Monday, July 07, 2014

The Boy in the Bubble

It’s called Under The Dome, I believe. The story is that a small town has been cut off from the outside world and in turning in on itself discovers the best and worst, the resourceful and the hurtful within its community. The Simpsons Movie is based on a very similar concept. Maverick is the myth made flesh, especially with the level of phone signal we enjoyed at Easton Farm Park, where the annual festival of Americana - now in its seventh year - played out all the drama and suspense of a disparate group of individuals thrown together and forced to use their basic knowledge, low cunning and improvisational skills to survive together. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the stage crew.
As Stage Manager for The Barn, my job was to make sure The Talent were on site, on time and to not get in the way of the guys from the PA company, who were doing the actual plugging in and switching on, and who conducted mysterious conversations over their walkie-talkies involving things called XLRs, DIs and SKGs. Across the festival similar ragged bands of folk were engaged in the same rituals – announcing the next turn, hoping we’d got the pronunciation of their name right and then, counterintuitively, given the astonishing level of talent that passed through our cobwebby portals, hoping they didn’t run over and were off in time for us to repeat the whole process again for the next act.

The crackle of the radio brought forth a fresh challenge with each new transmission and assistant stage managers were dispatched across site to beg, borrow, steal or otherwise rustle up amplifiers, drum kits, mic stands, drum keys, gaffa tape… Conversations between us took on a Masonic tone as we compared stories from the front line in hastily-taken breaks for coffee and food from whichever vendor had the shortest queue*.
“Seven minutes over earlier, but we pulled it back after Hannah finished early”.

“Do you have an SM-58? Not on the entire site? No - not the beta!”
 “We need a spile at the Moonshine Bar. And bring a mallet”

“There’s a pig loose in the artists’ hospitality area”
I don’t know what it is with me, tour managers and pianos, but I had another chance to shine this year. I mean, I don’t mind taking down an entire drum kit and replacing it on the riser with a piano whilst also clearing away the previous band’s equipment and all in a ten minute window of opportunity before your scheduled start time, but you could at least then get your employer to play it. Still, we should be grateful she didn’t set fire to it, as one washboard player did at the climax of their set, brandishing it above her head** in a Hendrix-esque fashion to the delight of the crowd. If only it had been a banjo.***

There were so many fine and talented people performing over the weekend that I couldn’t hope to do them all justice by summarising their skills in so small a space, but Mary Gauthier notably drew several of the day’s prior attractions back to the stage on Saturday night – part mother hen, part eccentric aunt, full-time inspiration, she was so down home and folksy I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d tapped out a corn cob pipe before taking to the stage. I asked her if I could line check her guitar for her. “Oh, don’t worry about that honey, I’ll just get on up there and get started”. I pointed out lights and monitor tech Max and she made a point of checking who the guy on the front of house desk was. Sometime into the set she tuned her guitar down to a low, ominous D which rattled the fillings. “Push it hard, Young Rob, make ‘em rumble” she chuckled over the PA. I swear she winked at him. In the wings next to me Thom Chacon whooped with delight.        
I had to leave early on the Sunday of the festival in order to be available to perform on The Grapevine Stage at Ipswich Music Day as part of Tony James Shevlin’s backing band The Chancers. Here, the roper boot was comfortably on the other foot, so I made sure that I got my gear on stage as quickly as I could, turned the volume down on my guitar so as not to interfere with the acoustic guitar tweaking while I tuned up, and waited patiently as the sound engineer asked us to give him a line check on each of our instruments and on our vocal mics in turn. I also remembered to thank the stage manager for his attention after the show, said that I really appreciated the onstage monitor mix and hoped that we’d given a good account of ourselves. The MC gestured, palms down, to the audience who were generously showing their appreciation in a spirited way. Then came the line I’d been missing all weekend. “There’ll be more” he assured the crowd. “…just not from them”.     


*When refuelling, time is of the essence. At one point I saw the production manager eating a full English breakfast off a paper plate without breaking stride as he stomped purposefully over to sort some issue with the bar.  
**The washboard, not the piano.

***I know. Open goal, I couldn’t resist.

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