It’s the time of year when many live bands will have opportunities to play outside in some cold weather. I know I’ve played outdoor New Year’s Eve gigs, gigs on outside decks at ski resorts and some sweet gigs outdoors at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. For a live band, it’s essential stagecraft to know how to deal with cold weather. I’ve played in temperatures well below freezing and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here’s a list of things you’ll want to consider when playing outdoor winter gigs. I’ll discuss each in more detail below:
- What type of stage will you be playing on?
- Will there be any stage heating?
- What types of clothes should you wear?
- How can you keep your hands warm?
- How do you care for your instruments in the cold weather?
First of all, it’s really not as bad playing outside in the winter as you might think. The key, as always, is preparation. The first thing you want to do is find out what type of stage you’ll be playing on. Will you be directly exposed to the elements or will you be under some type of canopy or cover? It’s important to find this out because knowing what type of covering will be over the band will affect several other decisions you’ll have to make when playing the gig.
If you’re going to be under some type of covering then you won’t have to worry about having waterproof tarps at the ready to cover your equipment in case of a major snowfall. If you’re going to be under the sky, then you need to be prepared for water and have tarps at the ready to cover your equipment should snow or rain start to fall. Most equipment can handle a few drops of rain or some flakes of snow, but if it starts coming down hard it’s better to cover your equipment and cut your losses.
Another thing you’ll want to find out is if there will be any stage heating. I’ve played under those big, umbrella shaped propane heaters and they were really nice. I was able to take my coat off while I was playing. I’ve also played with those big propane heat blasters blowing hot air all over the stage, that wasn’t too bad either. I’ve also played on unheated stages that were completely open to the cold air. Knowing what type of heating your stage will have will directly affect how you dress for the show.
Let’s assume you will have no stage heating and will be exposed to very cold temps. The key is to layer your clothing. Wear some thermal underwear and then layer clothes on top of them. Another thing I do is carry a lot of those disposable hand warmers in my pockets to keep my body warm and to warm my hands between songs. I also wear a good thick pair of wool socks with some bitchin’ looking heavy black boots.
You can wear stage clothes that look great but are too hot to normally wear at indoor gigs. It’s a good time to wear really killer looking Gothic coats that are too hot to wear on an indoor stage. There are a lot of really great clothes you can wear at an outside gig that you can’t wear indoors such as ski jackets, knit hats, Russian hats, down vests and heavy leather. It’s a great excuse to buy some killer new stage clothes.
You really want to keep your hands warm. If you play guitar you can cut the fingertips off of gloves and still be able to play okay. I personally just like to use handwarmers between songs. I move around a lot onstage so I keep my body temperature high by moving and that helps keep my hands warm as well. If you’re a drummer, you can play in some tight fitting mechanics gloves or Zildjian Drummer Gloves made specially for drummers.
Finally, before you play, make sure you get your instruments out in the cold and let them acclimate to the weather. The best way to do this is to move them outside while still in their cases and let them sit for about 45 minutes. Then take them out of their cases, tune them and let them sit in the cold for another 30 minutes. This should give your instruments time to acclimate to the weather and it will help you avoid tuning problems.
When you’re finished playing, put the instruments back in their cases and move them to a medium warm area. Never take your instrument un-cased directly from sub-freezing temps to a warm room. You can totally ruin your instruments finish and in extreme cases, cause the wood to basically explode. Use your case as a buffer for controlled cooling and warming of your instruments.