Performing At The Cobra Lounge: A Journal

As I grow older, I notice that when dealing with ridiculous and frustrating situations, I cross this line where it just starts being comedic content. When it’s a gig, that line is a bit harder to reach due to the normal stress and timetable of a live performance. It was crossed last weekend. What I’m dropping below is 100% non-fiction.

April 2015:
After an exhausting search for an appropriate venue to perform at in Chicago this summer, a friend recommends Cobra Lounge. I was vaguely familiar with the joint and had a negative association to it, but couldn’t figure out why. My mother, of all people, had frequently eaten there when she worked nearby and had great things to say about it. Moms are usually right, right? So I contact them, we find a date, June 27th, and confirm it. I find supporting artists, announce the gig, book a grand worth of non-refundable travel accommodations, and off we go.

June 20th (1 week before the show):
Cobra’s booking person emails me briefly explaining that the show has been canceled due to MOTOBLOT, a Progressive Insurance backed scooter party of sorts, renting the property. I email and call them trying to figure out a way to make it work, but nothing gives, they won’t even respond. I lose a night of sleep emailing other venues, rental spaces, galleries, etc. The next day I call Cobra and get a manager on the phone, he tells me the gig is axed and there’s nothing that can be done. I announce that the gig is in limbo. People who had booked flights/hotels to Chicago to see the show are beyond bummed.

June 22nd
I miraculously find a place 2 blocks away willing to scratch a DJ night and host the gig. I negotiate with them and sort it all out. A few hours later, someone from Cobra calls me and says they’ve changed their mind and I can still play. I’m left with the decision of playing at a venue that sold me out to a corporate sponsored event, or forcing everyone to refund their tickets and purchase them for the new venue. I didn’t look too deep into it due to time restraints, but it seemed like service charges weren’t refundable. Argh, okay, Cobra it is. I’m grateful that this is back on, but I’m not exactly happy with the venue.

June 24th
Someone from Cobra Lounge who doesn’t actually work at Cobra Lounge sends me a 2 page Excel sheet to fill out with details for every artist, from sound stuff, to load in times, to sound check needs, etc. This is required ASAP. I’m already heading out to Kansas City, but make it work and give them every minute detail that they requested. I’m kind of impressed with their attention to detail, that can’t be a bad thing.

June 26th
The same person who sent me the Excel sheet calls me to change some of what I put in the sheet and told all the supporting acts. Among the most important are load-in times being pushed back, which means I can’t go have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, and that they will not have any tables. Yep, a restaurant that can’t supply tables. The conversation is difficult as this woman explains to me the definition of a “sound check” when I’m literally driving on the highway in-route to what is probably my 500th gig. Breath. Relax.

June 27th

5:45PM
When backing my car into the parking spot for load in that was explicitly detailed in aforementioned Excel sheet, I am immediately yelled at by a venue staff member. When he runs out of breath we explain to him who we are and why we’re here. He asks if anyone other vehicles will need the load-in, and we honestly don’t know. He demands a solid number a few times, which has my eyes swelling up from holding in laughter.

6:40PM
After all of my gear is loaded on stage, on my own god damn folding table that I lugged from Georgia to a venue filled with tables. Someone tells me that I have to move everything off of the stage because they need the rug. I contemplate just murdering this person and hiding the body, but it takes too long to sort out so I have to carry all of my gear down, get the rug, and lift everything up again.

7:00PM
I am informed that the show will be certainly sold out. Yay! I ask how they know this, and they say because they sold over 100 tickets. I’m confused as I was under the impression that the venue held over 300 people. It does, but the room I’m playing in only holds 150. Great. Having been told this specific nugget of information in April, I would have chosen a different venue. But I’m keeping my chin up, it’ll be a rad show.

7:30PM
I missed dinner, I’m on Eastern time, and I’m getting weak. Luckily, Cobra has negotiated a free dinner from their restaurant. I ask a bouncer where to put in an order and am directed to the bartender. I ask the bartender if I can order food and he directs me to the other bar in a separate room. I wait roughly 10 minutes for a bartender in the separate room to make eye contact with me, and he tells me I have to talk to a waitress. I spend 10 more minutes finding a waitress, and she tells me to “Stay right here, don’t move, I’ll be right back.”. About 10 minutes later she comes back, walks right past me ignoring my beckoning, and seats other customers.

