Tales from the Front Lines

Getting set up for the Tulsa Run, October 28, 2017

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from spending two years as a starving artist/musician, it’s this – always be prepared!

The first year I played the Route 66 Marathon was one long, two-day learning experience. I played for the 5K runners on a Saturday morning. I arrived thirty minutes early to the spot along the race route where I was supposed to set up. It was a little grassy triangle area where three streets converged in downtown Tulsa. I loaded out, set up my gear, then went looking for a power source.

The marathon had agreements in place with local businesses where they’d provide access to power for the musicians and water stops along the twenty-six mile course. However, it appeared that the business that was supplying me with power had forgotten all about that. I tried plugging in to various outlets, to no avail.

Fortunately, Myron, one of the race coordinators, showed up in the nick of time. He quickly found me a spot 300 yards further down the route, and helped me quickly load and move my gear to this new spot. I got set up and did a quick sound check just as the first runners began showing up.

Set up to play just in time!

The next day was a cold and miserable day, and I was assigned a spot near the twelve mile mark, outside of the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Tulsa. I arrived forty-five minutes early and quickly found the hotel manager, who showed me exactly where I could plug in and set up. Within fifteen minutes I was ready to go, and feeling pretty good about myself – compared to yesterday, this was easy peasy!

Until the first runners started coming by. It was then I realized that I had set up not only on the wrong side of the street, but far enough away from the actual route that runners would scarcely be able to hear me, let alone see me. I quickly broke everything down, made three or four trips across the street lugging all of my gear, and got set up again – all in under ten minutes. By the time the first crowd of marathon runners started trickling by – the ones that weren’t necessarily trying to qualify for Boston – I was finally ready to go.

Ready to go…on the wrong side of the street

My favorite – and I use that term loosely – equipment malfunction was when my guitar blew up.

A few weeks prior to my playing the Route 66 Marathon for the first time, I had the honor of playing for runners during the Tulsa Federal Credit Union Tulsa Run. This was the end of October, and it was a bitterly cold morning.

I arrived at my appointed street corner and got my gear unpacked and ready to go. I was assigned to play towards the end of the course, so I took the opportunity to go across the street and make friends with the EMT crew that was stationed directly across the street from me, as it would be a few minutes before we saw any runners.

As the first runners began showing up down the street, I scooted back across to my set up and began playing.

A quick word about my repertoire as it relates to playing these sorts of gigs, as opposed to an open mic or coffee shop or something along those lines. Whenever I’m playing somewhere where the patrons are seated for some length of time, I’m always reluctant to play the same song twice, even if there is some turnover in listeners. If someone is paying me to play for three or four hours, then they get three or fours hours of music, with virtually no repeats.

In the case of these running events, however, the audience is ever-changing. And the nature of the kinds of songs I play means I only have a few songs in my bag that relate in any way to running. So for events like these, my setlist looks something like this:

Eye of the Tiger by Survivor
I Ran by Flock of Seagulls
Run To You by Bryan Adams
Take It Easy by Eagles
(Rinse and repeat for four hours)

Both Tiger and I Ran have pretty catchy choruses, so I leaned on them pretty heavily – it is still pretty cool to watch runners go by singing along, giving me fist pumps or air high-fives as they passed. Those images will always be amongst my very favorite memories.

So on this cold October morning in 2017 just outside of downtown Tulsa, I began to play for the runners that were headed our way.

They began coming through pretty heavily ten minutes later, and that’s when my guitar decided to blow up.

More specifically, the electronics inside of my acoustic/electric guitar decided it was too cold, and they didn’t want to play anymore. I heard a pop and saw a wisp of smoke, followed by a burning smell and a loss of sound.

I panicked for about 30 seconds, then remembered that I had brought an extra mic – the P.A. I was using came with two of them, and I’d brought them both for some reason. However, I had no was to attach the mic to my guitar…

Then I remembered the EMTs across the street. I quickly ran across the street, picking my way through the crowd of runners, and borrowed some medical tape. I took it back to my set up and proceeded to tape the spare mic to my mic stand:

Tragedy having been averted, I continued to play for the rest of the morning, regaling the runners with the same four songs over and over and over again…

What I’ve Learned

All the preparation in the world doesn’t help when things go wrong. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches and make the best with what you’re given.

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