Hard rock bands booked at religious venues, pop artists booked at metal festivals, and oddball places that should never, ever feature bands.

Grand Funk Railroad Grand Funk Railroad

In Homer Simpson's wounded musical lament, he asks a younger generation, "Nobody knows the band Grand Funk? The wild, shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner? The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher? The competent drum work of Don Brewer? Oh, Man! " Fortunately, many fans do remember the rock power trio from Flint, Michigan. Best known for the chart-topping singles "We're an American Band" and "The Loco-Motion," as well as the classic rock radio staples "I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home) " and "Some Kind of Wonderful," Grand Funk Railroad earned the distinction of selling out New York's massive Shea Stadium in a mere 72 hours during the height of the act's popularity.

"It was in Buffalo, New York, at Kleinhans Music Hall. It's a very famous place. It's one of those places that's acoustically perfect. You could put a violin player on the stage and every seat in the house is going to feel like they're right next to that violin. You could hear a pin drop. They put us on in that place as opening act for 'the solo artist Arlo Guthrie.' We come out, and even though this is early on, we're still very loud. We're probably the loudest band in America. With that audience, we cleared the place right out. They just couldn't take the volume. It was almost like the hall caught on fire, and people bolted for the exits. 'Aaaagh! Help! Run for your lives!' You can't put a loud rock band in a place like that, especially when the people are there to see a solo artist strumming an acoustic guitar. ... That's more of a promoter's worst gig."

- Don Brewer, Grand Funk Railroad

Death Cab For Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie

Since beginning as Ben Gibbard’s solo project in 1997, Death Cab for Cutie fashioned an instantly distinctive sound. Anchored by the guitarist’s soft-but-sincere voice, the Bellingham, Washington, quartet became exponents for a style of indie rock that paired serene melodies, candid lyrics, layered guitars and bob-and-weave rhythms. Memorable tunes include the shuffling memoir “Grapevine Fires,” the hypnotic, Grammy-nominated “I Will Possess Your Heart” and the acoustic ballad “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” which seems to be among the most performed song at Millennials’ weddings. The group takes its name from a doo-wop parody tune created by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band rendered in the 1967 Beatles film “Magical Mystery Tour.”

“We did a West Coast tour in 1998. There were so many terrible shows on that tour that it’s difficult to pin one down. I remember we were supposed to play outside in Fullerton, California. It was on campus and intended to be on this patio in a coffee shop. When we got to the show, not only did we realize the show was free – so we wouldn’t get paid – it was raining, so we had to play inside the coffeehouse. Chris (Walla) at the time had this little tiny amp. He plugged it in and hit one chord to test it. The kid who was putting on the show ran over and said, ‘What are you doing? That is too loud!’

“It precipitated into an almost-fight. Chris was like, ‘We’re a rock band. This is a rock show.’

“It was a series of negotiations because people were studying. But it was in that era of the band where you had to take whatever you could get. There was no Internet presence to tell everybody there was a band called Death Cab for Cutie and they had a really exciting record out so go see them. There was no Pitchfork culture – which in some ways was better.

“We came up in an interesting time. We were one of the last bands who were able to establish themselves over the course of a few albums before people even knew who we were. That made for some trying times. You were at the mercy of whether there was a college station nearby that was playing the record. Or there was a record store that actually stocked the record. In some ways, it’s much easier now. If somebody is doing brilliant work, they can immediately be discovered. Allowed to sink or swim based on their own merits. But I’m glad we came up at the time we did. If we were the people we were then now, I don’t think we’d survive over two or three records.

“I remember we finished the show but there was nobody there to see it. People were more upset because they were there to study. Mind you, this is also the night after a show where we showed up in Santa Ana, California, and we were berated for not bringing our own microphones. Apparently, people stole the microphones all the time. So we had to make a deal with one of the five hardcore bands that had been put on that bill. Because our name was Death Cab for Cutie, they thought we were a punk band.

“It was a crazy time. We didn’t know any better. We just went along with it.”

— Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie

alice-cooper2Alice Cooper

There would be no Kiss without him. No Rob Zombie. No Slipknot. And certainly no Marilyn Manson. Alice Cooper was and continues to be the undisputed father of shock rock, a title he's embraced since the late 1960s. The Detroit native and 2011 member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is best known for classic rock hits "School's Out," "I'm Eighteen" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy." And who could forget Cooper's immortal appearance playing himself in the film "Wayne's World."

