The first rule of musician fight club is you never stop playing, even if you have to punch an overbearing jerk right in the kisser in the middle of a performance.
Dear reader, neither myself or my guitar playing friend who administered the hilarious punch advocate violence. However, when you give someone multiple chances to do the right thing and they still get in your face...well, it seems some people must learn the hard way and get rocked like a southbound train.
The band I was in at this stage in my life, Josh Gant and the NoNames, was asked to play a fraternity's reunion at a private venue on Lake Guntersville, in Alabama. Our current iteration of the group was myself, Josh, and our friend Jason. Our normal fee was agreed upon for the party, we practiced the afternoon of the show, then headed to the lake for what we hoped would be a fun evening. It definitely ended up being fun for myself and Josh, not so sure for one of the annoying frat guys.
The gig was earlier than most shows, so when we arrived plenty of daylight remained. The party was in full swing, with drunken sing-a-longs to a radio blasting from the small building. Red flag #1. Apparently some of the bros had been pre-gaming for a while. Not that musicians don't want people to drink, have fun, interact with the band, but when it's like 6 in the evening and half your audience is already hammered, you tend to worry about things going wrong. Over the years I've watched patrons fall into our equipment, spill drinks on our equipment, accidentally hit mic stands while we are singing causing mics to bust our lips and teeth, fights break out right in front of us, etc. The list goes on and on. And it typically ain't sober folk pulling these shenanigans. So, we entered the venue, gear in hand, with a a bit of trepidation.
We were greeted by a girl in her mid-20's, who booked the gig. She pointed us to the area we'd be playing. No stage, just us on the floor, with everyone in a big square room. Red flag #2. There are many reasons musicians like playing on a stage, especially taller ones, and it's not because of our egos. Quite simply, a four foot tall barrier between us and the crowd erases most of the concerns from red flag #1. We learned over the years to set up our speakers and monitors a certain way to simulate that wall when we were on the floor, but it wasn't the same.
Gant set up in the center, being the lead singer, with me to his left and Jason on the other side. I made sure I had a line of sight to Jason, not just because it's good to be able to communicate with your band mates for musical purposes, but because he and I liked to 'crowd watch' while playing and share funny moments and laughs. Because, hey, drunk people can be pretty damn entertaining at times, let's be honest.
The first set went great and everybody was in a good mood. Most of the drunker guys were in their own little group, babbling nonsensical drunk musings, punctuated with the occasional heartfelt, "I love you, man!" All things were right in the world. Some of the guys were grilling burgers and we all grabbed some chow, a beer, and relaxed and chatted on our break. I'd noticed one of the frat fellas, ball cap turned backward and beer can seemingly permanently glued to his hand, had been trying to chat up Alesha, Jason's girlfriend, toward the end of the set. Alesha kept politely fending him off, but he kept trying. However, I noticed the dude kept his distance during our break, as he realized she was Jason's girlfriend. While Jason wasn't into being intimidating, his height would probably give most guys pause.
While on break, since it was apparently too quiet with no music, one of the more inebriated of the SDFBs(super drunk frat boys), as I'd deemed them, ran over to the stereo and cranked the thing to 11. What was interesting was they had a mix of 80s pop songs blaring and they all sang along to every word. But, for their age, they would have been in college, in the frat, in the early 2000s. Yet they were jamming to Cyndi Lauper...hey, to each their own.
Break time was over, so back to performing. We didn't have a huge crowd for the show. Maybe 50-60 people, mostly male, with a few girlfriends and wives scattered about. Some were chilling outside, grilling and watching the sun set over the lake. Some were in little cliques throughout the kitchen and the main room. We only had a handful of people directly in front of us, paying attention and nodding along to the music, and one was our friend, backward ball cap(BBC).
