Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 9

We packed up the van at the crack of dawn on Saturday and made the three-and-a-half-hour trek to Charlotte, instruments rattling in the back the whole way. Warren had booked us a room for after the show and offered to get us the night before as well, but hotels cut into our share of the profits, so we agreed to drive up the day of the gig instead. Besides, this way we could still play Friday and Sunday nights at the Blue Ridge, which would make this a really good-paying weekend for everyone.

The only downside was that Kat couldn’t come. I really wanted her to be there, both because I knew she missed Hanna, who said she’d be able to make it, and because she’d been pushing herself so hard that she was still pretty stressed out. I made a point to spend time with her a little every day, setting aside days when she wasn’t training so we could actually hang out like we used to. I’d hoped we could use this as a mini vacation, but she said she couldn’t skip a weekend of training this close to the summer tryouts.

We’d all been excited about the venue, which was the largest we’d ever had for a gig we were headlining. The venue itself was spectacular. It was an open-air stage surrounded by a mix of seating up front and a large hill stretching out behind it. It was still cold out, but it hadn’t snowed here yet, so the hill was mostly a big brown lump, although I could imagine it covered in grass, the currently leafless trees ringing the hill stretching out and offering shade.

“This place is killer,” Lyla said as she hopped out of the van, grinning. “Can you imagine playing here in the summer?”

“I was just thinking that. We should definitely try to book this again for a summer date!”

“Maybe this was a mistake,” Marco, ever the pessimist, said. “This is all outdoor seating. Yeah, there isn’t snow on the ground, but it’s still really cold. How many people are going to want to sit on the hard, frozen ground and listen to music?”

Lyla slugged Marco’s arm. “Don’t be such a killjoy. All we gotta do is make them dance, and they’ll forget all about the cold.”

Marco rubbed his arm and gave a sort of half grunt.

Seth, always there to ease Marco’s bruised ego, chimed in. “There has to be some interest, or they wouldn’t do this, right? I mean, from what we saw online, they’ve been doing two shows every weekend since New Year’s. They wouldn’t do that if no one showed up.”

Although I agreed with Seth, for once Marco might have a point. It was barely above freezing, and every tiny gust of wind cut straight to the bone. The show wasn’t for several more hours, which meant the temperature would probably drop even more once the sun went down. I couldn’t imagine a lot of people would come out to see a band they didn’t know, but Seth also had a point.

This show was part of their annual Winter Concert Series. According to their website, they put on shows here every weekend night in January, featuring a new band each time, most of whom I’d never heard of. If they kept doing this year after year, it must have been worth it, especially considering what they were paying us. And it wasn’t like it was colder this year than other years.

We hauled our stuff up to the stage and set up with the help of two tech guys who worked for the venue. We ran into a snag about halfway through our soundcheck when Marco’s keyboard stopped playing over the sound system. The tech guy checked everything and swore it wasn’t their system, but Marco was insistent he’d checked his keyboard before we left. It wasn’t until Seth suggested we haul the little amp that was still in the van up and plug him into that that Marco gave in. Even plugged into our amp, no sound came out. After a few minutes of fiddling, it came back on, which was concerning, but it wasn’t like we had an extra keyboard lying around, so we just hoped everything would be okay and got him hooked back up to the main system.

After the soundcheck, as we were starting the final prep for the show, people started to show up. By the time we finished setting up and went to the heated area they had in the small backstage section, where the tech booth was, the hill was already one-third full and a steady stream of people were still coming in, proving Seth right. I still couldn’t imagine I’d come out to something like this, but apparently, the people of Charlotte really wanted to see some live music, regardless of the cold temperatures.

Better yet, about ten minutes before it was time to go on, Hanna showed up. I’d left her name with the security guy who was by the side entrance that led up to the backstage area so she could join us if she made it. Unfortunately, she also had her boyfriend Troy in tow.

“This place is so great!” she said, rushing up to us when she saw us.

“I know,” I said. “We were talking about that when we got here. We really want to come back when the weather is good.”

“It’s a hill,” Troy said from behind her. “What’s the big deal?”

Ignoring him, I asked, “How’s the crowd look?”

