Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Chicken Dance

Mesa is home to tens of thousands of "snowbirds" from Boise, Edmonton, Toronto, Detroit, Minneapolis and other points north- they spend the winter months here in Arizona. Last year, one of the RV parks here in town hired me to play at a dinner/dance for the aforementioned snowbirds. They have a club house that is just about as nice as any of the hotels or golf clubs. It is a job that I would normally have referred to another- perhaps older- DJ but since I was still the new guy in Arizona, I took the job. As I arrived that night in a velvet Jimi Hendrix jacket and some Gene Simmons type boots and various other leather and chrome implements, they looked at me like they were smelling onions, but I quickly won their confidence and before the night was out, they were swinging from the chandeliers! That night, they hired me back for one more event before they headed north in early April. Today, I played for the 40th birthday of the RV park. They filled the room to its 300 person capacity for lunch at noon, cake at 1PM and dancing until 4PM.

Afternoon events are tough on dancing in any case so I was not expecting much but intended to give it my best shot. The room had some lovely skylights that really lit up the room mid-day. I was there a bit early and began with some music to enjoy while they were making final preparations for lunch and that's when the day started to slide down the rathole.

The activities director at the RV park wished to make the announcements. She had her own wireless mic and although I would have done it for her she was adamant that she should do it. She was already plugged in to their house sound system. She indicated that she would release the tables one at a time to go get food and because of the poor quality of the house system, lots of people couldn't hear her (She didn't "command" the room either, like I would have) So lots of people began getting in line and she started shouting over the mic for them to SIT THEMSELVES DOWN and that SHE would release them! Then she skipped the tables that had dared attempt to get in the lunch line uninvited and didn't come back to them until all other tables were served. Retirees can be a bit cranky and this was not sitting well with them.

The caterer was grilling up some chicken halves. Sounds lovely doesn't it? After being shouted at and then finally served, a few people started walking back up to the chow line with bloody chicken, then a few more, and more. Finally those who had been skipped over, who were finally in line, were told to sit down again- that they were going to go and throw the chicken back on the grill.

I can't fathom what caterer would want to accept the liability of cooking raw chicken on a charcoal grill in a mobile application in any case, particularly with recent salmonella scares in the peanut industry. Salmonella is common in raw chicken! I would have thought they would pressure boil it first to insure that it is cooked safely and then transport it to the event and throw it on the grill for some color and some flavor. I'm just an idiot DJ, what do I know? As quickly as the meal was over, the room cleared out, we went from 300 people to 35. I had about 24 of the 35 dancing at one point to Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" and then we went down to about 18 people at 2PM and then we were down to about 8 people at 2:15PM.

They were having a drawing for a $300 gasoline card at 3:45 and you had to be present to win... about 150 people came back at 3:40 and were gone at 3:46. During the quiet time, I re-packed all of the non-essential equipment and put two of the four speakers back in the van. After the drawing, I played Van Halen's "Happy Trails" and was out the door at about 3:55. It's just after 4PM on a Saturday and I'm home from work already.

I'm sure some heads are gonna roll on Monday at the RV park.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Call me Aretha... or Diana

I found this photo on the blog of a photographer that I see around the industry fairly regularly. Cindy Reeves Photography does great work and she was nice enough to give me this photo as a professional courtesy. This was taken at a wedding that she and I worked at recently at Pebble Creek Golf Club. Here's a link to see her work

This photo really speaks what I do. There is so much more to being a DJ than just standing there playing songs. It was a rather spontaneous moment of celebration. I don't remember what I was playing but I think it was Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and she and I kinda fell into sychronicity together and the photographer captured the moment.

There is another photo on that same blog of this bride doing a cartwheel on the dancefloor. It is the thing I love most about my chosen profession. Everybody is always dressed up, they are celebrating something, they are in a good mood, there is food and music... I get paid to schlep the sound and lighting equipment around and do paperwork and stuff, but what you see up there, that's the part that I do for free.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Alas, poor California! I knew her...

