Thursday, October 4, 2007


I experienced deep ignominy tonight, as well as a "first" in my musical career.

I'm fortunate enough to be the main bass substitute for a very successful, high profile Broadway show here in Chicago (I prefer to keep the name under wraps for the time being). It's a great gig: lots of fun to play, great money, good people in the pit; all in all very groovy.

Today (Wednesday) there were two shows; these happen to be the last two of a week-long run I've had while the regular bassist is on vacation. I played the first show and left the theater to go for a power walk downtown. Then I planned to move my car to a spot closer to the theater so I could more easily get my basses struck and to my vehicle without hoofing it too far. I picked up some take out food and moved my car to a nice rock star spot. Everything was going according to plan.

There's a lot of time between shows on these two show days. So I had brought my iBook to work because I had some music copying to do. I went to the tea shop that has free WiFi around the corner from the theater, bought some horrifyingly bad tea and sat down to work. All throughout this extended break I kept an eye on the time. I like to get back to the pit at least fifteen minutes before the downbeat. All my instruments were out and ready to go, but I like to do a careful tuning and maybe warm up for a few minutes before the show.

At around 7:30 I was starting to think about wrapping up my work on the laptop and meandering over to the show. It took me another ten minutes to find a good spot to stop. Right around then, say 7:40, I got a call on my cell from the contractor (who also plays the gig). He asked me if I could get to the theater right away, which I thought was a little odd. Normally nobody wigs out if the musicians are not present that early. I'm thinking 8 o'clock show, everything's mellow. Maybe we're having a band meeting or it's someone's birthday (they're big on celebrations down there - any excuse for eating cake).

I'm literally around the corner from the theater. As I step into the alley on my way to the stage door my phone rings again - same dude. I'm thinking, huh, what's going on? He asks me how soon I'm going to arrive and I tell him that I'm in the alley (the subtext for me was: keep your shirt on, pal, I'll be right there). I asked him if everything was OK and he said: "The show has started! It's a 7:30 show..."

I almost fell down. I ran the rest of the way to the stage door, bolted downstairs, and made my way to the pit with a sickening feeling in my gut. I could hear the second part of the overture/ prelude over the loudspeakers. I grabbed a bass and flipped through the score to the correct page - I could barely breathe, let alone find my place! I jumped in, wishing I could be invisible.

In my nearly thirty years in the business I had never before missed the downbeat of a show. This was unthinkable. I was imagining that this is the end of my association with this show, not to mention my career in the theater altogether. I managed to play the act without further mishap. But my heart was pounding and I felt just awful.

It turned out that one of the keyboard players covered for me and that nobody "important" noticed I was AWOL for the first five minutes of the show. The conductor, contractor and other musicians made light of it so it seems like... no harm done, except to my reputation and my pride.

Just call me the late Bill Harrison.