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What Could Possibly Go Wrong?!
Given the possible pitfalls, when a live performance comes off, it's a minor miracle
By Kent Anderson
The list of things that can possibly go wrong before any live performance — from a recital to a local performance at a pub to a major concert — is long. It’s also a topic often avoided out of a combination of wisdom and superstition. Better to focus on the positives, after all.
Mishaps strike performers of all levels — from Mick Jagger’s unexpected heart valve problem earlier this year to Madonna’s cancellations recently due to “overwhelming pain,” things can go sideways from a health perspective for performers at any moment. Other notorious health-related cancellation reasons range from broken legs (Dave Groll) to infected cuts on fingers (Keith Richards) to brain hemorrhages (R.E.M.’s drummer — he recovered) to strained vocal cords (Adele).
For singers, cold and flu season is especially vexing, as one tingle in the sinuses can signal 1-2 weeks of limitations and frustrations.
Equipment failures are another area of anxiety. Electronics failures happen — cords conk out, devices fail to boot, and so forth. Mechanical failures also loom — drummers’ pedals seize or break, strings snap, or keys on pianos stick for unknown reasons. Such things can cause anything from performance delays to on-stage panic to cancellations.
For gigging musicians, memory is another possible area of failure. Did the drummer forget his hi-hat? Did everyone remember the time of the performance? Did the guitarist remember her capo? Did everyone bring the set lists?
Then, there’s the weather, the greatest uncontrollable element of any live performance. If it’s an outdoor concert, the risks amplify — too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy can all hinder attendance at all but the most in-demand shows. The perfect, bucolic day is a rare gem for outdoor performances.
In Massachusetts late this summer, threats of eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) led to the cancellation of numerous outdoor evening concerts. Mosquitoes alone can cause fans to avoid outdoor shows or leave early. But the worst show seems to have been the 2010 Kings of Leon show canceled early in the act due to pigeons pooping on the performers.
Even for indoor performances, the weather can be a major factor. A snowstorm can lead to venues closing or keep people at home. Heavy rain can wreak its own havoc with equipment and crowds. Superb weather can keep people outside all day, leaving them with no energy to party into the night.
Fans can also ruin or cancel live performances. I recall an outdoor concert by the Fixx in the 1980s where a fan threw a full beer can at the stage and conked the guitarist. The singer cussed out the crowd, and the band walked off and left. The band Slipknot just canceled a show based on concerns over fans stampeding the stage.
So, the next time you see live music, think about everything that went right to make that possible — the performers were all healthy, the weather cooperated, the equipment all worked, the band remembered their stuff, the fans behaved. And the pigeons were busy elsewhere!