Those of you who know any Shakespeare may recognize that reworked blog title, it's from Hamlet. I am not a genius of literature by any stretch of the imagination, but I did have a great English teacher at Winslow Arizona High School that gave me a love for Shakespeare. Still, I didn't learn this line from Mr. Howell's class- at least I don't remember learning it. I only know this line because of a joke that I read in Readers Digest many years ago. A small insurance company was experiencing a growth spurt and had outgrown its' phone system. An employee was hovering over the phone waiting for an open line to make a phone call. After waiting some time he exclaimed in exasperation, "Please, somebody give me a line!" A whisper came over the divider from an adjacent cubicle, "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him: Horatio"

In this scene, Hamlet is holding the late Yorick's skull and he seems to have a moment- of sorts- where he considers his own mortality as he remembers the boisterous life and the good times of Yorick the King's Jester. "Where are your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?"

I had DJ jobs in Los Angeles this last weekend and as I drove home to Arizona, I realized that I have continuously had DJ work on my calendar in California, through thick and thin, for the last 23 years. Today, I do not. I worked in San Fransisco, San Diego, all over Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Imperial Counties, I worked at Disneyland, The Queen Mary, I played at the prom at the California School for the Deaf. If they weren't deaf before, they were after that night. California was the base camp to travel to events in Portland Oregon, Salt Lake City, Tampa Florida, Chicago, Connecticut, Las Vegas, Texas, here in Phoenix and a couple of resort towns in Baja California, Mexico. I've seen disastrous weddings and magical nights, humble backyard gatherings and grand and very expensive social occasions. California certainly has its problems but it is a wonderful place to have been born and to have made such a great career and life.

It has taken 2 years to become a known commodity as a good DJ in the Phoenix Arizona market and it has taken 2 years for the proverbial irons to turn cold in California. It's hard to service customers when you live 400 miles away. I do have a teenage son still living in California and it has been nice to go visit monthly and I'm grateful to have had loyal customers who have paid a premium to have me return and work to accommodate those visits. Javin just turned 18 last month and will be moving to Arizona soon and I will really have no reason to make that trek anymore unless it is a real money-maker gig.

I'm negotiating a "dueling DJ" event later this spring in Santa Monica California where 2 DJs will set up on opposite ends of a hall- not side by side on a stage- but using completely independent sound systems with no electronic connection to the other at all- each not knowing what the other will do. We might mix music on alternating sets or perhaps even alternating songs. As an art form and as a professional challenge I would find it absolutely invigorating. The other DJ is a fairly new to the industry and I am rather seasoned so it could prove very interesting to the listeners as well. That one may prove my final bow in California. It will be a good way to go out.

I had been feeling a call, not specifically TO Arizona, but OUT of California for a few years. A bit of a family emergency made it clear in 2006 that Arizona would become home- again. All of my siblings live here in the Phoenix area and it's good to be close to them. I thought a lot on the drive home last night about my years in California and about the laughs, the "flashes of merriment" and the fun times and the good friends, even some hard lessons learned. I certainly remembered the songs, lots and lots of songs. We did set a few tables at a roar. I have no idea what "gibes" and "gambols" are but if they were fun things that a Jester named Yorick might have done, I think I probably did some of that too during my years in California.

I spent today at the Phoenix Bridal Show at the Phoenix Convention Center. I was not there with my DJ hat on. I didn't have a booth. It seemed odd that I had an opportunity to display my DJ wares in front of 2000 brides but did not do so and did not care. That show is a big cattle call and I don't need 2000 brides anyway, I need about 15 more for 2009 and I'll be ecstatic! I rode the light rail downtown to the convention center (see older posts for previous adventures on the train) I arrived early and shook hands with several DJs in my new capacity as President of the American DJ Association. There were lots of hobbyists there and I knew they would continue to give professional DJs a black eye. Their presence in the industry is a double edged sword. Those disastrous wedding stories enable me to charge what I do because when a bride recites the excruciating details of the wedding of her cousin, who skimped on entertainment, I can assure them that if they don't want those things to happen, that they need to pay a professional fee for a trained DJ/entertainer. The other edge of the sword is that there are so many of them, people who get an Ipod and a couple of speakers and call themselves DJs, that there are lots of brides who have resigned themselves to the thought that "Well, that's just the way DJs are..." That saddens me. A good DJ at any social occasion can create magic! I hope that some of the DJs that I saw this morning will join our association and learn a better way and help to legitimize this profession that has been so good to me.

