the laughter or the sudden lack of music to grind to. She just kept at it, which of course fed the laughter and eventually the drummer was laughing so hard he couldn’t keep the beat.
The bachelorette party soon cleared out, heading to their next destination. I doubt that woman even remembers being there that night.
Jack Gold-Molina (Flame Tree, Nik Turner): I was playing at Surplus Festival in Wales with Nik Turner and was shooting photos before our set. One guy who was dancing his brains out took exception and told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to shoot any photos of him. He got really pissed, and I of course agreed not to.
Our set was raucous, and we really had the audience dancing and yelling and having the time of their lives. During our last tune people jumped onstage so they could dance with us, and when it was over, the guy who had earlier gotten angry with me gave me a huge hug and yelled in my ear, "Twat weasel!" At that point we both broke up laughing.
Jo Smitty (Mr. Epp & the Calculations): Way back in Mr. Epp days, just after WWI ended (we had Jerry on the run!), I was singing (some might say "screaming") a song with my eyes closes shut tight.
After the song ended, I looked up straight into the eyes of a giant (like 150 pounds) German shepherd. Why punks thought it was a good idea to include a dog in a 125-dB show has always escaped me, but its docile demeanor has stuck with me for almost 50 years now.
Lee Cizek (SAME SEX DICTATOR, Red Liquid): The first and only time SAME SEX DICTATOR played Rapid City, South Dakota... Immediately following our set, a random dude said, “Whoa, I’ve never seen someone play bass like that!” Our drummer replied, “What? Drunk?” Awkward and uproarious laughter from me ensued.
Jeff Brown (Spacement): I was playing a show in Tacoma and three patrons were outside the venue when we all were doing load in. They asked if we would be starting soon and we said after load in/soundcheck. The three men excitingly bought some beers and took a table near the stage. I decided to open and did soundcheck first, I went through the various patches on my guitar synth and built up a soundscape that I thought was quite nice to improvise over. The three men promptly got up paid their tab and left. I kinda wanted to go home at that moment myself.
Shawn Holley (Mythological Horses): We were on a harsh winter tour across the Western United States in a van we borrowed. The van had not been used in a while and smelled as if 10 cats lived and pissed inside it and died, but one had babies and they all lived and pissed and died in the van, as well. It was horrible and we were miserable.
One night we were playing in Las Vegas and some guy kept yelling at us and throwing full unopened cans of beer at us, with several hitting me in the legs. If we didn’t truly need the gas money that night I would have jumped off the stage and beat the shit out of the guy, but instead we kept playing and if we said something between songs, we would just hear, "Shut the fuck up and keep playing!"
After the show, I went to find the guy in the crowd and as I walked up to him he held out his arms for a hug and said he just wanted to make friends with us and handed me $500 in cash! That’s the most money we made the whole tour: we got hotel rooms, showers, and pizza that night!
Many times people grab my mic and I usually just step back and let them do what they want or I’ll look at my roadie Ben to kick the person off the stage. One time I saw this shy kid in the crowd singing all the songs, so I stepped back and motioned for the kid to come up and sing the rest of the song. Years later that young man has his own band!
Belltown turns into a pumpkin during the week, or at least did then, at around 12:45/1 am—zombie crackheads, bangers out for blood, homeless and homebound drunks looking for somewhere soft to land. I’ve always been a little loose within format, and despite the Soul Hole generally being a soul, R&B and funk scene, I’d mix it up, especially toward the end of the night. One night, essentially right before last call, fellow kook Greg Vandy and I were winding down the long night. It was summer, so the doors and windows were open, blasting the music out onto Second Avenue. I decided to drop “Far Away Eyes” by the Stones on the table and blast it to high heaven. Well, that song sure is a sing-along, now isn’t it?
Toward the end of the cut, a man waltzes in the door alone. More like saunters, really, and his body language tips off everyone with eyes that he may be 1) smashed, 2) vagrant, 3) another potential hassle for patrons and the bar. Just about the time in the cut that “So if you’re down on your luck!” chorus comes on, he starts singing along at top volume and holding his arms out as if he was on a Broadway stage. The entire bar starts singing along, putting their arms around each other and swaying, all the while smiling and laughing.
The song ends, a few folks clap, and the guy simply turns 180 degrees and saunters back out the door and into infamy. It was the perfect end to another perfect night there and we all looked around at each other, thinking, “Well, that didn’t end up anywhere near what we were thinking it was going to.”
So if you're down on your luck
I know you all sympathize
Find a girl with far away eyes
And if you're downright disgusted
And life ain't worth a dime
Get a girl with far away eyes