Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Have Ballroom will Gig.

Once we’d navigated the winding, forested road to the Gizard Crib in rural Earlysville, Virginia, Dan popped out of Toys rig and got triple hugs from wife Zoe, daughter Tashi, and seven - month old Tristan who was the real reason I came out. The original plan was to meet Tristan and just come out and hang in Virginia for a while. Then the marathon got tossed in, then Toys came aboard, then the Gizard booked us for a gig and after all of that, the India situation just slammed us in the head. Not even two flats and a Bambi splatter was going to keep this roadie from happening.

Zoe has a habit of spoiling everyone who walks through her door with copius piles of unforgettable grub. She cooks with the best of them and the chow is so damn good you actually feel guilty for eating it. You know there’s no way you can adequately return the favor. All one can do is eat, rub the belly and moan – which is what we did until our road-weary eyes directed us to our beds and we passed out, not moving a muscle until morning.

Before I got tagged by Bambi, my original idea was to get to Virginia early and go on daily rides on what appeared to be some challenging hills. But after one trek on the Earlysville road I realized that had the trip ended up like that I wouldn’t have gotten in one single ride. The hills were no more challenging than those in Corvallis, but the lanes were anorexic and there were no shoulders at all. They were death traps for regular cyclists let alone a wide-bodied low riding hand cycle.

So as much as I cursed Bambi, I found my self six solid rides the better for her sacrifice and in great condition for the race which was only three days away. Since there would be no riding, that left the three of us to concentrate on the gig: a 10:00 a.m. pre-UVA Football parking lot tailgate. When Dan booked us he’d envisioned a sunny afternoon with us playing outside with the wind cooling us off and an appreciative crowd walking by the stage and occasionally stopping to check us out or maybe even toss a jig back at us.

Then UVA announced the game time as noon and the weather channel revealed a blanket of downpours heading in our direction. But a gig’s a gig so we just bit our lips and went in to rehearse. The venue was the Fry's Spring Beach club, an old ballroom about a mile south of the stadium. Dan’s band, Surfzilla, a surf revival project, had played any number of gigs there and it really was a great place to play. Unfortunately if the rain announcement held up we would be playing inside, while all the spectators would be outside underneath orange and blue kitchen tarps.

Another wild card in the mix was that our drummer, Vaughn, was the 15-year-old brother of one of Tashi's classmates. Vaughn had been out to Earlysville earlier in the year and grabbed the kit during an impromptu jam session in the living room. Dan said he’d held his own and was willing to give the kid a whack at it, even though he’d never played out before in his life.

Once we got to the ball room, Vaughn was there making sense of his borrowed drum kit while the rest of us plugged in the spaghetti that constitutes a band set up. If you’ve never seen a garage band set up it’s quite amazing as there are chords and wires running in and out of amps, mics, guitars, keys, speakers and sound boards. Luckily for our outfit Toys always has this stuff mapped out in his head and organizes what can be a completely chaotic situation. We were short some PA speakers so for rehearsal we were just going to have to play soft and sing vocals over the top of it. It’s actually not a bad way to rehearse – blasting away is fun and all, but you’re not really listening when you do it.

We knocked out the first couple of numbers and they fell completely flat. Vaughn hadn’t heard the material before and he wasn’t sure what tempo to play at or where we wanted to go with it. It was a bit frustrating so we just lowered the bar, played some good old fashioned rock and roll standards and by the end of the night we were pretty sure we could pull it off. Then it was time to pack up, drive home, sleep, and set it all up again. Show call was 8:00 a.m.

We’d kept the beering down to a minimum firstly because of the early show call and secondly because after the gig, Toys and I were cruising to D.C. to register for the race – which was at 8 a.m. the next morning. It was a ridiculous schedule, but there was just no way around it. And after the race was over, we’d have nothing but relaxing vacation.

Zoe loaded us up with pancakes and the Gizard, Toys and I filled up my van and cruised over to the Beach Club. Vaughn was already there and we’d stashed the drums behind the stage hoping nobody would break in. It was warm and muggy when we arrived and we were tempted to setup in the entrance way where there was a bit of a covering, but the clouds just got uglier and uglier by the minute. Instead we set up in the middle of the dance floor and opened up a big double fire door that led out to the parking lot and our adoring fans, who had actually started showing up.

The game was against Georgia Tech who was ranked No. 18 at the time. If UVA pulled off the upset it would be a big ACC win so neither the weather nor the early start was putting anyone off – it was just keeping them next to their cars at least 60 yards and a wall away from us.

Once we got set up Toys ran us through mic checks as we tuned the guitars and got Vaughn warmed up with some easy rhythms. It had only been 11 hours since he’d put down the sticks, but now he had an idea of what we sounded like and what he needed to do. At one point I started messing around with the beginning of Morning Dew and before we knew it, everyone was ready so we just kept playing it through. My voice was hardly up to the task, but the four of us clicked on it and it provided for a reasonable opener – albeit with absolutely nobody in the crowd.

Normally we rotate around the members of the band calling tunes, but neither Toys nor the Gizard really felt like calling one out so I became the defacto leader. We zipped out a couple of originals and rock standards before I had to give the mic over to the Gizard because my voice was getting a little stretched for the morning. He took over admirably, Vaughn found the pocket and we sounded like a real rock band.

We’d just finished a tune when a monumental thunder blast leveled our sound and the accompanying deluge sent the tailgaters into their cars. I got inspired and whipped out “Let it Rain” which the Gizard hates playing as he thinks we’ve got it all wrong, but the momentum of the moment carried it through and Toys just lit up the empty ball room with some sizzling leads. We’d played about an hour and a half and the joke of doing a gig to a completely empty ball room was getting a bit old, so I whipped out the opening of Johnny B. Goode which we rode to some really nice peaks and slammed it to death by the end. Zoe, Tashi, Tristan and Vaughn’s mom thought it was all spectacular!

And as much as I’d love to have a dance floor full of people in front of me singing every word, I was just as proud of us for doing the damn gig. When I was a high diver I used to get really pissed off at jaded divers who would complain about doing shows in the rain or in freezing weather. I mean what the hell – you could be washing dishes somewhere. I’ve always taken the old adage, ‘The Show Must Go On’ as a way to live life. I’ve performed 80 ft. dives in front of a crowd of a Chinese guy and his dog. I sure as hell wasn’t going to balk at a nice cushy indoor gig – regardless of who didn’t show up.

And in the end we played a damn good gig – especially with a rookie drummer! Cudos to Vaughn!!

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