My actual purpose there today was to help distribute the bridal magazine in which my first DJ column appeared. I have become good friends with the publisher and as an advertiser in and a writer for the magazine, I manned the booth and handed the magazine to attendees of the exhibition. I was joined by a very handsome and funny event planner that I have met at several industry functions since my move here. He was also invited to help. We had a great time today. He and I became a rather potent "one-two punch" as we handed magazines to brides and mothers of brides in attendance as we played jokes and sight gags off of each other. I was feeling really loose and comfortable today, having a good hair day, wearing a great pair of jeans and a really cool jacket.

There were several other industry friends in attendance in and it's almost as if several of the women got together and planned this- at least a half dozen times throughout the day, some industry types would walk by the booth and say something to the effect of "Well Hello Mr Sassy and Mr Sassier!" Or it was "Hello Mr Sexy Kitten and the other Mr Sexy Kitten." The role of "Mr Hot" and "Mr Hotter" were only a function of which direction they were walking relative to who they encountered first for such a flattering compliment. Now, I only tell you that story to illuminate my feeling today that Arizona is home- and it was good to be wearing so many hats at the biggest industry function in the state. I am a DJ, I am the president of a respected professional association, the head of a respected industry network and a writer for a respected bridal publication. I was known and greeted by respected event planners, publishers, venue operators, florists, other DJs, photographers, caterers- there were even several attendees that knew me.

So-- Alas, poor California! I knew her, I still love her, but I can't thank Arizona enough for such a warm welcome. It's good to be home tonight.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2009- I'm coming out swinging!

It's been a whirlwind week. I was elected president of the Phoenix Chapter of the American DJ Association. I had lunch yesterday with the National president of the ADJA. He is a retired DJ that I knew for many years in Southern California- even before I joined the association. It's always good to see him.

I wrote a lovely article for a local bridal publication that hits the newsstands this week. It will be read by both industry types and brides. I'm quite excited about that. My previous publishing record was about 80 copies of a church newsletter. This will be 22,000 copies on the stands for two months. When I submitted the article last month, I received an email back- inside of 10 minutes- that it was accepted for publication without any qualifications!

I have contracts in place for 50% of my sales goal for 2009- It's only January 3rd! 2009 is shaping up nicely.

I'm in countdown mode at school. I start my 3rd to last class on Wednesday. I'll finish up on April 15th and Graduation is May 9th out at Cardinals Stadium. I blew my chances of graduating with honors though- I choked in a statistics class and got a C. I have had straight A's in all other classes but alas, I was only allowed a single B grade. When I get done, I'll be lernded gud!

My best customer, Thee Wedding Warehouse, out in Goodyear, is having a biggest loser contest and the winner receives a wedding gown. Although I have no use for a wedding dress, I am participating with the brides as part of my guerrilla marketing campaign. If I go get weighed in every Saturday and interact with 40 or 50 brides for 12 weeks, I'm thinking I could book a few of their weddings. I'm 6 lbs over the high end of my weight range for my size. I'd like to get down to the low end of my range. My goal is 11 lbs, but I'd be happy with the 6 lbs. I am working in Los Angeles this weekend so I won't be available for the kick-off weigh-in party so I'm being weighed in at a big industry function at Raven Verrado Golf Club on Thursday night before I leave in front of florists, caterers, wedding venues, photographers, DJs, musicians, event planners. What was I thinking? Well, any press is good press! The blog at Thee Wedding Warehouse indicates (in regards to my participation) that an old DJ is one thing... but an old FAT DJ, well, that's one toke over the line.

I'm off to a wedding at the Wig Wam Resort today. What a great way to kick of a new year.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

30 New Years Eves

I was a brand new DJ 30 New Year's Eves ago and with the exception of 1984 and 1985 when I was a Christian missionary, I have DJ'd every New Years Eve since 1979.