"I don't think that we've ever done a bad show. I can say that honestly. I always design our shows so that there's no such thing as a bad show. The audience won't know if we play a bad show. We will, but they won't. But you get audiences sometimes that are just asleep. It don't care what you do, they just will not wake up. The worst one was at Guelph college in (Ontario) Canada, back in the '70s, where by the end of the fifth song we turned around and played to the walls. Then we found out that The Kinks were there the week before, and after about the fourth or fifth song they turned around and played to the walls. They did the exact thing we did, the audience was so dead. ... It's an agricultural college. The people were sitting in Samsonite chairs holding hands. 'Now here's Alice Cooper.' They just sat there and would not move. I didn't know if they were threatened, like, 'If you move you're going to get expelled or something.' Out of the thousands of shows we've played, that was the one show I can remember as being the worst show."

— Alice Cooper


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Assembled in the late 1970s at a Los Angeles junior high school when mandatory busing brought inner city kids to predominately white Valley schools, Fishbone notched a record deal with Columbia before all the members were out of high school. The ensemble delivered some of the most accomplished music of the pre-grunge era, mixing ska, metal, rap, funk, reggae, punk and soul into a boisterous jumble that was as entertaining as it was ambitious. Still together decades later -- powered by remaining founding members Angelo Moore (vocals, saxophone) and Norwood Fisher (bass) -- the group recently made front-page headlines when its song "Lyin' Ass Bitch" was played by the house band on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” to accompany the appearance of Republican presidential nominee Michelle Bachmann.

"There was a gig in our career before we were Fishbone, but we were the same six members. This is the gig that got us to change our name to Fishbone because we were called Megatron -- which we can all agree was a bad name. We had just gotten new management and he booked us at this club called The Music Machine in West L.A. He put us on this bill that was all heavy metal bands. The booker at the club thought -- based on our name --that this would fit. Maybe he thought we were Megadeth? We were doing what we do, and we did not fit with any of the bands. It was a horrible show. There were probably like eight people in the audience, and my grandmother was one of them. ... I'm starting to remember others. Again, this was with the original six guys early in our career. We had changed our name to Fishbone, and our manager got us a show to open a Trak Auto Parts store in Compton (California), playing the parking lot of a shopping center. No one booed us. No one threw anything at us. But we got the strangest looks. It was the wrong band in the wrong part of town doing the wrong music. For once we actually bothered people more than we brought joy into their hearts."

— Norwood Fisher, Fishbone

gracepotter3_kanrocksas_08042011Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Grace Potter possesses one of the most commanding voices of any singer on the festival circuit. The multi-instrumentalist formed Grace Potter and the Nocturnals in 2002 while attending St. Lawrence University. Soon the Vermont-based act was logging 200 shows a year even before a proper record was released. The band's style has been described as "a modern-day version of Tina Turner stroking the microphone in a spangled mini-dress while fronting the Rolling Stones circa 'Sticky Fingers.'" In other media, the Nocturnals can be heard performing Jefferson Airplane's “"White Rabbit" on the companion soundtrack for Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland." And Potter wrote and performed "Something That I Want," the end credits track on Disney's animated hit "Tangled."

"We've been touring for I would say realistically -- nationally -- about six or seven years. And when we were just getting started, I have not just a worst gig but a worst tour. It's all connected.

"We were asked to go on tour with a huge star. Our booking agent was like, 'Well, what you're going to be doing is playing (as) the second-stage band. This particular star wants to have a very festivally vibe wherever he tours. So you'll be the band that's by the beer tent the whole time.'

"We were like, 'Oh, that's so great. We're on tour with so and so. This is going to be killer.'

"I think it was three months over the course of a summer. We just sort of picked up in major cities -- we're going from arena to arena. We'd look at our schedule, and it was like, 'Oh my God, it's the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre here, and the Nissan Center there, and the casino over here. This is gonna be great.'

"So we get there on the first day, and not only are we not in the beer tent area, we're actually in the parking lot. And the stage had no mic booms. It was meant to be we were gonna bring our own sound, I guess. Nothing was really advanced. So every single place we went we thought, 'Okay, so cool. We'll have our backstage passes, so at least we'll be able to go backstage.'

