It’s been a crazy few months for me. I’ve worked more shows than I can count- or even remember! Some big shows at large venues and some smaller ones at clubs. I really love them all- even the bands I’m not familiar with, but last Thursday night will be permanently etched into my top five. I had been trying to get on the schedule to work one of my all time favorite guitar player’s shows at The Capital Theater in Port Chester. Every time I asked, I was told I am next on the list…next….next…next. After weeks of waiting and asking, I finally got a call a couple of days before the show, asking if I am available to work AND come in early to work the meet and greet. I said, “Could I?? I will quit my day job if they don’t let me out early.”
I have been a fan of Steve Vai as long as I can remember. I never got to see him perform with Frank Zappa, but I saw him with David Lee Roth, Whitesnake, a few solo tours and more recently with Nuno Bettencourt, Zakk Wylde , Yngwie and Tosin Abasí on the last Generation Axe tour. He’s an amazing guitar player and he’s always seemed like a very cool guy- especially during Covid, with the YouTube videos he put out.
Being given the opportunity to see him up close and at a meet and greet was awesome. Let me make one thing clear- I am not a guitar player.Not even close. I started playing the drums at five years of age. Although I am miles from being a professional, it came pretty naturally to me, but I always loved the guitar…the music, the sounds…the many beautiful, different shapes and colors that have been created over the years…the ability to create music and songs anyplace you go…the coolness factor. I actually own a few, because I love them, and I’ve tried to play them, but sadly, I do not possess the gene that allows you to put your fingers on the correct strings at the proper time, so I’ve remained an unrequited lover of the instrument, admirer of those who possess the talent and fan of any music with an accomplished guitarist- and Steve Vai became a fast favorite of mine.
The first person I met from the tour was Steve’s son, Fire. Yes. Fire- and for the record, Steve did yell, “Fire!” Several times in a crowded room. Fire was a very nice young man who was frantically trying to get ready for the 70 plus fans coming to the meet and greet. I had some time to kill, so I offered to help Fire get organized, which involved prepping gift bags, moving merch out to the trailer and cleaning up the resulting mess. We had some nice conversations about music and no, he doesn’t play guitar much, although he’s a dead ringer for Steve when he was younger. He was refreshingly surprised when I asked him about his musical tastes and preferences, and not questions about his famous father. It was nice to hear him honestly say that his dad is his favorite musician now, though he wasn’t as appreciative of his talent when he was younger. I informed him that I saw his father perform several times before he was even born. I was enjoying the experience and conversation so much, I almost forgot about the main reason why I was there (besides work)- until Steve Vai walked briskly into the lobby. He is very skinny and unassuming, with much shorter hair than he (and most other older rock stars) once had. He did not burst into the room to meet his devoted fan who left his job four hours early to work his show, but to ask if we could keep it down because he was in the middle of an interview in the adjoining bar. Not really the introduction I had hoped for.
We finally got everything all set and his most devoted fans were lined up to enter the lobby of the theater. Fire asked if I could stay inside with him and I checked with my boss and he gave me the go ahead. We greeted the attendees and handed out the gift bags. Then Steve arrived. He is truly a master of his craft and musically, a freak of nature. He is remarkably intelligent and a bit of a philosopher, as well. I said hello as he entered the room and that was as much of a conversation as I would get to have with him. He spoke to his fans with sincerity and interest in their questions and stories. He talked a little about guitar technique and the music business and he spoke about life and happiness. He took pictures with them, with his guitar by his side and he was kind to everyone, even though everything was running late. Like I’ve said before, it’s always great when someone you admire turns out to be very cool when you meet them and not rude and arrogant an unappreciative of their fans.
The meet and greet was wrapping up and Fire was still hustling around, taking care of his dad and getting ready to move everyone into the theater for sound check. He had Steve’s beloved and infamous signature guitar, the Ibanez Jem he called, “Evo” in his hand. The beat up, old, white Ibanez guitar that Steve loves and abuses to make crazy, amazing thoughts come to life and turn them into music. He has many, many.,.MANY guitars and many versions of this model, but this was his favorite. Fire was calling to his brother, Julian to take the guitar. Julian was nowhere to be found. He looked at me, slightly panicked, as he had ten other things to do. I cautiously said, “Can I help?” He held the guitar out and asked me if I could bring it to the stage. Now, I know this is probably not a big deal to most people, but my musician friends know that this instrument is akin to Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat or BB King’s Lucille. With an expression of shock and excitement on my face, I gladly obliged and took the guitar by the neck and his guitar stand in my other hand, as I walked through the lobby, half expecting photographers to be shooting pictures like I was on the red carpet at the Oscars. Sadly, nobody cared. Even sadder yet, both of my hands were occupied, so I could not even discreetly take out my phone to sneak a quick selfie.
Still, I was in my glory carrying that magnificent instrument that created sone of my favorite guitar pieces ever. Slowly I walked down the long aisle, between the soon to be occupied rows of seats, carefully up the stairs and onto the stage. I then walked by his absolutely insane, newest creation, the Hydra- a triple neck guitar, including 7- and 12-string guitars, a half fretted 4-string, bass guitar and 13 harp strings. Literally, the old and the new, side by side. Sadly, one of his crew members rushed over to me and thanked me as I gently relinquished the guitar into his hands and walked off the stage and down the steps to the theater floor. I stopped for a moment to look at that hunk of beat up, rebuilt and beat up again and again magical instrument, knowing that in just a few hours, it will be in the hands of a master guitar player, who will play it like very few people in the world can.
I believe I am pretty good at and dedicated to my job, but this time when I took my place in front of the stage, I angled my chair, just a tiny bit more than usual, so I could see Steve out of the corner of my eye and get an occasional view of the jaw dropping antics going on behind me. Sometimes it’s almost as fun to watch the faces of the fans during the show, to see their amazement and love for the music and the musicians. Little did they know, they had me to thank for getting Steve’s guitar up to the stage- and not sprinting to my car to add it to my unused collection! No, I didn’t steal Steve Vai’s prized guitar and I didn’t get to have a nice private conversation with him, but at the end of the night, Fire thanked me with an autographed picture and a few other souvenirs, but in all honesty, the thrill of holding that legendary guitar was more than enough thanks for me.
5 thoughts on “A Jem of an evening…”
Great read Mike! So thrilled for you to have had this experience ♡
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Sometimes just being in the moment is enough. At Lime Rock, I saw Paul Newman race an incredible performance their. 78 years old at was on point on the track. With other fans, we waited for him to climb out of the car to acknowledge us. Of course Joann Woodward was there with her long gray hair, looked just like any other pretty lady. Later on as I walked back , a couple with a man conversing on a microphone were briskly walking on the other side of a taped area. They needed to cross where the tape was, so I lifted the tape, with out comment, and let them pass. To me , just to be in the moment and just having a legend just walk by was magical. I know the feeling you felt was great. Glad to see it went well for you.
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You get it Vic! I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had many similar experiences in the worlds of spots, entertainment and music- though, I never got to see Paul Newman!
Great read. I got to play EVO once in 2007, one of the best days of my life to say the least. Steve is a wonderful human being, kind, generous and not an ego to be found until he is on stage playing his heart out. It’s nice to hear you helped Fire as they seem to be understaffed on this tour trying to get by with the least amount of people as possible.
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