Sometimes, being an event DJ has unusual perks. In the case of Sausagefest 2023, that included a front row seat to the wackiest festival in central KS.
Event DJ Management
Even before my official spin-time began, I had the esteemed honor and privilege of providing backing tracks for hot-dog relays, arm wrestling competitions, and a talent show! Talent show exhibits at Sausagefest included spelling the alphabet with American Sign Language, a dedication in Spanish from the country of Brazil (including a rendition of their national anthem), rapping the chorus of Humpty-Dance, and a strip-tease to I’m To Sexy. Not surprisingly, the PG-13 strip-teaser won the trophy. The win owes a heavy debt to his bikini top, brought to life by the splendid manscaping of his torso.
Between contests, I let some basic pop-40 bring energy to downtown Fredonia while people mingled, chatted, and ate sausage-on-a-stick. The nearby spa acted as a hospitality room so I could change into my shiny pants before spin-time. The shiny pants: big hit.
Time To Spin
When it was time to officially go on as event DJ PJS, I was primed and ready. My lighting rig covered the bloc, bathing the partiers in light. Highlights: a mash-up Semi Charmed Life with Ride Wit Me, and the Cupid Shuffle with Feel This Moment by Pitbull and Christina Aguilera.
Speaking of Nelly, the people of Fredonia couldn’t resist Just A Lil Bit with Florida-Georgia Line, and neither could I…
Miguel, BA3 and I are waiting for our shuttle pickup to take us from Puyallup, WA back to the SEATAC airport, and then home to Kansas City. We performed as a Songwheels trio this weekend on the Outpost 47 stage at the Washington State Fair. My friends, it ruled!!! But, the nerves of no-set-list didn’t really set in for us until it was just a few moments before downbeat. Scanning the audience, knowing full well that the opening moments of a show are critical. Setting the tone, setting the vibe, setting the energy. To start confident but not cocky. To leave just enough mystique that the audience is intrigued for more. All this is at stake. We’re professional musicians for events, so this magic is our responsibility.
And yes, it crushed. I even worked in some material about Alaska, which went over extra well with the proximity to Washington. Most of Alaska jokes start falling flat the further south we venture in the continental US (known as the LOWER 48 in AK). Regardless, jumping up on top of sub speakers on honking on a harmonica is generally good fuel for a show.
Miguel and I were shocked how well the interactive request system energized the audience. So many requests came in that we simply picked what was the most fun. As professional musicians for events, we are constantly making decisions about the best flow for the night. Quickly, the new problem was fitting in as much material as we could within 90 minutes.
Some really great moments included inviting as many folks as we could to dance to Fat Bottom Girls by Queen, and then watching everybody go wild for Jump by Van Halen. Once Jump began, the dance floor was packed, and Miguel and I knew that we shouldn’t keep our foot on the gas pedal for the rest of the night. BA3 kept the same tempo for a medley of All The Small Things by Blink 182, Mr. Brightside by The Killers, and The Middle by Jimmy Eat World.
Once you’ve got that much energy on the dance floor, you’re really managing bodies and movement. So yes, sometimes professional musicians for events will actually start being gym class teacher, and the whole event looks like Physical Education. Nice.
I decided to check in with the Community app we use for managing requests, and was thrilled to see so many happy reviews. Check them out below!!
I love playing in a live band, and I love reading live bands
Just finished reading Daisy Jones and The Six, by Taylor Jenkins-Reid. A lovely story about love, heartache, and rock and roll, set in the backdrop of 1970’s Los Angeles, a hotbed of live-music creativity in the 20th century. Here are my six favorite lines from the book that line up with our experience as Songwheels the live-band.
1. Win The Battle Before Its Begun
Win the battle before it’s begun BiLLY: I stood there in front of that crowd, stone sober, feeling their excitement, knowing “Honeycomb” was heading for the Top 10. And I knew I had those people in the palm of my hand. I knew they wanted to like us. They already liked us. I didn’t have to win them over. I stood on that stage and … we’d already won.
Okay, still with me here, but this sounds like one of my favorite passages from The Art of War.
In these lie the expert’s victory in arms. Such strategies are not to be divulged beforehand, nor can they be taught before the battle. Now, the one who has the most tallies in the “temple calculations” before battle will surely be victorious over the one with fewer, let alone the one who has no tallies at all! From this I conclude that victory and defeat can be foreseen.
Using the temple calculations above, victory and defeat can be foreseen. The battle has already been determined. The win/loss outcome is already set. But there’s a crucial piece missing here, something we must address. In battle, there is a winner and loser. Similarly in sporting events, one team defeats the other team, the we count scoreTh at the end of the game, we all go home knowing who won and who lost. We don’t have this in the arts. What constitutes a win?
As performers in a live band, we believe that a great show is a win-win situation. We have a great time on stage, and the audience has a great time with us. Billy’s “temple calculations” were complete; his band was strategically positioned to win. What a great feeling…
2. Risk and Confidence Onstage
BILLY: Daisy didn’t actually have confidence. She was always good. Confidence is okay being bad, not okay being good.
