We’ve all pondered the sound of one hand clapping, but what is the sound of no hands clapping?
In the late 1990s, a former “nuisance bar” on Penn Avenue called The Quiet Storm was shut down after the nuisance of having a man knifed to death on premises. In its place, a coffee shop/vegetarian restaurant/leftie command center opened. The new owners painted the walls a patchwork of bright colors, refloored the space with a random splattering of leftover acrylic tiles, added fresh flowers to the tables, displayed them in thrift shop vases–but they kept the old name.
By the early-aughts, The Quiet Storm had added a small stage, a minimal PA system, and quickly became an ideal performance venue for Pittsburgh’s local musicians. The back half of the big room could comfortably host a hundred audience members and with no liquor license, the venue’s BYOB policy made for easy, fun, cheap nights out.
So it was with some pleasant surprise that my band at the time, The Hope-Harveys, were offered a prime Friday night spot, just a couple weeks away. We (and The Cuff, the other band on the bill) did our due diligence at getting the word out, flyering throughout the city, inviting friends. This was going to be a good night.
The anecdotal responses started to follow a pattern: “Oh, man, I’d be there, but I’m going to that Johnsons show.” The Johnsons Big Band were something of a local phenomenon at the time and their record release show–with its scene-de facto mandatory attendance policy and near guarantee for onstage anarchic drama–was booked for the same evening in a small theater across town. [Your author was a big fan and likely would have been there himself, but for.]
We arrived, we set up, we kibbutzed with The Cuff. But that was it. No one. No friends, no local music gadabouts, no spouses and no girl/boyfriends of band members. Not a single audience member–paying or otherwise. The Cuff had a pregnant bass player at the time who wasn’t feeling great and had decided to see if anyone rolled in late before committing to performance. Our band had no such prerequisite.
Moments before taking the stage, the sound woman had just one request. “You guys know how to run this stuff, right?” she said, gesturing to the sound board behind the coffee bar, “I’m going to try to catch that Johnsons show.”
Postscript: Johnsons Big Band, The Cuff, Hope-Harveys, and the much-beloved, but not sustainable venue are all gone. But fifteen years later, if you’re on Morewood Ave., on the block between Centre and Baum, you can still see a flyer–sun-bleached and half torn off though it is–advertising The Hope-Ha… and Cu…
Editor’s note: This piece was originally submitted to a literary magazine seeking first-person stories from musicians about memorable experiences occurring while on stage. Never having even heard back from the journal, I’m using it here, dammit. Rock on.