Session Files: A "Boot Camp" Wedding Gig

An Hilarious First for Me

Do you remember the war movies where the guys are going through boot camp (actually advanced training) and end up on maneuvers where they are ordered to freeze and make no noise? Some poor soldier always ends up freezing over a mound of fire ants that eat him alive. He ends up jumping up and writhing around and the sergeant always ends up chewing out the poor guy.

A few years ago I got a wedding gig that looked idyllic on paper but took on a similar tone in reality. I was to play thirty minutes of fingerstyle and classical guitar intro music, then two processionals (bridesmaids and bride) and a recessional, all under a gazebo in a lovely public park on a Spring evening - what could go wrong? I was given two months to work up the one piece that was new to me. Great pay, good vibes. Lovely!

The wedding party met Friday evening at the site for the rehearsal. I didn't have to go but there were last-minute changes announced at the rehearsal as I expected so attending turned out to have been wise. At the least it left me much more relaxed as I approached the next day's gig. Saturday afternoon I gathered my guitars (a classical and a steel string guitar) and gear and headed for the gazebo. The service started at 5pm so I set up a half-hour ahead to let the guitars acclimate to temerature and humidity. Apparently, these days it is fashionable to be "fashionably late." There was virtually no-one there until 5:10, so I waited to start until folks arrived and mentally cut down the program to fit. As a result, I really could have left the steel string guitar at home because practically everything left was played on the classical. I played a very nearly perfect program right up to the time to transition to the first processional. And then, as if on cue, the last of the "wedding guests" appeared: the bugs. Let me set the stage. This park is on a tidal marsh in the Chesapeake Bay. The gazebo is on the tip of a small peninsula so it is surrounded on three sides by brackish water with algae floating on top, right between the north end of the Dismal Swamp and the Chesapeake Bay. We are talking the capitol of insects here. In anticipation of the bugs dining interests, the park had been fogged with insect repellant an hour before the service.

But the moment I took the signal from the wedding director and smoothly downshifted to Bach's Minuet in G from the Anna Magdalena Notebook for the bridesmaids to process, the insect repellant suddenly wore off and the bugs took their cue to attack. Within seconds I had gnats piercing all exposed areas of my body. They were walking across my eyebrows, climbing into my nose and ears, wading in my eyes, and marching all around my hairline. Everywhere they walked, they bit. While playing I looked down at my left hand and counted five biting gnats while a troop walked in lock step across the top rim of my glasses. All my exposed skin came alive with itchy bites. And there I sat with both hands on the wheel, playing guitar for the crowd that had finally grown to over one hundred. Leading up to the gig when I was rehearsing, my wife had intentionally distracted me in order to help me concentrate, but this was beyond the pale. You know how you need to get in the zone where you are concentrating, but not really concentrating on anything in particular? That was out the window. When I made it through Bach and proceeded to Clarke's Prince of Denmark's March for the bride, the bugs upped the ante and really dug in with the stinging bites. Towards the end of the piece it was play, play, play, plonk! (then inside my head) "Crap!" Play, play, uh, plonk! "Crap!" I managed to hold it together pretty well for the bride to process to the front and then wrapped up.

Released, I was finally able to apply my hands to discretely swat the bugs. It was so uncomfortable that all I could do was silently twitch and giggle to myself. I looked over at my friend the pastor and he was squinting with concentration as the bugs swarmed all over his face and into his mouth. After the wedding he told me that the bugs had hit him at the same time as they hit me. He had to force himself to not reach up and swat away the bugs as they ate him alive while he was leading the service. He said the groom's face was crawling with bugs while he recited the vows. A dark cloud of bugs orbited between the bride and groom.

We were all relieved when the last notes of the recessional, Pachelbel's Canon in D with Continuo rang out and we could begin swatting and scratching in earnest. The next morning I was still itching and rubbing. I had that funny phenomenon happening where you are itchy even where you don't have bites because of the amount of toxin flowing around in your system. Some would say, "You should have used bug spray." Of course, they don't know that bug spray attacks guitar finishes. I went to great lengths to make sure there were no traces of cologne left from the day before and hoped that all the ladies in the audience with their perfume would suck the bugs away from me. No such luck!

In the end, the clients were pleased and the bug invasion was a hilarious cap to the festivities that turned a pretty good gig into a memorable one. Three days later I was still itching and stinging. I earned my pay.