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That time James Gordon swore he’d never play a holiday gig for kids again


I arrive to play for the children of the Knights of Columbus. The party is from noon ‘til four.

The kids are already blasted on sugar by the time I arrive, and are phenomenally bored with the Octoberfest polka trio that proves to be
my opening act.

I introduce myself to the band, and they start to laugh – turns out all three of them are named James. (They are all in their 60s and
play accordion, chord organ, and electric guitar, and their repertoire seems to be mostly Bavarian Elvis.)

The organizer has other cards up his sleeve to keep the kids amused till my ‘feature spot.’ All 200 of them are issued with balloons in the
shape of swords, perhaps in tribute to their standing as “children of Knights.”

War breaks out quickly, balloons breaking across faces all over the room. The young warriors form raiding parties, charging the small weapon-free zone in the corner with devastating results, while the grown-up Knights charge drinks to their tab at the bar.

“Never fear,” says the organizer. “I’ve got a clown that is going to calm them down before you go on.”

I don’t often hear “calm” and “clown” in the same sentence, though it’s pleasantly alliterative. Her zany antics only incite them to more violence. Their balloons all burst now, they turn to hurling popcorn and spilling pop as their next line of assault.

Undaunted, the organizer plays his ace. He says to the kids, “OK, gather ‘round and listen to the folksinger. After he’s done, you’ll all get your presents!” The presents are stacked a mile high behind me. I am the only thing separating them from their goal. I am the enemy.

Sensing my panic, he whispers to me, “Don’t worry, I have one more surprise: I’ve hired Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street to make a special appearance!”

I asked him when this dynamic duo was going to do their bit, and what their “act” was.

He says “Oh, they’ll just walk around while you are singing. The kids really like that!”

And so they do. Bert and Ernie are mobbed just after I launch into “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and the kids continue the adulation of their heroes right through my brief yet endless set. Some kids are able to use B and E as decoys to make sneak attacks on the presents behind me.

I say to myself, “Just play until it looks like you’ve earned three hundred bucks,” but it feels like that after 10 minutes. I generously add another 15 minutes of fun to my completely ignored program and finish just as I am over-run by the present-seeking hordes.

I escape unnoticed in a hurricane of wrapping paper, vowing to never do something like that again.

I have made that vow about 50 times now.


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