8:00PM
I order pizza.

8:20PM
The pizza delivery driver calls me and says they won’t let him into either side of the venue/bar. I meet him out front, and then they won’t let me in with the pizza. I say “okay”, and walk into the loading area and take it up to my green room where all of my valuables are.

8:30PM
A white dude with dreadlocks yells at me and 2 other artists performing and tells us we can’t use our green room, and that it is for MOTOBLOT people only. I’m kind of confused, as there were no MOTOBLOT people up there. But he keeps yelling at us to leave, and I’m kind of defeated, so I carry my stuff down and just throw the pizza into a booth and give up on trying to finish dinner.

8:50PM
I love pizza, but I also haven’t eaten it in a year. My stomach is not happy with me at all. Doors open in 10 minutes, and the public bathroom is tiny. There are few things worse than talking to fans through a stall door while your body is expelling the first greasy meal you’ve had in a year. WDWD (white dude with dreads) zooms through the room, and from the stage I very politely and humbly ask him if I could possibly use the bathroom up in my greenroom. He goes on a alpha male tirade about how he’s managing 3 different bars and doesn’t have time for my shit, and if I have to use the bathroom, I can “use the fucking bar bathroom like everyone else.”

So this is it. This is that comedic line. The bullshit is so unreasonable that I cannot take it seriously any longer. I’m glad too, because otherwise it would have been this dude’s teeth or simply me packing up my gear and leaving. I laugh and explain that I’m not going to be spoken to like that, and he storms off.

10:00PM
I run out of water. Did I ever tell you that I drink a lot of water? I drink a lot of water. 2 gallons a day on average. Water makes me feel like a million bucks. I had some big 1.5 liter bottles that wouldn’t fit in the bathroom sink, and the venue only served tiny Dixie cups of water, which isn’t something I’m going to stack up next to my gear anyway. I ask a bartender if she would kindly fill my bottle. She tells me she’s not allowed to bring containers behind the bar. I ask her if she can fill up a pitcher and let me pour it into my bottle. Nope, against the rules. Sigh.

10:30PM
I walk down the block and buy some bottles of water and rush to get back to see Polyfuse perform. The bouncer won’t let me in with bottles of water. Luckily the load-in door is still unlocked, so I’m able to walk around the building, squeeze through the fence opening, and sneak my highly illegal contraband in.

11:45PM
I decide that I’d like a beer, but the bartender in our room is absent, so I go into the other room, making sure to show the bouncer my wristband that says I’m allowed backstage into the greenroom that I’m banned from so he’ll let me back in. I buy an overpriced oatmeal stout, walk back to my show, and the same bouncer tells me he can’t let me back in, and that I’ll have to go outside and re-enter. Any persuasion or reasoning just makes these people irate, so out I go.

11:46PM
I’m not allowed to bring beer outside the venue so I must throw it away. I’m going on soon so I throw it away.
I should note that there’s beer and water for me in the green room, but I’m not allowed to get it.

11:50PM
Showtime! Great crowd.

12:40AM
I dropped my pick and can’t find it. I play a guitar solo with a butterfly screw that was on the table. I finish the song and run to my guitar case for another pick to play a few more tracks in the reprise (my set goes until 1:00AM). It takes me about 3 minutes of troubleshooting while the crowd stares at me to realize that the sound guy cut me off. I signal to him, he’s not looking. I yell, he’s not listening. Okay. Gig’s over, I guess.

1:30AM
WDWD comes in, minus the attitude, and gives me $100 extra dollars for the inconvenience. It was a nice gesture, but I’m still blown away by how ridiculous this place is, and how every single problem was completely unnecessary and preventable. I would have liked an honest apology a lot more than $100.

Looking back, as miserable and degraded as I was at the time, this is already a hilarious memory that I don’t regret having. The Cobra Lounge will take the prestigious award of the worst venue I’ve ever dealt with in over 16 years of touring. I want to thank the audience for distracting me from all of that though, you guys were awesome.