Beats in the heat
From the steamy sunsets in Zilker Park for jam-packed Blues on the Green concerts to all manner of outdoor summertime shows and even into the early-fall Austin City Limits Music Festival, the musicians of our city face months of high-temperature gantlets every year.
It’s one thing to get to play in the sun; it’s another to be playing music in the sun (with apologies to Steve Miller), when the mercury is well into the 90s or even 100-plus. We talked to 10 musicians about memories they have of melt-away summer gigs, and ways they’ve tried to beat the heat.
Mobley: My best “it was so hot” story is probably from playing ACL Fest. I’m sure nerves and fatigue played a role in this, but it was an extraordinarily hot day. So hot that the keys on my keyboard burned (yes, literally burned) my fingers when I started playing the first song. I was sweating buckets the whole time, but I mostly felt all right until the very last song. It ends with me singing at the top of my lungs and doing some pretty intense drumming.
During the final chorus, I felt myself swooning and my vision started going blurry. I held it together long enough to finish the song and start walking off stage, but the next thing I remember is waking up on the floor backstage. Ever since then, I’ve taken hydration pretty seriously. I check the weather ahead of time during the summer and start drinking extra water the previous day.
>> RELATED: Stay safe in the Texas heat with these tips
Suzanna Choffel: The one gig I like to brag about as far as the heat goes was definitely Blues on the Green in August 2011. I opened for the Old 97’s, and it was that crazy summer of record-breaking temps. It was 106 degrees, but I think the sound guys said it was more like 110 on that black stage facing into the sinking (not fast enough) sun!
I remember at one point coming up from bending down to rock out on my guitar and feeling like, “Oh (expletive), I’m going to pass out!” I had never been so red and sweaty and spent from a show. One of my guitar cables almost felt like it was melting, it was so hot and soft. But I think the thing I was even more blown away by was that something like 7,000 people showed up! Austinites are hardcore when it comes to music. Pretty awesome.
Greg Gonzalez (Grupo Fantasma, Brownout, Money Chicha): (There are) too many to count, honestly. We played in Iraq in a sandstorm and also during a 120-degree day, for starters. I think promoters should always provide a covered stage during summer events. Of course, that doesn’t help in the inevitable “sunset right in the face” situation, which frequently occurs.
To deal with (the heat), I recommend hydration and hats. Also, a bandanna is your best friend. Sometimes I use two or three, for the wrist and head for sweat control — slippery hands on the ax or sweat in the eyes is no fun — but also you can wet a bandanna or towel and put it on your neck to help stay cool.
In extreme cases, I've also just worn a towel or bandanna draped over my head. Keeps me from seeing well, but sometimes it's the only way to prevent sunburn or sweat blinding. Finally, always have sunglasses ready. I wish I could be one of those guys who could perform in flip-flops, tank tops and shorts, but that's not the kind of band I play in.
Ray Prim: I avoid outdoor shows like the people on “The Walking Dead” avoid the walkers. I won't do them between the months of April and September. There's only two shows I'd be willing to play during that time, period: Blues on the Green and Shady Grove.
I played Shady Grove during July once. Hot as hell. So hot the Devil asked to sit in on harmonica for a couple of songs. He was actually pretty good. Outside of that — I ain't playing outside. I got a day job just so I could turn down hell-on-earth gigs.
Tameca Jones: I have one show that is seared into my memory. Soundcheck for Blues on the Green in 2014 was one of the hottest stages I ever stepped on. The sun was power-drunk that day. All of my band members I played with that day remember how hot that soundcheck was. I don't remember the time of day, but the sun was at its peak. In 2014, I still had my curly mane of hair, which is a death sentence in Texas summer. Texas summer was my No. 1 reason for chopping my hair off.
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Playing in Texas in the summer, certain gigs feel like you could fry an egg on my head. And certain days are shower, soundcheck, shower, gig, shower.
Topaz McGarrigle (Golden Dawn Arkestra): We have many struggles with the heat because of our costumes, but as I like to say, on our home planet, temperatures are much higher so we have learned to transcend our physical discomfort! Also, we basically just go tour in Europe every summer now. Good way to beat the heat.
Dave Crawford (Poi Dog Pondering, now lives in Chicago and is Wrigley Field’s video board operator): Many scorching Liberty Lunch gigs. I do remember early rehearsals in Patrice Sullivan’s house up in her (expletive) attic in the middle of summer. Patrice was too hippie for air conditioning, and it was torturous. We dealt with it by drinking copious amounts of ice-cold Shiner Bock.
Stephanie Bergara (Bidi Bidi Banda): We survived the soundcheck at Blues on the Green last year! We kept hearing from bands who played before us and the stage crew that if we could survive soundcheck at Zilker Park, we could survive anything. Soundcheck happened at 4 p.m., directly in the sun, and it was over 100 degrees that day.
Kim Longacre (Reivers): I remember touring in our first van. It had no air conditioning. One summer, we were leaving New York after some New Music Seminar shows for D.C. Something went haywire with our gas pedal and John (Croslin) and Garrett (Williams) rigged up a way to feed the gas to the engine with a clothesline tied to a drumstick for the driver to pull through the engine thingie, which was normally covered up — a big lump between the driver and front-seat passenger — but had to be uncovered in order for someone to manually pull gas to the engine.
The driver looked like he was water-skiing (it was pretty tricky too, as it was a three-on-the-tree standard). I believe even during winter it would have been hot. Driving toward the Mason-Dixon line in the middle of summer with the engine exposed inside our van was something out of “Apocalypse Now.”
To relieve the heat on normal hot drives, we might open a Wet-n-Dry moist towelette (thanks to Cindy Toth) or hope the "beer of cooler" had some water we could soak a (cloth) with which to cool necks and foreheads. John once pulled the van to the shoulder and jumped out and over a barbed-wire fence in order to dive into a stock pond.
WELCOME TO HEAT WEEK
When you live in Austin, extreme heat's a given. For the next week, we're bringing you a series of stories about all the ways high temperatures affect our way of life beyond the weather forecast.
Essential safety tips for hot weather: stay hydrated; watch for the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke; and never leave kids or pets in the car. If you or someone you encounter seems to be experiencing health problems related to the heat, take immediate action to cool down and call 911. For more tips, go to austintexas.gov.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Family Eldercare's annual Summer Fan Drive delivers fans to seniors, adults with disabilities and families with children who need heat relief and meet the drive's eligibility requirements. Find donation and volunteer information at summerfandrive.org.