Can You Beat These Worst Gigs Ever?
Chuck Yeager was DJing once at a Pennsylvania country club, and when this owner of Collegeville-based A&E Mobile Entertainment went outside after the gig he found his vehicle in the parking lot had been totaled.
“It turned out that it had been done by a drunk member of the kitchen staff,” Yeager recalls. “The manager knew all about it, but didn’t tell me until after the event was over because he didn’t want me to be distracted.”
We asked mobile DJs from around the country about their worst-ever gigs and how they responded, and heard back from quite a few. Fortunately, these events are now all in the past… right?
Yeager also remembers playing music for a wedding reception at a trucker’s union hall in Reading, Pa., that was less-than-ideal, to say the least.
“It was dirty, too dark, and union members were still allowed to go to the bar during the reception,” he says. “Yup, people off the street could walk in and drink in the hall with the invited guests.
“I thought it strange that there was a 60/40 split of people who were dressed up and those who weren’t. It just felt like some people were out of place. Eventually, I asked someone about it, and they said that the people who were not dressed up were union members, and that those members were allowed to use the facility even with the reception going on. And at one point, they took up a large chunk of the bar.”
And to make matters worse, a female member of the union kept coming up to Yeager and flirting with him.
“I declined, and then she asked me if I was sure because her house was just two blocks away,” he says. “At that point I noticed she had a wedding ring on, but when I pointed out that she was married, she pointed at a guy at the bar and said, ‘Yeah, that’s my husband, but he never comes home from here until they close the place up, so we could have a few hours.’
“I still declined, and that’s pretty much the whole night.”
Another Pennsylvania DJ, Steve Croce of Silver Sound Disc Jockeys in Philadelphia, once performed at a reception where: the best man (the groom’s brother) started a fistfight over not being loved enough; a server spilled pasta marinara on the bride’s dress (and then ran away); the wedding cake was accidentally knocked over when the groom waved the cake knife like Zorro (in an unsuccessful attempt to lighten the mood); the father of the bride fell down and broke his hip; and the photographer got drunk and assaulted his girlfriend in the parking lot.
All in the same night.
Actually, Croce says that particular ceremony and reception had begun like any other.
“The ceremony was flawless, and the cocktail hour was light and friendly, but there was an odd energy in the air,” he says. “It was almost like the moment the shadow of a giant storm passes over your head, darkening everything around you. The children stop swinging, the puppies stop barking, the temperature drops 10 degrees in a matter of moments.”
After the bridal party entered the ballroom and the first dance was shared, Croce says it was time to relinquish his microphone to a person whose breath was so marinated in bourbon that a cigarette would have spelled disaster for his eyebrows. He remembers the best man over-confidently swiping the microphone as he began delivering his speech.
“What began as a light poking of fun [at the groom’s expense] quickly unfolded into a toxic diatribe of resentment and disgust over what he called ‘a celebration of the biggest phony he’d ever met’ and his ‘selfish father’ who never loved him the way his brother [the groom] was loved,” says Croce. “As I attempted to reclaim the microphone from him, I was headed off by the father of the groom’s right fist, a fist that connected solidly with a bitter and angry jaw. The best man spilled to the floor, landing on his back.
“The father of the groom attempted to follow up with his disgruntled other son by hoisting him to his feet and tossing him from the room, but he was foiled by a stomp kick to an arthritic knee. The two of them fell side-by-side and began strangling each other from a lying-down position.”
Croce says that, thankfully, most of the guests were police and were able to subdue and remove the best man without causing him injury.
Down the Pacific coast, Mark Haggerty of Denon & Doyle Entertainment in the San Francisco Bay Area had a gig earlier this year that he says was less than stellar.
“I was at The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay, a very exclusive seaside resort, and anyone having an event there has well-lined pockets,” Haggerty says. “Anyhow, the couple were foreign-born residents of Silicon Valley—with a large portion of their guests coming from Hong Kong and China.
“In many Asian cultures, dancing is not part of a wedding celebration, so this couple was looking to me to get their somewhat-shy guests into dancing. I did a flawless introduction of the wedding party and the bride and the groom, and the couple went right to the dancefloor for the first dance [‘Everything’ by Michael Bublé]. But when I hit play, I realized the song was still cued 28 seconds in for an auction soundbite I had done a month before. I quickly recovered and re-started the song from the beginning.”
With 31 years of entertainment experience under his belt, Haggerty says this was an extremely rare mistake for him and maybe the only one like that in over two decades, but one that nonetheless put him off his game for the rest of the event.
