As people from all walks of life figure out how to get by in the age of coronavirus, musicians are left to figure out how to adapt to a world in which live concerts are out of the question. While the live music industry as we once knew it remains crippled by the pandemic, we’re checking in with some of our favorite musicians to reflect on years past (both the good times and the bad), see what they’re most looking forward to once the ongoing live event hiatus comes to an end, and find out what they’d like to do differently when that time comes.
For the latest installment of this series, bassist Reed Mathis (Electric Beethoven, Golden Gate Wingmen, Billy & the Kids) offers his ‘2020 Reflections’.
You can also read the previous installments of the series with submissions from percussionist Keita Ogawa (Snarky Puppy), drummer John Kimock (Mike Gordon), singer Shira Elias (Turkuaz), bassist Chris DeAngelis (Kung Fu/The Breakfast).
Best Gig Story
Man, it’s not easy to pinpoint a Best Gig, let alone one with a cool story. I mean, there have been so many nights when incredible music was made in a state of cooperative bliss, but that’s not in itself a cool story. There have also been gigs in amazing locations – Red Rocks, Carnegie Hall, Ouro Preto in Brazil, the Bimhaus in Amsterdam… but aside from the locations, those aren’t really very amazing stories. I can, however, tell you about a cool thing that happened once at someone else’s gig…
Several years back, I had fallen head over heels in love with a woman, and it just so happened that her extended friend group around the country was glued together by their annual meet-ups at Phish shows. Well, having been touring most of my life with my own bands, I hadn’t seen more than one or two Phish shows at that time. I had, however, spent a good amount of time with the members of Phish, while either making music together or just hanging out. It just hadn’t really ever happened at their gigs.
Well, I accompanied this new love of mine to Chicago to meet her parents and extended friend group, and it turned out they were all going to go see Phish at Alpine Valley the next day. I didn’t have a ticket, but I reached out to the band and they set me up with a couple of tickets (I didn’t want to come off like an asshole to these folks I was just meeting, so I kept the details of this to myself). I was eager to see what it was like to go to a big show with real live show-goers! You may think I’m exaggerating, but I swear that after 20 years of touring with my own bands, I had almost no experience ATTENDING shows. It’s just one of those things.
We all hopped in a van & drove up to Alpine, stopping to get liquor and fireworks (apparently this is standard procedure). They had costumes & crazy makeup, inside jokes and exotic drugs… it was really eye-opening. We got to “the Lot” and I proceeded to observe their pre-show rituals. Suddenly, I get a series of text messages from Mike Gordon asking if I’ve arrived yet, and if could he send someone with a golf cart to come to get me? He needs a favor. “Sure!” I say, and I attempt to describe my location among the friendly hippies.
A golf cart rolls up shortly, I grab my girl, and within 10 minutes we are ushered onstage where Phish is sound-checking to an empty amphitheater. “Oh great! Reed’s here,” exclaims Mike, and the guys all stop playing and beckon me over. I notice my date is playing it cool, like this was her plan all along. Atta girl. She grabs a seat and resumes sewing some bit of her costume.
Mike hands me his bass guitar and says “Would you mind playing this for a minute? I wanna walk around through the venue & hear it through the PA.” Would I mind? Jesus. Yeah, Mike, that’s cool, I guess I can do that.
Gordon’s bass is VERY different than mine, but a bass is a bass, right? Trey asks what I would like to play. I said “Y’all just do whatever you were already doing, I’ll just try to keep up.” They dive into a jam, seemingly without a song around it, and I relax. Mike is nowhere to be seen. Before long I’ve forgotten where I am and who these guys are, and we are just four humans smiling and making sounds together. I spot Mike a million miles away behind the soundboard, pacing. Trey starts throwing in some pitches that imply a change of mode – I grab each one and insert it into my bass line. He grins, nods at Page, and we all change keys, without a word. I glance over at my date, crosslegged on the side stage, and she beams back at me. Every few minutes I scan the room for Mike, but he shows no signs of wanting his bass back.
I have no idea how long we improvised for, but it certainly felt epic to me. Eventually, Mike returned, and I relinquished command of his enormous bass rig. He and his bass tech (also named Mike) then give me a guided tour of all his gear, which goes completely over my head. Fishman shows me some of his new gadgets he’d brought for this tour, and we have a little duet jam on the mallet kat. Trey invites us to join for dinner, and we all go back to catering, where my date grabs a chalkboard from the buffet and proceeds to fill it with fresh color. After we eat & play with the kiddos, Mike and his lovely wife Sue commandeer a golf cart and drive us back out to our friends in the lot. I’ll never forget their faces when we pulled up, and they saw who our driver was. “Thanks again, Reed, I owe you one,” said Mike, and he drove off. He owes me one? Hardly. He had just given me a boost with my date’s friends that could scarcely be topped!
Worst Gig Story
Alas, there have indeed been some awful gigs, mixed in with the insane blessings I’ve come to expect. What makes a gig bad? I unfortunately have collected quite a bit of data on this question in my 25 years of touring:
1. Resentment of bandmates, for non-musical reasons.
2. Resentment of bandmates, for musical reasons.
3. Substance abuse and related behavior by bandmates
4. Substance abuse and related behavior by self
5. Horrible sound in the venue
6. Extreme low attendance, several nights in a row
7. Depression from events at home, while out on a long tour
8. Lack of sleep (see #4)
9. Lack of privacy (see #1)
10. Some jerk attendee picks a fight with you
11. Your rig breaks, and there’s no possible way to fix or replace
12. 10-hour drives, multiple days in a row
Usually, it takes 2 or 3 of these to appear simultaneously for a gig to go truly terribly. And, thank God, most of these memories are so far in the past, as to be unable to touch or affect my Grateful Present.
Something You’re Looking Forward To Getting Back To After COVID-19
I can’t wait to load into venues. I can’t wait to soundcheck. I can’t wait to laugh and rehearse with my friends. I can’t wait to all share a pre-show meal. I can’t wait to see strangers and homies show up to the venue. I can’t wait to write a setlist. I can’t wait to befriend the folks working at the venue. I can’t wait to get up onstage and Improvise!!!!
Something You’re Looking Forward To Changing
As of this writing, I haven’t had a sip of alcohol in over two months. I have no idea when touring will return full-force, but I do know that I will be way way more effective without the booze. The last time I toured with absolutely no drinking whatsoever was 19 years ago. I can’t wait to explore this new frontier!
Fans can catch a very special performance by Reed Mathis & Electric Beethoven as part of Democracy Comes Alive: A Virtual Festival To Get Out The Vote on Saturday, October 3rd. The one-day virtual music festival, presented by Live For Live Music in partnership with HeadCount, will feature new performances from 50+ nationally-touring artists in addition to discussions with guest speakers including Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann (Grateful Dead), Jon Fishman (Phish), Marc Brownstein (The Disco Biscuits), Oteil Burbridge (Dead & Company), Stefan Lessard (Dave Matthews Band), and more.
Check your voter registration status or donate to HeadCount at DemocracyComesAlive.com and you’ll receive an email with a link to the stream on the morning of the show.