Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Playin' in a Travellin' Band

Oh yes, BFB travels when the stars are in alignment.

This past weekend the band played the two casinos in Winterpeg. Where it is not yet winter. A little cool, a little rainy, but not yet winter.

The band was housed at Club Regent Hotel, next door to Club Regent Casino. In Kildonan, not far from Transcona.

It's a pretty ordinary hotel, but after all, the guests don't really come there for the luxury of the beds.

The casino is the main attraction and it actually features a bit more than the drone and blink of VLTs and slots. To quote the website: Our Caribbean Resort experience includes the treasures of Neptune's Cave and an awe-inspiring undersea world featuring the largest, walk-through saltwater aquarium in the entire Midwest. Hundreds of tropical fish from around the world to guard the wreck of Galleon Reef. And it's true, the aquarium is quite a sight.

The first gig was in a downstairs lounge called Jaguars Dance Club. A lot of ballroom dancer types. Liked the latin stuff. Salsa. Calypso. Mambo. But of course, BFB played the Oktoberfest schtick. That's what they were hired to do. Yodelay ee hoo.

The next night was McPhillips Street Station at the other end of town.

This was a different kind of gig. BFB played the main stage, a concert, which is a strange kind of situation for what is normally a dance/party band. 90 minutes of show here. What to do? Can't get the people up doing the Bird Dance or the Hokey Pokey...

But in fact the show went very well. Good pacing, the band played hot, the people clapped, the people hollered, the people sang along to some of the old standards. BFB has this new chant kind of thing that worked well that night: "Who are we? BFB! Who are we? BFB! Who are you? Family! Who are you? Family!"

Ah, the glamour and the glory.

Not.

The band loves it when a gig goes well, when the people have enjoyed themselves, when the management is happy. But there are other considerations.

Travel is hard, really. And can be complicated. No tubas in BFB (cuz it's not repeat not an oompah band) but there is some heavy equipment and fragile instruments. Airlines are notorious for their carelessness and their indifference to the needs of musicians. In fact, the American Federation of Musicians imposed a boycott of Delta Airlines in the US for quite some time because they refused to make any concessions whatsoever to the special handling needs of AFM members. WestJet, on this flight out, wanted to charge $40 for three pounds overweight on one case. Gone are the days of pre-9/11, when airline
s were flush with profits from their monopoly routes (or, alternatively, competing hard for your business...Wardair vs. Air Canada, Canadian Airlines vs. Air Canada...in those days, they competed by offering perks, now they compete by price alone, the cheaper the better and service be damned...just make sure your liquids are properly bagged and shoved up the first available orifice...But don't get the wrong impression, HWSRN is not particularly complaining about WestJet, cuz, if anything, they're more pleasant than the Air Canadians.)

The flight cases HWSRN currently uses to transport his equipment cost in the neighbourhood of $1500. His accordion case is made of corrugated aluminum, welded, custom-made for the accordion. Thanks to WestJet it now has a not-very-aesthetic crunch in one corner. Air Canada put a nice dent in one side the very first time it was used. (
"I'm sorry sir, but see, like it says here on the paper we keep handy for situations exactly like yours because they occur every day all day, airlines don't cover dents and scratches...we only cover our asses.") Fortunately, the manufacturer of the case, Engineered Case Mfg. in Mistersauga, took more care than airlines ever do, and the accordion has suffered no damage since HWSRN started using it.

The recalcitrance of airlines is one reason why BFB and all other bands struggle to keep their equipment load to a minimum. And that means renting at the other end. Certain things are easily rented...drum kits, mics, PA systems. Other instruments are more iffy.

For Winterpeg, BFB rented a bass guitar, which turned out just fine. Voin requested an electric guitar and an acoustic. Voin, however, is left-handed, so that complicates things. On arrival, he found a Fender Telecaster, which is what he uses at h
ome. And a Takamine acoustic. Within seconds, testing the Telecaster, he had broken a string. Old strings. By the time sound check was finished, he had discovered that the Telecaster simply would not stay in tune because it had not been set up properly. He picked up the acoustic and it died within minutes because the battery was dead. Voin, being himself, went ballistic, and after a period of ranting and hollering at the music store guy, it was determined that the store would deliver another guitar. Which they did, about an hour into the gig. This one was a Stratocaster, a nice guitar, which Voin liked, but later in the evening, it too broke a string, so he was back to the Tele.

In a certain sense, a guitar is a guitar, and a guitar player can play any guitar and perform adequately. Not so with electronic keyboards. Rent an electronic accordion? Forget it. So HWSRN always has to bring his accordion rig with him. And the other keyboards, well...except for basic organ, piano, string and horn sounds, one keyboard
cannot replace another. HWSRN's main keyboard is a Korg Triton LE, a model which is a few years old. It's been replaced by a newer model called the TR, which is pretty much the same, except for its data storage system. The two are not compatible, but the sounds are transferable. So with some computer finagling, HWSRN was able to use the TR88 that was supplied, loaded with his customized sound patches. The TR88 performed flawlessly, mainly because that keyboard was right off the store shelf and still had the price tag on it.

His second keyboard, however (third, if you count the accordion) is an ancient instrument called a Yamaha DX7. The DX7 was the first wildly popular digital synthesizer. HWSRN's is probably 25 years old and still in pretty good shape. But 25 years...have you any idea how old that is in dog years? They are starting to get rare. He was told that they had one for him out in Winterpeg. In fact they had two. The first, and best-looki
ng one was a DX7II-FD, a later model of the DX7. Not compatible. Again, different data storage systems. The second was just like his. The only problem with that one was that it did not work. At all. Nothing but static could be coaxed out of that box.

