Nick Flora has toured for the past 13+ years with many different bands and as a solo artist in every conceivable place that music can be held. And a few inconceivable ones. He also hosts the podcast, “Who Writes this Stuff,” which, I am sorry to report, is coming to the end of its run. Also, he recently released an EP called Futureboy. Check it out here.
Welcome, Nick Flora, to “Sad Stories Told for Laughs,” a hard-hitting interview series in which artists tell sad stories for the delectation and amusement of Rabbit Room readers.
I have so many laughably sad stories!
Let’s say you play 20 shows. How many of them produce laughably sad stories?
Easily five to seven.
Wow. That’s more than I would have thought.
There are always moments in each show that aren’t great. And then sometimes it’s the whole shebang—the perfect storm.
But are you saying you get five to seven anecdote-worthy atrocities out of every twenty shows?
Yes for sure. I just got home from a ten-day stretch and there were at least two that come to mind.
I’ve heard it said that great stories happen to those who can tell them. There may be some of that dynamic at work here. Anybody who has seen you perform or heard your podcast knows you’re committed to storytelling.
It’s true. I’m in this for the experiences as much as the love of music. For sure.
In the taxonomy of humiliating artist stories, what are the main categories, in your opinion? “Odd Venue” is one category.
Odd venue is key for bad show stories.
That’s another one, yes.
That’s a big one. I’d rather have an angry audience than one that is just “meh.” One category could be “Audience Who Wasn’t Aware They Were About to Hear Music”
Oh, that’s a good one. What do you have from the “Audience Who Wasn’t Aware they were about to hear music” file?
The one that comes to mind was once in New Mexico I was booked to play for a local venue that was also holding a “Chess Night.” So I played live music for a room packed to the gills with middle-aged men and nerdy high schoolers trying their hardest to focus. That was fun. I violated the airspace of these guy’s favorite thing in the world! It was awful to the worst degree. I’ve never apologized so much during a set. I was apologizing MID song.
If it helps, they were as embarrassed as you were.
It doesn’t help, but thanks.
I used to find it very embarrassing to watch live music in a small venue. I actively avoided those situations.
Yeah it can be brutal.
I was always afraid the performer was needing or expecting something from me that I couldn’t give them.
Yeah for sure. Don’t make eye contact!
Anyways, I heard a pretty wild story about a gig you scheduled in Houston. Would you like to tell the Rabbit Room audience about it?
Oh man. It’s a whale of a tale, my friends. I was booked to play a small “dive bar” type venue in Houston in the summer of 2012, I believe. I saw on their website that it was a bit shadier of a venue than I normally play, but it also had the “cool hipster vibe” that is popular now. As in, they are purposely disheveled and whatnot. Plus, it was downtown Houston, like two doors down from a Panera, how bad could it be? When I arrived, I was alerted that a small group from a local church (the pastor was a fan of mine) was coming so I warned them ahead of time that it was a bit dicey. They didn’t seem to mind.
If it’s near the Panera, certainly it’s tame enough for a church group.
Right? Worst case scenario: the show is a bust, ten minutes later we are enjoying bread bowls. No problem there. So I talked to the bartender in this venue about the show and he had NO idea what I was talking about. There was no show scheduled. Great. Wonderful.
There’s a category: “Nobody Knows You’re Coming.”
Oh that’s a BIG category. I walk outside to call the promoter I’d been talking to that week, when I see part of the church group arriving, the pastor and the college minister. I explain my frustration to them and then I’m approached by somebody I assume is a homeless man. But it turns out he’s the promoter for the show and he tells me it’s been moved “upstairs.” I didn’t know there was an “upstairs” but I definitely had no desire to see it either.
Help me picture the scene . . . Is this a strip mall? A free-standing building?
It’s a downtown block. Old buildings, some renovated, most not. Right between the buildings there’s an alley. With an inconspicuous door that I pray we are not entering through. GUESS WHAT?
You go through the inconspicuous door.
Yes. So we walk thru the side alley entrance and up the stairs. Once inside there’s a small set of stairs, then a platform, then more stairs. My eyes are adjusting so I can’t see much, but I hear there is a commotion at the top. People, drink glasses clinking, a jukebox of some sort . . .
So far so good.
As we walk up the stairs, on the platform there are two mannequins that we have to squeeze past. I thought, this strange, but par for the course for the rest of the experience. As we brushed past them, my hand grazed one of them and it didn’t feel like hard plastic. It felt like synthetic skin. So odd. Gave me chills.
So we reached the top of the stairs and I see as my eyes adjust, that the room is full of about eighty people. There’s a carpet in the corner and a sound system. The promoter points to that area and starts telling me all about what’s going to happen that night. I nod along and as my eyes adjust completely, I realize that every single person in that room, all eighty or so, are completely naked. NUDE. Like, super naked.
Wait, what’s the difference between naked and super-naked?
The smiles on their faces. They were naked on purpose. With a purpose. And I had a bad feeling it was about to get worse. I finally find the words to ask the promoter what’s happening up here. He shrugs if off, and says “This? Oh, it’s Naked Tuesdays,” like it was a thing we’d all heard of before.
Apparently a nudist performance arts group rents out the place on Tuesday nights for their meetings. All of these people are completely normal looking too, like lawyers, or insurance agents. Mostly men, although there are a few women.
Did they know there was going to be music?
Oh, yes.They were a nudist performance dance group. So they were going to DANCE NAKED to my music.
Wait, where are the church people?
The church people are downstairs waiting on my word.
This is too much.
So, I’m flabbergasted. I am keeping my composure (I’m a professional after all).
You’d better be.
I realized that this was a bait and switch. He booked me downstairs but knew once I got there, he was going to move me up and I’d just have to deal with it. The venue apparently does this a lot.
This is nuts!
So he looked at me right in the eyes and said “So is all of this good with you?” in a very aggressive way. As in “it better be ok with you.” And I wanted to look at him and say “No! It’s dishonest and unprofessional! You’ve wasted my time! Good day sir!” then go get a bread bowl next door.
But what I did say was “Yeah, this all seems great. Where do I load in my guitar?” then I walked out to my car, had the church group follow me, explained everything to the pastor (who was crying laughing) and went back to my hotel.
So you left the naked people hanging.
You can’t explain to crazy people that they’re crazy. You just have to disappear and make them wonder if you even existed in the first place.
Was there a pile of clothes in the corner? People didn’t drive there naked, did they?
No clothes anywhere! Believe me, I looked!
I had heard from others that they’d been booked for this venue and it seemed shady so they said no. I was apparently too needy and was willing to play anywhere . . . for anyone.
Willing to play anywhere, for anyone . . . you’re getting at the heart of the humiliating story genre.
100%. There are lessons to be learned here. Mostly, don’t google “music venues in Houston, TX” and take the first one that comes up.
Does this even count as a humiliation story?
I was definitely humiliated. Until I realized how hilarious it is. I felt like I should’ve seen the signs. Not literal signs. I would have noticed “Naked Tuesdays.”
Nobody expects Naked Tuesdays. I think you can give yourself some grace there.
I have, truly.
How long did it take you to realize how hilarious this story is?
After the first retelling, about twenty minutes after I lived it.
So when musicians sit around swapping stories, is this the one you save for the grand finale?
Always. It’s the one when musicians sit around and tell bad show stories, I get called on the phone! I’ve told it a few times via speaker phone to a room of music pals.
I don’t doubt that one bit. I may even call you someday to tell it on speaker phone. Like when the family gathers for Thanksgiving.
I’d be happy to oblige
Families love a good naked story. I know mine does, anyway.
Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we’ve ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.