In this Crazy Tour Stories segment, the electro band, Dragonette, talk about some of their crazy moments from touring. You can check out the feature, after the break.
A couple of years ago we went to Dubai and Lebanon for a weekend of shows.
Dubai went off without a hitch. We got on to our flight to Beirut, making sure we had all our gear, bags, and most importantly, a piece of paper that had written in Arabic what we thought was the smallest, and simplest visa we’d ever seen.
Things got weird when we first got to immigration… the officer eyed me suspiciously and said, after scanning my passport, “you have been here in Lebanon before.” I said we’d never had, and he turned his computer screen to show me something in Arabic that seemingly proved his point. We debated this for a while, I handed him the little piece of visa paper, and we moved through to customs.
There are many countries where this is where the High Art of Negotiation begins to take place. For bands with road cases full of gear, it’s the moment where an underpaid customs official sees, and seizes, his opportunity to pay for his new satellite TV. And a band can always tell when this is the deal, as we are waved with all of our cases into a back room. There is apparently no way to bring gear into Lebanon without scratching some backs, and so we began the two-hour negotiation, featuring many of the classic good-cop-bad-cop, “I’d love to let you through, but my BOSS says we just can’t..” kind of routines that we’d experienced before. We commiserated with each other for the difficult position we were in, and we drank coffee and smoked cigarettes while they shook their head and said, “if only you didn’t have so much equipment, we might be able to make an exception”.
Only when the promoter came running in with a fistful of cash did we get through, and thus began the weekend of “Bakshish”, the name for the cash transaction that would accompany every single step our journey in and out of Beirut.
We paid guys who were the only ones authorized to carry our gear to the cars (we weren’t allowed to touch them); we paid the guy who let the van park at the curb so we could load the gear; we paid for the mandatory gear unloading fee at the hotel… it was well understood, and pretty elegant.
But the real Bakshish began to happen after our show when a super nice fan offered us his car to tour Beirut the following day before our flight home. The promoter came running up and said we couldn’t go– we still had to get our visas for our entrance into Lebanon. Dan asked him what was that little piece of paper we had that we used to get into the country. His reply was “oh that says that we promise to get a visa by the time we leave”, and said that two of us could go on the sightseeing trip while only one of us would have to get the visas.
Getting the visas meant a visit to the local Military Police station and lining up with a busload of tired looking Eastern European girls who were, it turned out, applying for the same visa we were: “Entertainer Visa”. Their pimp collected all their passports and they were all put in the same pile as ours. Big stacks of cash followed, and went into the same pockets as the smaller piles that came from us, and we lined up to get our photos processed.
The police set up a little courtroom where we would sign our “contracts” for performance, and the policeman in charge of our contract explained that there would be a commission for him for the contract; there would also be a fee for printing our photographs to be glued to the contracts. Our promoter also paid a fee that our passports would be put to the top of the pile, above all those of the girls. We sat and watched as the chief of the station received our passports, put them back on his desk, put his feet up and lit a cigar. We waited. And waited. After he finished his whole cigar, he handed the passports to a guy who stamped them and brought them back to us, for a small tip.
We rushed back to the airport, paying the guy to let us stop the car as we paid the guys to take the cases through the first of two x-ray machines. We paid the guys who got us to the check-in, and we paid the guys who took our passports for an hour before coming back. We said hi to the same customs officials we had seen the day before, and drinking from the free bottles of water they offered us, we got back on the plane.