For reasons not altogether clear to me, I’ve been really obsessed with people who have had some really awful experiences being heckled lately. From the “Michael Richards unpleasantness” to Hero Videos some comics post on YouTube of them “expertly” dealing with hecklers, I’ve just been taking it all in.
The common thread that connects it all, it seems to me, is that when a heckler appears, for better or worse, the act can no longer go how it was intended to. It’s like when you’re in public and you fail to control your bowels. The moment it all comes out, everything changes in an instant. Now, you have to deal.
That seems to be a universally true, in every instance I’ve encountered, with only one exception. This exception, of course, is the show that is described in the Alabama song/journalistic account “If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle In The Band).”
Usually, being heckled is a situation where the performer either gets slightly humiliated, or at very least has to abandon the set and respond to exactly what is happening in the moment. Even the politest, most “helpful” hecklers require you to deviate from your practiced routine. There can be no doubt that Alabama is being heckled, yet there seems to be so much more going on at their Houston show.
At the outset of our tale, everything seems to be going fine. Alabama was “putting on a show,” which indicates to me that things were going okay. But then, out of nowhere and unprovoked, a cowboy stands up and screams “Cotton Eye Joe,” the hillbilly-er equivalent of “Free Bird.” If I’m Alabama, this is where I would start becoming worried.
But this heckler isn’t done. He’s an evolved heckler, so he realizes the vulnerable position he’s put the performers in and follows up his (clearly drunk) song request with “we love what you’re doing, boys don’t get us wrong,” thereby defusing any tension. Plus his use of “we” serves to unify the audience and makes everyone in the room take a second to reflect. “Yeah, you know, we really do love what they’re doing. This drunken cowboy is right.”
But the heckler still isn’t done. No, he goes on to explain to the Alabama boys exactly what it is that’s missing from their music, namely a fiddle. If I’m in Alabama, this is where I would start thinking, “shit, we really should have thought of that and brought a fiddler.”
Thankfully, like the most diligent group of boy scouts, Alabama comes prepared. Not only do they have a fiddler in the band (Jeff, the classically trained fiddler), but it appears that all along, it was their plan to break out the fiddle late in their show.
If I were a more cynical man, I would suspect that they actually held back on introducing the fiddle trying to try and prompt the exact reaction they got from that cowboy in the back. Alabama may be trolling, but they’re also fucking professional showmen.
As performers, we all dream of a situation when we’re able to take the nightmare situation and turn it into a massive victory, but it really only seems to happen in country songs. Between this song and “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” I’m starting to suspect these country guys may be taking a little bit of creative liberty with their storytelling.