Strangest. Gig. Ever.
As a musician for the past 25 years, I’ve done some odd gigs. I’ve marched, I’ve played in extreme heat, extreme cold, rain, strange music, tyrannical conductors… A reasonable gamut. This gig was strange.
While in China we were playing at concert halls where there was always a “promoter” in charge of the hall and the performances. In this one case in Xuzhou the promoter was also heading up a beer festival just outside of town. We were asked if we would be willing to come and play for 5-10 minutes at the beer festival in exchange for beer. This is a no-brainer for brass players!
The timing was tight for getting to the festival as it was about a 40 minute drive there. We were asked if we would be willing to cut the timing on our concert a bit to accommodate the drive time. Again, no-brainer!
We finished the concert, got on the bus, and headed out of town. City quickly became outskirts which quickly became darkened factories which quickly became not much of anything. We were well more than 40 minutes on the bus and folks were quietly becoming slightly peeved and I was personally wondering if we were just going to get dropped at an abandoned factory and left there.
After an almost endless hour of driving we finally approached a small town and drove a little ways into it all the while wondering about the numerous bright lights shining into the sky. As we got closer we saw that that was indeed the beer festival with a very large and well lit stage. (Unlike the audience which was only half lit… ba dum crash.) We were seated in the very front row at tables that were right in front of the stage and speakers. There was some sort of Chinese cultural performance going on which gradually morphed into women in white tie and tails with top hats and canes. We were off to fantastic start!
There was another act after that while we sat around at the tables waiting for beer (after you play, we were told.) During this time there was much glad handing by local folks and a LOT of picture taking of us as we were likely such an oddity at a festival like this.
We were finally told it was our turn to play so we quickly got our instruments and music and approached the stage while at the same time an equal number of women in bright red and gold costumes also mounted the stage. We were told that since we didn’t bring our music stands (not enough time or space to load them on the bus) that these women would be holding our music. Weird, but okay. We played and they stood in front and to the side of us and held our music. We also had a couple of our own family members (my daughter was one) helping to hold the music.
We played a few tunes (much more than 5-10 minutes) all the while indicating to these gracious women in costume that we had pages to turn and what was coming next. When we were done our scheduled music we launched into an explanation of what we do at beer festivals at home, that is, the Chicken Dance! We had one of the members of the group get up and explain the whole thing in English while pausing occasionally to let our translator translate to the audience for him. When he was done we launched into our “memorized” version of the chicken dance while our family members and lovely women in costume learned and demonstrated the chicken dance on stage.
I don’t know if the audience ever got the instructions for doing the dance but when I looked out to see what they were doing they were all just standing there dumbfounded at this odd group of white people. For all I know they may have thought that we were dancing around to our national anthem!
Once the chicken dance episode was over we remained on stage to accept many gifts. There were gifts for the musicians and family members, gifts for the director, gifts for the tour manager, then many photos. My daughter, who happens to be a very tall, beautiful, blonde 15 year old, was the star for the photographers. They LOVED her!
We finally returned to our seats where our tables had been FILLED with food and kegs of beer and pitchers had been brought out for consumption. Now this part of a beer festival is more familiar. That said, I had no idea of the origin or exactly what the food was so I was a little bit reluctant to eat much of it. I stuck to the boiled peanuts and the edamame. The beer was a winner and welcome after a long night. In my previous post I mentioned about the beer in China and this stuck to the theme: Very light, very macro, very meh, but very drinkable!
Also during this time because we were the last act to perform at the festival and because we were special guests the promoter asked all the entertainment to start again from the beginning so that we wouldn’t miss anything. Crazy!
At our tables we enjoyed much toasting with the locals, many more photographs especially with my daughter, and more glad handing (and toasting) with local politicians. As this was going on much of the crowd left leaving only us and one rather rambunctious table right behind us. They joined in the toasting and then began the drinking contests. Small cups were the initial vehicle for the beer and that contest was for Eric, one of the percussionists on tour. Then one of the Chinese gentlemen brought forth two pitchers and gestured wildly that one of us should participate in a pitcher drinking contest. Somehow I was volunteered.
I always take my work seriously so I jumped right in and participated in what will be known as “diplomatic relations”, that is, I let him win. My colleagues were extremely supportive following the contest and many did declare that much of my competition’s beer went down the front of his shirt. Speaking of shirts, the next thing that happened was the victor removed his shirt. So in the name of “diplomatic relations” I also removed my shirt. There followed much picture taking of which I currently have none of that particular incident but will update the blog as I receive more photos.
I did get some photos of the night submitted by our director, Bram Gregson. Here is me participating in “diplomatic relations”.