We take a ton of risks in a Songwheels live band show. The audience will challenge us to perform unusual material, sometimes completely un-rehearsed. When that happens, the band instinctively trusts each other. We look around the stage for confidence, knowing that even if this is bad, we’ll have a great time and look forward to the next tune. There’s no moment so bad that we can’t fix it! Having that trust in each other allows us to risk the show for a great moment.
Paul and Misha performing in a Songwheels live band show in Kansas City, MO
3. Managing Conflict in live band
On Conflict WARREN: Some people just don’t threaten each other. And other people threaten everything about each other. Just the way it is.
Onstage chemistry is undeniable. I’ve been in live bands that didn’t gel musically, but we were great at partying as soon as the show was over. I’ve also been in bands that were made up of musical geniuses, and we all hated each other. Finding the right crew of people that balance respect, musicianship, professionalism…it’s not easy. When you’ve got it, hold on to it! We’ve finally found that in our collective of Kansas City musicians, and we love it!
On self-acceptance DAISY: Knowing you’re good can only take you so far. At some point, you need someone else to see it, too. Appreciation from people you admire changes how you see yourself…Everybody wants somebody to hold up the right mirror.
Daisy is a character in perpetual struggle of accepting herself. This line is an example of a broken clock being right, twice a day. I can identify times in my life when I agree with what Daisy is saying here, but I’ve also had times of supreme confidence and personal acceptance. Times when I didn’t need any outside validation. But I find myself asking what is the difference between validation and accountability. Completely disregarding the opinions of others, 100% of the time, certainly sounds like an exciting way to live. But it’s also alienating to those around you. In this passage, Daisy admits, with difficulty, that she desires some validation of certain people. Is this a flaw? Maybe, but it’s certainly human.
Spencer, Kaydee, and Paul perform a Songwheels live band show in Kansas City, MO
5. Difficult Artists
TEDDY: Someone who insists on the perfect conditions to make art isn’t an artist. They’re an asshole.
I embrace professional challenges. While some of them can be annoying, like playing three hours on a keyboard with a broken middle-C, I try to reframe them as opportunities. Having a challenge when I perform keeps me engaged, keeps me alive, and I believe that translates to the audience. Some musicians want to do it the same way, every time, with minimal effort. They believe this puts them in the zone, but it really just frees up their brain to space out and think about other things instead of the show. I’m guilty of that too, and a few audience members have been brave enough to point out when I’m coasting. That’s a signal to me that I’m too comfortable, and I’m not growing.
6. Artistic Expectations in a Live Band
On artistic expectations DAISY: …I told him I felt like I’d made something that wasn’t exactly what I’d envisioned, but it was maybe good in it’s own right. I said it felt like me but it didn’t sound like me and I had no idea whether it was brilliant or awful or somewhere in between. And Teddy laughed and said I sounded like an artist. I liked that.
2023 is a funny time to create music. With a single computer, or a phone, a trained user can produce a professional-grade, world-class hit-song. As professional musicians in a live band, we know we have these tools, and some of us enjoy being deep in a well of our own creation, writing and performing all of the parts. Sometimes it’s as simple as “drag-and-drop” your drummer into track, other times you can draw a keyboard part without ever touching an instrument. I like that Daisy is discovering how to let go of her personal vision, and accept that her ideas come forth, they pass through the filter of her limits, and through the filter of her collaborators. What comes out on the other side is simply what’s meant to be.
7. Pacing A Live Show
Okay, my 7 favorite lines! lol On pacing BILLY: People like it when you make them sad, I think. But people hat it when you leave them sad. Great albums have to be roller coaster that end on top. You gotta leave people with a little bit of hope.
The true pros in a Songwheels live band are constantly aware of pacing. We’re feeling out the audience, keeping an eye on their energy. We always want to be one step ahead, one notch higher. If our energy is lower, we’re failing them. But to Billy’s point, we can still do a sad song with energy, passion, and enthusiasm, and bring the audience with us on a moment. After a moment like that, it’s up to us where we drive the bus next. Most of the time, it’s time to ramp up the energy again, and the roller coaster ride continues.
How the Wagon Wheel song went from punch-line to a special moment between myself and my grandmother
The Wagon Wheel song, is a modern campfire classic and one of my favorite songs to perform live. Just a handful of chords, and some verses about being a traveling musician and missing a lover. Yes! The chorus is attributed to Bob Dylan, and Old Crowe Medicine Show filled out the verses. About ten years ago it got another push when Darius Rucker revived it as part of his solo-country career.
I first encountered the Wagon Wheel song while Brooke and I spent our summers in Alaska. At one of our countless campfire jams with fellow musicians, an actor friend claimed to be a novice on guitar, sheepishly admitting he only knew one song. And there it was, the first time I heard Wagon Wheel, clunked out next to the Nenana River on an endless Alaskan day/night.
