Here’s the next “worst gig ever” submission in our series, this time from double bassist Kells Nollenberger. Currently based out of Boulder, Colorado, Kells and I know each other from DePaul University when he was living in Chicago a few years back. He’s a great guy and is filled with great stories (as you can see below), and he contributed a fabulous interview with Steve Rodby for Contrabass Conversations a couple of years ago.
This story is the latest submission for the Upton bass pickup raffle. If you’d like to be a contestant in the raffle, just email me your worst gig story (either personal or second-hand is fine) by March 15. You can send them to jasonheath -at- doublebassblog.org.
Gig Story from Kells Nollenberger
(This story is already giving me nightmares, by the way…)
It was the summer of 2000 and I had just finished high school in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Soon, I would be heading off to college to study music with my 100-year-old Czech bass that I had recently purchased from A440 Violin Shop. I bought the bass in the classic American fashion, by accruing massive debt. I didn’t care though, I was officially a bass player and I was loving it.
That same summer I was chosen to perform at the Texas Educators Conference with an All-Star College Big Band. There were going to be clinics and musicians from other states and free hotel rooms in San Antonio! My father agreed to buy me a plane ticket to the event for $350. Soon after I convinced him to pay for the flight, I found out that I could take the bus to San Antonio for only $150. My father agreed to let me keep the difference if I took the bus instead. $200!!! It was only a 22-hour bus ride, how bad could it possibly be? The prospect of sitting in a bus and making $5/hr seemed better than going out and trying to find a job that summer. Plus, the bus provided an added benefit in moving the bass. I figured that I would have a much easier time getting my bass on a bus than on a plane.
So my plan was hatched. I called Greyhound and gave them the dimensions of the hard double bass case that I was planning on borrowing from my high school. The woman on the phone informed me that there was no size limit on luggage, just a weight requirement of a 100 pounds. Her conformation was all I needed and I showed up the next week at the bus stop in downtown Chicago with my mom and a comically large instrument.
When I arrived at the gate, the Greyhound employees did not seem happy to see my seven-foot tall friend. They insisted that anything that big had to be sent through the shipping department and could not be put under the bus. We wandered over to the shipping department. Walking around with a hard-shell bass case can make you feel as if you have a large growth on the side of your head. Everyone just quietly stops what they are doing and stares, minding their words carefully. Naturally, the people in the shipping department also wanted nothing to do with me. It is around the time that you turn 18 and become an adult that you realize new things about your parents and that day I found out that my mom is an awesome “bad cop.” She was not going to take “no” for an answer. She started yelling, and I tried to look as pathetic as possible. One of the greatest weapons that you have as a traveling bass player is that people will do whatever it takes to make you someone else’s problem. The man in shipping department insisted that if we returned to the main terminal and informed everyone that I was a professional musician and the bass was essential to my livelihood then they would have no choice but to be accommodating. So we headed back to the terminal and after several more rounds of academy award winning “good cop, bad cop”, we managed to get my bass into the belly of a greyhound bus.
Once the baggage door was closed, I hugged my mother and made my way up to the bus door. The bus driver stopped me before entering. There was no room left on the bus for me. My brain went crazy. Should I try to get my bass back out of the bus? Would it take another two hours of yelling to get it into another bus? I couldn’t handle that. So I watched as the bus pulled out of the terminal. The bass that was leaving in the bus had a value that I could barely understand. I had not worked enough hours in my life to pay for the item that I had just lost control of. It had taken me several years just to raise enough money to have a down payment.
The next bus to San Antonio arrived shortly and it too was packed with people. I somehow managed to get on board to begin my 22-hour journey. The seat next to me was full for almost the entire ride. Mothers with their babies screaming, cowboys sleeping on my shoulder, air conditioning that barely worked: these were the least of my worries. Each time the bus stopped the bus driver would announce over the intercom and kindly remind the crowd, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please make sure that any and all of your luggage remains in the bus that you are traveling on. Greyhound can not be held responsible for any luggage that is not on your bus.” I tried to fall asleep.
We arrived in San Antonio and I jumped out of the bus looking for my bass. I looked all around the inside of the terminal. There was no sign of it and it’s not the kind of item that can easily blend into its surroundings. Having been unable to find it inside the terminal, I desperately rushed outside and could not believe what I saw. All seven feet of bass case sitting up on its own in the middle of the parking lot. I still have no idea what it was doing out there. I can only assume that someone saw the unclaimed instrument, and thought to themselves, “Maybe I should give the bass a try?” After carrying the instrument one hundred feet, they must have decided that it simply was not worth it.