By: Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato
Day 5: Show 3- Dimapur, India
Here we are again, another perilous cab ride winding through a spider web of unmarked city streets to the venue- a stadium.
I had an anxiety attack on the way to the gig, worried that with all the chaos following the last two gigs, if I managed to get left behind after the show I’d be so SOL. This isn’t my first third world country. I’ve been to some dicey places, in some precarious situations, but I am honestly starting to feel like I am never going to see civilization again, like I’m stuck here and there’s no way out. I’d have no chance of finding a U.S. embassy. The closest one is probably five hours away by plane, and I wouldn’t even have a clue how to get to the airport and where the one flight/day could take me. We have no information. Our tour manager has been fighting to get anything out of the promoter since day one. We don’t get our flight info until the last minute, we have no idea where our hotels are and there are no contact numbers. It’s like a bad made for TV movie, “ Lost abroad” , or “Lost, a broad”, it could go either way.
We get to the gig and have a whole new set of problems to sort out. The tour motto has become OMFG! Suddenly, things that were working the day before, have decided not to work today and for no apparent reason. I’ve had my head buried in what would be the equivalent of Fisher Price’s ‘my first digital console’. It would not be considered a touring level console in any country and no one on the audio crew seems to know the first thing about operating it. I’m stuck with it because it’s the only thing that would fit on the tiny, little plane that brought the gear. The computer keeps locking up, buttons aren’t functioning, on board effects aren’t working, with all of that going on, I’m suddenly feeling like a sideshow exhibit.
The FOH riser is filling up with local crew guys coming up here to watch the ‘chick’ do sound. I didn’t even notice until the lead singer pointed it out from the stage during sound check. Over the microphone he asked if I was ok, commenting that FOH looks like a refuge boat that’s about to sink. I had been oblivious up to that point, like I said, I had my head buried in the console. I look around and think, ‘ok whatever’ and suddenly remember what someone said to me right before the show in Bangalore. A young man in his 20’s, while exclaiming how happy they were to have the band come to India, said “you were in the paper”. I assumed he meant the band and commented that yes, the band is quite popular and well liked. However, he corrected me- “No, YOU were in the paper. “They were talking about the band having a woman sound engineer.” Evidently it’s quite uncommon if not unheard of in India for women to do this, something that will become even more apparent later tonight during the show, when a few songs into the set, there starts to be a lot of traffic coming and going from the FOH platform. It’s only after about the 5th flash bulb goes off in my face that I realize the local crew guys are quietly sneaking up on the riser to stand beside me and have their picture taken with me while I mix. I hadn’t been paying attention because, well first- I was trying to mix the show, second- I was completely focused on keeping my console working since it decided to crash again five minutes before the band walked on stage, and lastly because I was a bit preoccupied with what my system tech told as the band was walking on stage.
The minute we started to roll our intro music, my system tech said that it was really incredible for us to be playing here. “No bands (except Bruce Dickinson), ever come to this part of India.” When I ask why, he tells me “it’s a tribal town with several warring factions, very unsafe, very violent, and a lot of killings.” I think to myself- this is just getting better by the minute. He continues- “the king made a deal with the local tribal leaders. He paid them off to stop fighting long enough for this show to happen.” Wonderful, that makes me feel so much better as I’m looking at this crowd of about 15,000 that has already managed to collapse the bamboo barricade. I’m told there are another 5000 people outside who want in, but the venue is at capacity, and they won’t let anymore people in. Things could turn really bad in an instant, there are very young looking military guards armed with rifles everywhere. They are supposed to be controlling the crowd but they seem more interested in watching the show.
Well at least we have that going for us, the audience is united in the fact that they love the music so maybe things will be ok. We manage to get through the show without incident and without any equipment failures, although the barricade has seen better days. It’s time to head back to our accommodations for another long night. The crew finishes packing up our bits of gear and loading it in the truck. We’re guided into our designated vehicles for the drive back and while the monitor engineer and I sit in our car and watch all but one of the others drive away, we’re a bit puzzled. After we’ve been sitting in the car for about 10 minutes, we ask the promoter’s assistant why we are waiting. She explains that we have to wait for the equipment truck. One car must travel in front and one behind otherwise we risk the driver of the truck driving off with our gear. It’s turned into complete bedlam backstage and outside of the gate. The pedestrian and vehicle traffic makes it look like the city is under orders to evacuate immediately! The truck can’t get out, so we cannot leave. Finally, after about 30 minutes of inching our way through the crowds we are on our way. There really hasn’t been one minute of this leg of the tour that hasn’t been a complete cluster F@$K.
When I arrive back at the ‘hotel’, I find that my room hasn’t been cleaned. There are still dead bugs everywhere, and my little balcony door remains covered with those disgusting silverfish looking things. I discover that everyone eles’s room has been cleaned and ask the manager if she could have mine taken care of while we’re having dinner. I mention all the dead bugs and the TM tells me that he had her come and spray his room the night before. After dinner Carolyn, the manager/owner, follows me back to the room with a can of bug spray. She sprays the doors, windows, any opening to the outside and asks me if the odor of the bug spray is going to bother me. I respond ‘not as much as the bugs’. The TM figures out how to get the AC unit in my room working to which I promptly set on the ‘icebox’ setting. Success! I manage to have a bug and gecko free night and actually get some sleep.