“After toasts and dinner, we got to the father/daughter dance and everything was running on time and smooth as silk, and when it came time for the open dance, I had them all having fun for about five songs.”
But then someone requested “Sugar” by Maroon 5. Haggerty said he personally likes the song, but on this particular afternoon it cleared the floor.
“The last 45 minutes was me trying to get them back on the floor and I’m usually very good at this, but not on this day. The couple was going to extend it an hour, but the bride came up to me at 3:25 and said, ‘Just play the last dance – the party’s over.’
“Not wanting to give up, I asked her to give me a chance to get them back. I rallied some girls to get out there and some others and they did ‘Gangham Style,’ but it was still only about half of what I had earlier. They all went home happy, but by far it was the worst gig and most uncomfortable gig I’d had in years.”
Further down the West Coast, Alvin Achterhof of Complete Weddings & Events in Allen, Texas, says he was booked for an Albanian wedding two years ago that also featured a three-piece Albanian band at the Dallas/Rockwall Lakefront.
Says Achterhof: “Think ‘Big Fat Greek Wedding.’ The bride explained to me that I was to play dinner music and then play again anytime the band took a break during the open dancefloor. But one song into my dinner music, the band insisted that they play the dinner music. I checked with the bride and she said to allow it, so I sat for an hour doing nothing.
“They opened the dancefloor and played for almost two hours straight while I just sat there, doing nothing.”
Finally, the band took a break, which allowed Achterhof to play three American songs, and then the band told him they were ready to play again. They played again for another 90 minutes, while the DJ sat around, again doing nothing.
“We had a special American last dance lined up, so I had to stick around to play it, but towards the end of the night the band started doing what appeared to be some type of traditional departure,” he recalls. “I have no idea what was going on, since there were only a handful of people who spoke English there, and then the lights suddenly turned on and people started walking out.
“So I was paid to play a total of four songs and sit for almost five hours.”
And to make matters even worse, Achterhof says he didn’t even get tipped. “Not that I would have expected to, since I didn’t really do anything, but I guarantee the band made $1,000 in tips throughout the night. The guests were sliding $10s and $20s into the bellows of the accordion all night long, since the player was dancing around the room with the lead singer while the keyboard/percussionist was up on the stage with me.
“I guess if I had to empty out my tip bucket numerous times throughout the night, since it was overflowing, I wouldn’t want to stop playing for a DJ either!”
Over on the other side of the country, Larry Velez of Florida Mobile DJs in the greater Orlando area, remembers a wedding two years ago that saw a tornado strike nearby during the ceremony, only for the sun to come back out as the couple got married inside the reception.
“And then right after eating dinner—which was bad, I mean dry-rice-and-hard-chicken bad—two or three songs into the dance they got shut down by the local police for bringing their own liquor.
“The venue poured out their liquor bottles down the drain before the wedding started, but the bridal party kept bringing in more and more so the venue shut them down during the ‘Wobble’ dance.
“By the way, the bride then got on the microphone and cursed everyone out before walking out. It was an ‘epic’ wedding.”
Speaking of the police, Blake Eckelbarger (aka DJ Sticky Boots) in South Bend, Ind., once spun for a wedding at a county fairgrounds for two of his former classmates who had wed immediately after their high-school graduation.
“It was a very average wedding and the venue was basically a pole building with a cement floor and overhead door on one end,” Eckelbarger explains. “It was also one of several buildings for rent at this fairgrounds. We were just into the dancing portion of the evening when I heard screams over the music and people started running in and out of the different exits of the building.”
The next thing he heard was a girl telling another girl (who was pregnant at the time with one of his friend’s baby) that she needed to think of her baby now and then started seeing people come into the building with blood on their clothes.
“I was obviously quite concerned at this point and turned the volume of the music way down, but didn’t want to announce anything without knowing what was really happening,” he says. “But it wasn’t long until there was blood on the dancefloor, blood on the wedding cake and every police officer within the county on the site.
“Apparently, there was another party going on in a different building at the fairgrounds, and some of the male guests from that wedding had been insulting the mothers of the bride and groom at our own wedding. One thing led to another and a huge knife-and-broken-beer-bottle fight had broken out, with several guests from both parties sustaining serious injuries. No one got shot and no one died, thankfully, but it was tense for a while.”