"Well, we found out the first day that not only were we not allowed backstage, we weren't allowed to park where the normal fans were allowed to park. We had to park offsite and walk our stuff on. So we were allowed to come in, pull up, unload our gear but then park our car offsite because we 'didn't want to get in the way of the fans.' So we'd have this mile walk between wherever the stage was, and we were supposed to bring our own sound.

"We fixed that problem, luckily, and by the end of the first day, at least there were mic booms onstage.

"And then there was the infamous Red Rocks. Three nights at Red Rocks (in Colorado), which was unbelievable. Finally, we got the invitation to go backstage after touring with this guy for several months. ... We were starving and poor, and they said, 'Sure, come get some catering or whatever.'

"So I got catering not just for me but the whole band because not everybody was allowed backstage; it was just me. So I come out of the catering area with every piece of food I could get. After three months of touring I felt like I earned this food, right? So I'm walking with all this food in my hands. I've got plate after plate after plate of lamb and all this good stuff. 'Wow, we haven't eaten this well in a long time.'

"I feed the band. Everybody's happy. It's the end of the night. The third night at Red Rocks. Of course, we weren't at Red Rocks on the main stage. We were up in a little baby tent somewhere. Then we continued on our tour. About a week later I got a phone call from my booking agent saying, 'Yeah, about that catering you took. I just got a $350 bill ...'

"It was just one thing after another. And every once in a while I tried to zip backstage and grab a shower. Sometimes I would sneak in. But one time the big star was walking down the hallway. So all this security locked down the hallway. They're like, 'We've got a bogey!' And I was the bogey ... because I was in the shower.

"So there's a security guard standing in front of the door not letting me out. I'm in a towel trying to get back out to my bus. ... I'm dripping wet. I don't have my hairdryer or anything with me because they said I could only be in there for like five minutes. So I'm hiding behind a door and there's a security guard literally telling me that I can't go anywhere.

"I said, 'Can I at least get out of the bathroom and get my clothing, which is in that other room?'

"I go into the other room, and the room is the catering area.

"I'm like, 'Oh sweet. Food.'

And the security guard goes, 'DON'T EAT ANYTHING!'

"It's like everywhere we went, we weren't supposed to be. It was three months of getting over red tape that we didn't even really want to get over. It was really humiliating, but it was also one of those moments where, 'The rock gods are testing us. They're asking us if we really want to be here.'"

— Grace Potter, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

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Grace Potter Worst Gig

Cross Canadian RagweedCross Canadian Ragweed

Cross Canadian Ragweed was formed by singer Cody Canada, guitarist Grady Cross, drummer Randy Ragsdale and bassist Jeremy Plato -- its name derived from a combination of Cross, Canada and Ragsdale. The band honed its sound in the early '90s while based in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2001, the members relocated to Texas, where it developed a rabid following -- due in part to extensive touring -- before disbanding in 2010. The quartet became emblematic of the American Red Dirt movement known for merging country and rock.

"It was Gordon, Nebraska. It was the biggest shithole gig we've played. We'd been on a 7-week run. ... Everybody was missing home and missing families. We'd actually come home for one day for a friend of ours' birthday party. Then we turned around and went to Gordon, Nebraska. We'd just been there. It was under 100 miles from Sturgis (South Dakota), and we'd just played Sturgis. We thought, 'This better be a pretty kick-ass gig if we're taking two days off just to drive.'

"We got there and it was in an outside rodeo areana. The trailer we played on had particle board sides and roof, and they had gotten it stuck in all the cow shit and horse shit earlier that day. They were trying to pull the stage out and they swung shit all over -- so it was green, dried crap.

"They asked us to have a bite to eat because they were cooking steaks. We were sitting in the horse stall area, and there were flies buzzing all over the food. People were actually sitting in piles of horse shit.

"The guy walked up to our road manager and said, 'You know, Randy Travis said this is the worst gig he ever played.'

"We thought, 'Why the hell would you repeat that?'

"They were harping on us all day to play country-friendly songs for the crowd because there were a lot of older people there who were sponsors. But we said, 'You hired us, so we're going to play what we are.'

