Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Willie Phoenix & The True Soul Rockers vs. Frat Boy Friday Night

Sometime in the 1980’s Willie Phoenix and his then-current band The Shadowlords had become wildly popular among the frat boy scene at Ohio State University.  (I sometimes dubbed this the "Otis Day & The Knights Syndrome" after the Animal House movie band.)  As a result sometime in the early 90’s Willie & The True Soul Rockers got booked for a joint fraternity/sorority semi-formal dance at a banquet hall on the North Side of Columbus.  The entire scene was just really, really bizarre.  The guys were all in suits & ties, some actually in tuxedos, the girls were in floor-length formal gowns.  I remember remarking that I bet any ONE of those dresses cost more than the combined total the five-man True Soul Rockers spent on clothes in a year, and I still think I’m right.

The deal for the dance was that the audience was brought in by bus in from O.S.U. campus either by the university or by the caterers, Sanese, and once they were inside the catering hall, no one could leave.  They could, however, drink at the open bar to their heart’s content, and man did they ever.  Willie and the band were contracted for three sets and by the second set the crowd of frat boys and sorority girls were so trashed it was truly and completely out of hand.  I walked into the men’s room between the second and third sets and the whole room was literally two inches deep in water backing up out of the clogged toilets, spilled beer, wine & alcohol, and vomit.  There was a kid passed out on his back in that muck.  He was wearing what I bet was a rented tux.  Four or five of his ostensibly concerned frat brothers were standing around him as he made wet, gurgling noises.  "Hey, you better roll that guy over on his stomach so when he throws up he doesn’t choke on the puke," I said. "Yeah, yeah, we should do that," one of the slightly more sober brothers said, "that guy’s with the band, they know about that choking stuff."  As I left the restroom they were rolling the kid over, now face down in that indeterminate liquid.  I really, really felt bad for him, and for whoever had to pay for that tuxedo.

I got back to the stage and relieved the other roadie who was guarding the gear and the rented P.A. towers from getting knocked over by drunks.  A couple of minutes later two of the guys I had just seen in the bathroom came up to me and asked if they could make an announcement over the microphones.  "No, you cannot," I said, figuring we were in for just a stream of drunken obscenities, "What’s the announcement?  I’ll make it."  It turned out they just wanted to let comatose bathroom tuxedo-boy’s date know to come and collect their fallen comrade.  I didn’t particularly want to make that announcement, so I put the most sober of the group on the mic.  "Hey, could Mike Sullivan’s date come up to the stage?  Mike’s all passed out in the bathroom and stuff and she should come and get him," he bellowed to the crowd.  "Do you really think anybody’s going to admit they’re his date after that?"  I asked the kid.  He just stared back at me, glassy-eyed and confused.  As predicted, no one came to claim their lover-boy.

Just before midnight, at the conclusion of the third set, the band had just steamrollered into "Gloria," Willie’s longtime set-ender.  There were probably 150 college boys & girls up dancing, celebrating, having a rave-up good time when a security guard walked up to me at the side of the stage and yelled in my ear, "The buses are leaving."  "What?" I yelled back, not able to hear or understand her.  I guided her down the two steps that led from the stage to the kitchen where we could converse and she said, "The band has to stop playing, the buses are leaving."  "What buses?" I asked, thinking she meant city buses.  "The buses that brought the kids from the campus, they’re leaving at midnight.  The band has to stop playing right now."  I replied, "Do you really think the buses are going to leave with over a hundred kids still on the dance floor?  The band will be done in about five minutes."  (Truth be told, Willie’s rendition of "Gloria" easily topped the 20-minute mark a lot of nights.)

"NO! They have to stop playing RIGHT NOW!" the woman yelled back at me and right at that point she was genuinely pissing me off.  "The buses aren’t going anywhere, the band will be done soon, just go back to wherever you came from and wait," I yelled back.  She stomped off in a huff and I walked back up the steps to my station at the side of the stage.  While Willie was down front exhorting the crowd to more madness, Mike Parks, the True Soul Rockers’ lead guitarist, walked over and asked me what the problem was with Security.  I filled him in quick, he laughed and said, "We’re nowhere near done," as he leaned back into the riff.

A couple of minutes later somebody brushed past me heading for the center of the stage.  As I recovered my balance I realized it was the security guard and she was headed for Mike’s microphone.  I walked out, grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back off the stage.  "What the fuck is your problem?" I yelled and she yelled back, "The BUSES ARE LEAVING.  I have to make an announcement."  "You don’t EVER walk out onstage without asking," I yelled back, "this is my job."  (Years later I wondered where Dimebag Darrell’s roadies were that deadly December night in at Al Rosa Villa here in Columbus.)  She started to walk past me again, headed for the stage and as I grabbed her arm her momentum spun her around and she fell down the two steps leading to the stage.  "YOU’RE GOING TO JAIL!!!" she screamed up at me, red-faced and livid as she strode off toward the offices.  Of course, just at that moment the band bashed out the last chord of "Gloria" and finished the set.  "What did you DO?" Mike, the only band member to witness the fracas, said to me, "Did you throw her down the steps!?!"  "No," I said as the rest of the band gathered around, "I grabbed her arm and she FELL down the steps."  We all agreed in a hurry that she was probably coming back with real policemen and something had to be done.  "Do you live close enough to here to walk home?" Willie asked.  "Yeah," I replied.  "Then I suggest you go out that door right now," was his reply, pointing to one of the rear doors of the banquet hall.  I stepped out into the night and was gone.

By the time the security guard returned with two of Columbus’ finest the band was already innocently and intently packing up their gear.  They denied all knowledge of my existence, said nobody that matched the security guard’s description worked for them, that they’d like to help, but that they didn’t know what she was talking about.

Nobody got arrested and I think they even paid me later for the gig.  It was a good night.

© 2012 Ricki C.

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