Our live performance in a prison caused such a ruckus that there were fears that we… and me in particular, would have to spend the night behind bars.
Well it happened like this: We were on tour in Europe, performing mostly in bars and Churches with an upcoming concert event in a minimum security prison in the north east of Switzerland. The tour had received several good reviews and one in particular had caught the eye of the Prison Warden. And the news that we were some kind of Gospel Blues band gave this gentleman cause for alarm.
And so the Warden called our tour manager to say that the prison no longer allowed bands or performers into the prison that had any religious axes to grind. For it was entertainment that we were being paid to supply, not a Church service. The Correctional Officer had quite a rant… and I don’t blame him.. because the previous two so called Gospel bands, hired as entertainers, had preached rather than perform and now the Warden was giving a ferocious warning ‘to all’… that if we abused the privilege afforded us then this would be the last time any kind of gospel group would be permitted to visit the prison compound… unless handcuffed… well that goes without saying.
So, we gave what was asked of us. We sang the great tunes of Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, James Taylor, The Beatles, ZZ Top, Steve Miller and a bunch of my less ‘gospelly’ songs. And we had fun doing it. It was no great sacrifice to us. We like playing this kind of music. And we rocked, we rolled, we told a few stories and had the audience singing along to many of the more popular songs.
At some point I knew we had won the hearts of the prisoners, and I so I took a punt, and catching the eye of the Prison Warden seated on the front row I called out to the larger ‘captive audience’ asking if anyone would mind if we sang an old Gospel Song or two? The crowd gave a rabble rousing thumbs up and the Warden smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say ‘you’ve earned your keep’.
We didn’t over do it, but we sang a few of the gospel songs dear to our heart and finished the night with my song Peace of God, which is the type of musical vehicle that allows us to linger in the moment, and develop an atmosphere of peace for all.
Incidentally, the ‘house’ rules demanded that every prisoner be seated in the theater before the commencement of the concert. They could however leave any time after the first song. This was the first concert in the Warden’s memory during which no one left, even for a smoke or toilet break.
A few hearts were melted that night, none more than the Warden. By the end of the concert, the audience, a mixture of prisoners, guards and management had become our friends. And when it was time to tear down the stage gear and pack the truck, we had many willing hands… and… FYI… nothing was stolen.
But there was more to come.
It had been snowing quite heavily all day and after carrying one of the guitars out to the truck … well… I couldn’t help myself… I reached down, molded a nice firm snow ball and then threw it across the parking lot, hoping to hit our tour manager in the head.
But he saw it coming and ducked. The snow ball hit one of the nastier looking prison guards smack bang in the face. There was a gasp from the prisoner standing near me as if to say “What have you done”. A few of the band members looked at me in horror, one shaking his head in disappointment. I was in trouble (again) and I did actually wonder for a moment what the punishment might be… a night in a cold cell perhaps?
And then a snow ball, and a hard one at that hit me in the back of the head. And the nasty looking prison guard was loading up to throw another one. And then it was on for one and all, band members, prisoners and guards all at it… the snow fight of all snow fights.
A moment in time when truth was much stranger than fiction
Were fought, we ducked, we tripped, we fell and laughed and kept throwing snow balls until our arms dropped in pain. Then we finished packing the truck, hugged and said our goodbyes.
Our hearts rejoiced as did our throwing arms ache…. for days.