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The Understudy

George Petersen • Editor's NoteJanuary 2022 • January 6, 2022

Managing a successful live performance or event is all about contingencies — that is, having a Plan “B” (or Plan “C” or Plan “D”) as a recovery method should the unforeseen occur. And sometimes you have to learn these lessons the hard way.

It happened to me on Nov. 4, 1966. I was a kid growing up in Italy, playing drums in my first band, and ironically this was our first gig. It didn’t start well — our singer quit that morning. Not a good sign, but the show must go on. Then monsoon rains began — in fact, this was the same storm that flooded Florence, destroying countless art masterpieces. As we began our set, this basement club started flooding — no deluge, but a half-inch of water on the dance floor put a damper on the festivities. However, the patrons wanted us to keep playing and pitched in to mop and spread towels on the floor to keep the beat going. Later, disaster struck. Our guitarist broke an E string (no spares available), and for the only time in my life, I broke a snare head — again, no spare.

After that, I learned to be prepared for anything. It’s a basic skill in the live sound world, where we’ve all improvised workarounds that got us through shows — often without audiences noticing anything’s amiss.

Spares are one thing, but it’s different when you’re dealing with the human factor, such as Genesis’ FOH engineer being sidelined with Covid the morning of a show. Fortunately, the FOH tech was a skilled mixer and could step in at moment’s notice, but just like a Broadway production, it’s nice to have understudies — and contingencies — in place. After all, the show — large or small — must go on.

Stay safe!

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