Last night, I played a fundraiser at Cellar Door Winery. This isn’t the first time we’ve played for them. These were the same folks who asked us to play on TV for the July 4th weekend. These folks are really nice, and they treat us very well. This weekend was no exception.
Originally we were planning on this being a regular type gig. We’d bring our own instruments and PA system. That’s the norm, right? Well on Wednesday, we got word that they had hired a soundman, and we wouldn’t need to bring our PA. Just our instruments and microphones. Nice. So we showed up at the gig. It was a HUGE tent system–not just one tent, but a series of interconnecting tents–in a wine field. I walk in, and there is a huge stage, complete with everything. A house drum kit. A bass amp and cabinet. A guitar amp, all mic’d up. A monitor for each person. (For those who don’t know, a monitor is a speaker on a stage that points back towards the musicians. When the sax player is at the other end of the stage–as he was last night–I can’t hear him. He’s too far away, and the drums are too loud. So they pipe some of his sax sound through the mixing board and back to me. Last night, everyone had their own monitor mix, and could have whatever instrument or vocal set to whatever their preference was.) A keyboard stand and amp, just waiting for a keyboard player to set their rig on. All I had to do was bring a pair of sticks, and hit this drum set.
And what a drum set it was! It was a Drum Workshop kit in purple onyx. (The link is blue onyx, but you get the idea.) DW really is the “Cadillac” of drums. They’re a high end American based drum maker. They’re not a boutique builder, and they’re not the most expensive drums ever made, but they ARE expensive, nicely made, and somewhat exclusive. Each tom and the snare had brand new Remo heads on it. In addition to the fantastic drum set, they had a case full of Ziljdjian and Sabian cymbals. Not cheap ones, but nice ones. My butt was cushioned in a Rock-N-Sock throne–probably one of the most expensive thrones available.
I played like crap.
See, here’s the thing. Unlike most instruments, the drum kit is built around the drummer. Each individual instrument needs to be in just the right spot. I had five drums and four cymbals last night. Each one has to be positioned in just the spot in relation to my body. And last night, I just couldn’t get them where they needed to be.
There were two other bands slated to play after us. In an effort to keep things flowing, and to prevent lots of noise from the stage, the sound crew asked that we use as much of the house system as possible. I agreed, and said something to the effect of “I’ll just go grab my cymbals.” The soundman said “Look, we have all these cymbals available for you. Can’t you just use some of them?” He was saying, though not in these words, ‘you can use your own stuff, but we’d really prefer you not. We’d even prefer you not use something as easy to change out as your own cymbals.’
So, I stuck with the house kit. The toms were too high. The throne was too high. The cymbals were thicker than what I usually use, and not really my sound. The snare was really not my sound, and I couldn’t even tune it to get my sound. Everything was just not exactly right. And for a drummer, it really needs to be. Drumming is much more physical that playing any other instrument, I would guess. I’m swinging my arms in a lot of space, hitting an instrument I’m not holding next to my body; an instrument out there in space. Even the best instrument can’t sound great if it can’t be played great. And if I can’t reach it, I can’t play it. And I don’t think other musicians relate to their instrument in quite the same way.