I don’t know who made up the stringent rules about these paragraphs of mine (though I strongly suspect it’s that little argumentative man who lives in my head), but this one is breaking them. Go ahead, try and stop me.
This is ticket #1 from a show that I promoted my very own self, a scary and thrilling project that brought together the amazing Baba Wizemana and the incredible Don Ross for the very first (and only?) time along with hundreds of eager music fans in the Alumni Theatre in what would be my future alma mater (which I suppose is a bit ironic) on January 21st, 2000.
This show almost didn’t happen, for a couple of reasons. First, had I not been inspired to start booking and promoting music events this pairing just simply would not have taken place, and secondly because I came close to dying in a burning inferno the night before, in which case there would have been nobody there to unlock the door and take tickets.
1) As you may have read elsewhere, I once saw Bob Wiseman give a heartfelt performance in a chatty, stinky Ottawa bar where he implored the audience to suggest a more respectful place where he could play a gig. As a result I arranged for him to play in the music department at Carleton University where I was teaching a class at the time. It was a great show, Bob got paid and I made $35 besides so I decided to do it again. If I’m not mistaken this would be my second kick at the promotion can.
I was familiar with Don Ross from Blue Skies Music Festival and I was confident he would be a good draw, not to mention a nifty pairing for a show with Bob; they both were (and remain) extremely great musicians with their own particular styles, they were both solo artists, and they played different instruments. I have no idea how I got Don Ross’ contact info but I did and I was overjoyed that he got on board. I rented the 450 seat hall for $450 (soundman included), paid $40 or so to get tickets printed, and photocopied a bunch of posters at work for $0. I took out an ad in the local entertainment weekly and had tickets for sale at all the usual indie ticket locations. It was all pretty easy actually, aside from all the worrying.
2) I was living in my awesome two-storey loft apartment in Chinatown and at the time my downstairs neighbours (and the only other residents in the old house) were a reclusive, multi-generational Chinese family. They never talked to me despite my countless “hello”s and “nee how ma”s and I could never nail down how many people actually lived in the apartment below me, but there were probably between six and a dozen.
Anyway, at about 1am the night before (aka the morning of) this show I was sitting on my futon worrying about the ticket sales when I started smelling something funny. After a while it got too much and I investigated. Outside I could see through the window of my neighbour’s side door that their kitchen was full of smoke. I started pounding on the door and yelling but got no response. Starting to panic, I ran upstairs to my apartment and called my landlord. I told him what was happening and asked him to call my neighbours (I didn’t have their number). As I headed back downstairs to pound on the door again I could hear their phone start to ring. By the time I got back to their side door it had been flung open and a bunch of people were pouring outside and coughing while smoke billowed out of the doorway. Once the smoke started to clear I saw inside their apartment for the only time ever. In the middle of the most disgustingly messy kitchen imaginable I saw the culprit, a huge, blackened pot on the stove under which a burner had accidentally been turned to “hi” instead of “off”.
I offered to help but as usual they all ignored me so after a few minutes I went back upstairs to bed without even a thanks for saving all of their lives, not to mention my own. Thanks, me.
(As it happens the downstairs apartment [under different tenants] would catch fire in a much bigger and unstoppable way about five years later. I came even closer to dying that time and lost the apartment [and most things in it], but that time I didn’t have a concert the next day, so I hesitate to mention it here).
Fortunately though, the show did go on, and it was great!
I recall helping Bob load in. Experienced tourmeister that he was, I learned a lot in a brief time. For example, he kept his gear hidden and locked in a wooden box beneath a bed in the back of his van, a stealthy idea that I stole when we reno’d nero’s mini tour bus a few years later. Also, as an added security measure Bob kept an extremely lifelike rubber snake curled up conspicuously on the passenger seat. I know if I was a thief the sight of it would have made me move on to safer quarry.
Bob also gave me a talking to about the snacks I had in the dressing room. I was still well entrenched in student living so the bag of Cheesies and plate of hummus and pita I put back there looked pretty classy to me, but Bob set me straight on how to properly feed a travelling musician. Next time I did better.
Earlier I mentioned about the worrying. I only produced a handful of concerts and every single one of them sold very, very few advance tickets but did gangbusters at the door. So, every time I spent weeks and weeks thinking that I was going to lose my shirt and every time I ended up making a profit at the very last minute. For this show I was on the hook for about $2,000 in artist fees and expenses and had sold maybe $700 or so in advance tickets. I was scared.
Bob opened the show and he was completely brilliant. He did a bunch of piano pieces, including a Bach piece that he attempted as an experiment. He said that he could hardly get through the piece when he was practising it alone in his living room and he wanted to see how far he could get with the pressure of a full house watching, though he apologized that he was sure he wouldn’t get too far at all. Then he nailed it, start-to-finish. He played prepared piano, improvised pieces, and his amazing overtone-inducing spa-music-on-steroids Breaking Philip’s Glass. He did lots of his singer/songwriter material too and closed with his brilliant two-chord lament Sweet Gertrude. Oh, it was all so very, very great.
Then two-time fingerstyle champion Don Ross came out, tuned his guitar a hundred different ways, told a story with every twist of a string, and left the room utterly breathless. People in the Ottawa Valley really like Don Ross, and I am one of them. I forget who joined who on stage but Don and Bob did perform an improvisation together at some point in the evening, which was pretty nifty.
And all the while I just sat there thinking, “I made this happen! I brought all this together!” It was a very intoxicating feeling.
So was counting the gate at the end of the night. With all the last-minute walk-ups the ticket sales had turned out quite fantastic. I overpaid both the artists considerably and made (if I remember right) about $1,700 profit, straight in my pocket. I don’t know if you were ever a university student, but at the time $1,700 was equal to all the money in the world. It was certainly all the money in my world. For a little context: right around then I had finished two years of meticulously saving every one of my grocery receipts and in doing so I discovered that my average weekly grocery expenses were a mere $20. Yep, twenty bucks a week, most of it in pasta, peanut butter, and pitazza™ (pita topped with tomato paste and whatever was in the fridge, and hopefully some cheese or cheese-equivelent). In other words, this concert netted me about a year and-a-half of grocery money.
But most importantly, I (and hundreds of others) got to witness a killer, killer night of music.