What Makes a Great Gig? Part 2

To me, a great garageband is a bunch of musicians who truly know their limitations. Their goal isn’t even musicianship; it’s making sure they take the party to an altered state—from attendees having a “nice time” to having a “friggin’ GREAT time.” And the best gigs are ones where the band had a great time as well. Therefore, I’d like to offer a list of my favorite gigs, which has nothing to do with best halls, best cities or largest crowds. It has to do with great times, emotions and experiences! And all of my gigs were weddings, reunions, bar mitzvahs, and even a circus act, all performed in the Chicagoland area. Some of these gigs were decades ago, and a few of the venues no longer exist—one notably burned down as a victim of Greek lighting. Nonetheless, each gig big I describe is forever burned into my mind as “life changing.” Drum roll please:

1964: My first gig ever, performed at Niles Community Center in with Mick and the Marvels. I unveiled my new Ampeg amp and Gibson ES with this rag-tag 6th grade garage band. Come on! You ALWAYS cherish your first. And it was an official gig because: We had a logo on our bass drum; we caught a ride in Mrs. Alloisio’s red Cadillac; we were paid $10 and complimentary lemonade and cookies afterward; AND we accumulated several fourth-grade groupies in front of the stage.

1967: The Nite Cap Experience, an all-greaser band where I was their “token Maine South duper”. We had won a battle of the bands at Richwood High School in Norridge, Illinois, the prize being a paid gig at the Country Pub in Maywood. This “hole in the wall” bar didn’t care about things like checking ID cards, and our R&B band of juniors in high school had a coming-of-age evening thanks to an open bar. I had visions of a great run with this black leather jacket band until our bass player Howard stole a car and my mom made me quit the group.

1969: A high-school variety show act called the Chiquita Brass, band with a peel, picked up a two-week gig as a circus band for a summer promotion at Randhurst Shopping Mall in Mt. Prospect. We used our Herb Alpert playbook for all songs, accompanying a high-wire act, jugglers, and semi-dangerous teeterboard act called Ricco Vellenzo and the Flying Vellenzo’s. Our drummer, Kent Wehman, couldn’t make it to one gig and I filled in for him. At the climax of the show, Ricco would launch and throw a triple summersault in the air, landing on a human pyramid of his other three brothers. I flubbed the extended drum roll, and maybe it was only coincidence, but Ricco missed his brother and sailed into the crowd. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Please feel free to sign up for my newsletter and let me know if you have any stories, comments or questions. I look forward to getting out my new book, “Gig,” hopefully destined to be one of the best novels on music you will read!

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