I really didn’t intend to write about this, but I ran into Randy Clark, the drummer for the Garberville Town Band recently, and he recounted his horror story about trying to unload his drums at Summer Arts and Music Festival this year. He said it was the worst experience he’s ever had at SAMF. I had to concur. When I told him my story, he recommended I write it up and send it to Jimmy Durschlag who was handling this responsibility for the Mateel Community Center.
Cool, I thought, Jimmy’s a musician. He’ll understand. So, I wrote this letter to Jimmy Durschlag, who plays in at least three bands, hosts two radio shows on KMUD, and is now apparently, the designated shit-catcher for the Mateel too.
It turned into a kind of a long letter. I’m sure he’s got nothing better to do. Now that I’ve gone to the trouble of writing it, it seems like a pretty good blog post. Since I haven’t got anything better for you this week, here ya go.
To: Jimmy Durschlag
From: John Hardin
Re: SAMF 2015
I don’t want to make a big deal about this, but…
Amy and I arrived at SAMF right around 5pm for our 9pm gig in the Belly Dance Tent. We anticipated parking complications, so we arrived early with a positive and flexible attitude. The first person who approached our vehicle on our arrival informed us that we wouldn’t be allowed on-site until 30 minutes before our stage time. OK, whatever, we still needed to check-in. I was finally able to convince them to let me into the temporary lot.
At check-in they told me I wasn’t on the list. Not at all. No one by that name, no one listed in that time-slot. Sorry. An oversight, I’m sure. I explained that I was listed in the program guide, and offered to show it to them, but luckily, someone we knew, Kelley Lincoln was there to vouch for us, so we got our wristbands.
I asked about load-in, and got the same story I heard from the parking guy, that they would not let us take our truck on-site until 30 minutes before our stage time. I asked if we could leave the truck on-site while we played. The answer was “No.” I asked if I could go unload early so I would have time to find someplace to park off-site, and then walk back. That answer was “No.” At that point I began to think: “Maybe they have enough entertainment at this festival. Perhaps we should go home.”
So, we drove back to Garberville, with all of our gear, to weigh our options. I was booked as John Hardin Electric Didgeridoo, but Amy was going play Theremin and sing a few tunes as well. All together, it’s not ton of gear, but it’s more than we can schlep in one trip. It’s always fun to bring out the Theremin, even if it is a bit unpredictable, and Amy and I have some good material that we do together, but, through a decent sound system, I sound amazing, all by myself. I have more than enough material to fill the set. We opted to leave the Theremin and its accessories, in the car, parked in G,ville, and the two of us schlepped all of the stuff that I needed to play solo, to the site, via the shuttle bus. It was as much as we could carry and it was awkward to wrestle it on and off of a crowded bus, but we managed to get on-site with enough gear to play a gig.
At 8:40pm, 20 minutes before the start of my performance, the last troupe of belly dancers finished their set and cleared out, right on schedule. I moved my gear in and started setting up. My rig isn’t super-complicated, but it takes a few minutes to hook it all up and make sure it works. To be heard at all, I needed to play through a sound system, and there was one there, but the sound-person was nowhere to be seen.
Sunshine Tresidder, of Lakshmi’s Daughters Belly Dance Troupe, welcomed me to the Belly Dance Tent, as she poured out some rose petals on the ground in front of me. I thanked her for that. Then she proceeded to tell me: “When you’re done, you need to put the tarp up in front of the tent. You’ll have to move these speaker stands back inside the tent, because, you know, if we leave them out, they’re liable to walk away. So, let me show you where we keep the rope that you’ll need to use to hold the tarp up, and there’s this special way that it attaches, and I need to show you how to do it.”
At that point Amy, who, because of the load-in hassle, had nothing better to do, followed Sunshine around, taking note of how we were supposed to close down her tent. This responsibility came as a surprise to us. We did not volunteer for it, and we were not asked to do it, politely or otherwise, but, you know, we’re flexible, positive, helpful people. We don’t like being talked to like unpaid employees, but whatever, it’s a festival and I wanted to play.
Still no sound person. I asked Sunshine, as she was walking away, if she knew who the sound person was, and where they might be. She replied: “Oh, she’s gone. I don’t know when she’ll be back.”
At that point I noticed that it was getting dark. I spotted two clip-on utility lights that I assumed were provided for my nighttime performance. I tried to turn one of them on. Nothing. I followed the cord to the end to discover that it was not plugged it. Then, I started looking for an electrical outlet, one for the light, but I also needed one for my music rig. I found myself staring at a 12 channel PA board resting in a puddle of cables.