I think I know a thing or two about the business of a social occasion but nobody listens to me. I was working at Pebble Creek Golf Club last night- a wealthy, high-end retirement community out on the west end of Phoenix. I was the youngest one there by about 20 years and I'm getting up there in years myself! There were a couple of women my age or maybe a bit younger in attendance, but it was clear that they were ummmm... how should I say this in mixed company... they were hired help-- if you know what I mean. Cocktails at 6:30, salad was at 7, entre' at 7:45, dessert at 8:15 and then at 8:30, the room was mine. You could feel the collective eyebrows rising and the heads and attention turning to me for some direction. Remember these people are 55 yrs plus- a bigger percentage of them were 65 yrs plus! I had to entertain these people for 3 1/2 hours until the obligatory count down and then they could kiss and go home. When they hired me back in February, I suggested that they have dinner at 8:30 or even more radical, leave the dinner service as is, and do a New York City count down at 10PM and call it a night.

I opened with Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" and there was a sigh of relief- that maybe this young jock isn't an idiot after all. They spilled off the dance floor there was so many of them! I rocked the house but it was clear at 10:30, those poor people were spent. Lucky for my lightning fast reflexes and my cracker-jack coordination, I simply acknowledged the moment, called for a break and switched back to some background music for an hour. People still danced, but I couldn't let it appear that I was the one who had run out of gas. Even at my best, and when I have a crowd that can keep up with me, 3 1/2 hours is a long time to really burn hot as a DJ- except for in a club where you might have a different crowd every 90 minutes or so. I fired it back up at about 11:20 and double rocked the house and we ran right up to about 11:58 and invited everyone to gather on the dance floor with their noisemakers and their tantookas and their darlin's for the countdown. We counted it down, they kissed, they sang one verse of Guy Lombardo's "Auld Lang Syne" (Whatever that means...) then I played Kenny Rogers' "Through the Years" and they grabbed their coats and said their goodbyes and were gone at 12:05!

During the evening, I played one song from 1999, Lou Bega's "Mambo #5" I played one from 1997, Shania Twain's "Man, I feel like a woman" and one song from 1987, the B-52's "Love Shack" and I played Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Running" and Commodores' "Brick House" from '77ish and everything else was 1975 or earlier. I even played a couple of songs from the 1930's. We tangoed, we waltzed, we rhumbad-- and if that wasn't a word already, it is now. We rocked with some Three Dog Night, The Hollies and Bill Haley and the Comets. We swinged or swung I guess, we fox trotted and we cha-cha'd. I even played the greatest cha-cha song ever written, Elvis Presley's "It's Now or Never" That's right I said "Greatest" and I'll say it again too because I'm controversial, I'm like Geraldo!

New Years Eve has such a singular potential for happiness that it can't be wasted. Those who attend any New Years Eve festivities feel an enormous pressure to have a good time or the opportunity is wasted. Those who choose not to attend feel that others are having more fun than them and they can't allow that to happen either. Unfortunately, any unhappiness that anybody feels usually came with them to the event and will leave with them after the event. Those types of people should just be put in a room with a mannequin sitting at a chair up at the front and they can sit there and complain to the mannequin about every one's failures and all the times people let them down. Those who bring their own unhappiness can't be pleased anyway, the food was too salty, the room was too hot, cold, busy, dark, bright, etc. There is always something to complain about and I don't want to hear it. When I have 250 on the dance floor out of 350 in the room and somebody is complaining and asking "When are you gonna play something good?" Not only do they not have any credibility, but they just insulted my professional integrity. I usually try to be a diplomat, and simply ask if they had a specific song request because I'd be glad to oblige them but that I don't take complaints. I know who is signing my check- and it ain't you!

There was one lady who came up with a list of about 35 songs- over 2 hours worth of music- and she stated that THIS is what we like. I asked if there were 2 or 3 songs on the list that maybe she REALLY wanted. She insisted that she wanted them all and if I wanted to really connect, that I should play them. I apologized that I couldn't accommodate her. It's sad that there are some who are so out of touch with reality that they would presume that their tastes are so impeccable that they could just attempt to impose them on all! I'm a huge Styx fan, but their songs rarely get an airing even though I am in a position to impose my taste on everyone. I'd play "Babe" maybe at a late 70's or early 80's class reunion or I'll play "Too much time on my hands" in a classic rock set once in awhile but that's about it.

I did get several of genuine handshakes, high 5's and a few hugs and a few $20's as gratuities as people were filing out at 12:06. I knew they had a good time, I knew that I helped, sometimes they just needed to be shown how to have a good time- with me leading the way!