Day 6 Travel day to Bangkok, Thailand via Kolkatta, India
We depart for the Dimapur airport with tentative anticipation to be heading to Thailand. Bangkok will feel like being in NYC after what we’ve experienced over the past week.
The first leg of our flight is over, and we arrive in Kolkata ( Calcutta ) India for our 9 hour layover. As we’re waiting in baggage claim for our luggage we notice several rats scurrying about the potted plants. Our TM and one of the promoters assistants head over to the cargo area to claim our 18 pieces of band gear and get it checked in for our connecting flight to Bangkok. Thankfully, the promoter has booked us hotel rooms so we don’t have to spend the 9 hours wandering the hallways of the Calcutta airport. Once more, we are hurried into a fleet of taxis to be taken to the hotel. The monitor engineer and myself climb into one cab and our driver starts pulling away before we are sure he knows our destination. We have no idea where we are going, so we make him stop until we can get a hotel name and address from one of the promoters assistants.
The cab ride from the airport to the hotel is far more hair raising than the scariest thrill ride at Six Flags. I will never be scared in a New York city cab again. We have had so many near miss, head on, and sideways collisions it will be amazing if we make it out of here alive. I mean, what do you expect when everyone is driving anywhere and everywhere, there is absolutely no concept of driving in your own lane. It’s like drive wherever you can and just dodge the oncoming traffic!!! We make a sharp turn and head the wrong way down a one way street, before finally pulling up to the hotel.
Check in is somewhat chaotic, as the promoter’s assistant is just randomly handing our room keys. I open the door to my room, praying that there is internet or at the very least a real phone. It’s been over a week since I left home and still have not been able to contact my husband or anyone else to let them know I am still alive. It’s not very clean but there aren’t any bugs or geckos, a step up from wherever we just were. I’d love to take a shower before the next flight but after a peak in the bathroom which looks more like a utility closet, I decide against it. There is an actual telephone on the nightstand and I cross my fingers as I pick it up to call home. Success! While on the phone with my husband I hear what sounds like gunfire outside my window. It can’t be gunfire right? It must have been a car backfiring or something. I find out later from our TM, that it was most definitely gunfire, as he witnessed it first hand upon his arrival to the hotel.
He seemed fairly unfazed by it and goes on to tell me about what happened to him at the airport. When he and the promoter’s assistant went to claim our band gear, they spent the next several hours at the airport cargo area, only after being led to a deserted hanger, where things turned sour. He described it as a scene right out of an Indiana Jones movie-the ‘officials’ refused to give him our equipment, insisting it was not ours. Despite all the proper paperwork and documentation, what it boiled down to was a ‘pay off’. After getting nowhere, the promoter’s assistant and the official in charge started arguing and moved away from the TM and the rest of the cargo agents. The TM said it started to get ugly and he suddenly found himself surrounded by men with assault rifles. They formed a circle around him, which continued getting smaller and smaller until he felt certain he wasn’t coming out of there alive. Finally, the two arguing agreed on a price and the TM was allowed to leave with our gear. Nice place. I’m counting the hours until we leave.
When we get back to the airport at midnight, we are approached by two little children. A boy and girl, that can’t be more than 3 and 5 years old. Shoeless and begging, I hand over a couple candy bars that I had in my bag. I had been told that children are put on the streets to beg and have to give whatever money they get to the parent or guardian. If you give them a toy, candy, or food it is something they can enjoy. It didn’t seem to matter, they run off to the bushes and are back within minutes asking for money. They are about the same age as my niece and nephew and it’s gut wrenching to imagine the hard life they endure. This trip has been incredibly intense mentally, emotionally, and physically for all of us. As we wait to board the plane, we’re all talking about how this experience is going to be with us for a long time. Finally on board, the entire touring party lets out a huge sigh of relief as the plane is wheels up at 2am for another show day in Bangkok tomorrow.
Day 7, Bangkok Thailand
We arrive safely in Thailand and although I would normally be a little uncomfortable riding in a van speeding down the highway in rush hour traffic, I find myself with total lack of concern. After all, we’re not dodging oncoming traffic, cows, and pedestrians, AND the vehicles are all actually going in the same direction- what a concept. We get to the hotel for a quick nap before load in. A hotel with all modern amenities, clean rooms, no bugs, 24 hour plumbing and electricity. Sweet relief. I would have been happy with a motel six at this point, so this is paradise. I take the longest shower I ever have in my life and finally feel somewhat human again.
Finally we have an easy gig. We have all of the equipment we had advanced and everything works, including the local crew. We’re out of the woods, it’s going to be smooth sailing from here on out. We survived, and at some point I’m sure we’ll all be able to laugh about the ‘Indian experience’ but it’s going to be a very long time before I want to eat curry again.