Every single electrical outlet had something plugged into it, and every single channel of the mixer had something plugged into it. I didn’t want to screw anything up, or mess with someone elses gear, but I was supposed to play through this system in about seven minutes, and I needed some light to see what I was doing.
In the fading light, I spotted a portable CD player with a wall-wart AC adapter that was plugged into both an electrical outlet, and the PA. I knew that I didn’t need a CD player for my set and figured that I could easily unplug the CD player, from the electrical outlet, to free an outlet for my rig. I also began to think that if I could find the right adapter, I might even be able to tap into the PA through the CD player input, if I had to. Still no sign of a sound person. I was expecting the sound person to provide me with two DI boxes that I could plug a pair of 1/4” phone plugs into, but I saw no DI boxes, and no open channels.
I carry an assortment of adapters. It took me a while to figure out how to make it work. Finally, I made the connection using a 1/8th” female to female stereo headphone adapter. Do you carry a 1/8th” female to female stereo headphone adapter? If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to play.
Amy figured out how to turn one of the lights on, and I asked her to stand out in front of the house to check the levels. The volume was good without my having to touch any of the sliders or knobs on the PA. My lucky day! I used my own headphones for monitors and pointed the floor wedges at the audience to prevent feedback.
Then I rocked that place for an hour-and-a-half. I channeled all of the frustration I felt about how we had been treated, into high-energy dance music. The audience got so hot and sweaty that I had to tell them to take a break and get some water because I thought they might hurt themselves.
After about a half-hour, the sound-person showed-up. I knew she was the sound-person because she just stood there for a moment, staring at the PA, with a puzzled look on her face. Then she came over and gave me a hug, while I was playing, and said “You’re amazing!”
“That’s looking on the bright side.” I thought. And on the bright side, the sound system must have sounded good because the audience dug it. As a 53 year old man in a committed long-term relationship, I don’t get that many opportunities to get hot and sweaty with a bunch of nubile young women. I think I appreciate that even more now, than I did at 23. I had a great time playing and really enjoyed the time I had to perform.
After finishing my set, sweaty and exhausted, I packed-up my gear. Then Amy and I moved the speakers, got out the rope and hung-up the tarp, as we had been instructed, and after that, we schlepped all of my gear back to the entrance to catch the shuttle. It was about 11:00pm by the time we got to the end of the enormous line of drunk people waiting to catch the shuttle back to G,ville. We waited in that line until 12:30, when we finally boarded the bus. That was a long fucking time to wait for a bus. I was scheduled to engineer at KMUD at 8am the next morning, I could have used the extra hour of sleep.
I enjoyed the applause, and making hot young women sweat. I made $50 in tips and CD sales, as well as some nice nugs from appreciative listeners, not a bad gig from that perspective, but sheesh! We had planned to go back to SAMF on Sunday, just to enjoy ourselves, but we were so put off by the way we were treated on Saturday that we decided we didn’t need any more abuse.
That’s what happened to us at SAMF this year. It sucks to have to recount it like this, but I know that you are a musician, and I hope you understand. I don’t expect to be paid, and I don’t even expect to be fed, although that would have been nice, but Summer Arts and Music Festival is supposed to be a celebration of our local art and music scene, and the Mateel is supposed to be a local arts non-profit.
If the Mateel does nothing else to help local musicians the rest of the year, they should at least treat us with respect at the one festival each year where they invite us to donate our time, energy, expensive specialized equipment and years of preparation. It is in the Mateel’s best interest to cultivate an appreciation of music within the community, and one way to do that is to set a good example by treating generous local musicians, and their music, with the respect they deserve.
The Mateel makes a lot of money from SAMF these days, and they provide free food, camping, a T-shirt, and admission to the festival for all of their volunteers. As a performer, donating my time and effort, as well as my unique musical expression, all I got was a wristband, and I only got that because I knew somebody at the check-in booth. Festival staff were not at all accommodating to my needs, and instead, we were treated like domestic servants.
Last year, the Mateel treated us very well, and we looked forward to performing again this year. I realize that what happened to us was not intentional, and that everyone involved was doing their best under the circumstances, or at least, just being themselves. Like I said, up front, I don’t want to make a big deal about this, but this seems like an area where there is some room for improvement. Thanks for listening.
Sincerely, John Hardin