Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Performance Chronicle

It seems that the majority of the six regular readers of this blog seem to be most interested in the nuts and bolts stuff around being a performer. Some qualification stuff though, I really haven't been much of a live show kind of guy for the last thirteen years. My experience over the weekend was a testing the water sort of thing more than anything else, and, quite frankly, I doubt I have the stuff inside me in sufficient quantities to make it anything but a "now and then" occurance with me.

Here's why:

Let's start with the night before. . .I was a basket case. I hate being that lame. I thank those of you (especially you, litbrit m'dear) who took the time and trouble to point out the obvious fact that I was mind fucking myself. I was. Here's a blow by blow of the way things went.

7:20 a.m. roll out on the road. RV (for cargo purposes more than anything else) gassed, new tires (that's 10 for those who are in to accounting), full tank of diesel ($180 at Costco), iPod inserted into sound system. I take a pretty relaxed attitude when I'm driving, I leave in plenty of time, after making sure that all the mechanical stuff is as up to date as I can. I hate assholes who try to make up time on the road. I make my time before I leave. I leave in plenty of time to accomodate the unexpected. Drive time from home to Vegas was 6.5 hours. No glitches. I like that. Arrive at the hotel, park the beast and call the stage manager of the room where we're playing that night to tell him that I have my load-in equipment ready. Bring it to the dock where the wonderfully professional and talented crew members swiftly unload and take my performance gear to the places they have designated (goddamn, the top drawer crews are something I fucking LOVE about Vegas). I give the key grip $50 and tell him thank you and that I'll be down to tune up and check my equipment once I've gotten to my room and showered etc.) Dude says "Just put your luggage out here on the dock, we'll send a bellman or someone up with it later. Billy has worked as a guitar tech for a lot of major acts would you like him to tune up for you?" Gotta love guys like that.

I hit the room (just one more hotel room, nothing fancy, that's OK.) and shower, flop down on the bed and just veg for twenty minutes. Phone rings, I'm reminded that our sound check is in one hour. I tell them that I was planning to be there in ten anyway.

If I must endure sound checks, let me endure them in Vegas. This is not like your crew is traveling with you and needs to get a feel for the room. These guys know their turf. I show up, my guitars, mandolin, well, everything but the harps are tuned and arranged on stands. The harps are unpacked and waiting. The kid, Billy, who tuned up all my other stuff asks I will show him anything he needs to know about tuning a harp. No problem Billy. Since I have two, you can do one. It's easy enough, you just tune each string to the scope and then check them. Final test is to play something. I did "O'Carolan's Quarrel With the Landlord". Billy gets a $20 (although that is not why he did what he did, he was already in line for a share of the previous $50, but cash gratuities are the lubrication of the Vegas machine it's how you say "thank you" or "I care.") Billy asks if he can try tuning them up after the show and I say "of course, if you want to try playing them a little, go ahead with that too." He takes this as an opening for conversation on my equipment. My two electrics are ones that I built myself on the Stratocaster line. I go over the process of ordering the parts online (the only part of the process that is not available to the general public is that I have an old friend who is a Master Builder at Fender who snuck my bodies into their routers and planers) He asks about my strings (I use big, fat, heavy strings) and I say that I prefer the tone quality and durability of the bigger strings and I laughingly add "Plus, as soon as they've tried fingering those cables nobody wants to borrow your guitars much." (technical aside: I will offer up my stringing scheme to anyone who asks in the comments but I go for heavy because you have a more complex tone, greater sustain, and once the strings get set they don't change, so, in trade off for physically harder to manipulate I get vastly better sound and performance, 'nuff said)

The rest of the band shows up and we go for our peaks. This is where we want our loud and fast, this is where we want our ballads, these are the changes from point of style (acoustic v. rock v. blues v. jazzy). We work with them for about 40 minutes and STAR shows up, bleats into the mike for another 10 minutes and we're done. Again, I love Vegas for this part of it. Hell for a musician just might be an eternal sound check. These guys know their room and they know from performances. They hate wasting time as much as we do. I ask Billy when his break is and if he would like to grab some dinner before the show. He says sure, excited to be treated like a human being instead of a cog in the machine. A lot of the crew people you find fall into one of two categories. They are frustrated performers who are biding their time waiting for their big break or they are dedicated techies. I'm not sure where Billy falls in this yet, but I intend to find out over dinner and then treat him accordingly. One thing I have learned over the years is that treating your crew with deference and respect is good business. They don't work for they work with me.

