How One Disastrous Gig Led to Smarter Booking Decisions

I run the Somerville Symphony Orkestar.  We play instrumental gypsy-punk music.  If you don’t know what that means, we write original songs in the style of traditional Klezmer and Balkan music, but we add distorted guitars and make it much louder and more intense.  We like to get people dancing at our shows.  This is very important to understand when booking the right show, as gigs with very strict noise requirements should understand what we do.  I often get some gig offers that seem really good.  Even if the pay might not be the greatest, the networking opportunities can sometimes make for an excellent show. I recently took a gig opening up for the Rebirth Brass Band even though the pay wasn’t great because it was a great show and got us out to a new audience.  But I have to be careful when taking low paying gigs because it’s hard to keep solid musicians in your band if the gigs aren’t good.  I’ve learned this the hard way and pretty much had to find all new band members after this one amazingly terrible gig.

A few years ago, I got an email for a seemingly great gig offer.  A group of filmmakers was putting together a film festival called “The Reel Fest.”  Get it?  I mean, with that awesome pun these filmmakers are sure to be successful.  So they were really excited to have us play at the Somerville Theatre near Boston to open up for the last day of the festival when they are showing their feature film.  They don’t have funds for a band, but that’s fine because filmmakers would now hear our music. Plus, the Somerville Theatre has an awesome stage and fits about 900 people with the balcony.  U2 has played and they host the Slutcracker.  Simply put, it’s a great room to play.  I also checked out what I could find about the “Reel Fest” and everything pointed to it being a legitimate film festival, so there was nothing to tell me not to take this gig and I happily replied that we’d play it.

Leading up to the event, the organizers started making some weird requests. They were really concerned about noise level.  I wasn’t worried since the main room in the Theatre is pretty isolated and it’s a big room and though we get loud, we’re not Motörhead.  They didn’t even want a PA.  This is bit odd, but we can still work a set without a PA and if people are quiet, they’d be able to hear us in the balcony.  About a week or two before the show, they mentioned that there was another band playing before us and each band has a half hour to play.  The first band is on from 7-7:30 and we’re on from 7:30-8pm.  This totally gives us plenty of time considering there’s no time for a set change.  I’m definitely dealing with some really professional people.

▼ Article continues below ▼

Finally, it’s the day of the show and I get to meet the organizer.  He leads me to the elevator and takes me to the basement, which does not lead to the main theatre.  We load everything in and are told to set up in this really tiny room in the basement.  It’s a small 20-30 person private viewing room.  It was weird that neither the organizer nor the poster for the event mentioned that the festival was right next to the Museum of Bad Art.  Maybe it was all just a ploy to extend the dimensions of the museum to the private viewing room for that night, but who really knows since art is very interpretive.  At least the noise issue finally made sense.  I talked with the other band, and they also though we were in the main room.  It’s finally time for the bands to play and of course the first band doesn’t finish setting up until 7:10, and then they play for more than 30 minutes, so we don’t get to start until 8pm at the earliest.  But finally we get to play and we’re captivating the four-person audience quite well, one of which is my girlfriend and the other is a friend of our violinist.   But after two songs a mysterious man enters the room.  This man is the owner of the Theatre and is complaining about the sound level for the people watching movies in the main room, so we have to keep our volume down.  We’re a six-piece group with a drum set.  There’s only so much we can do, so we left after our epic two song set.  No one showed up, we started late, and got shut down after two songs…and the feature film sucked.  But, I now have a completely new lineup of musicians, I’ve learned to do a lot more homework before accepting gig offers, and we’re getting much better shows.


-Joel Edinberg is the leader of the Somerville Symphony Orkestar, a Slavic-inspired gypsy-punk group from the Boston area. To learn more, visit

Like this? Share this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.