“Great,” Hanna said. “The hill’s nearly full, and the seats are packed. There must be at least a thousand people out there, maybe fifteen hundred.”

“Awesome,” Seth said.

“We saw Crimson Skyline play at the Starlight Arena in November, and they had like ten thousand people there. Now that was a crowd,” Troy said.

That comparison wasn’t exactly fair. Crimson Skyline had broken onto the scene five years ago and had already had two records go platinum; no small feat in the days of streaming. They played in arenas and had songs on movie soundtracks. We hadn’t even been signed for a full year and were purely regional without the weight of a full label behind us, since we were still part of MAC’s startup rock division. Shockingly, Marco beat me to a response.

“What exactly is your point?” Marco said, aggressively.

“I’m just saying fifteen hundred people isn’t that many.”

“And how many people do you have come out and watch you do whatever the f•©k it is you do?”

“They can watch me beat your...” Troy started to say until Hanna pulled him back.

“Troy,” she said, looking at me with a worried expression.

Marco looked like he wanted to throw down just as badly. I was almost looking forward to that, but the stage manager showed up and made a waving gesture.

“We have to go on. Catch you after the show,” I said.

“Whatever,” Troy mumbled with a final angry glare back at Marco.

“Get your game face on,” I said, giving Marco an encouraging shoulder pat.

Lyla and Seth gave him thumbs up as they passed, letting him know they appreciated his standing up for us. While Troy may be a dick, if he could motivate Marco to be a team player, then maybe Hanna’s dating him wasn’t a total waste.

All the negative energy washed off of us as we stepped out on the stage. The people didn’t really know us, so the applause was more polite than enthusiastic, but 1,500 people giving polite applause was still a lot of noise and could really make you feel good.

The show itself started off better than I could hope. We went in strong with Jesse James, which had enough rock to be exciting without being risqué like Lyla’s One Night Stand. If we were in a bar or club, we would have started with One Night Stand, but the vibe we got from pictures of past shows was that this was more of a family thing. I could see teens and kids huddled under blankets with their parents, so we kept it family-friendly.

They really got into it though, since it was still a danceable song and the crowd just seemed like people who wanted to hear good music. The atmosphere was electric and we all started to feed off of it. Our playing got more energetic and passionate with each song, just like it did every time we had a really good crowd.

Things started to go sideways halfway through Country Roads, when Marco’s keyboard suddenly cut out just like it had during the soundcheck, leaving an empty sound in the song. We finished it out anyways, Marco going through the motions while he looked desperately to the tech crew offstage.

“Folks,” I announced as we finished the song. “It looks like we’re having a slight technical difficulty up here. Bear with us a sec while the audio guys run out and see if they can fix this, and we’ll get the music going again.”

Thankfully, the audience was in a good mood, so we didn’t get booed. The audio tech ran out and he and Marco began feverishly trying to figure out what was wrong. Since it hadn’t worked with either the amphitheater’s sound system or our own little amp, I was worried that the problem might be his keyboard itself and nothing to do with the hookup. If that was the case, then we were about to have a terrible second half of the show, since everything was scored to include Marco’s keyboard, and he carried a chunk of the melody in most of the songs we had left.

Five minutes passed by, and I could see the audience start to get a little antsy.

“Any idea?” I asked the audio engineer who was tracing cables, looking perplexed.

He just gave me an apologetic shrug, which I took as not a great sign.

“We’re starting to lose them,” Lyla said, coming over to us. “You need to start vamping.”

Sure enough, it looked like people were packing up. Not the entire audience or even a significant portion of it, but enough that I could see it was happening from the stage.

“Yeah,” I said, going back to the microphone. “Sorry about this everyone. They’re still working on it, but I know it sucks to watch a bunch of guys screw around with a keyboard while you freeze your butts off.”

I was desperately trying to think of something to say that would hold them in place. I know some bands, when they play bigger venues like this, tell stories in between songs, but we mostly played clubs where that would come off as pretentious and weird, and it wasn’t a skill I’d worked out yet. I could probably think of one or two, but I wasn’t sure how interesting that would be. There was a reason most of the bands that mixed storytelling and music together were well established with long careers. Most people just didn’t care how the guys they’d never heard of before came up with the song they’d never listened to.

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