This story is true, but with altered names.
I went to play music at an open blues jam recently. I arrived at the club expecting to see Percy, a friend and fellow pianist. Sure enough, he was there and had already set up his rig.
Every keyboard player has a rig, and it varies from simple (and easy to carry) to mind-bogglingly complicated and big. I tend towards simple, and Percy weighs in a little above average. There's widespread camaraderie among keyboard players, mostly because there aren't so many of us, and because our playing styles vary so radically that the competition tends to be friendly. If we run into each other at jams or gigs, we tend to compare rigs in the way that men compare cars.
I was familiar with Percy's usual rig: a full-sized and heavy keyboard on a regular stand, a folding bench, and a huge amp on wheels (he also carries a second full keyboard in his car). This particular night he had replaced the amp with a big PA head and an even bigger speaker cabinet. It had taken him a while to set it all up.
There is usually a host band running the jam. This band will start things off, then manage the coming and going of guest musicians, then finish the night. It is generally understood that some of their equipment is available for use by the guests, but it is still polite to ask. When the host band does not have a keyboard, as was the case this night, a guest can set his up, but he is not usually required to share it.
Percy had had a bad experience at this club. His keyboard is specialized and expensive, and someone had once turned it on and started playing without his permission. He had gotten pretty sore and told the manager that his keyboard was to be, henceforth and forevermore, off limits. Percy and I are friends, and I've played his keyboard before at other venues, but tonight he was apologetic in explaining that, for the sake of consistency, the keyboard was still off limits, even to me.
Here's my rig for open jams: an itty-bitty keyboard controller on a regular stand, with the sound provided by a Hammond organ module velcroed inside the stand. I play it standing up, with a volume pedal. I run it through the house PA, so there's no amp. It's simple and effective, and small enough to set up and break down quickly, and not get in the way. Nonetheless, in this small club, it would have been one keyboard too many, but I thought I would ask Vinny, the manager, anyway.
The host band this night was, as it often was, Vinny's band. He also books all the weekend bands, and manages the open jam each week. Vinny is a true crazymaker. He means well, but he has too much energy and too little judgement. One time he pulled me off the keyboard in the middle of a song so a pal of his could play. Put a guy like that in charge, add a little alcohol, and you have a recipe for a lot of upset musicians.
Vinny seemed to have forgotten about Percy's off-limits policy, and since there was yet a third keyboard player in the house, Vinny declared that Percy's rig had to be either shared or removed. Strong words were passed between Percy and Vinny; there was pushing, but no fisticuffs, and Percy began breaking down his unused rig. All this was happening while music was being played. I felt bad - it took every bit as long for Percy to remove his rig, with smoke coming out his ears, as I knew it had taken to set up. Maybe if I hadn't said anything to Vinny this wouldn't have happened, but I understood that this was about some unhappy history between the two men. As my clear-eyed wife explained, I had stepped on one of Vinny's land mines, and it wasn't my fault.
So finally it was time for Raoul, the other keyboardist, to set up. I had never met Raoul before, so I watched closely as he assembled his rig: full-sized keyboard, stand, bench, laptop computer, MIDI/firewire interface, mixing board, amp head packed with effects, giant speaker cabinet. Assembly took as long as you could imagine, plus endless fiddling with the computer. Finally, Raoul's piano sound emerged from the speaker. It sounded terrible.
Vinny wanted to make amends, so he quickly invited me up on Raoul's keyboard. I took my position on the bench, dropped my hands on the keys, and there was no sound. Someone had inadvertently pulled the plug to Raoul's rig. When he reconnected, there was still no sound. He twiddled knobs, messed with the computer, switched things off and on, to no avail.
"Listen, I'm sitting right over there. Just let me know when it's working," I said. Musicians got up on stage, played a few songs, were replaced by other musicians who played a few more songs. Finally, I could hear that the piano was working again, and Raoul signaled to me. I sat down at the keys and jumped into the song being performed, but something was wrong. There was a delay between when I hit the keys and when there was sound. About a quarter of a second, I guessed. I tried again, and the drummer glared at me. "Raoul, what's with the delay?" I asked. He fiddled with the computer. Now the delay was about one second long, which was entertaining but no help. "Listen, I'll be sitting right over there. Let me know when you get it fixed."
Vinny was concerned; "Why aren't you playing?" "I don't think he knows how to work his rig," I answered. But then Raoul waved me over. I sat and played, and there was the delay again. I looked at him, and he shrugged his shoulders. "I guess I've gotten used to it," he explained. My jaw dropped. I stared in disbelief. "You mean you play ahead of the beat by a quarter second?" I asked. Without waiting for an answer, I just said, "Well, thanks for trying man, but I can't play your keyboard."
So I was done for the night. Vinny had not redeemed himself, he just had gone from The Keyboard That No One Was Allowed To Play to The Keyboard That Was Impossible To Play. I wasn't upset. I don't get to witness karma working that quickly every night.