In this Crazy Tour Stories segment, the alternative band, Whale and the Wolf, shares one of their stories from being on the road. You can check out the story below:
This story is one of those middle of the road, blink and you’ll miss it tour stories, that if not for an article prompt, might go untold. But it’s a perfect encapsulation of the doldrum zones a band will find itself in mid-tour, on a tour stop that may not necessarily have been a highlight play, otherwise.
One of those shows that you know you gotta play, just to get to the next show that you know you kinda wanna play more. This story also comes with a very valuable lesson to young up-start bands. A little gem of wisdom that I will state at the very end of this so that you have to read the whole stupid thing.
A few years back the band found itself on a Folk Music festival bill in a very quaint, picturesque, conservative prairie town. The place had a bit of a Pleasantville feel. Well-kept lawns, and novelty mailboxes. A place where you start to wrap your head around the appeal of small-town livin’. Screen enclosed sun deck sittin’. Balking at your neighbour’s off-brand riding mower. I get it. King of the Hill shit. Could be awesome.
We get to the festival check-in tent, and it’s clear we’re the outlier on this bill. We aren’t folk, and a quick gander down the playbill tells us that we’ll likely be a good deal heavier than anyone else we’d be sharing the stage with that day. At this point in time, we weren’t very discerning with what we played. There’s catering? There’s place to sleep? They want to pay us? We’re in!
We did our cursory walk of the festival grounds and began to survey what we’d signed up for. The style of seating was of the folk-fest variety. Plot your territory, set your flag in the ground, pop your umbrella and unfold your custom-bejewelled lawn chair. “Loraine” encrusted on the back of a camping chair in gem-stones. “Gary” on the back of the chair next. I can guarantee that Loraine and Gary are absolutely lovely people, But all I could think was, “Loraine and Gary are going to hate our band”. And there were a LOT of Loraine and Gary’s. It was pretty much all Loraine and Gary’s. I started to feel kind of bad. We aren’t what Loraine and Gary signed up for. We’re going to play to blank stares and (hopefully) sympathy claps. I’m going to question every decision I’ve made in my life in the middle of the second verse of the first song. Then we asked, “WHO BOOKED US FOR THIS?”.
Then we met the guy who booked us for this.
We’ll call him “Friendly Ben”. We’ll call him “Friendly Ben” on account of how friendly he was. We’ll call him “Friendly Ben” to protect him from prosecution later. He REALLY was friendly. Friendly Ben came screamin’ up on us in the hospitality tent with hearty handshakes and warm welcomes. He was the nicest person in a hospitality tent full of other nicest people. We were spoon deep in homemade bowls of Chili while Ben explained the mystery of our coming to be here. (The bowls of chili were prepared by a local baba who handles the catering every year at the festival. “You boys need to eat”, so we did).
Friendly Ben was a young Buck. Late 20’s(ish). Pageboy cap, beard. He went on to explain that he’d booked our sore thumb of a band for a reason. He was a local die-hard music fan who had wanted to put on a music festival in his hometown. The small-town event committee wasn’t opposed to the idea, but it had to be done tastefully and in a pleasant manner. It had to be a folk-music festival. Friendly Ben wasn’t a folk-music fan, per se, but this offered him a foot in the door. After a few years of successful festivals with local approval, he had now decided to back door some acts that he was more inclined to listen to. We were the beta test. We were the first rock act to ever adorn this humble festival’s stage. Friendly Ben slowly eased our tension about the Loraine and Gary’s and began telling us about the local young go-hards who were starved for some entertainment of our variety. This small town was within the footprint of a rock radio station in a neighbouring city. A Station that had been playing the shit out of one of our tracks all summer long on the lead up to this event. Friendly Ben ensured us that by the time we hit the stage, the Loraine and Gary’s would be outnumbered by the town’s young adults, and they were itching for a party.
After a day of banjos, mandolins and nylon string guitars, the night fell and a we took the stage.
Friendly Ben was right about the art starved youth. The kids came out in droves. They were underage and hammered. Memories.
The band, relieved by the turn of events, took full advantage of this get-out-of-jail-free card. A show that should have sucked, that ended up being awesome. We played a 75 minute set that started to get to the tail end around midnight. Like clock-work, the sun soaked, day long drinking adolescents started to get a little funny. Sloppy. Moshy. We’re pretty far from a mosh-pit band, but alas. Here we were. To say that the festival lacked security, would lead you to believe that there was any security at all. Two or three local volunteers in yellow vests who were more interested in that delicious backstage chilli, than intervening in any sort of altercation. Up until this exact moment in this festival’s lore, there had been no need for bouncers, and really, the youngins had been pretty cordial to one-another in the pit up until one crucial moment.
It was like slow motion. One teenage gentleman in the front row had clearly emptied his red-solo cup and needed something else to fixate on. His new focal point happened to be the power cord on one of the front stage wedge monitors. His hand reached out like gollum to the one ring, possessed by the blind urge to pull the cord on a piece of vital stage equipment.
Just as he was about to apply the proper force needed to remove the plug, In comes friendly Ben over the front barricade. He's off the top ropes. He's got the kid in a full nelson. He's a human python. The kid's writhing. Will he tap? No!! He's Got some fight left in him. He's kicking. He's flailing. His tag team friends are no help. Friendly Ben's got the kid on the ropes. The kid throws a few aimless punches in the direction of his opponent. They are softer than the dinner roles in the hospitality tent. They're down on the ground. Bah gawd this kid's got a family. The kid taps. DING DING DING.
Frozen in shock, we kept playing. Friendly Ben had dropped the moniker. Nothing was going to cause a bad PR story at this stage in the game. Ben was close to the finish line on this risky festival test. Ben applied the necessary force, removed the threat, gave the kid a stern lecture side-stage and then cut the kid loose again to join the crowd again. Tail between his legs, lesson learned.
Like I said off the top. This is a middle of the road story. Blink and you’ll miss it. But I’ll never forget Friendly Ben’s instant transformation from smiley show promoter to stalwart enforcer. A man of many hats. A microcosm of the type of people out there who are just trying to make shows work. A vital piece of the puzzle for what we do, and a cog in the machine that rarely gets the attention and accolades they deserve. His goal to bring something a little edgier to the town kids who rarely get a sniff ended up having a lasting effect.
I shit you not. That kid who got choked out all those years ago, now plays in a great band that we’ve been fortunate enough to share the stage with on a few occasions. They rip. Not sure if we can claim all of the inspiration for his turn to taking up rock music, but for the purpose of this article, let’s pretend we’re the sole reason.
Later that night we ended up playing beer pong in the middle of Main Street with some locals. Our guitarist, Brandon, almost got hit by a train. But that’s a story for another time.
Lesson from the road. Play those questionable shows, and don’t fuck with friendly Ben.