Deb’s Saturday Psychedelia – On Becoming a Hippie (Chptr 48) – Unusual Gigs and Many Parties
Written by Deb Cavanaugh on February 27, 2021
General Eclectic played a lot of incredible gigs including clubs, colleges, outdoor venues, private parties, live radio and television. We even played as a duo at a campfire at the Petrified Sea Gardens in Saratoga Springs, New York. We were also scheduled to play at a warehouse in Troy that was located by the river, but it got raided before we went on. We played as a full band and in different configurations with as few as two and as many as six members. Most of these were wonderful, and some of them were nightmares. There are often memes on social media about the different crazy places or gigs that musicians play. We were forever having to fit into a small space or reconfigure something. People who don’t do gigs often don’t understand what you need. They sometimes have ridiculous expectations also. Most of the gigs are great, some better than others, but mostly they’re fun and hopefully rewarding. But as a musician, I rarely if ever say no to an offer. Just like getting through life, I’ve always figured it out. I’ve only felt ripped off a few times. I know I’ve been lucky in that regard, but I’ve played some really bizarre gigs.
We played as often as a duo with lots of fun gigs and unusual ones. We wanted to be able to play for all ages, so we learned a bunch of children’s music. It wasn’t hard since we had our own kids and sang to them all the time. We heard that Chuck E. Cheese was hiring live music. This was one of the most unique gigs I’ve done. We’d heard that they didn’t pay much and didn’t even give the musicians pizza and drinks. Radicals that we were, we decided to stage a protest with our music. They had us set up near the life-sized animated Chuck E. Cheese Elvis. Every once in a while, someone would put in a coin. Then we’d have to stop and wait for it to finish singing and gyrating, and the management refused to let us unplug it. Even without this, the whole place reverberated with the sounds of video games and screaming kids. Even the adults had to yell just to be heard. The sensory overload was intense. We sang a bunch of folk and rock songs that were appropriate for kids then did a couple of protest songs including some originals like “No Free Lunch” which was directed at the Reagan administration. The crowd was mostly into it, but a few folks didn’t like our politics and complained. Needless to say, we weren’t invited back. Very soon afterwards, they stopped hiring musicians altogether. A friend and fellow musician who specialized in kids complained to us. When we described our event and admitted that it may have influenced the decision, he laughed and thanked us. He hated that gig but didn’t really want to have to turn it down. Now he didn’t have to worry about it.
Sometimes we were invited to play at biker parties because we did a lot of Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones and covered other rock favorites. At every one of them, as soon as we arrived, I would be assigned a bodyguard. I’m a small person and was very shy back then. These parties were wild, and I was usually glad to have a security detail, though I only felt like I needed them once or twice. Bikers always liked our music and treated us well. One place we played with the band was at a biker bar with the best pizza in the area. However, the stage was full of holes and tilted backwards, making you feel totally off balance. It was about four feet off the ground in the front and maybe a foot in the back. We were constantly worried that someone would fall through. Another time, we played in a barn where the stage we played was barely wide enough for the drum kit. We ended up in a straight line across the front and were unable to really see each other.
We even tried working with a booking agent for a little while, but he was a disaster. He booked us into a lounge in Colonie that was looking for sixties’ music. They weren’t looking for our brand of the sixties, that’s for sure. They wanted lounge music like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. We knew a few songs that worked, but the owner finally just paid us for the night and asked us to stop after one set. Another place had us in their narrow bar crammed in next to the juke box. I had to sit on one of the PA speakers. Another place put our four-piece band in the back corner of a small room opposite the juke box that folks kept wanting to put money into. One drunk guy constantly screamed at us to play Willie Nelson. We played a couple of popular Willie songs, and he didn’t recognize any of them. We finally had to agree to alternate with the juke box fifteen minutes on then fifteen minutes off. We couldn’t wait to get out of there. And there were plenty more nightmares. One of the most disappointing was at El Loco in Albany, New York, when they briefly had live music.
They were hiring well known musicians like Hot Tuna and David Bromberg. We were asked to open for Country Joe MacDonald. Paul was in awe of Country Joe. He was more excited than I’d ever seen him before about this opportunity to meet him. The day of the gig, Paul decided to roll up a big fat joint of the best stuff he could find to share with his idol. We got there early and, by start time, Country Joe still hadn’t arrived. We did our set filled with mostly our own songs and walked in the back. We didn’t realize that Country Joe had arrived just as we went on. He told us how much he liked our set, cited a couple of specific songs then offered to share the good news with us. Uh-oh, I was wary. I’d heard about this good news before from the Good News Club in Oregon. But Paul didn’t realize where this was going. He pulled out the joint and offered to smoke it with Country Joe who refused and instead handed Paul a pamphlet about the teachings of Jesus. Paul was speechless. Country Joe went on about the pitfalls of drugs and the downfall of his former band members who hadn’t yet found God. Then he did his set of all heavy-duty Christian music, pausing between songs to try to convert the crowd. Poor Paul was crestfallen. We packed up and went back home, riding in silence.
