Live performance tip: plan for disaster (so you can turn it into the highlight of the show)

Live performance emergencies

What was your biggest mid-show emergency, and how did you deal?

I went to a wedding this weekend and danced for hours to the music of Funktapuss, a super fun funk band from Hyannis, Massachusetts.
They were great players, but what impressed me most was what they did when things took a turn for the potentially disastrous.
Let me paint the scene: outdoor wedding under a tent, summer humidity, open bar, a single extension cord running from the stage to a barn. As the band ramped up and the dance floor was bouncing, BAM, the lights go out. The amps go silent. The PA peters out. The guests inhaled and paused.
I’m not sure if an inebriated guest stumbled over the the cord, or the venue blew a fuse, or what — but here’s what amazed me: after the power went out, the energy actually got turned up a notch (much to our relief).
The drummer kept playing. The trumpet player stepped right into the middle of the crowd and blew a solo. The keyboardist picked up his saxophone and joined in. The singer led us all in a funky chant. We danced and danced and danced for what must’ve been about five minutes of ecstatic, spontaneous, non-amplified funk (while the guitarists took a beer or bathroom break).
When the power came back on, the musicians slowly made their way back to the stage while keeping the improvisational energy going, and once everyone was ready, they launched right back into the song they’d been playing previously.
This got me thinking about live contingency plans. I suppose it’s a contradiction in terms to “plan for the unexpected,” but still, it’s worth putting some time into thinking about what you’d do in different unfortunate situations on stage.

Ask yourself (or your band) the following:

What do we do when someone breaks a string?
What do we do when the power goes out?
What do we do when we have to play longer than expected?
What do we do when an individual member doesn’t show up, or their equipment fails?
What do we do if the venue only has one vocal microphone?
Whether you jam out un-amplified, come to the edge of the stage and sing a cappella, take a minute to introduce the band, or start reciting spoken word (I’ve seen all of these work in action), it will benefit you to brainstorm some solutions in advance. In fact, when you’ve got a performance solution ready, you can turn what might’ve been a buzzkill into the most memorable moment of the night.
Have you averted disaster on stage? How? Was your solution planned, or totally spontaneous? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.
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[Electrical cord picture from Shutterstock.]
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