Holiday Gigging: A Moveable Feast

Santa Bassist

Photo by OldSacks

Hear ye, hear ye, it’s holiday time again. Time to gear up for big dinners, excessive shopping, family gatherings – and yes – holiday gigs. It’s time for celebration, relaxation, days off from work, and days in cleaning and preparing for company. As a professional musician, the holidays have quite an impact, both on the music that is played and the types of gigs to be had. Christmas music gets added to the set and it’s possible for someone to request “Jingle Bell Rock” during your set of Klezmer tunes. There are fewer out-of-town gigs (except for holiday tours) and most of the players are out and about, hoping to pick up work.

Depending on the style of music that you play, this can be the slowest season of them all, or the busiest. It’s the one time of year when corporations push for holiday parties, college students are home and ready to reunite with their high school friends, and best of all, people make special plans to celebrate the New Year.

If you happen to play the club scene, you’ve probably got most of your holiday dates in order, which means that you’re working the night before Thanksgiving, most weekends, and definitely on New Year’s Eve. Great! Now you can afford to pay your bills and buy a few presents. As you’re reviewing the calendar dates, you get a call from your friends. They’re inviting you to join them at their New Year’s Eve party. And then your mother inquires about your plans for the holidays and, of course, she expects you to be over for Christmas Eve dinner. Although you’d love to join your friends on their partying adventures and relive the family traditions of gift giving and turkey carving, you might not be able to swing it. You’ve got a gig.

Now what? You’ve always celebrated with your family and friends, but duty calls and you’re in no position to turn down work. The time has come to exercise your flexibility. Although the concept of “tradition” involves doing the same thing year after year, you may have to bend the rules a little. Perhaps the annual Christmas Eve dinner is called for 3pm instead of 6pm so that you have enough time to get to your gig. Maybe you can make plans to visit friends on New Year’s Day for a late brunch since you won’t be able to join on New Year’s Eve. Take the initiative and make a plan that allows you to spend time with the important people in your life while still working as a musician.

And don’t restrict this concept to the winter holidays… there are plenty of other occasions when you’re faced with the same predicament. You may have a rehearsal scheduled on your birthday, lessons to teach on the same day as the annual family reunion, or a wedding gig on the same day as your cousin’s wedding. While you may not be able to get out of working, allow your celebration to be flexible and make your best judgment call when you can’t move things around.

On the brighter side of things, having a holiday gig can be a really great way to celebrate, even though you’re “working.” Think about it this way… you’re probably in a bar, or at a cool concert venue, you’re hanging with the other folks in the band (who are hopefully your friends), and you may even get a good meal out of it. Providing entertainment on night when people are determined to enjoy themselves, such as New Year’s Eve, can be quite rewarding. The crowd is ready and willing to party, you get to celebrate by doing what you love, and you get paid at the end of the night. That sounds pretty good to me. As long as the other people in your life (family and friends) are willing to be cooperative and have an early dinner, you’ll have your cake and eat it too.

One last thing to remember is that musicians aren’t the only ones who deal with holiday conflicts. Retail workers usually have to work on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, bartenders and restaurant servers have to clock in on New Year’s Eve, and pilots flying on Christmas morning are definitely not spending it with their loved ones. The dilemma arises from the fact that we want to be professionals but we also have personal lives. The goal is to find the balance between the two—to work when it’s necessary and to find the right place and time for our moveable feast. So, whether your New Year’s Eve celebration occurs at 1 in the afternoon, on New Year’s Day, or a week later, allow me to wish you happy holidays and another year of good grooves.

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!

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  1. “by doing what you love, and you get paid at the end of the night. ” I almost cry when I’ve read this. I live in Barcelona , Spain… Here most of the times if you want to play you must to pay to the owner of the club/venue. The crowd is your responsability . There’s no promotion or support from the club. If nobody comes to the gig , your money is lost. Sad but true.

  2. Nicely done, Ryan. Balance seems particularly difficult in this instant modern world. I hope your holidays are filled joy.

  3. My response to my friends wanting me to celebrate NYE with them would be to suggest that they have their celebration at the gig I am playing, assuming it is not a private function or in another town that’s too far for them to travel.

  4. I made the decision long ago to never play Christmas music gigs ever again. Regardless of money, I do not enjoy the music enough to learn it nor deal with its headaches. I would rather take the month off and celebrate the holidays or play regular gigs.