Of course, once Sticky Boots found out exactly what was happening, he had already stopped the music completely. “I gave instructions to the remaining guests at the direction of the police, then kept playing music quietly just to break the awful silence. The police ended up instructing the other party to leave the fairgrounds—at least those not arrested—and told the guests from my party that they would need to stay on-site until at least 2 a.m. to minimize the chance these groups would meet again somewhere else in town.
“It’s not the way you want your wedding day to play out, and I felt so badly for the bride and groom who were also good friends of mine. They took it in stride, however, and kept a good attitude—happy for the fact that none of their closest friends were injured. We actually laugh about it now and they’re still very happily married.”
Of course, probably the worst gig any of us could imagine would be if someone died at one of our gigs, and Eckelbarger can, in fact, remember his father doing a wedding when the bartender at the reception hall had a heart attack and died right there on the dancefloor.
And we found two other DJs who had this horrible occurrence happen at events for which they were entertaining.
In his 35 years of DJing, Mark Ashe of Marx Entertainment & Events in Enfield, Conn., says one wedding stands out more than any other, and that’s when a father of the bride dropped dead on the dancefloor, right after paying him to play music for an additional hour.
“This happened at a very popular reception hall in Holyoke, Mass.,” Ashe says. “I particularly remember this father of the bride giving a great toast to the new bride and groom earlier in the evening, and it was so good that I remember complimenting him right after he finished.
“The wedding was rocking all night, and he came up and told me to keep it going longer. The dance set went for several minutes and ended with ‘Runaround Sue’ and slowed down into ‘Unchained Melody,’ and It was at this time that he unfortunately dropped right there on the dancefloor and was never revived.
“It’s a horrible feeling to be in a room at this time, watching such a great occasion turn into a nightmarish hell for family and friends. I was in charge of asking if there was a doctor in the house and requesting someone to call 911.”
Of course, Ashe immediately turned the music completely off and, after the man was taken away by the paramedics, family lingered and cried as he slowly broke down his equipment—still in shock himself.
“Surprisingly, the bride and groom called me a couple days later to thank me for my service and the way I handled the ordeal,” he says. “It’s terrible to think that this bride now has to associate the death of her father on the anniversary of her wedding every year.”
Back over in the Pacific Northwest, JD Fields of Catch The Beat in Snohomish, Wash., has been in the DJ industry long enough to see some pretty crazy stuff.
“There was the time the cake fell and I caught it on top of my head and they cut it as I held it; the time the power went out and there was a fire that ruined a bunch of my equipment; the time my vehicle blew up on the way to a show and everything from there went wrong; the time the bride cheated on the groom with one of his friends and he called him out at the toast—and then called the wedding off because he wanted to humiliate the bride and make her pay for the event; and then [at one of his first-ever gigs] the time the father of the bride had a heart attack and JD the DJ had to perform CPR [successfully reviving the man].”
But none of those gigs were as bad as a 60th birthday party he entertained for earlier this year.
“This was a previous client, so we went all-out for a little birthday party, spending three hours setting up video screens and adding just the right touch of lights to accommodate an older crowd,” Fields recalls. “People are slowly coming in the door as it’s about to start and, as I jumped off the stage to take a picture of my setup, I hear, ‘Dan, Dan, are you OK?’ as I see a gentleman nod his head and fall to the floor.”
Immediately, Fields cleared the way of chairs, creating some additional room, and called out on his microphone for someone to call 911. But everyone just stared, so he called 911 and started doing CPR himself to try to clear the guest’s airway.
“I asked my assistant for blankets, and then three of us worked on him giving him CPR for 11 minutes—the longest 11 minutes of my life.
“At this point, a few other family members stepped in, so I let them take over—as I was having flashbacks of the father 20 years earlier [who incidentally had passed away on the way to the hospital].”
Once the paramedics with the fire department came in and worked on the gentleman for another 20 minutes, the guest was pronounced dead.
“I pondered what to do,” recalls Fields. “Do I play music? Do I pack up? A very emotional, but lighthearted group at this time had moved the two kegs outside and started drinking, so I helped move the food outside.
“Nobody was allowed to go back into the room where Dan had passed, as it was considered a crime scene, so I wasn’t allowed to touch my equipment. I grabbed my backup speaker and laptop out of my car and set up. I talked to the host and he said just play some music, including ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Dead Man’s Party.’”
Fields reports that overall it was an amazing group, and high-spirited as he stood on top of a car and gave a toast to the birthday boy and Dan and then they all had a shot.
“Definitely a rough show, and probably the worst,” he says “You can prepare and prepare, but there’s still the unexpected.”