Gig Report: Montoya Wedding

Discussion in 'Bass Humor & Gig Stories [BG]' started by Steven Ayres, May 17, 2018.

  1. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    So here's a lesson in what it's like to pull together a bigger band for a one-off gig, and how what might look like a pickup gig turns into a major deal. (Yeah, this will be long, but if you have a short attention span you're probably not into doing this anyway.)

    A friend and collaborator of mine decided she wanted a big-deal wedding, and asked me to handle the music. She wanted a horn band doing old-school prewar swing, a little Dixie and a few R&B tunes, with a speakeasy feel. For me this is great, I've got more into the prewar over the last few years and I was looking forward to playing it the way I wanted to. We worked together to set a budget, and I decided on a septet, with three horns and guitar. I started booking musicians four months out.

    First call was my drummer, with whom I've been working on both jazz and R&B gigs for 20 years. Next was a pianist, and appropriate personnel are in short supply in my area. The bride recommended someone who has a jazz album and run her own band. I'd been trying to get a gig with this woman for a year, but she was too busy with teaching and church gigs. She was invited to the wedding anyway, however, and I was able to persuade her to play it as well.

    The reed man is another very busy player, frequently called on Bay Area gigs, and I'd worked with him in big band. He was the best choice to handle alto, clarinet and tenor, and he brought a combo book. Trumpet also had combo charts, and works hard doing various bands and veteran memorials. I've worked with trombone a lot over a couple of decades, I knew he'd be solid. On guitar I tapped a real hard-working blues guy who's relatively new in town.

    In the course of planning, the wedding party became more focused on the band and the dinner was dropped. I needed something on the order of 50 numbers of the dance-band style, which most bands aren't playing much. I pulled the program from my old dance-band charts combined with numbers from the other two books, in part to make those players happy. When you're putting together a band of bandleaders, control issues are never far from sight.

    I knew I could count on the players to be able to read the charts down, but I wanted a couple of rehearsals to clarify the style and make sure everyone was working together. It's a smallish town, so most of them had experience with one another, not all of it positive. After two months of negotiations I was able to lock down two dates in the ten days before the gig, and my reed man offered the teaching space he works in as a venue. As the first rehearsal approached, two of the players developed conflicts, leaving only the Saturday morning four days before the gig. I was able to get the rhythm section together for a couple more at my house.

    Two members worried that the rehearsal space was too small, so I wasted a week trying to get upgraded to a larger room in the same facility. (Dealing with the control issues of others here.) On the day yes, the room was very tight for seven, and I wouldn't have chosen it, but it did enforce a certain focus on listening and volume control that was positive. I think it also helped cut down on crosstalk and chatter. There was a certain amount of fumbling around in the rehearsal, but it generally went well.

    Meanwhile the bride decided to move the venue from a tennis club on the edge of town to an events ranch 25 minutes out of town and down five miles of dirt road. With this the ceremony had to be like 200 feet from the bandstand and I now had to do a second setup with a second keyboard and separate PA, which for simplicity's sake I decided to rent.

    So on the day, after my morning conference call and recording a radio show, I picked up the rented PA, then packed the bass and the rest of the gear in my car. I'd offloaded some bulkier gear to the guitar player's van, leaving just enough room in the Magnum. I toddled out to the sticks, arriving a little after one for a 4pm downbeat on the ceremony.

    It took a full two hours to get everything set up. we were under a hard-framed 100-seat tent top with no sides, with flagstone under the band and dirt everywhere else. The reed man brought his stage stands. Pianist, a compulsive talker, followed me around kibitzing and being somewhat less than helpful, generally leaning into the stereotype of keyboard players as nutbars. I did a soundcheck with the thoroughly professional officiant for the ceremony; the bone player arrived a bit later than he expected after going to the old venue. Then we hit the hurry-up-and-wait part.

    The guests started seating and we started the organ music, waiting for the groom and bridesmaids to hit their cues. The groom and groomsmen (one of them female) came in, and we all expected to see the bridesmaids any second as I sang the groom's tune. The pianist went back to Pachelbel and riffed while we waited. And waited. I learned later that the bride's party was waiting out of sight for a cue that never came (sigh). After 15 minutes or so that felt like an hour they broke cover and did the walk. The bridal march went fine and the ceremony was lovely. On the recessional the pianist misjudged her volume setting and blasted a couple of the first notes, but that didn't bother me as much as her mangling a couple of phrases on a tune she does all the time, probably in part because of that first-note fault. Okay.

