Bob wrote the following during the spring of 2004 while touring with the Kingston Trio:
We’ve all heard the expression, “The show must go on.” It’s almost a cliché, but on occasion we encounter circumstances that could interfere with the presentation of our show. We’ve actually had concerts cancelled by promoters due to weather conditions, over which we have no control. Sometimes, though, illness of one of the cast members can be a factor in whether or not the show can go on. I don’t think there’s ever been an instance when a Kingston Trio show was cancelled due to illness. During the 1990’s, there were a few occasions when I stood in for Nick while he was having hip surgery, and I’ve heard of a couple times (before my tenure) when it was The Kingston Duo, but the show did go on.
So, what do you do when you feel too sick to go on stage and you have no understudy available? There’ve been a few times when I probably shouldn’t have tried to perform, but, as Bob Shane is fond of saying, “No play, no pay.” So far, I’ve never missed a show for any reason. I was even in a car accident once on the way to the airport. I made the medics stitch me up as fast as they could and I caught the next flight. In my case I attribute that to my feeling of responsibility for the job I’ve accepted. It’s a three-pronged responsibility: one is to the audience that has paid for a couple hours of quality entertainment; one is to my partners who would be adversely affected by my inability to perform; and one is to myself, to maintain my personal integrity and follow through on the commitment that I’ve made as a professional entertainer. I’d like to relate a few instances, however, when that commitment has been sorely challenged.
Recently we had a two-day tour (actually four days with travel time) to Skokie, IL and Kalamazoo, MI. Before leaving home I developed a soar throat and sniffles. When I first feel a cold coming on I have a regimen of herb teas (Echinacea, golden seal and red clover, alternately) along with zinc tablets and plenty of fluids. This usually kicks a cold in the butt if I get on it soon enough. In this case, though, I was faced with something much more serious than a common cold.
We arrived in Skokie the evening before the show and I had a fitful night with very little rest. When I got up the next morning I knew I was going to have a tough time singing that night. I made it through sound check and went back to the hotel to rest. By show time I was in trouble, as I had prayed to the porcelain god two or three times and couldn’t even keep water down. But the only thing that would have prevented me from doing the show was death. And Bob Shane kept reminding me: “No play, no pay.”
It wasn’t really a paycheck that motivated me that night, though. I was thinking about my three-pronged responsibility to the audience, my partners and myself. Show time approached and I forced myself to ignore how badly I felt. I was pretty sure that once we hit the stage and my adrenalin kicked in I’d be okay. The opening number (“Hard Ain’t I Hard”) forced me to reckon with my situation. This song requires a lot of energy from several standpoints. Not only is it a driving, up-tempo tune, but, being the opening number we approach it with full power to establish the energy level for the evening. Well! That got my adrenalin pumping! There’s something unexplainable about the feeling you get when the spotlight’s on you and it’s either sink or swim. You always chose to swim and after a few strokes you actually discover that the pain goes away. You hit your pace – get inside your role – and you make it through! I’m not saying I hit all the notes that night, and I’m sure I was down a few db’s in volume, but I fooled some of ‘em, I think. And the show went on.
This same flu pestered me for over five weeks, and Bob Shane also caught a dose of it. I have to really give him credit for hanging in there during our weekend out to Norfolk and Plymouth. I know he was feeling really awful, but when the curtain went up, he was right there with a smile on his face and gusto in his voice. The show went on and I’m sure that only George, Paul and I knew that he was ailing. I don’t think that “No play, no pay” thing applies to him, though.
This past New Year’s Eve was nearly my first no-show. We played for some very nice folks in Orange, Texas, and I would have felt very badly if I’d missed that concert. Two days before we left for Texas, I had gone snowshoeing up near Granby with my neighbor. When we got home, my wife, Meri, had made chili for us. I don’t eat meat, so as the rest of the gang ate Meri’s great homemade fart food, I opened up a can of veggie chili. I didn’t notice that the can was marked “Best Before Aug. 23, 2003.” By the next morning my guts were on fire. Botulism! And according to Webster’s dictionary: “often fatal.” Well, I got through the day somehow and Meri drove me out to the airport the following morning, although I was still feeling pretty queezy. I had decided to swear off chili for a good long time! But when we got to Texas, our hosts met us at the plane and took us to dinner at – believe it or not – Chili’s! Ouch!!
Another time that I barely made it through the show it was my own fault. It was during the mid-1970’s when I was singing with The Brothers Four. We were on tour in Japan and had a night off in Tokyo. We were scheduled to do an afternoon show the next day in Chiba, about an hour’s drive over to the north side of Tokyo Bay. My aunt’s brother, Sammy, who had been stationed in Japan during WWII, had married a Japanese lady named Kozi. They still kept a home near Yokohama, south of Tokyo, and Kozi’s brother had a band. Night off, musician’s in the family – sounds like a party!
So, Sammy drove up to Tokyo and brought me back to their house. As the instruments were being tuned, the sake began to flow. What a great time – those guys knew a lot of songs and more lyrics in English than I could remember! By about 3:00 AM my English was no better than my Japanese and I was seeing tlipre (that’s “triple” to you westerners). They told me later that I passed out. Way too early in the morning, Sammy was waking me to get to the train. I had to be back in Tokyo by 10:00 to catch my ride to Chiba. All I remember about that part of the trip was thinking how embarrassing it was to be this hung-over gaijin (foreigner) trying to keep from puking on the train at 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning.
Well, I made it to the hotel, hooked up with the rest of the boys and off we went to Chiba. I think I filled two or three barf bags on the way and nobody wanted to know me. I was feeling pretty awful right up until show time, but the opening number went pretty well. As soon as we finished, though, I felt pressure welling up from deep down and I sort of excused myself from the stage. In those days we carried a translator who acted as the MC for the show, so he came out after every song and talked, allowing me time to find a bucket back stage. This went on for the first five or six songs until I finally spit up my toenails. I just kept thinking: “The show must go on!” And it did, somehow.
This reminds me of another Japanese tour with The Brothers Four. I had taken my son, Graham, on this particular tour and we’d coaxed him into introducing us at each concert. He was only four or five years old and we taught him his lines: “Mina-san, komban-wa!” (that’s Japanese for “Good evening, everybody”) “And now, The Brothers Four!” He was Mr. Showbiz and he won the hearts of audiences all over Japan. One night, though, he wasn’t feeling too hot, and standing on stage with his microphone waiting for the curtain to go up, he turned to me and said, “Dad, I don’t want to do it.” I was just about ready to take the mic and bring him back stage when the curtain lurched and started to rise. In a flash he reeled around into position, the spotlight hit him and he did his part without a hitch. Even at that young age he knew the meaning of “the show must go on.”
The human body is an amazing machine, and the mind is even more amazing. I’ve surprised myself in many situations with my ability to overcome a physical deficit by just telling myself, “You can do it!” Adrenaline is a pretty powerful chemical, too, as it can come to your rescue and keep you going under the harshest of circumstances. But I try to keep myself in good health so I don’t have to rely on that too much. I want to make sure I’m right there ready when the show must go on.
Copyright 2007-2008 All Rights Reserved Bob Haworth and Crescent Entertainment