The Tornado That Ate Our Gig!
Creedence Clearwater Revisited had already refused to play. Their tour bus was long gone. Most of the audience had already fled in terror. The roadies were running for cover. The wind had picked up considerably and was now carrying away picnic tables and small dogs. The sky had morphed from ugly gray to ominous black, as black as sky can be.
I stood there watching things go from bad to worse, wondering how in hell we were gonna get paid amid all this chaos.
Ah yes, life on the road. It’s never boring.
The “outdoor rock festival in the middle of nowhere” is one of my booking agent’s specialties, and I’ve become a bit of an expert on the proper way to approach such gigs. First of all, the most important thing you can do upon arrival is find the guy who’s going to pay you and become his best friend. Hang with this person and establish a relationship based on mutual respect. In the old days that could have meant flashing your piece or your lawyer’s business card. Nowadays it might mean a friendly pat on the back and dropping names like Guido and Bugsy. Whatever. Discuss the amount of money scheduled to change hands and the different forms such payments may take, then create a timetable that is of benefit to all. Cash preferred. This being done, you can move on to more immediate concerns like unpacking your equipment.
That’s if you’re going by the book.
On the date in question, the book blew right out of our hands and was carried away by gale-force winds. We were completely on our own.
As fate would have it, our road manager was on the injured reserved list and couldn’t make the trip. “What could possibly go wrong?” he said as he bid us good-bye at the airport. “Get in, get paid, get out. Do a good show, everybody’s happy. Easy as pie. Here’s a list of telephone numbers and a copy of the contract. See ya Monday.”
It all sounded so simple Friday morning in San Francisco, by late Saturday afternoon those words had come back to haunt us. Nobody had figured on an “act of God.”
We were in the Midwest, during tornado season, and twisters were commonplace in this neck of the woods. In fact, we learned that a tornado had touched down the day before a scant one-mile from the site of the concert. No worries, Mate, as they say in Australia, what are the odds of it happening again?
Apparently the odds were pretty good, because by gig time, the damn place was ground zero.
Bass player and GKB co-founder Steve Wright acted as road manager. He pointed to the only thing in the contract that could save us, the dreaded “Force majeure,” sometimes known as the “act of God” clause. That said that if the band were at the gig, ready to go on, and fully intending to play, and an act of God prevented such gig from occurring, the band in question would still get paid. After all, they had traveled there in good faith, hadn’t they? Force majeureseldom comes into play, but when it does, it’s a doozey. It always means disaster.
The promoter had pretty much closed up shop and gone into a rope-a-dope mode. In the production office, everybody was shouting. Steve got tough and demanded our money.
The promoter had already been worked over by pros, including heavyweights like Creedence’s road management team, plus all the other bands, and every local opener within a two hundred mile radius, and it seemed hopeless.
Steve somehow convinced the guy that we would play regardless of weather, that the tornado meant nothing to us, and that we’d played in tornados all the time, and we were tough as nails, and what are you, some kinda wussy? This is rock and roll, Mister! We came to play! Now get that stuff set up and let’s get crackin’!
Miraculously, the guy handed over the money. In cash, no less. As crazy as it sounds, Steve had actually convinced the guy that the gig could be salvaged. In doing so, Steve had preformed the miracle of miracles and become a holy man. Later, back at the hotel, he would walk on water. But, I’ll tell you that story another time; it involves lots of liquor and an indoor pool. But getting back to the gig…
Steve came back to the dressing room smiling and told us to suit up. Ry tuned the guitars and Dave went up on stage to set up his drums. The roadies hurried to get the amps in position and fired up. The word went out- damn the tornados, the Greg Kihn Band is gonna play!
Then the poop hit the fan. About ten minutes later, all hell broke loose. Everybody ran. There were bunkers built into the underside of the stage, and people shouted to take cover. At this point in time there were still about three thousand hard-core fans standing in front of the stage, expecting to rock. They disappeared in seconds. I don’t know where they went, but they were gone at the blink of an eye. It got really dark really fast and the wind began to howl.
The cymbals on Dave’s drum kit flew away like giant metal Frisbees, threatening to decapitate anybody that got in their way. The huge lighting truss above the stage began to swing back and forth, making a groaning noise. In the middle of it all I saw Ry on stage! He was grabbing his guitars and foot switches.
“Ry! Get outa there!” I screamed above the shrieking wind. Amplifiers flipped over. The lighting truss swayed ominously above us. “Now!”
We ran, father and son, off the stage to safety. I’ll never forget it.
We never did play that day.
But we did get paid.
Miracles do happen.