Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mobs and Music

I've been reading this morning about mob violence at the Wisconsin State Fair where bunches of "youths" were harassing, beating up and otherwise ruining the evening of people trying to enjoy the fair. Does it seem that there is more and more of this? I used to live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and every year there was a big sailboat race over a weekend. It was also the occasion for a big party downtown. Every year, the party seemed to get more and more rowdy until, after dark, most adults would just disappear, leaving the streets to mobs of drunken teens.

Here's the musical connection: one year I had the most unlikely gig of my career as rhythm guitarist in a big band. I don't much like jazz and I had never played it before. I was in the second year of my changeover from a popular music guitarist (blues and the Beatles) to a classical guitarist. But this big band needed a rhythm guitarist and I was the only one available. Tough parts, though. I still remember the first time I played with them. The first tune was in E flat (a horrible key for guitar) and the first bar had four chords: E flat 13 flat 5 followed by three similar nightmare chords! Turns out I am the world's absolute worst jazz guitarist! Anyway, I redeemed myself to the band the night we played for the sailboat race weekend. We had been booked to play a street dance Friday night. After the first half hour the audience consisted solely of drunk 16-year-olds who, frankly, hated Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller. The trombone players, sitting in front, were afraid to extend their slides for fear of having them grabbed. Luckily I knew a couple of tunes by Chicago, the "rock and roll band with horns". Myself, the bass player and drummer got going and the horns joined in as best they could even without charts. Then we just kept playing a little rock and roll and blues until the mob quietened down, at which point we quietly disappeared.

And I think that was the very last time I performed in public as anything other than a classical musician. Interesting experience, though. Oh, the solution to the problem was that they have, ever since, canceled any street party connected with the race.

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