"Halfway through the set, the guy came up to our road manager and asked if we could finish the night playing nothing but Willie Nelson — which if it was our idea, we'd have done it.

"That was the worst gig ever. Usually our contract is 90 minutes, and we play 2 hours and 15 minutes. But that was one of those where right when the clock hits that 90 minute mark, 'We're out of here!'"

— Cody Canada, Cross Canadian Ragweed

phillip_glassPhilip Glass

Known for his cyclical song structures that rely on repetitive, arpeggio-heavy arrangements, Philip Glass is arguably the most renowned contemporary composer of the past few decades. This can be credited to a combination of his prolificacy and diversity. Glass' range has extended to symphonies, operas, musical theater, concertos, string quartets and dozens of film soundtracks. He's not only a three-time Oscar nominee (for scoring "Notes on a Scandal," "The Hours" and "Kundun"), but he also holds the distinction of being the only composer to ever appear as the featured musical guest on "Saturday Night Live."

"It's been so long since I played in clubs. But any time people are eating and drinking, that's a bad thing. Any musician will tell you that. It doesn't happen so much anymore. I'm kind of protected. But when it did, it was not very pleasant or inspiring."

— Philip Glass


Gillian Welch

After being exposed to Gillian Welch's music, a listener unfamiliar with the singer-songwriter might conjure a distinct mental picture of her. She is likely a Southerner who grew up in dirt-poor conditions. Learned to play guitar from her grandpappy. She wears a lot of gingham. In truth, Welch is a New York City native raised primarily in Los Angeles by parents who co-wrote the Emmy-winning musical numbers on "The Carol Burnett Show." The Grammy-winning Welch is now the poster child for a blend of neotraditional country and rustic folk that she dubs "American primitive." The list of performers she's worked with is both impressive and eclectic. It's doubtful anyone else can claim to have shared a microphone with Ralph Stanley, Elvis Costello, Norah Jones, Ryan Adams and Bright Eyes.

"In Nashville, before we ever had a record out, I decided I wanted to play this writers night. I went down there by myself and waited like three or four hours to play. They kept me waiting and kept me waiting as the crowd thinned out. Finally, the guy who had been playing his own songs between every three writers, he got up when there were about three people left and played three more songs. Then he said it was my turn. There was literally nobody left in the place but the bartender and the MC. The MC said, 'Okay, you can play now. Will you turn the PA off when you're done?' So I got up and played a couple songs to the bartender, then I walked over and turned the PA off."

— Gillian Welch


Brothers Bobby, Dannis and David Hackney began playing The Who and Alice Cooper-influenced material in their Detroit neighborhood of the early 1970s at a time when other black artists were epitomized by the Motown sound. This resulted in an unreleased 1974 recording of aggressive, proto-punk tunes that predated The Ramones and The Sex Pistols. There is a strong argument to be made that not only was Death the first black punk band, they were the first punk band. Despite receiving offers of record deals from major labels, the act was unwilling to change its downer name -- a real dealbreaker back then. So the trio's music all but disappeared until its burgeoning cult reputation led to the record being released in 2009 under the title "...For the Whole World to See." This also spawned the acclaimed 2012 documentary "A Band Called Death," which hits theaters June 28. The reunited Death (minus guitarist David Hackney, who died of lung cancer in 2000) just recorded an album of new material and embarked on their first tour in four decades.

"My brother David decided it was time for Death to get out and do some shows. So he booked us at a cabaret that was on Warren Avenue in Detroit (Michigan). It was a typical east-side-of-Detroit cabaret where you had mostly auto workers. This was an all-black audience. We're the opening band. We came out and did Jerry Lee Lewis' 'Great Balls of Fire,' then 'I'm a Man,' then a couple Rolling Stones songs. Then we did our own songs 'Keep On Knocking' and 'Politicians in My Eyes.' After each of our songs you could hear a pin drop even though the place was packed. We were pulling out all the stops. We were jumping and rolling on the floor. Then at the end of 'Politicians,' one guy -- just one person -- started a slow clap. Nobody else joined in. He might have been clapping because the program was over. ... What would make us so mad is that there was always some guy who would come up and say, 'You know what you should do is play some James Brown or the Isley Brothers. Then people would really like you.' We could have played that if we wanted to. But we wanted to play our own music. And the reason David kept wanting to book us at these gigs is he was on a quest to educate the black community about rock and roll. To a certain extent, we did."