The next summer, I joined up with several bluegrass bands as a bass player, and quickly learned how many of them considered Wagon Wheel to be overplayed to the point of exhaustion. The summer bluegrass season was populated with seasonal workers like me, many of them raft guides or cooks. The Wagon Wheel song was controversial. They hated it. Audiences loved it. I turned this tension into one of my favorite monologues in my shows:
“I used to play road-houses in Alaska. If you play enough road-houses, you learn two things.
There are some songs, if you play them, you get your ass kicked.
There are some songs, if you don’t play them…you get your ass kicked”
Then I start the Wagon Wheel song, and the audience laughs, and I let them decide if it’s number 1 or number 2.
Since that first summer in Alaska, I’ve learned how to play the Wagon Wheel song on guitar, bass, and piano. I can do it any key. I can play a harmonica solo on it (but only in the key of G), and I’ve translated it to a reggae feel. It’s usually a highlight of my shows, sometimes the opener, sometimes the closer.
About a year ago, I visited my grandmother Mary in Cleveland. At the time, Mary was 101 years old, and had no instruments nearby. At 101, she’d lost nearly all of her short-term memory, and anyone around her had to frequently explain their identity. I was there with my parents, my cousin David, and my aunt Phyllis, and after several minutes of explaining who we were, I decided to break the tension with a song. With my guitar I’d brought all the way from Kansas City, just to have ready for this moment, I chose the Wagon Wheel song to play for my grandma. Once I began, I saw her face, with a look of utter serenity and calm. As I clunked out the chords on her patio, she needed no explanation of who I was or what was happening. She got to chill and listen to live music. She had peace. And I had peace. And I’m grateful for the Wagon Wheel song for bringing my grandmother and I together in the last years of her life.
Mary always adored music, and my children practice on the same piano she used to own in Cleveland. My Aunt Phyllis coordinated moving that piano from Mary’s former home on Parker Drive to our home in Kansas City. It’s an old piano, but it sees plenty of action. And here we find music, transcending generations, and linking the present to the past. Music, you are like a wagon wheel. You can rock me any way you feel.
Workplace leadership has been a fascination for me since my time at UMKC, studying nonprofit management and innovation. This lovely, fledgling company is expanding, and Alaina will be taking the role of social media manager and booking agent.
To dispel any mysteries and/or awkwardness around my persona as a manager, I’ve prepared the following document for her.
Paul as a boss
When I’m making an effort to see to, communicate with you, and find us projects to collaborate on, then I’m expressing my appreciation. Long periods of time might pass without me expressing my gratitude verbally, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. However, I will receive a verbal compliment deeply and remember it forever. I’m comfortable with high-fives, handshakes, literal pats-on-the-back, and brief casual hugs, but in professional relationships I avoid much physical contact beyond that.
I’m liable to become frustrated if I feel like I’ve had to repeat myself several times, as I begin to feel my time is being wasted. Similarly, I’ll get confounded when someone “ghosts” me in the middle of a business relationship. I’ve had multiple colleagues tell me that my standards are too high and I take work too seriously. A good way to reassure me is to encourage me to “look from the balcony”, and everything’s going to work out. :-). Even reminding me not to get too hung up on pushing my workplace leadership agenda…that’s helpful.
I very much enjoy artists who take risks and find authentic, honest ways to express themselves. This is an ideal I also try to cultivate in myself. I have much respect for these people, and I frequently encourage the people who work for me to find ways to express their own identify through their art, or at least find something joyful in what could easily be mundane. When fellow musicians report to me “this is just a job”, or they prioritize drugs & alcohol, I can get crestfallen quickly. I sometimes struggle to find a healthy detachment from my music career. At my lowest, I always find solace in my family. At my highest, I’m collaborating in a healthy, vibrant community of artists, and I’m helping musicians support themselves financially.
Communication and Boundaries
At 42 years old, my communication-ettiequte is both elder-millennial and young gen-x. I will not text or email negativity, and I prefer to administer feedback and/or criticism in person, usually in private. If the criticism is especially pointed, I’ll ask for a third party to monitor the conversation. Sometimes there are fun ideas or dialogues that will flow faster in a zoom-call or phone call, and if a text conversation is becoming too cumbersome for me, I’ll request to port it over to a different method of communication. I’ll utilize text for brief exchanges of information, and I prefer a response by the end of the day. I’ll utilize emails for sharing broader information or focused computer work, and I prefer a response from emails within 24 hours. Show-time is a bad time to try to reach me, unless in an emergency. I’m not a fan of group-chats and will nonchalantly exit them if the information doesn’t pertain to me. I want to detach from social media, using my day to focus on health, exercise, and coordinating creative projects and production.
I’m the band-leader for Songwheels, my favorite party-band in Kansas City, and I’m used to being around people with big, quirky personalities. I love them! A band, like or not, can sometimes feel like a workplace, in need of workplace leadership. Being emotionally aware of our quirks and flaws allows us more grace, and the good times can keep rolling.
Last Friday, Traveled to O’Malley’s pub in Weston, MO to hear Miki P play guitar and sing. Incredibly unusual music venue, inside abandoned bunkers and fallout shelters, long winding tunnels. Great vibes and music.
Miki P, covering White Rabbit and Running Up That Hill