Did I tell you the one about the time I almost got shot at a gig?Oct 17, 2022
One of my first gigs when I was just getting starting in live sound was providing a small PA system and mixing the band for a birthday party. It was in a hotel ballroom somewhere along the shore in NJ and the first time I ever had to walk through a metal detector for a birthday party. That should have been the first red flag.
It seemed a bit ominous to me, but I never spent a lot of time in this area so I thought, ‘ok I guess this is how they do it in Jersey'. The birthday party wasn’t for a well-known celebrity, politician, or even a millionaire. Just a 21-year-old Vietnamese kid which made the metal detector even more strange.
There were two of us doing the gig and we set up the sound system, sound-checked the band, and left for dinner.
The band was Vietnamese and singing in their native tongue although most of the songs were recognizable covers. I’m pretty sure I heard ‘Don’t fear the reaper’ 3 times, and when they played it for the 4th time they sang in English. I knew it! I would have won big on ‘Name that tune’.
Everything was going fine for the first few hours but when the band started their 4th set, the party crashers came. Things started getting a bit loud by the entrance to the ballroom. People were shouting and my intuition immediately went on high alert. I started looking for another exit but the closest was the main entrance to the ballroom where trouble was brewing. The next thing I knew, a group of thugs came bursting into the room waving guns and knives.
I grabbed my co-worker and we dove under the table that we were using for the FOH console. It had a skirt on it so we were concealed from anyone’s view but not from bullets. People were running everywhere, flipping over tables and yelling in Vietnamese. We heard a couple of rounds fired from a handgun and the next thing we knew the whole thing was over. The thugs had been outnumbered and subdued by other partygoers and the police were there in an instant. The whole thing just felt completely surreal. We carefully peeked out from under the table. ‘Did that just really happen?’, we asked looking at each other in astonishment. A bit shaken and more so in shock, we were both fine. There were a few injuries in the crowd but nothing serious, mostly from the brawl that had ensued, and luckily no one was hit by the bullets.
Needless to say, the party was over and our load out was delayed for hours while police questioned most of the guests including us. When we were finally able to load out, it was a very quiet drive back to the shop as everything we just experienced settled in.
So why am I telling you this?
To make the point of situational awareness.
This happened a very long time ago but sadly, things like this (and much bigger and worse) are happening now and can and do happen anywhere and at any time. It’s incredibly important to be aware of your surroundings, not just while at a gig but in general. Make note of exits, where you can take cover if needed, how you can get out of the building quickly in the case of fire, etc.
It's very easy to go about life on autopilot, especially when we visit the same places each day, or just have our heads buried in our jobs as we often do during live shows. But you never know when the proverbial sh*t is going to hit the fan. Take a moment when you walk into a building or a gig to figure out what you can do to escape or take cover if need be. If you work with a company, talk to your department head about coming up with an emergency plan if they don't have one. Many large production companies have plans in place for dealing with dangerous situations. We often don't like to talk about the 'what ifs' but situational awareness and a little pre-planning may save your life. I truly hope you are never in a position to need it but better safe than sorry.
By: Michelle Sabolchick