Posted on Leave a comment

Be like Santa: gig bags & checklists

It’s that time of year—any time I think about getting ready for a holiday gig, my theme song is the 1950 Kay Starr swing classic, “(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With The Bag”. Here’s a YouTube music link to check it out. Have a listen!

The Man with the Bag is a busy dude in December…but harpists face the same challenges year-round. Let’s take a page out of Santa’s book, and use gig bags and checklists to make your gig packing and tracking a little easier!

Packing: The Harpist with the Bag

First of all, let’s think about the definition of “gig.” Most harpists think about gigs as public performances (paid or volunteer). But, you may also travel with your harp to other events, such as rehearsals, lessons & workshops (students AND teachers), therapeutic settings, or video/photo/recording sessions.

We’ll use the word “gig” for any of these events. And any harpist, at any level, can benefit from organizing their harp gear in a gig bag (or bags).

Start with The Big 6

To make your next gig less stressful, think about the things you always need to bring with you (besides your harp). Lather, rinse, repeat.

Here’s what I do: For each gig, I start packing with the same 6 things (besides my harp) that I need at nearly every gig, nicknamed “The Big 6.” (Your items and the number may vary.) Some of these items live in my car trunk (more on this later), which makes it even easier.

I break the “Big 6” down into 2 groups of 3:

  • Acoustic (non-electric) items: the gig bag, music stand, and harp bench.
  • Electric (or electric-related) items: the amplifier, amplifier stand, and extension cord reel.

The Gig Bag 

And number 1 on the “Big 6” hit parade: The gig bag! It’s your go-to container for items you use at every gig (like tuning keys), or bring along “just in case” (like replacement strings). Here are a few ideas for packing your gig bag.

Onstage Bag

Since you’ll usually stash your gig bag “behind the scenes” after unloading, you can use this small pouch or other container (like a liquids bag for air travel) to hold “onstage” gig essentials near your harp. These might include:

  • Harp & business items: tuning key; electronic tuner, tuning mic clip & adapter (if you use these); polarized grounding AC adapter; dustcloth or brush; business cards, small notebook, pencil/pen, Sharpie marker for autographs.
  • Personal items: Brush/comb; mirror; lip balm; a pack of tissues; mints/lozenges; fingernail clippers; adhesive bandages; gloves; gig-appropriate face mask/covering; stain remover pen; medications as needed.

Harp Care

If you play more than one harp, make sure you bring the right stuff for the harp du jour! Be prepared with:

  • Extra strings (keep in the gig bag, or the harp case) and tuning key(s) (keep extras in your car glove compartment and harp case).
  • A harp mat to cover up those distracting carpet or floor patterns (I like the Perfect-View Harp Mat from Harp Couture).
  • Space blanket for climate control: keep your harp shady or warm as needed in the car.
  • Other harp tools needed for changing strings and harp assembly (i.e. the leg driver or hex wrench for attaching harp legs).
  • Black fabric or towel to cover onstage gear (I pack 2 black hand towels (and replace them when they fade after multiple washes).


Here’s a list of tech gear that you might need for your event—make sure you charge EVERYTHING before you leave!

  • Mobile devices & chargers/cables: phone, tablet, foot pedal, pencil/stylus, battery pack & spare batteries as needed.
  • Audio: microphones, pickup/DI box, amplifier, connection & power cables, mic & amplifier stands.
  • Music stand light & power source (AC or batteries).
  • Video: tripod, lighting gear, & other video gear.

Other Stuff

And a few more items:

  • Sheet music/books/set list (if you’re using PDFs on your tablet, make sure you have all your files).
  • Client paperwork: copies of contract, directions, etc.
  • Purse/wallet: keep it compact.
  • Water bottle & snack (I’m a granola bar fan for my gig bag).
  • Eyewear: sunglasses, music glasses, contact lens needs.
  • Dental care: toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss.
  • New healthcare needs: 1-2 more gig-appropriate mask(s), hand sanitizer, proof of vaccination.

Onstage Tote

  • At many gigs, you’ll usually need to stash your gig bag, harp case, and other gear behind the scenes. (Pro tip: stash gear inside your harp case!)
  • The more formal the gig, the less gear you’ll want cluttering your performance area. You can use the black fabric or towel camouflage mentioned earlier, but sometimes that’s not enough.
  • To keep your essentials nearby, clean, secure, and portable (for breaks), bring along an “onstage tote” (in black or business neutral)—for your onstage bag, purse or wallet, phone, and technology.

Packing and Storage

What kind of bags do you use for your gig bag and other gear? And how do you pack?

  • First and foremost, make sure it’s “one-person portable.” You’re usually your own roadie, so think about what YOU can carry (especially at the end of a gig, when you’re tired and ready to hit the road).
  • Keep it lean with the necessities—but, if one bag is still too heavy or small, add another bag. And don’t try to carry it all at once. (For years, my rolling onboard suitcase did double duty as a gig bag. This worked great.)
  • Pack like items together, with containers you already have; try small clear containers and zip bags, so you can see what’s in them. And if it makes you happy, go nuts with your labelmaker. (Works for me.)
  • At the beginning, you may be moving stuff back and forth a lot, between home storage and your gig bag. Later, as you’re able, start investing in duplicate items (like tuning keys and amp cables), so you can keep most of your gear packed and gig-ready.
  • I keep 3 of my “Big 6” items in my car trunk: a folding harp bench, a folding music stand in its bag, and an extension cord reel. If you have duplicates of your “Big 6”-type items, this might work for you (if you have available real estate in your harpmobile).

Tracking: Make a List, Check It Twice

According to legend, Santa keeps it simple with ONE list. Yeah, he’s magic like that. Here’s how you can do the same with tracking your gig gear.

Make a List

  • Create a gig prep & pack checklist. Divide your list into sections by category (onstage bag, technology, etc.).
  • On your list, make note of any items that you need to move back and forth for gigs—the ones that live “elsewhere” (not in the gig bag). 
  • Keep a copy of this list in your gig bag.

Check It Twice (or More)

  • Before the gig: Make sure you’ve gathered and packed any “elsewhere” items from the list, along with the “permanent residents” of the gig bag.
  • Want to do something differently next time? Keep a running “Next Time” list of things you want to add to (or delete from) your prep & pack list.
  • And remember to put away your “elsewhere” items after the gig!

Harpy Holidays!

Hope you got some good packing and tracking ideas from Santa (and me)! I’ll share more harp organizing ideas in future posts.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *