Accepting a Challenge: Subbing for Band Members

Over the past weekend I did a couple of gigs with a band that I normally don’t play with, subbing for them on bass. They are a trio made up of guitar, drums/vocalist, and keyboard player who also supplies the low end a la The Doors. The keyboard player was hospitalized due to an emergency and the band was under contract to perform on a Friday night, with a Casino gig that came in for that Saturday night on the Friday afternoon of the first gig. I picked up the gig through the guitarist for the band, we play together in another band (two guitarists and a harmonica player), just under ten days before the Friday gig.

The song list was rather lengthy, about seventy tunes on their website, sixty or so through my friend and another few coughed up on the drummer’s list, so it was about 75 tunes all told that were possible for the gig that turned into gigs. I went through the list and cut out the ones I’d never heard before which pared it down to about 60 or so, about 70% of which I’d either not done before or it had been literally years since I’d performed them. Talk about a challenge. I had, in reality about 9 days to prepare and two rehearsals with the band to get everything in line.

As a sub your primary responsibilities are to get the band through the night and to do your best to make the experience as solid as possible. Regardless, it’s not going to be the same experience as when the band has been rehearsing for weeks/months together in preparation, but as a sub the goal is to get as close to it as you can. I spent quite a bit of time preparing for the gig and wasn’t too stressed about it. I figured that there were going to be mistakes made but they would be outweighed by the things that went really smoothly, and that was pretty much the case.

The first gig went reasonably smoothly and ended up being two sets at a nice venue that was pretty empty. It was a holiday weekend, one of the last where the weather would warrant escaping with friends and family for fun before the warm weather disappears and fall comes to a close. We got a few people out on the dance floor but the people who were present were the regulars who came to drink, watch the Cubs game or shoot pool. We wrapped up around midnight after a 9pm start.

The second gig was at a casino just short of two hours away. It was a pretty cool gig largely because it was fully backlined with full time sound men providing support for three bands over a twelve hour period. We started promptly at six and ran three one hour sets with twenty minute breaks. There were a few tunes that had some issues, but on the whole the evening went well, the dance floor was jam packed with couples shaking it and the casino floor surrounding the bar band area was at least lined three deep outside bellied up to watch.

So far as subbing went it was a successful weekend. I’d done my part to get them through their gigs, they were pleased on the whole, and I had a profitable pleasing experience. Yes, there were some moments where it took me a moment or two to get into the right feel on a few of the more unfamiliar tunes, but they weren’t what the audience noticed as the flow of people requesting band cards and delivering compliments attested. The preparation time spent paid off and, yeah, it was good.

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