It is now 3 hours until show time and I am in that golden zone. All my prep is done, all is looking smooth and easy. Everybody is rested, ready and all we have to do is wait for the show. I almost never like to spend this time with other performers. We have a strong temptation to mind fuck ourselves by going to much over what could go wrong or to visit past performances that have nothing to do with what's about to happen. I like to spend my waiting time by myself or with somebody like Billy. I've got an hour to kill before his break so I take $100 to the Poker room and sit down with some strangers to play Hold 'em. After an hour I cash in $200 which mainly came from two good hands and I managed not to piss it away on stupid bets. I meet Billy at the buffet and we tear into some serious calorie packing. He is somewhat taken aback by how much stuff I'm packing away. I tell him that I'm going to be barfing it up 20 minutes before curtain anyway so it's all uncounted stuff. I'm also pushing 60 and don't worry about looking good for the ladies anymore. They are either far past the visual or they don't bother with me. (I'm about 20 lbs overwieght and have been since I got sober) In our conversation I find out that Billy plays guitar but knows that he can't count on it to be a living. I don't dispute that, I just tell him that it's a prudent choice and that there will always be a job for a good tech. I don't know of any guitar techs or stage hands that have gone on to being on the other side of the show, but I'm sure they're there. He really seems to be the perfect mix of understanding the music and performing end of it while being strong on technicall wizardry. He asks some pointed questions about my decided lack of sound effects gear. I tell him that I like the sound of electric guitars and all the other things I play. I also tell him about how I totally demoralized a kid at a festival once. This kid had a huge plywood base that held all his switches and sound gimmicks. During their performance something shorted out and he was cursing and kicking the shit out of it as I was going onstage. I said "Dude, want to see my effects panel?" He looked up and I waggled my empty hands at him. Billy got that.

Dinner's over now. I go up to the room to put on my performance togs. Tonight we're wearing Teva leather sandals (it's 120° out there sandals are called for), Wrangler jeans from the local feedstore, black tee shirt, Versace double breasted purple silk jacket, grey stetson with two eagle feathers in the hatband, hair is in tight ponytail with another small beaded hawk feather from the ribbon. Usually I'm a scrunchi wrapper but for the show silk ribbon works.

Halfway through getting dressed my stomach empties, teeth are brushed, altoids sucked. Now I feel ready.

Down to the green room. Say hi, all the usual bullshit. The adrenalin's starting to pop, we get the 5 minute call and go out to the wings. All the stage hands are giving us thumbs up and fist daps (another by product of being nice to them and cool to their boy Billy). We're lead out one by one to a dark stage, then the lights go up and we begin to play. STAR comes out on the stage manager's introduction.

It's all clockwork from there.

More to follow....


Blogger Deborah Newell said...

Bravo! Encore! I don't like waiting for the Next Episode!

(Glad you were okay and sorry about the throwing up, but I do relate.)

8:13 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

i am at work on it now. i'm going through the performances (2 per night) and downtime also. i was thrown outside any creative thought by the stem cell veto. it's bad science, bad policy, he's pandering to all that's willfully ignorant to pay the bills that have been presented by the christian taliban. not facts, not science, nor truth have any meaning to these fools anymore. it's like the satire's of swift or juvenal where learning the wrong fairy stories in your childhood can bring about the death penalty as an adult.

11:38 PM  
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