In addition to different venues, we played at a lot of parties. Paul and I hosted at least one huge party a year, often two. There were usually over a hundred people that came. I liked to count heads the next day with the help of everyone who camped. Now, I try to remember to put out a guest book. In Stephentown, we had a slightly raised stage in the back yard facing, but set back from, the firepit. Everyone was welcome as long as they followed the rules which were few and for safety reasons only. I love that I always meet at least one new person at every party I throw. Some of them end up being close friends, and some of our friends met each other at those parties and became fast friends or even lovers. They were always potluck with an amazing assortment of food. One woman from Tanzania brought a small carrot salad to a party and labeled it “HOT.” She wasn’t kidding either. I like spicy foods and could only take a tiny taste. It was delicious, though. She was the person who gave me a San Pedro cactus to grow. It is said to be the South American cousin to peyote, which I loved. I still have it but have never tried it yet. Another friend always brought and still does bring pizza. He arrives late after most of the other food is gone, sometimes even the next day, and is always a welcome sight.
Because there were so many people from so many walks of life, there was usually some kind of drama. There was always at least one fight between neighbors and, even though the electric music was turned off by eleven pm, usually the police were called. One time, I had to physically restrain one young man who was so drunk, it was a miracle he could even stand up. He kept walking over to the blazing bonfire, swaying and stumbling. One of our neighbors had recently had a party where someone fell into the fire and was severely burned, and I was determined that wouldn’t happen at mine. After warning him too many times, I finally put a chair behind him, pushed him into it and threatened to tie him to it, if he didn’t stay put. Then, I assigned someone to watch. I’ve often said, “I may be little and quiet, but you don’t want to mess with me.”
Justin and his friends loved to torment the drunks. It was even more fun for them if someone was tripping. Unfortunately, some of the men egged them on. I guess they were reliving their childhoods, but for me it was stressful. At one party, he and his friend Bruce were playing a game of jumping out of the dark bushes brandishing water guns and freaking people out. I was singing on stage at the time when someone ran up and told me that the cops wanted to talk to me right away. When I went out front, they had these two scared looking boys. The other boy was my friend Caroline’s son. These two were constantly making trouble together. Apparently, they had jumped out at the cops with the water guns thinking it would be funny. The cops, having drawn their guns, didn’t find it funny at all, neither did we. They threatened to shut down the party, but once again I was able to talk my way out of it. It wasn’t the first or last time that both Caroline and I screamed at these two. I guess the police saw that the issue was being dealt with appropriately.
I’ve always loved the day after the parties. Often, we’d have campers who woke up early, or never went to bed at all, and stoked up the fire outside. Then, I’d make pancakes and coffee, and we’d sit outside playing more music as everyone eventually wandered off home. I saw many sunrises in those days. It’s always been hard for me to leave a party, especially if there’s jamming going on. I think that jamming is the best way to keep growing musically. I understand the difference between practicing and jamming and know that both are equally important. Nowadays, I make myself visit at parties before launching into the music. I realized that I never socialized, and once I start playing music, that’s usually where I’ll stay.
In the 1980s, there were always Halloween parties with a band jammed into someone’s living room. The costumes at these parties were so creative. One guy came with blown up rubber gloves attached all over his body. He was a “hand job.” Paul and I worked hard on our costumes every year. One year, he decided to be a punk and had me gel his long hair up into a spike. I had to use a cardboard cone to hold it up. It was so tall, he had to lay down in the back of the station wagon to get to the party. Another year, he went as a Pancho Villa character with an ammunition belt across his chest filled with joints. Then, he hit on a theme of being a businessman every year. He dressed as a nun in a business suit and was a “nun of your business.” He even shaved for that costume. That year, I was the night sky. One time, he had me sew a tennis ball encased in layers of nylon stocking onto the outside of his suit pants and went as “E.T. the Extra Testicle (the businessman with more balls). He had a briefcase with an enormous screw inside and threatened to “screw” everyone over. His costumes often involved a pun. Mine were elaborate but a little more sedate, though not always. I was a nuclear family with extra arms and legs and a hideous face attached to my head. I was also a Japanese Beatle. I wore a kimono and put my long hair up in a bun with chopsticks sticking through. I wore an old wire cage without the bottom that rested on my shoulders. Pictures of each of the Beatles were on the four sides. I miss those days of endless parties. It seems as though many of my friends have gotten old before their time while I refuse to let myself be old in that way.