A golden California sunset glow suffused the stage. A cool breeze revived the audience. The last act played, a Joe Cocker tribute band. My crew and I were in the flow, our minds worked as one. It was the pay off to all of our hard work. After the last song and the last cheers of the audience, the MC took the stage. He thanked everyone for coming, the artists who had participated — even the State Champion kazoo player (who had subjected us to a twenty minute rendition of Hey Jude just before lunch).
State Champ was in the wings and took the stage at mention of his name. The MC graciously offered the mic, assuming Champie wanted to say thanks to whoever was responsible for his television debut. But Champie had other plans.
“Hey everybody!” he bellowed. “Let’s have… One! More! Song!”
Silence. The audience feared this meant another kazoo rendition of the national anthem.
Champie guffawed resentfully. “From the band! The will play. And we’ll all sing along. All the musicians! Everybody on stage! Just like the 80s!”
Muted applause. Everyone wanted to go home. Most of the musicians already had.
“Hold your positions,” I told my crew, sensing their unease. “Just one more song then we wrap.”
The band sauntered back on stage. The MC tried to retake the microphone but Champie was euphoric, urging all the previous acts to come onstage. The stage wranglers brought a random assortment of people on stage, having coaxed them away from the beer tent under the assumption they were musicians. The stage was quickly filled with drunken pedestrians.
Champie demanded the band sing With A Little Help From My Friends.
The band exchanged looks and launched into the song. Champie pleaded with the pedestrians to sing along. They grinned foolishly, waiting for the chorus. Inexplicably, Champie grabbed the mic from the lead singer mid-verse and handed it to the nearest baboon.
It was a stupendous ascent to fame for the baboon — microphone in hand, cameras in his face, a band behind. Slurry Bob (not actual name) put mic to his beer-soaked lips and proceeded to sing — in a pitch only a humpback whale could love — and it wasn’t even the right song.
“What a mess!” my assistant director Waldo exclaimed.
“The crazy train has left the station,” I agreed and then realized my microphone was on. The crew heard me. I had broken my rule of not chattering. But when I saw my cameramen out there, swamped by baboons, no way to get a clear shot — I realized the only way to get them through was to keep talking.
“All right everyone,” I began cheerfully. “Welcome to The Sh*t Show! Zoom out and let’s give everyone at home a good look at it.”
On stage, the band looked murderous. The MC’s face was frozen in a terrified smile as Slurry Bob sent the encore up in flames. Fantastically out of tune flames.
On the monitors, I saw the tell-tale fidgeting of the cameras. My cameramen were losing focus. In my best Russell Crowe from Gladiator voice, I told them:
“Hold it steady, men! This one’s for posterity!”
The MC wrestled the mic away from Slurry Bob and made a valiant attempt to reach the lead singer. Pedestrians blocked him on all sides. The band helplessly played on.
Champie recognized this was his moment. He stepped forward to meet his destiny, sweat pouring from his face. His kazoo rang out into the night.
The audience abandoned the arena in droves. Never before have so many found their car keys (and remembered where they parked) in so few seconds.
“Camera Three, get me a close up!” I shouted over the maddening buzz. “I want all those folks at home to remember that face.”
At that moment, the baboons got hold of the other microphone. Slurry Bob started singing My Darling Clementine. But the band had a score a score to settle. They made a wall of noise to drown the usurpers. The lead singer yanked the mic from Slurry Bob. The bassist simultaneously confiscated Champie’s. It was beautifully orchestrated. And the band rescued the song from certain death.
I noticed Rocketboy had been pushed to the very edge of the stage. Fights were breaking out in the wings. Opposite his position, Newbie was lost to view. His camera feed was black.
Jumping to my feet, I ordered them both back to base tent.
Security crews purged the drunks from the wings. They flooded into the audience pit, edgy and disgruntled. Graybeard was down there, a sitting duck.
I switched the live feed to Deadcam and ordered Graybeard back to base.
Like the veteran he was, he packed up his gear first, not willing to sacrifice thousands of dollars of equipment to an angry crowd of drunks.
I urged them all to hurry. Rocketboy made it back first. He reported Newbie was hiding behind the drummer, safe from the mayhem.
I peered at the stage, just making out a dark lump behind the drum kit. I told him it was safe to come out. The security crew had cleared most of the wings. He popped up from behind a cargo crate, waved to us, and trotted valiantly through the melee.
Graybeard’s path was riskier, straight through the twitchy, drunken roving pedestrians. They eyed him with dull cunning. He kept an eye on them over his shoulder. Suddenly he paused, dropped the tripod, hoisted his camera and took aim. The drunks scattered, thinking he meant to film them.
I glanced at the monitor, wondering what he had found. In spite of the chaos, the retreating audience, the bitter drunks, there was a little six-year-old girl dancing by herself on the grass. Eyes closed, hair streaming behind her — she was freedom itself. I cut to Camera Two and let the image go out live. This was how the show would end. Not with the ugly clash of male egos but with a little girl dancing, joyously alive, as one brave man’s voice sang out, hoping to touch somebody. Together, they made it art. And I was there helping them, the invisible hand at the controls.