So he did without. But as the evening wore on, he realized more and more how much he actually used his DX7. Primarily for specific sounds he'd never heard on any other keyboard. (Which leaves him now with the dilemma of what to do when his own DX7 finally fails. Look for other sounds, I guess. He's researching a newer Yamaha keyboard which, it's said, can replicate the old DX sounds...) So HWSRN spent the weekend short one keyboard. Ah, but the show must go on.

And it did too. The next night was the triumphant show a
t McPhillips Street. Great show. Everybody in the band analysing and concluding that it was great. The stage manager effusive. The techies all very friendly. Comes the end of the night, the band wants to hang out in the green room and dig into the deli platter placed in the rider of the contract. HWSRN skipped supper in the expectation of food at the end of the gig. However, no food to be found. (Did I mention the casino has a McDonalds?....) The stage manager apologetic but foodless. Then it turns out also that the paycheque is locked in the lockbox and no one has the key. The stage manager apologetic and chequeless. He gave the band fancy folding pens with the casino logo on them. (The paycheque is not a major problem. It will come, only late. It's not likely that a government-run casino will welch on a legit contract. But it calls to mind the old joke: "What do you call a guitar player without a girlfriend?" Homeless.)

So, as you can see, when it comes to essential elements of a perfect road gig, this one is not stacking up so well.

And the finale.

When BFB travels, they get a limousine service. This is not as fancy as it sounds. Not the shiny white stretch limo. More like a big cargo van. Sometimes with seats. Sometimes not. It's for carrying both people and equipment to the venue or the hotel. So in Winterpeg, the band had a driver pick them up, a little late. He took them to the hotel along with their gear. And he picked them up early Saturday morning after the gig at Jagu
ars Dance Club to take them over to McPhillips because, in the weird logic of the road, it made more sense to set up and do sound check at 2:30am, immediately after the previous gig, than to do it at the usual time for McPhillips sound checks, that is, 5:30am. (5:30am, you ask? Who does sound checks at 5:30am? The casino, because they're closed then, that's why. Besides, what a treat that is for the musicians...) Anyway, this way the band could sleep the day away, if necessary, before the gig.

Saturday, a different driver picked them up at the hotel and drove them to McPhillips Street Station for the show. And he picked them up after it was over. The band had an early flight out of Winterpeg, and the driver was scheduled to pick them up at the hotel at 4:20am. The band left their gear in the van, because it was only about thr
ee hours before pickup time.

Except the driver never showed up.

Thirty minutes after the scheduled time, the band was in 3 Prius taxis racing across town in $30 trips to the airport. Without the equipment. They made their flight all right. But the gear didn't. BFB never saw the driver, but he must have arrived at the airport some time later and dumped the gear off, which WestJet obligingly flew to Hawgtown later in the day. And HWSRN, since he's a courier during the day, picked it up and charged $125 (which he has yet to collect from whoever is going to pay the bill...the agent, the limousine company, the casino...)

As for the driver, falling asleep on the job is not a good thing. It usually means that you have much more time on your hands to sleep just about any time you want. Because in this case, whoever is paying has a $100 taxi bill, a $125 courier bill, and possibly the freight charges for the WestJet flight. An expensive nap.

That's just one story about playing in a travelling band. I never did get around to blogging about the comedy of errors that accompanied BFB's gig in Edmonton a year ago. Or about the road trip to Fort Wayne when the water pump blew out in the middle of the night somewhere in the wilds of Ohio and two scary-looking tattooed punks accompanied one of their number to an all-night auto parts store! Or driving through the Shield of northern Ontariario (again in the middle of the night) in a snowstorm in a van where the choice was be
tween headlights or heater, listening to the apocalyptic sounds of Yes playing Close to the Edge. And they were. Close to the edge.

But speaking of Edmonton. It's that time of year again. This Saturday night BFB will again be playing the Shaw Conference Centre:

As far as road gigs are concerned, this one is primo. The band gets treated very well, the crowd is always good, and big, and responsive. Which doesn't mean that everything can't go south in a heartbeat. Stay tuned.

Here are details for the gig. If you are in Edmonton, or close by, or feel like travelling yourself, check it out.

Name:Oktoberfest to Rocktoberfest 2007
Start Date:10/27/2007
End Date:10/27/2007
Hours:Doors open at 6:30 pm
Location:Shaw Conference Centre
Address:9797 Jasper Avenue
City:Edmonton
Cost:$28.25 plus GST
Contact:Shaw Conference Centre
Phone:780-421-9797
Website:www.shawconferencecentre.com
Description:

It’s time for the biggest Oktoberfest celebration in Western Canada – Saturday, October 27th the Shaw Conference Centre presents Oktoberfest to Rocktoberfest 2007. This year’s annual party classic features a German feast, good old oom-pah-pah favorites and polkas. The Black Forest Band is charged with the traditional music festivities followed by Canada’s own rock ‘n’ roller David Wilcox at midnight. Tickets are $28.25 plus GST, available only at the Shaw Conference Centre Administration Office or charge by phone at (780) 421-9797. The ticket includes a Bavarian feast, a commemorative Oktoberfest 2007 beer mug at the door and the chance to win great prizes, including a trip for two to Germany. It’s an annual sell out, so act fast! TICKETS GO ON SALE FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 14th.



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1 comment:

Xena said...

Wow - sounds like a book of short stories...

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