A few nights ago I was invited to play congas and percussion at a nice sushi and jazz club in Legion, Bali where I am teaching drums, performing and visiting right now. The jazz club is very similar to Yoshi’s in the bay area of San Francisco and Oakland, California (in the USA). I had eaten dinner downstairs before during the day, but never been into the music section of the establishment.
Before going to the gig I asked my good friend Ray who was familiar with the setting there, what the dress code was. Ray has been taking incredibly great care of me here, driving me around and connecting me into the scene. He has endless amounts of energy and a great drummer as well. He mentioned the dress code was “casual”. It felt odd, but I figured he knew since he has been playing there for years. I am not a fashion conscious guy but I believe in dressing for the part so I wanted to make sure.
I wore my indian painted hippie pants I just bought in Goa , India recently and a blue sleeveless T-shirt. Like many others of northern european decent I sweat a lot when I play so it is impossible for me to wear normal dress shirts. So for me it has to be a Tee.
We arrived at the gig after a quick one hour drive through a million little villages and quickly got a table not to far from the stage. We were both really hungry so we ordered and ate some incredible sushi. While we were eating we saw the singer who was being featured that night. Ray introduced me to her. She was well over 50 but looked much younger and vibrant as well. I asked raymond if she was African American and he said no she was from Java. She had me fooled with her mannerism and way of speaking which she had mimicked perfectly over the years I presume!
Finally I was called to sit in. When I hopped up on stage the singer looked me up and down, (like she had never seen me even though we just met) and said to the audience, “he is not very well dressed is he”?. Well, you can imagine how I felt.. Because I do not have “the look”, being middle aged myself, bald, etc. people often misjudge me at first. My friend who was shooting photos at the gig noticed me scowling and mouthed to me “smile”. When you are miserable and someone tell’s you to smile sometimes it makes you more miserable, but I remembered my own advice from an article I wrote here a few days ago about being professional. At that point I let go of my frustration and reminded myself to “be a pro”.
It is all about attitude and choices for me. I could choose to be miserable and share that with the audience or I could choose to be happy (or at least fake it) and share that with the audience. I chose to be happy and to ignore her. A teacher of mine once told me, “happiness is knowing that whatever people say or do is a reflection on them not you”.
Luckily the band played a calypso rhythm so I was able to dig into a hearty 3 drum conga rhythm and groove. Being a drum fanatic there is nothing like really getting into a deep pocket on three congas for feeling happy so I was able to snap out of it immediately. In between songs the singer also insulted the band as a whole and also chose songs to sing about men’s faults. I assumed it is just her style, to crack on the band so I chose not to be over sensitive. But obviously she has some issues, joking or not!
When I got off the stage the woman singer complimented me in a somewhat shocked tone, one I have gotten quite familiar with over the years. I talked to her after the gig briefly and explained I was told to dress casually and she mentioned that she just “likes to have fun with the band”. Should I have told her what I really thought? I don’t think so. What do you think?
Meanwhile, last night our new 4 piece percussion ensemble, “Djembe Ubud” performed at an Indonesian music festival. It was in Denpassar and there were no tourists there whatsoever. I was a very large and crowded space.
There were two stages. The rain was pouring down and I was asked to move our djmebes off the stage. I told the stage manager that we could not put them in the rain they would have to stay. So there was a tense stand off, but I was not going to get my drums wet. We were scheduled to play about an hour after we arrived. Little known to us, the music festival was heavy metal! I started to feel like maybe this was a bad idea! Although I arranged a percussion section for a recording on an Exodus heavy metal CD way back when, I definitely felt out of place there. I started to wonder if they would like us or not and what in the world were we doing there? A kind of negative pep talk if you will!
I had to reverse the negative energy I was creating with in myself so I just repeated to myself, “I am going to play well, the crowd will love it and it is going to be great”. And of course the most helpful thing I can tell myself before I play, “have fun”!
When it came time to play I said to myself, “what the heck” (or something like that) and we all went at it with full gusto. To my surprise the audience really liked it. We played a 15 minute set. At the end of the set I looked over to my friend Ray and his shirt was in shreds. Somehow when he was soloing the shirt got ripped to pieces! He ended up having to walk around the rest of the evening looking like he had been in a dog fight! He handled it remarkably well. The moral of the story? always bring an extra shirt when you play drums, you never know what’s going to happen!
Earlier in the day Ray had mentioned the place we were playing at was a more upscale audience so I went shopping for some nicer clothes during the day so I would not be humiliated again. I got a white shirt and blue linen pants. The new clothes worked quite well for me, I was styling except with the rain and the mud, everything ended up becoming brown by the end of the evening!
So how do you dress for a gig? Giovanni Hildago still wears a tie and jacket when he plays some gigs. How does he do it? I would explode from the heat I generate. But then again I often question if that guy is from another planet because his drumming is out of this world! My friend MIchael will not do a gig if there is a dress code. No one can tell him what to wear. I guess how we dress or display ourselves is really a personal matter.
Tonight I am playing djembe at the Raggae club and guess what? I am wearing my hippie pants and tee shirt. If someone does not like it, too bad for them! If I can not wear what I want there, where can I? Tomorrow night at the jazz club I will dress up and we’ll see how our singer friend reacts when I hop on stage. If something funny happens I will be sure to report back here!