In my career as a musician I have played some really neat gigs, some cool venues like the Commodore Ballroom and the Red Robinson Theatre, more than one warehouse turned into a venue for a Christmas party. Various fancy hotels down to tiny restaurants or pubs, cramming a 20 piece jazz band into a small corner, or a flatbed trailer turned into a stage. Gigs like those are always fun because I usually have to clamber into place in a downstage corner and just kind of sit there til it’s my turn to sing, because there’s no moving around, or making an entrance. Somebody’s gonna fall off the stage, and it’s probably me!
There are two gigs that really stand out in my memory because of the contrast between them. They were both wedding receptions, both with the same fellow, a jazz pianist named… I’ll call him James. So he had these two wedding gigs and asked if I would sing with him. The first one was held in the studio space at the Surrey Arts Centre, a black box theatre space where they had set up several round tables to hold, y’ know, 8 people or so. This was a pretty small, intimate wedding. The studio had been decorated with lighting, and city-scapes on the walls with lighting. We were hired to play some tunes during the cocktail party. James played on a gorgeous grand piano, and we did all kinds of jazz standards, as well as some Beatles tunes with a jazz feel, and we were fully prepared to provide background music, but in fact, everybody stood around and actually listened, and clapped. It was more like a concert, it was really neat. And after we played, there was a beautiful buffet dinner, in which we had been invited to partake, which was lovely, and generous. We fully expected that we would fill our plates of food and take them downstairs to the green room that had been provided by the venue, but no! Instead… Get this. The bride and groom didn’t have a head table. It was just themselves, the maid of honour and the best man. So they invited James and me to sit with the four of them! It was amazing. And lovely, and pleasant, and we chatted about this and that and had an absolutely wonderful time. I have often wondered about that couple and how they’re doing.
A couple of weeks later was the second wedding gig I did with James, only this time it was a jazz quintet, so the two of us plus three others. The bride and groom were editors of some fitness magazine, so no black box theatre space for these folks. This wedding reception took place at a massive home in South Surrey, in Panorama Ridge. This is not what you might think of as… a modest neighbourhood. This is a wealthy neighbourhood. The reception was taking place in the tennis court in the back yard of this house. An enormous tent had been set up, walls closed in around the area where the tables were, but open at the band end. The tables and chairs all had fancy cloths and coverings, and the centrepieces on each table consisted of these… sort of vase-like candelabra complete with feathers sweeping out of them. The catering was by the Pan Pacific hotel, so we’re talking nearly $400 a night for a room, so… “fancy shmancy” is what I’m saying. No shortage of budget for this event.
Inside the house was a river running through the living room floor. Complete with fish. It was all lit up and covered with plexiglass so you could walk on it, and there was also a massive fish tank that took up about six feet of wall space.
The theme was Black and White, so I had to actually go and buy a dress to wear for this event, and of course I’m not going to wear that dress while we’re setting up.
Ok, now here is where the real contrast between the first wedding and this one reared its head.
Once we were set up I wanted to change into my dress. I asked where the washroom was so I could change. I was told by the catering staff that there were portajohns out front. This is true, there were. And they were fancy ones. But! I explained that I wanted to change clothes, not just pee. They said I had to use the portapotty. I’m like… No. I have to change into a long gown. Anyway, I dodged the caterers and found a washroom inside. Ok, that’s done, I’m ready.
They did not provide us any chairs. We had to ask them for chairs to sit on, and boy oh boy was that a pain in the ass for them. They grudgingly hunted down some chairs, but not enough for all of us. James got one, as the piano player, and I think there were a couple others, but I had to sit off to the side, on the outside of the tent, which, as I said was open at that end, but still, I was outside of the tent on a little rock wall. They didn’t offer us so much as a glass of water. We had to ask for those, and we each got one, and I definitely had the sense that I had better make it last.
We started playing, while guests were arriving, and again it was kind of a background music situation, which is fine, except that even when you’re playing background music, you kind of expect to be able to finish a tune before the MC speaks. You know, dude, if you have an announcement, let us know, we’ll finish the song and let you speak before we start up another one. Not this guy. He interrupted us in the middle of a song to make some sort of announcement. More than once. In fact, at one point he interrupted in the middle of my singing, to tell the audience that jazz musician Diana Krall’s dad was here as one of the guests. Really?? It was absolutely appalling. Like, 1) who cares, and 2) don’t you think maybe Diana Krall’s dad has an appreciation for music and might be listening? It was just so rude! Anyway, I think we only played for an hour or so, and we were all wondering why the hell they bothered. Just have canned music, if you’re going to keep treating us like canned music. So then we finished playing, and the catering staff is delivering these beautiful plates of roast beef and chicken and vegetables and salads and all this fancy stuff. The band? We were given sandwiches wrapped in plastic and told to go sit up on the porch. And when we were done, we had to hunt around for the person who had our cheque. “Oh, the best man has it.” “Oh, I gave it to so and so,” “Oh, no I don’t have it.” And the real kicker was that James only charged them $500, so we each were getting only $100 out of this thing. And when the dancing got underway… they did have a DJ and canned music for this part, they also had a chocolate fountain. So we’re standing on the outside of the tent area, looking in, waiting to be paid our pittance, drooling over the chocolate fountain. Some dude asks if we would like something from it, and we responded with enthusiasm. So gets a plate and brings us each one piece of fruit dipped in chocolate. One.
So yeah, one wedding where they treated us like part of the wedding party, and the other where we were treated like we were less than the catering staff. At least the caterers received please and thank you.
We finally got paid and got the hell out of there. I wonder if those two are still married? *sigh*