Last year — 2014 — I had the profound honor of hosting a Tonic Ball stage. I was tasked with introducing all the bands at the White Rabbit Cabaret, which featured the music of the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed.
Shockingly, they asked me back.
This go-round, I’m actually hosting and performing on (and I just took a deep, cleansing breath as I wrote that phrase) the Pink Floyd stage for the 2015 edition of Tonic. Now I’ve got a pretty unique perspective, prepping for both emcee duties and an actual set. “Master of ceremonies” is a task I’ve welcomed often, but the last time I actually played guitar and sang for more than a few beery friends was 2010’s Cash Bash hosted by Mandy Marie at Radio Radio. (Luckily, I’m opening the show, so Fountain Square Theatre may be at less than capacity early on, which means less knee-knocking terror for yours truly.)
While I’m sure every act — and host — has a different take on how to Prep for Tonic, here’s mine:
1. APPLY: Every band signs up online, and the Tonic crew gives thumbs up/down. BUT: This means you’ve got to pick multiple songs from the catalog of every act represented, even the act that’s your fourth choice to cover. This leads to questions like, “What Tina Turner songs could a crusty old white dude sing with just an acoustic guitar?” (The answer: roughly NONE.)
2. GET PICKED: Woo-hoo! Call your mom!
3. NARROW YOUR CHOICES: You’re trying to find a few tunes that you and/or your band can pull off well — and you’re also trying to pick tunes that are just obscure enough that no one else will cover (thereby creating a pick-and-choose-among-the-acts issue for the organizers) but hopefully won’t lose the crowd.
4. PRACTICE: You get to bring your instruments, pedals and cables — but you’re plugging into shared amps. This means keeping it simple is key — what can you slice and dice through any system (or unfamiliar drum kit, if that’s your thing) yet still knock it home?
5. HIT THE COOLER EARLY: The green rooms at Tonic run out of craft beer quickly.
1. LOAD UP ON THE IMMUNITY-BUILDERS: This goes for the performers, too, actually. The dressing rooms get packed with people, some (or even one) of whom may have the Virus du Jour.
2. GET THE BANTER READY: You gotta bring the patter while the next act sets up. Sponsor copy gets old quickly.
3. GET YOUR REST: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s worth it, though: Shimmercore’s set in front of the last two dozen White Rabbit diehards in 2014 was damn near transcendent.
4. BE THE SOBER ONE: It’s a long night, so pacing is key — and not just for the folks hitting the stage. You will be encountering some peeps who just had to wait in line for 45 minutes in 35-degree weather to get into the venue, and are therefore trying to take the chill off by consuming copious amounts of GODDAMN EVERYTHING. You will hear from very loud drunk people. You are their de facto Tour Guide for Tonic. Godspeed.
5. HIT THE COOLER EARLY: I’m not kidding about the craft beer thing. (OK, OK, I’m just trying to be funny. Donated beer is still free for the consumer, and HOMER LOVES FREE BEER.)
Finally, this experience — hosting, playing, watching, volunteering, whatever — is an annual sellout for a reason: Can you think of any other event that draws so much talent together for anything as cool as Second Helpings? Tonic, simply put, is a quick and easy way to refill your soul with glad tidings of great joy. And if ever we needed a fat dose of faith in humanity, it’s right now.