John GardnerThanks to the urging of Dixie Chicks multi-instrumentalist John Mock, a little over a year ago drummer/percussionist John Gardner took a leave of absence from his gig as staff drummer at the Grand Ole Opry. Why? To play percussion with The Chicks for a couple of nights at LA’s Kodak Theatre. (Those performances are documented on the DVD Live From The Kodak Theatre.) But Gardner ended up staying on drums and percussion for the entire tour.

“Making them feel comfortable on stage is really what’s needed from me,” Gardner says. “The Chicks also need me to duplicate the parts from their records. There are some extra things we put in for excitement, though. They also need to be able to trust me to be consistent every night. This is a pretty wild show. We play on a bizarre, circular stage. There are hydraulics that move the drum riser up and down. There’s a lot of movement on stage and it’s a huge production, so I have to really focus on the music.”

Gardner has had to alter his normal setup to fit the constraints of The Chicks’ unique stage. Normally he likes to play his cymbals and toms fairly high, but this stage doesn’t allow him to have anything over 42″ high, which is pretty confining. “I’ve busted my knuckles and cut my hands on cymbals,” he says, “because they’re not set up where I’m used to them being.”

Adding to the gig’s responsibility, Gardner says that he plays along to a drum machine on every tune. “We use a drum machine playing a shaker pattern,” he explains, “because the sound can be so big and loud in auditoriums. It helps hold everything together.”