Saturday, April 6, 2013

Front of House Magazine: This Is Why I Don’t Do Rock ‘n’ Roll

In June 2008, while I was working at Harvard University, I wrote this article for Front of House (FOH) Magazine.  It's a true story!

June 2008:
I work in an audio/visual department at Harvard University. My clients are brilliant economists, poets, physicists and historians. On any given week, I’m knee-deep in Noble Prize winners. I’ve pinned mics on Mikhail Gorbachev and Yo-Yo Ma. But what kept popping into my dreams at night? Mixing for a rock ‘n’ roll band. I mean, come on, you can only sit through so many high-level organic chemistry lectures before you start yearning for the world of rock ‘n’ roll. 
So, I put the word out on the audio message boards that I was looking to shadow a sound guy in the Boston area: free labor in exchange for a day in the trenches. An owner of a regional sound company e-mailed me and offered to let me tag along for a show he was working that Saturday — four punk bands playing at a medium-sized club in Boston. Perfect! I couldn’t ask for a better introduction to the world of rock ‘n’ roll sound than a punk show. 
The sound company owner was a great guy — taking the time to give me various tips and tricks that you just don’t pick up in the Ivy League lecture halls. Things like how to route the snake run around the probable beer spillage areas, and how to work with the grizzled old ex-REO Speedwagon roadie that was now our stagehand. The load-in went as planned, and we set up the FOH position on the main floor surrounded by bicycle rack security barriers. The sound check rolled along pretty smoothly, and we all broke for dinner before the show. I was really digging this rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. 
Then I started to get some exposure to the flip side of the coin. I started to see the security staff arrive for their shift, and I started to wonder why there were hordes of them. Oh, yeah, punk show. They opened the doors and our FOH position was engulfed by throngs of teenagers amped up for the show. About three minutes before the show started, I was introduced to the concept of the band bringing its own FOH engineer. He appeared 15 years old, and obviously got the job because he let the band use his parent’s basement to practice. 
It was painfully obvious that the FOH engineer was overwhelmed by the Soundcraft Series Five console, but it was even more painfully obvious that he wouldn’t accept help from any of us. The show got started and the band’s engineer settled into a nasty looking, but workable mix. About three songs into the show, the band started playing their big hit. The crowd started jumping in unison and the energy level in the place started achieving LA riot levels. As I mentioned, our FOH position was right in the middle of the main floor, so I was really getting the full rock ‘n’ roll sound guy experience now.
Then, faster than you can imagine, the bicycle rack barriers around our FOH position gave way to the weight of the crazed teenagers, and they start literally spilling in toward us. A wave of youths crash into the back of the console and the desk slides about three feet toward us. The EZ-tilt was now like a toboggan. It comes to rest still upright. We’re trying to comprehend what just happened then we see the console start slowly tilting backwards. Three of us grab for it, but there’s no way to stop this behemoth from moving. It goes crashing down on its rear, and I had no doubt in my mind that the 400-pound console was crushing some poor teenager. So now my rock ‘n’ roll experience has gone from pretty cool to pretty terrifying. A couple of us stood on the EZ-tilt stand while a few others lifted the console upright. We were all so filled with adrenaline that I bet one of us could have single-handedly lifted the desk at that moment.
By the grace of God, we found no teenagers under the console, and nobody even had a scratch on them. The FOH engineer yelled into the VOG mic to stop the show; we picked up piles of teens and repaired the barriers. All of the connectors were absolutely fine on the back of the desk, so the show went on without another hitch. After the commotion died down, I started having daydreams of being back working those organic chemistry lectures and quickly determined that the rock ‘n’ roll scene just isn’t for me. But, as if the rock ‘n’ roll gods were saying get out and stay out to me, I kneeled down to disconnect some cables from the back of a rack after the show and realized I had just placed my knee in a nice pile of vomit. So, it’s back to the ivy-covered walls and lecture halls for me!

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