When the Gig Doesn’t Work Out

Posted on December 4, 2022

Tonight, in Boulder, I’ll be playing my first gig in too long, drumming for a new group I joined back in August: River Mann. It’s also the band’s first gig, so I haven’t been advertising it too heavily… but I’m excited nonetheless. 

I guess at this point I should comment on that other band that I claim to be a part of, Saint Vrain. I haven’t shared much about that group since we released an EP in June of 2021. The reason why is that there’s nothing to share. Well, except for this: we broke up.

The problem was life, which often gets in the way. Some of my bandmates moved far away from Boulder, while others had to deal with some pretty significant personal matters that really torpedoed their motivation. 

As a testament to the apathy, we haven’t even officially agreed to call it a day. Maybe it would be more accurate to say we’re on an indefinite hiatus, but I’m sick of pretending. Consider this the official announcement: we’re through. 

Playing gigs together with any regularity is out of the question. I used to think we’d be able to Steely Dan it — have core songwriting members that play with other musicians. But it’s not happening. We can’t even make any progress on this album we’ve been working on for over a year. So at the end of the summer, I decided that enough was enough, and I joined another band. 

You might hear some people compare breaking up with a band to breaking up with a spouse. That may sound melodramatic, but in some ways, it’s very apropos. You spend a lot of time with someone(s)—over four years in this case—putting effort to make it work, only to see it disintegrate before your eyes. And then you have to make the tough decision that it’s time to move on and call it a day. 

Much like the EP, I’ve learned a lot from the experience, mainly in the form of what not to do. From the get–go, this band was never set up for success. We always worked inefficiently; there were a lot of pointless jams; and constant dead air where we would go weeks without doing anything productive. It’s honestly kind of a shock I was as patient as I was.

We had a keyboard player for a short while towards the end of 2018, but he bailed out at the start of 2019 to focus on another band he was in. Fast forward three years, and now he’s playing all over the country with that gig. It’s almost like he had a hunch that this project wasn’t going to work out. And the fact that the EP was released under a band name that we promptly decided we hated is just the icing on the cake. 

Perhaps part of my problem was some immaturity and naiveté. I really wanted to make the band work. I enjoy playing with these guys. We were making original music, which is a valuable opportunity. But when I saw some of my friends cutting albums and playing gigs while we were spinning our wheels, I felt jealous and unfulfilled. 

In the final days, I had a conversation with my singer who said he doesn’t like to tell people he’s in a band. We don’t release music. We don’t play shows. We don’t do the things that bands do, so why tell anyone?

Sometimes you need to face facts when a group isn’t giving you what you need. Join something else. Maybe the new project will keep you too busy to work on the old one. To that end, I say this: if the old project wants your time, it needs to earn it. Don’t let your ambition make you feel guilty.

Although it feels apt to compare musical pursuits to romantic ones, it’s a mercenary situation. In this regard, I’m reminded of the press releases I read when some sports team fires its head coach. All of the statements are basically something to the effect of “we like working with this guy, but the results are what they are — we’re not winning games or recruiting good players.”

Back in April, I saw a post on Instagram from Tommy Igoe about a fan who had lost a gig. As much as you might want to groan when you think of Tommy, you can’t deny the insight in his response: “This happens all the time. We are all just cogs in the wheel. Bands come and go — you stay.”

Cruelly enough, one of the songs on the EP has a line that says “whatever you’ve given a try never deserves regret”. I do value the time I spent with Saint Vrain. I think. So on that note, let’s try again. 

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