So, BBC, currently, was probably more into the music than anyone in the room. He was drunk enough that he qualified to join the SDFBs, but he preferred to be a lone wolf. He'd lost interest in Alesha and developed some sort of crush on Jason's guitar. Now, Jason's been a friend of mine for years and I'd always found him to be a good-hearted person, who'd help anyone if he could. Before I could afford my own gear, he let me borrow his PA equipment and keyboard for many solo gigs. He's helped me fix my vehicles, worked on personal projects with me, helped me move---you know you have a true friend if they help you move. With that being said, he has boundaries like everyone else and his acoustic guitar is probably one of his biggest. The guitar, while not only being expensive, held a great deal of sentimental value for him, as well. It was signed by one of Jason's favorite guitar players, after Jason attended his show at one of his favorite venues in Birmingham. So, as you can imagine, it was one of his more prized possessions and not something many people were allowed to touch or play.
Back to BBC. We were in the middle of the 2nd set and now I'm directly watching this guy. Since I didn't sing lead very often and just played and sang harmony, I was pretty much on autopilot. Jason, like myself and many musicians, play and sing with our eyes closed at times. I looked over and BBC is directly in front of Jason's floor monitor, leaned in so he's only a foot or so from Jason's face, with his index finger out like ET trying to phone home, just inches from one of the guitar strings! "Dude, wtf are you doing?!", was all I could think. I glanced at Gant, and he's oblivious, singing with his eyes shut. I looked back to Jason as his eyes popped open. He leaned in toward the guy, who kinda woke up from his stupor and backed off a bit. I could see Jason mouth something to the guy, angrily, and the guy put his palms up in a "my bad" kinda gesture and kept retreating. To this day, I've never seen any other patron at a show try to touch a guitar player's string while he's playing. What's amazing is he tried again.
After a song or two, I noticed BBC gravitating toward Jason again. He started to lean in again and I saw Jason say something to him, with a bit of a scowl on his face, but couldn't hear over the music. Something about Jason's guitar playing was hypnotizing the young drunk dude like a snake charmer calms a cobra. And then came one of those moments that I'll probably be able to replay all my life like an animated gif, because it was frickin awesome.
At this point Gant, and most people in the room, noticed the guy's weirdness. We launched into Wagon Wheel, a song I definitely can play on auto pilot, so I set my eyes on the prize and watched backward ball cap's demise. We got to the second chorus and away he went, finger leading the way, leaned in possibly further than the first time. Jason's eyes popped open, probably from smelling the beer-laden breath on his face, up-strummed with his right hand, palmed his pick, made a fist, and popped BBC directly in the nose, then down-strummed. He punched a guy in the face, in time with the music, and literally never missed a beat, folks.
The first rule of musician fight club is you never stop playing. If you must punch someone in the middle of a performance, try to do it on the upbeat so you can come back in on the 1 without dropping the rhythm. Amazing the things you learn about music playing in bands.
Gant and I definitely didn't stop playing. But we sure as hell couldn't sing anymore. We half laughed/half sang our way through the rest of the chorus as the poor frat boy's jaw dropped in shock. It's not like Jason tried to knock the guy out, he just wanted to get his attention. Which he did. I could see BBC mouthing something akin to "What did I do?!" C'mon dude, you know what you did. You pissed off the wrong musician, broski. We played through the bridge, with Jason soloing as if nothing happened. How he maintained his composure after just whopping somebody in the face was simply astounding. We were all on our guard in case some of his buddies, maybe some of the SDFBs, decided to elevate matters after the punch. But, big group of frat boys or not, when you see a musician punch an audience member in the face and never stop playing, you gain a bit of respect for said musician. Ball cap sauntered off with a sour look on his face and the rest of the gig was performed with no more hitches.
So, dear reader, I'll bet you've been to a lot of shows and maybe seen some pretty crazy things from the performers and musicians on stage, but have you ever seen a musician punch someone in the middle of performing and never stop playing?! Feel free to share a crazy drunk story in the comments below, or share on FB and Twitter for your friends to read...
I wish we had video of the punch, but we do not, so don't get too excited. This is from a different venue, same band as in the story, with us performing"Oh No You Didn't", a song learned from a video game commercial. I thought the song was apropos to the story. ;)