This past Sunday, August 19th, was my birthday. I love my birthday, and I love playing shows! This year I got to do both, perform & celebrate simultaneously!! This is not the first occasion a show has fallen on my birthday, but this year was by far the most interesting scenario to date. Here’s how this year’s show came to fruition:
A few months ago I received a call that went something like this; "Hey we got a gig offer on your birthday, not sure if you're available but it's at a prison, sounds pretty cool. Let me know if you can do it. Thanks" Once I heard that my first thought was "Awesome, I never played at a prison before." My second thought was Folsom Prison Blues, how much I love that Johnny Cash album and how hip it was he did that. I called back and said "let's do it".
The Hype Surrounding the Show
Over the last few weeks we've received messages here & there regarding the performance. They started off as little details such as set length, performance location (outside in the courtyard), load-in time, etc. Then the messages evolved into more specific details, such as this description we received of the NCF (Northern Correctional Facility);
"Today NCF houses approximately 253 male inmates, some in double bunked cells, who have been convicted of serious offenses against persons and property or are special management cases"
The next bit of info we got was a dress code stipulation. Since the singer is female, she was prohibited from exposing any skin so a long sleeve shirt with jeans was recommended. We were also made aware an equipment check would happen before our entry.
I’ve played in front of rough crowds in tough venues before but this looked to the most extreme.
The NCF maximum security prison is located in Moundsville, WV. It's a newer facility, not to be confused with the old Moundsville prison, which is supposedly haunted and is currently a tourist attraction. This prison is the real deal, lined w/ tall barbed wire fences & multiple security gates as well as armed guards. It's off the beaten path as I expected, but covers a bigger area of land than I thought. When we arrived we were greeted by a prison guard and the recreations director. They were friendly, but stated their strict policies on us entering and how everything was going to go down. We drove through multiple security gates then ended up in the courtyard where the stage was set up. The place looked just like in the movies; large area with an outdoor gym, basketball court, and track. There were more armed guards and tons of barbed wire fencing surrounding the area. The inmates were inside waiting patiently until we were ready.
Marci and I got to go inside and use the bathroom before showtime. A guard escorted us to cell block C where some inmates were cleaning the bathroom. That was first time inside a jail and it was intense. Movies definitely don’t do it justice. It was a cold and solemn place, definitely somewhere I did not want to be too long. The inmates we saw while inside were definitely giving us the curious eye. Not the most comfortable situation but I wouldn’t trade that experience.
The Set up and Performance
Set up was pretty normal. We added a little extra amplification, but we were told we didn’t have to be overly loud as the inmates would be close. I chose my customized Pearl Sensitone snare (from Brooklyn, NY) for the show. I usually carry two snares with me and this one sounded so good at soundcheck I felt like switching it up from my normal go-to. It has great projection outdoors and really blended well with the other instruments. This snare also works great with the what I envisioned the song list would be; a diverse mix of Classic Rock & Blues.
When 5:30 PM came, the inmates began to make their way into the courtyard. All dressed in white or beige attire, each one had D.O.C. labels on all their clothes. Over 90% had multiple tattoos and most were built and in shape.
A few of the inmates asked to sit in and play some tunes with us. That was unexpected, but two of them had their own guitars so we agreed. They were blues fans so we jammed on a few standards together. There was even a bass player in the crowd and he joined us for “Sweet Home Chicago”. Then to top off the end of set 2, I was serenaded “happy birthday”. Another touching moment was during our set break. We let one of the guitarist inmates play some solo acoustic blues songs on his own. After a really moving song, not quite sure of the title, he said a little speech about mistakes he made in his life that got him there. It was definitely heart felt and a few of the other inmates chimed in / commented. Even though i’m sure all or most of those guys deserve to be in there, that speech was sincere and I heard remorse in his voice.
Finally, we closed the show in true Satin Hearts fashion, all four of us giving it 110% to the very last note w/ Marci graciously thanking them for coming out and listening to us. There were 104 inmates outside, which the recreations director said was the biggest crowd they had out there in a long time. He said some a lot of guys rarely leave their cells. The ones that were there were friendly, thanked us for playing, and gave us lots of praise. From what I heard, this prison is pretty mellow with very few fights. The recreations director said most of the inmates were in for life, having collectively committed the worst crimes imaginable. He also stated the ones that give the most trouble are the short term ones. The older ones don’t act up as they make it their home.
Packing up and heading out
After we packed up our gear it was time to leave. As we drove through the gates I thought about my freedom and how thankful I am for it. Even though I would never dream of doing anything even close to the stories I heard those guys did, being there as a guest was still a taste of what it would be like to be locked up. It’s a whole other world in there I got see a small piece of. That’s enough for me. I’m staying on the straight and narrow path for sure!!