Gig Stories 1: The Cheese Wheel of Doom

I couldn’t make a blog and not have posts devoted to gig stories. Feel free to add your own or comment below. To kick things off, this is probably #1 in my “hall of fame” so to speak.

The Cheese Wheel of Doom

In the winter of my senior year, I got a very strange email. It was forwarded to me by the head of our music department from the owner of a small cheese shop in town. Attached was a press release from the Boston Globe. I think I’ll let it speak for itself:

“Music and Schoolchildren to greet unique 400 pound Italian cheese wheel, arriving Friday, December 5th.”

“A red carpet strewn with rose petals to greet the ‘Big Cheese’ coming later this week. Proclaiming ‘the Cruculo is coming! the Crucolo is coming!’ Cheese Shop owner P.L. has paced the floor for the last three months awaiting the arrival of the largest Crucolo cheese wheel ever shipped to North America.”

Apparently I was in charge of the music. How did I get this gig again? Apparently it would be good publicity, but it wasn’t paying. And what are you supposed to play to serenade a 400 pound cheese? I did know a reel called “star of munster,” but an audience of cheese experts would surely know the difference…But being the helpful and adventurous type, I replied that yes, I would be more than happy to bring a keyboard and amp down to the cheese shop along with a guitarist friend to play.

Perhaps fortunately for me, I didn’t have to worry about it for another couple of days. I got another email the afternoon before saying that the cheese had been detained in customs across the ocean. Well, that made perfect sense. It’s not like the TSA is going to let a 400 pound wheel of cheese through without seriously patting it down. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of a giant cheese ball straining against the clubs of Italian police officers. So in all, the owner didn’t know when the wheel would arrive, a week? a few days? We had to stay ready. At least there was a little more time to learn some cheesy tunes.

The cheese finally did arrive the following Wednesday. Perhaps it was fated to be, since the entire school happened to be free during the last class period of the day. On my way to math class, I was approached by a very excited head of the dance department. He informed me that he would be taking his classes to serenade the cheese later that day, so we should play something danceable. It was definitely a moment when I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

With understandable trepidation, I went down to the cheese shop later that day to check it out. I was about an hour and a half early just to be sure…

It took me about fifteen minutes to track down the owner of the shop. After about ten minutes of walking around, I finally found the owner down the street next to a massive truck, carrying a large handful of red balloons. “I’m just getting the carpet,” he told me. “I’ll be there in a minute. In the meantime, go get yourself a cookie.” The carpet? I hadn’t taken the press release literally, but I guess I should have. Another moment that I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

“Great, thanks, where should we set up?” Once the gear was in place, my guitar friend and I would have way more control of how things unfolded. “Well, we’d love to have parade music outside when the cheese rolls down from the ramp and across the carpet, and then some background music inside after.”

Wait, what? I didn’t say anything for a minute, worried that I would come across as confused or annoyed. Outside, in December? And inside again a few minutes later? Ironically, it seemed I was the only one thinking logistics. “It might be easier to pick one place…” I suggested. Fortunately he backed down pretty quickly on that one.

We barely had room for all our stuff in the back corner of the cheese shop, and we almost knocked over shelves of jam several times. By the time we finished, a sizable hoard of people had gathered outside. In the front, I spotted the dance teacher along with about thirty students. I wondered if they would give me some kind of signal when they wanted the music to start. I peeked around the door and tried to establish eye contact with the owner, but he looked busy. I guess we would have to feel it out.

“CRUCULO, CRUCOLO, CRUCULO!” came the chant from outside. I looked out one more time. One of the shop workers was galloping across the red carpet flinging handfuls of rose petals, followed closely by the owner pushing the cheese wheel. I guess that was my signal. “OK, GO, GO, GO!!” I yelled to the guitar player waiting timidly inside the shop.

About half the school showed up at the cheese shop within the next half hour to witness the cutting of the cheese and watch the dancers parade around the shop. Chaos ensued. I suppose the cheese shop got a fair amount of business that day, though I can’t even imagine the cost of a four hundred pound wheel of cheese. To be honest, I don’t even remember what we played. It didn’t matter as long as it was rhythmic and exciting for the dancers. Luckily for the owner, there weren’t any collisions as the dancers continued inside the shop.

“Another one next year?” I asked jokingly while we packed up. “Actually, we would love to have you back…”

I have not been back myself, but as far as I know the shop still imports a giant cheese wheel every year. The press probably loves it, as do the dancers. If you’re in Concord in early December, it’s worth checking out. If nothing else, you can get chocolate and cookies and have a good story to tell.

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