First Gig – The Winterlings
First Gig is our series at Stereo Subversion that asks various musicians to look back at their first-ever live show. We’re glad The Winterlings‘ Wolff Bowden made it out alive of his first gig to tell us the story, because it’s an incredible tale of raccoons, fried chicken and psychotherapy. Speaking of things that cure, it’s hard not to be drawn into the poetry of the band’s new album, You Are Acres.
Our first gig was at a trauma resolution therapy training for psychotherapists, which was kind of like having an insurance policy in case the gig went south. I had only been playing guitar for a year, so if I suddenly had a traumatic fumble, at least there’d be 53 therapists ready to perform mental resuscitation. They had just spent a solid week learning how to help the survivors of disasters like 9-11, paternal incest, mass shootings and the like, so a musical performance trauma would be small potatoes.
The gig was way out in Brooksville, FL at a retreat center rumored to be haunted, and the wind was kicking like a mule with fire ants. The doctor who booked us had read my first poetry book and was introducing me as the “American Leonard Cohen.” Dr. Connelly hadn’t actually heard us play and booked us solely on his fondness for my poems. I was hesitant, but we agreed that if he gave “the signal” then Amanda would take over and perform all of her songs and I’d surrender and live to fight another day. I also wore a lone ranger mask, which, in retrospect, was a poor wardrobe choice, since it blocked a good bit of my vision, which didn’t help when “Bojangles” showed up.
We set up next to the side of a building to keep the wind from knocking us over, but the fire pit where our audience was gathered was about a hundred feet away. We cranked up our system and gave it our all. Dr. Connelly was paying us well so we were ready to sing until all the psychotherapists said our time was up, see you next session. Things were going great! We played “Jenell” about a child in foster care and “If I Was Away” about a man who pretends he is all sorts of inanimate objects ranging from a record to a fishing net. Then someone showed up with fried chicken and the pressure was off. No one was listening. It was fried chicken time!
Now, I didn’t see this happen, but Dr. Connelly brought us some fried chicken and left it on a couple of plastic plates near my harmonica holder. Twenty minutes later and I’m reaching for my harmonica and I nearly put my hand on a big raccoon helping himself to our chicken. He took one look at me with my lone ranger mask and knew I was the bigger raccoon, but I jumped sideways and even ran a little bit and the guitar cable popped out of the mixer with a huge “Pop!” Everyone started laughing. The raccoon dragged the plate away very slowly, because it was awkward, moving a plate piled with chicken. A therapist shone a flashlight on him and he hissed.
“That’s Bojangles!” someone shouted. Then, I kid you not, the psychotherapists all started chanting “Bojangles, Bojangles!” I found out later that he was the mascot of the retreat center. Stole someone’s towel. Ha! Pooped on the cabin decks. Funny. Now, they had another “Bojangles Caper” to analyze. I didn’t really care about the fried chicken, but I must admit I felt a bit traumatized, so Amanda and I decided to get the hell out of Florida and move to the Pacific Northwest. The next year, Dr. Connelly hired a bagpiper and the bagpipes were so loud that Bojangles never made an appearance.