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Nightmare notes: Local musicians recall live performances that turned the spotlight into the scary

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 29, 2020

By Johnathan Curley The Spokesman-Review

There’s nothing better for a musician than performing live, but that doesn’t mean those gigs are guaranteed good times. And the musicians probably wouldn’t want it any other way.

“It’s different every time,” said Spokane Valley-based singer-songwriter Olivia Vika, 17, who has amassed more than 200,000 listens on Spotify since February with her two released songs. “There’s definitely been a fair amount of scary gigs.”

For Vika, one of those scary gigs came in the form of her first solo show at the Bartlett in downtown Spokane three years ago.

“A music mentor of mine, Sean Burgett, asked me to play after he heard me sing, and for some wild reason, even though I’d never performed before, I said yes immediately,” Vika said. “I had never performed in front of anyone before, and I didn’t know what I was going to play. I asked my friends and family, and they all said I should play ‘Liability’ by Lorde.

“So, I got that song down, and the whole time I was just stressing at the Bartlett in the back. I was, ‘Why did I do this? What am I doing? I’ve never done this before. I’m only doing one song, this is crazy. Are people going to like me?’ I got onstage, and there was a full crowd, and they were all just looking at me, and it was completely silent.

“I started strumming all alone, just me and my guitar, just took it chord by chord, and my heart was racing. It was terrifying, but the energy felt amazing, and I finished the song, and the crowd went wild. That was probably one of the scariest moments of my life, just putting myself out there for the first time.”

In retrospect, Vika said, “That gig taught me that I can overcome anything and that fear is honestly a liar … and that music is definitely one of the biggest passions in my life.” Vika is now gearing up for the release of her first album, “Curse of the Passionfruit.”


Local hip-hop artist Jango was forced to win over a capacity-crowd opening for MadeinTYO at the Cub Senior ballroom at Washington State University with half of the venue’s speakers blown out.

“I get on the stage, my first song comes on, and I guess the entire left side of the speaker system that’s making noise for the crowd was completely blown out, and I had no idea this was happening because my monitors were perfect, so I couldn’t even hear how bad the bass was hitting or how disrupted and jacked up it was,” Jango said.

“All I could see was the whole left side of the crowd was not moving. They were not moving at all, and it’s 1,500 people in this huge ballroom auditorium that they utilize for their shows. … I’m communicating with my manager because I’d seen her in the sound room, and she basically was, ‘Yo, the sound is out, the sound is out.’ I was, ‘Yo, what is going on.’

“I think people started to notice, and literally two huge groups of people were just starting to leave. They were just walking out mid-performance, and literally I didn’t know why they were leaving until the end of my performance. Imagine being up there onstage and performing and just thinking people aren’t feeling what I’m doing to the point I believe I even ended my set early.”

Jango has since racked up a fierce local following and a widespread audience on Spotify and SoundCloud, with his latest single, “Espresso and Shine,” dropping on both streaming services on Friday.

Lindsay Johnston

Lindsay Johnston, the leading woman behind rock unit Vanna Oh!, had a similar fight with her equipment when a rogue Fender guitar amp and a whipping storm soured a solo gig in Coeur d’Alene in 2019.

“This neighborhood had hired me to play for their neighborhood thing on the lake, and they had set up a stage and the sound equipment as best as they could, but they weren’t professionals at it, and they really wanted me to play through this old, vintage Fender amp from I think the ’60s,” Johnston said. “I played the first set, and it was fine.

“And then for the second set, I was, ‘OK, I’ll give this amp a go.’ I plugged my guitar into the amp and I start playing, and then I get a serious shock through the microphone. I kind of stopped playing, but it was also, ‘OK, the show must go on. What was that? Was that just static? That was weird.’ I let the guy in charge know. ‘Something shocked me,’ I said.

“He’s said, ‘Oh, it won’t happen again.’ So, I keep playing, and then I get another really bad shock, probably the worst shock I’ve ever had in my life, through the guitar. I think it was because the amp was so old, it didn’t have any grounding in it, so I think it was throwing off all the electrical currents.

“Then this storm starts rolling in, and it was the worst. I just ended up putting the guitar down. I was crying because the shock scared and hurt me so bad, and then this storm rolled in and everything had to be torn down ASAP because lightning came in and there were 60 mph winds. It was crazy.”


Stoner-doom metal trio Merlock didn’t get the chance to battle their equipment since they were locked out of the venue they were supposed to be playing in 2018. “We didn’t know what was going on,” said Merlock vocalist/guitarist Taylor D. Waring of a 2018 gig at the Checkerboard Bar. “We showed up, and we couldn’t get in contact with anyone.

“We tried to go to other bars to see if they would let us play there,” Waring said. “We ended up at Bennedito’s getting wasted, and then all of the sudden it was 9:30 p.m., and they were, ‘The show is still on, the bartender is here.’ Merlock has been relatively lucky partially because we got this going when we’re all a little older.

“All of my horror stories of showing up to weird places are from a while ago. At that point, it was important for us to take whatever show came our way to cut our teeth and just grind it out. We love performing … and it’s just a professional decision at the end of the day.”

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