I was asked by industry website, DJ Tech Tools to write about my worst gig ever. You can find the post below.
Alex Nepa’s Worst Night Ever
This piece was perhaps the toughest thing I’ve ever done that’s required me to put words to a page.
I’m not big on looking back on things that I’d change in my past. Instead, I remember the failure and move on with the knowledge I’ve gained and hope not to repeat it. But since it was asked, let’s go back to 2004…
Young and hungry into my DJ career, I was called upon to play New Year’s Eve at a bar located in between Altoona and Johnstown, PA. The owners had hoped to draw a young college crowd that came home for winter break. The venue which usually hired bands, and was more than happy to pay me $450. At the time, this was my largest non-wedding payday ever.
Needless to say, I was pumped! The venue promoted me as a “DJ from Penn State.” They even purchased radio ads, and newspaper ads. Mind you, this was before social media, so I felt like a pretty big deal going in. As the weeks led up to the event, I prepped a lot. I got all the new and hot hip-hop tracks along with some dance music, and I prepared for what in my mind was the biggest event in my young career.
“When I arrived at the bar, I immediately had a bad taste in my mouth”
On New Year’s Eve, I packed my car with my gear, printed out my directions to the venue from Mapquest, and was on my way. I couldn’t wait! When I arrived at the bar, however, I immediately had a bad taste in my mouth.
Things are not always as they seem…
The bar was located inside of a dilapidated building in a very small, rural neighborhood. I distinctly remember the faded backlit Pepsi sign with the bar’s name on it. I also remember what felt like the steepest set of wooden stairs that led me to the second story bar where I’d be playing.
What I remember the most was walking in and seeing zero dance floor space. Instead, the entire venue was filled with folding picnic tables, complete with attached bench seating. To make matters worse, the packed bar was filled with guests in their 50’s and 60’s. Country music was blaring from the bar’s speakers, and I immediately knew that I was in for a long night.
“I think this is just our early crowd, I bet the college kids will come in around 11, you know how they are.”
The husband and wife venue owners met with me and shook my hand. As if they could read the look on my face, they reassured me: “I think this is just our early crowd, I bet the college kids will come in around 11, you know how they are.”
I proceeded to get set up and started my set. As a guy that also plays weddings, I’m a crowd reader. If my audience is 55-year-old country-folk, I’m going to play the best classic rock and country sing-along set they’ve ever heard, it’s just ingrained in my DJ DNA.
Thirty minutes into this thing, I had ‘em rocking. Was it the kind of set I’d want to personally play? No. But, I was doing my best and felt pretty good about myself until the male owner came over – and he was pissed.
Play this, not that
“I want you to play new music. We need to clear the regulars out for when the college kids come,” he said to me, clearly annoyed at the fact that I was playing for his customers. Immediately, I knew this wasn’t going to go well.
“We need to clear the regulars out for when the college kids come”
The crowd was rowdy, and they were not going to leave without being pissed off, and I knew that I was going to be on the receiving end of that.
And man, oh man, was I right about that.
The Night Takes A Turn
I transitioned the music to new and recurrent tunes: Usher, Lil Jon, Nelly, Outkast and pop hits like Britney and Pink. I was cursed at, threatened, and homophobic slurs were thrown my way. Mind you, this was the early 2000’s in rural Pennsylvania.
I was told to go back to where I came from. But, as dejected as I was, and as much as I knew better, I stayed true to the style I was asked to play. Slowly but surely, the crowd that was assembled to celebrate New Year’s Eve went about their night and left the bar.
As I continued to play, it was one of the worst feelings ever.
I had been verbally beaten up, and now I was playing in an absolutely empty room. As the clock ticked down to midnight and the New Year rang in, there were barely ten people left behind, sloppy drunk. I was getting the stink eye from the bar owners for not drawing the crowd they had hoped for.
“I had been verbally beaten up, and now I was playing in an absolutely empty room.”
Shortly after midnight, they reluctantly paid me and sent me on my way back home. I’ve played many bad gigs since this event, but this one will always stick with me because it could have been fine if I would have just stuck with gut and played to their regulars. Hell, they probably cost themselves three or four thousand dollars by playing an ego game, instead of working with what they had!
That was, by far, my worst night ever as a DJ.