There have been a number of once in a lifetime-type events that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience as a professional musician. Most recently, it was to be a guest musician with The Polyphonic Spree on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The day was a whirlwind that all led up to a three minute and thirty second song!
First of all, we got word that The Tonight Show wanted us for sure just a week or so before the performance. While this was really exciting, I then began to think, “uh oh, I am playing the Nutcracker, I have jury duty, and I have final exams to administer and last lessons to teach!” What was I going to do? I can’t miss Jay Leno, but I also can’t skip out on my legal and institutional obligations and commitments either. Was there a way to work it all out?
YES. I am always about thinking YES before no when it comes to the seemingly impossible. So, I started brainstorming. Immediately, I deferred my jury duty summons to a later date, rescheduled my lessons and arranged to give my finals a few days early. I decided I could play my last gig on Sunday afternoon, catch an evening flight out to Los Angeles, spend the following day at The Tonight Show studio, play the show, hang out for a bit, then catch a red-eye back to Dallas in time for my acupuncture appointment on Tuesday morning and a full day of lessons…and, it all worked out!
So, now about the big day! Some of the ladies in the Spree and I took a car from our hotel to the studio and arrived around 9:15am. When we checked in, we all got visitor badges and were graciously escorted through the maze of hallways that is “backstage”. There were makeup rooms, hair rooms, lounges, wardrobe rooms, green rooms for the band in residence, green rooms for the talk show guests, and then finally, FOUR dressing/green rooms for us, The Polyphonic Spree. Each room had its own warmth and style to it that made it feel very comfortable. There was coffee, tea, danishes, and a refrigerator stocked with water, juice, and soda to greet us in the A.M. I set my stuff down, had a few bites of a bagel and a water and went promptly to the set.
There were easily ten huge, real, flocked Christmas trees, lights, shrubbery, and the most thoughtfully crafted multi-level stage I had ever seen for our band. Each band section had its own riser that gave each member plenty of room to be free to move around and play comfortably, all while Tim, our leader had the whole floor to move about. Space on stage is something we don’t take for granted since we often have to cram onto a stage that a four-piece band would find stifling.
I greeted my husband, Kelly Test, right away and found out they had pulled into the studio lot a few hours earlier, coming straight from Dallas on the tour bus. Kelly plays auxiliary percussion for the Spree, and he easily has the most equipment to unload and set up so, he usually scoffs (lovingly, of course) at my dinky set up, which is merely an XLR cable, delay pedal, power cord, and an 1/4 inch cable. Oh, and my horn and tambourine. I started getting my gear set up, when one of the show’s sound women came to help me with my microphone, which was a clip on mic. I hadn’t used one of those yet, but it was pretty user-friendly. She also got me connected to a DI box, and we started checking my sound. I had no signal going through with my pedal hooked up, so we ditched the pedal, and I went with dry sound to the house. We weren’t playing anything that really needed the delay, so it was no big deal to pare down the effects.
After setting up, we started running through the song we were going to perform, Happy Christmas, a John Lennon cover from our new Christmas album released in October 2012 called Holiday Dream, Sounds of the Holidays, volume 1. At 10:45am, we did a formal rehearsal and played through the song with sound about 5 times. Once everyone felt comfortable, we took a break for lunch and had to be back on set at 1pm.
Kelly and I took a stroll to the commissary for lunch and had salad and soup and caught up a bit since we hadn’t seen each other in a few days. When we came back to the dressing rooms, there was more food! This time, it was stuff for making sandwiches and awesome rolls and bread to make them with. Oh well, the salad was better for me anyway 🙂 1pm was quickly approaching, and we had to be fully dressed in costume so the cameramen could practice their angles and see what it would look like on camera. So, I got my robe on and met the rest of the band on set where we ran through the song a few times.
By 1:20pm, we were finished with the dress rehearsal and had until 4:55pm to get our hair and makeup done and do whatever else we needed. Personally, I needed my robe ironed, hair fixed, makeup done, and a few snacks. I was 21 weeks pregnant after all, and the baby needs nutrition! So, I dropped my robe off to the nice ladies in wardrobe, and they took care of it. I stopped back by one of the many danish and fruit trays and helped myself. And then I got my hair fixed by one of the hairstylists. He was a nice man from Montana who had been in LA for the last 26 years. He curled my locks and expertly placed my headband made by Pepinochic, or Natalie Young (Spree choirmember) in my hair.
Shortly after that, the most awesome makeup artist arrived to cater to our every need! She is a friend of Tim and Julie, our fearless leaders, and she was AMAZING. She gave me a few tips about my eyeshadow application, brows, and then airbrushed my foundation on. I have heard her words echo every time I put makeup on, which is every day, and I can’t thank her enough! After she finished my makeup, I was all set. AND I STILL HAD 2.5 HOURS BEFORE SHOWTIME. Ugh. What to do? I walked around and followed the sound of the cello. There, I found Miss Buffi Jacobs warming up and practicing, so I pulled out my horn and joined her. We had a little practice session together, and then I ate some more snacks! So, that filled up about 30 minutes. Now what? I just watched everyone else get their makeup done, talked to a few people, took some pictures, sat down, stood up, walked around. You get it. This is the hard part. Waiting for show time.
4pm finally came, and that’s when the taping of the show began. So, that was something to do- watch the show as it was happening! About 12 of us packed into one of the rooms and watched the show on the flat screen tv. We laughed where we were supposed to and chatted a bit during the breaks. Can someone pinch me? Am I really here right now?
Around 4:30pm, we all started lining up in the hallway leading to the set. By this time, Olivia Munn is being interviewed by Jay Leno, and everyone’s eyes are glued to the monitors. We can hear the live audience clapping and we then get in place on the set. There is a mechanical wall curtain that is down so the audience can’t see us. As we get set up, I use my trusted TrumCor practice mute to warmup some more and make sure my horn isn’t cold. I constantly empty my water, warmup, empty water, etc. The last thing I need is condensation in my horn going “pop, pop, POP!” on national television!
Alas, here it is- 4:55pm. The wall curtain lifts, Sean Redman and Buffi Jacobs kick it off on mandolin and cello, and vocals, guitar, and I are in! Here we go! We played the song and then came off the stage to do some promos with Jay, Gerard Butler, and Olivia Munn. After the promos, it appeared that there was a technical difficulty during our first performance, so we had to go back and perform the song again. The second time was even better than the first! And then, we were finished! Within 20 minutes, the beautiful Christmas trees were wheeled off set, lights were unplugged, and our winter wonderland began to melt away. Now, it was time to pack up and get out!
After packing up, we all headed back to the hotel and then went to a nice dinner. We were on such a high after a glorious day with lots of stage and lounging space, lots of food, lots of time, and great sound on and off the stage. It doesn’t get much better on a show day. Later, we met in the hotel lounge to hang out and wait for the show to air. Unfortunately, one of the other girls and I had to catch a ride to the airport and head home, so we missed it, but it was still a lot of fun to wait in anticipation with the rest of the Spree.
After taking a fairly empty flight home and sleeping the entire time, I arrived in Dallas at 6am and was home by 7am and watched the show on my DVR. After that, I took a cat nap and got on with the day. My once in a lifetime experience was a whirlwind and totally unforgettable!