— Bobby Hackney, Death

"We played an outdoor festival in Biloxi, MS, while a hurricane was coming in. So nobody showed up, including the band we were opening for, Blood, Sweat & Tears. There was maybe five people there who showed up to see Blood, Sweat & Tears, and they saw us. They didn’t respond very well. We all packed up and got out of there in a hurry....It hadn’t started raining yet, but the winds were kicking up."


First assembled as White Clover in 1970, the Topeka, Kansas, ensemble kicked around for a few years before solidifying a lineup and changing its name to one that matched the members' license plates. Eventually, music mogul Don Kirshner became interested in the group's not-very-radio-friendly mix of progressive rock and rural emotion. Four decades of basically the same lineup and sales of 30 million records followed. The band's hits "Carry On Wayward Son," "Dust in the Wind" and "Point of Know Return" continue to be staples of classic rock airplay.

"One of the most memorable ones we played was up in Wisconsin called Nudestock. It was a nudist colony. Foreigner was on the bill and Alan Parsons. But you expect up in Wisconsin there'd be all these beautiful blond women. But the reality is never what you imagine. You get there and it looks like you walked into a Piggly Wiggly grocery store and suddenly everybody was naked. And you're standing there playing and there's some guy with a baseball hat and tennis shoes standing in front of you, wiggling and playing air guitar with his pecker swirling around. It bothers you."

— Rich Williams, Kansas

pat-methenyPat Metheny

Jazz is often divided into the traditionalists and the risk-takers. Pat Metheny passionately considers himself a proud member of the latter set. The Missouri native has been releasing acclaimed albums for four decades, each one a new wrinkle in the development of jazz. Although best known for his freelance ventures and work with his Pat Metheny Group, the guitarist has enjoyed numerous collaborations, ranging from such stylistic stalwarts as Dave Brubeck to fellow experimentalists Herbie Hancock and Ornette Coleman to pop music idols David Bowie and Joni Mitchell. And he's dabbled in the world of film and television, composing soundtracks for features that include "The Falcon and the Snowman" and "A Map of the World." Along the way he's racked up an astonishing 19 Grammy Awards and managed to sell 20 million records.

"I once was hired to play on a jazz festival in Palermo, Italy. The trio that I had at that time was Charlie Hayden and Billy Higgins. First of all, we got to the gig and there were signs everywhere that said Pat Metheny Group. And what we were playing was nothing like that. I was completely freaked out about that. Then they said, 'We'll take you to the venue.'

"So we started driving through Palermo and I noticed that we were getting closer and closer to what appeared to be the largest soccer stadium on the island of Sicily.

"I was like, 'No!'

"Sure enough, that's where we were playing. Then we get there and I notice that the stage is in the direct center of the soccer field. It's 150 yards from the stands. I'm thinking they're going to let people come out on the grass and they'll all be standing around the thing. And we get out there, and there were barriers around the stage.

"I'm like, 'Can we move these barriers and let people get closer?'

"The guy looked at me and said, 'We don't let anybody on the grass.'

"So the nearest person is like half a football field away in this stadium that seated about 70,000 people -- and there were about 20,000 people there. And the PA they had was basically like the kind you'd have at a wedding. Plus, Charlie and Billy were the softest rhythm section in jazz. So we did our best, but that was a pretty rough night. It was just surreal and wrong."

— Pat Metheny

owlcity_a_600Owl City

Adam Young is the sole brainchild behind Owl City, a poppy electronica project created by the Minnesota-bred artist as a means to thwart his bouts with insomnia. Young attained a massive buzz through online grassroots networking and two indie albums before finally inking with Universal Republic. Owl City's ensuing major label debut, "Ocean Eyes," featured the No. 1 hit "Fireflies," which went quadruple platinum.

"The worst show I ever played was at a local county fair in rural Iowa. They had the bands playing in a smelly old hog barn with actual hogs rooting around. Nobody showed up so it was just us and the porkers. It was intense. Actually, now that I think of it, it might've been the best show I've ever played."

— Adam Young, Owl City