Get out of our van!

Recent notable rip offs of touring band's sound gear show musicians make ideal targets for a quick theft.

Free music Lock your instrument down or lose it like Wintersleep, say Halifax Regional Police.

Where bands play, thieves follow.

Recently, Wintersleep got cleaned out in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as did Iggy Pop and the Stooges in Montreal. Sleepless Nights, just one local example, got hit (twice) in Halifax.

Lately, Montreal feels like ground-zero for musical theft. Besides Iggy, Californian musician That One Guy had his custom homemade seven-foot-tall "Magic Pipe" stolen there, and had to cancel his show at Evolve Festival.

In-Flight Safety was playing a show in early 2006 at the Montreal club O Patro Vys, in support of their then-new album The Coast is Clear. "There's no dressing room there so you had to use your van," says singer/guitarist John Mullane, who also spoke about the ordeal earlier this week on CBC Radio Montreal's morning show,Daybreak.

While the band played, thieves took digital cameras, a laptop, cell phone, iPods, battery packs, wallets and clothes, including winter jackets (in a Montreal winter), and crammed it all into bassist Brad Goodsell's duffle bag, while dumping his remaining belongings on the ground.

"We were really gutted about it," Mullane says, almost groaning from the memory. The band reported the incident to Montreal police. "I think they kinda knew nothing was going to happen," Mullane says, adding it's not that the police don't care, but the problem is too big. "It was thrown on a pile with many similar reports."

Mullane estimates the value of the stolen items as between $3,000 to $4,000, a big cost to recoup for most bands. Alarm systems and personal insurance policies are often too costly, Mullane says. Their van at the time didn't have an alarm system and he's keeping mum about whether their newer one does and what other security features have been added. But, he says, all their instruments and sound equipment are "boxed in with plywood" for hauling in the van.

According to an interview done for CBC Radio 3, Wintersleep was heading to the airport for a 4:30am flight out to the Pemberton music festival in British Columbia when their theft occurred. "I headed out to the van, noticed the shotgun door open, and thought, 'Oh shit. Everything is open,'" said drummer Loel Campbell during the interview. "I looked in the back and realized, 'Hey, most of our shit isn't here.' Then it started sinking in. I just walked back to the hotel room with my hands on my head, defeated. I'm sure tears were brewing. And I had to say, 'Hey everyone, we just lost $10,000 dollars worth of gear between now and 45 minutes ago.'"

Wintersleep lost guitars, a Fender Precision bass and most of Campbell's drum kit, including his drumsticks ("They even stole my fucking sticks. I could not believe playing one of our biggest shows ever, I did not have a set of sticks...Someone found me this really thin pair. I just grabbed them and flipped them around and used the butt end for the whole show..."), right before playing to more than 40,000 festival-goers.

In late March, just before their scheduled show here at The Marquee Club, Vancouver punk rockers The Black Halos had their van and trailer, including all their gear and merchandise, stolen in Montreal. Included among the stolen items was a 1960s Les Paul guitar, several one-of-a kind instruments and over 400 copies of the Halos' at-the-time-new, unreleased disc We AreNot Alone.

"Basically, that's our life," lead singer Billy Hopeless told The Coast. "A new set of drums costs more than you can imagine."None of the items were insured, so the band was forced to cancel the rest of the tour."Good luck selling any of this stuff," said Hopeless in the interview. "Hopefully they'll find the people, hang them up like a pinata and let us take shots at them."

"I looked in the back and realized, 'Hey, most of our shit isn't here.' Then it started sinking in. I just walked back to my hotel room with my hands on my head, defeated."

"Do not leave valuables in plain sight in vehicles," advises Theresa Rath, spokesperson for HRM Police. Thefts of instruments from a packed van fall under the category "crimes of opportunity." In other words, thieves take what they can see and size up.

In 2007 across HRM (including RCMP files), only five thefts of music instruments from residences were reported. "It appears as though the residences weren't left secure," Rath notes. Doors were left unlocked. In one case, a disassembled drum kit was left leaning against the cement wall of a parking garage while the owner quickly went up to an apartment. Her advice: "Keep your residences locked."Depending on the officer, a musical instrument might be entered as a "miscellaneous" item in the force's database, says constable Jeff Carr, HRM Police's public information officer, calling with stats on vehicle break-and-enters. "Our system is only as good as the people entering in it."

Carr reports 18 incidents in 2007 involved stolen music equipment, including bamboo flutes, valued by the owner at $30,000. So far in 2008, six thefts have been reported to police. Carr says the thefts range from bagpipes to a clarinet to an acoustic guitar, "a little bit of everything." Whether cases involving music gear are random or targeted isn't clear, Carr says. Both he and Rath urge people to report the thefts.So far, in 2008, there's only one break-and-enter of a building, a commercial space on Hollis. Mission Strings was broken into and roughly $7,000 worth of merchandise taken. "That file is still open," Rath says. "All these cases go to our General Investigative Section. We treat every file the same."

A guitar from one of the 2007 cases was recovered from a pawnshop. But, according to one shop owner, precautions against sale of stolen material can be taken. "Everybody who comes in to sell something has to show ID," says Kenny Banks, who owns Kay-Cee's Buy & Sell on Isleville. "Picture ID, like a driver's license or university student ID. So unless they don't care about getting caught..." In business for 14 years, Banks says he's gotten to know faces and how to read people trying to sell a bad bill of goods. It takes time, he says. "During our first two years, we went through hell. We didn't know anybody." Currently, Banks says his store has about five or six guitars out front and another 25 in back.

At Buckley's Music on Quinpool, which carries new and used instruments, staff take sellers' personal information and valid photo ID, which is photocopied for store records before they buy, says Ken Foote, company president. The store also records details of stolen goods. "If people send us information on their theft we add it to our database. Any instrument we purchase or repair has the serial number checked against our stolen instrument database."According to Foote, he and his staff routinely rent or sell replacements to victims of theft. "We probably hear about one a month---a much smaller number than what is probably going on out there."

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