    The plan was to play cocktail music for about half an hour, then first dances. The wind came up, and the book (trumpet's) for the first set was in loose pages, creating a big hassle for everyone but especially the guy who has to wrestle pages with one hand on the bass. An hour and fifteen into it the couple had yet to show up, but I didn't feel I could break because they were gonna show up any minute. It became a really long set, I think after the dances we got to break to cut the cake at like two hours. I sent the band to get some food.

    The second set was mostly from the reed man's book, which is pretty fifties but there were numbers I could pull out of it and it was organized in binders. We'd only rehearsed a few numbers from it, though, and this was where it started to become clear that pianist wasn't really up to the task. Thankfully my dyslexic bluesman guitar player was sharp on the changes and able to hold it together while pianist faked and fumbled. By all reports it wasn't apparent in the house, at least.

    As the crowd thinned out I got to do an Otis Redding piece that was particularly meaningful for the couple, and they got a nice slow dance that made them very happy. We did a couple more charts, I called Moonglow and wrapped it up at about 8:15.

    Another 45 minutes for teardown and loadout and I was on the road home. This morning I spent another hour or so just cleaning dust off the gear.

    Bottom line: No contract, $2,200 paid two weeks in advance, with a $600 cancellation deposit three months in advance. $300 per man and the groom gave each of us a $20 tip. Out-of-pocket costs amounted to fuel and printing the charts; wear and tear on the BL is not accounted. Thankfully bride did not become Bridezilla.

    ES-9 with Gage copperhead running direct to mixer
    '70s Navigator 335 copy (ceremony), direct to mixer

    Lessons learned/confirmed:
    - Never hire someone based on reputation among non-musicians.
    - Considering the advance work, bandleaders make far less than the other musicians.
    - Wedding schedules are planned, carefully detailed, and never accurate. Stay flexible.
    - Work ethic and attitude can be far more valuable than specific experience.
    - Wedding bands are expensive, and they're still not charging anything like enough.

    Evidence: The Titanic Orchestra at Juniper Wells Ranch

    Last edited: May 17, 2018
  2. Ender_rpm


    Apr 18, 2004
    St. Louis MO
    WEll done sir.

    And nope, not my bag :)
  3. McG

    McG Goat Hill Gamblers

    Oct 6, 2010
    Costa Mesa, CA
    An excellent read and glimpse of a gig way out of my wheelhouse. Thanks for sharing!
    mwbonsall likes this.
  4. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    Doubt I could play it, but man I would enjoy listening!
  5. Pre-war swing? I assume she likes Dorsey, Goodman, maybe even Lawrence Welk...just how old is the bride? Which I know love and money never gets old.
  6. BluesDawg


    Jun 15, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    I'm not a professional musician, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I don't know how you guys do it.
  7. 2cooltoolz

    2cooltoolz Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2009
    Lake Conroe, TX
    Great write up!! I would love to try something like that, but with one REAL rehearsal?? Scary...pretty much no way, at least not with any flexibility. Cudos to you for making it happen!
  8. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    When I say that I'm talking about Ellington, Glenn Miller, early Dorseys, Chick Webb, Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Cab Calloway, early Woody Herman, like that. She's in her early forties.
    McG and btmpancake like this.
  9. Oddly


    Jan 17, 2014
    Dublin, Ireland.
    Great report, nice insight into what it takes to put together a day like this.
  10. Mine too!

    McG likes this.
  11. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    Thanks! I agree that more rehearsal would be good. At the same time, everyone I hired for this gig (with the one exception) has decades of experience with the music and good reading chops. The results weren't perfect, but we managed to impress the crowd pretty well and the client (and her father, who paid for it) went home happy.
    McG and 2cooltoolz like this.
  12. Hi,

    I just saw this post, an excellent rundown of what it's like for a real working musician and bandleader. Well done, both on the gig and the write-up. I'll bet this could really be fun except for all the work. ;)

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Do you think this could get to be a habit? :)

    Thank you for your indulgence,

    McG likes this.
  13. jshinal


    May 28, 2013
    Raleigh, NC
    I used to really enjoy the Studio Log column written by Tommy Tedesco for Guitar Player magazine, and this was a lot like it. Thanks for a well-written peek into a posh gig with the pros.