How To Have Fun (Without Spilling Your Drink)
Real True Confessions With Padre Pienbique
While at work this afternoon, an accountant hipped me to a time-tested marketing technique that could re-emerge as the future of selling records in the hopelessly corrupt and outdated field of selling music. It appeals to virtually every sensibility music lovers crave in buying works from their favorite artists- minimal investment, an abundance of material at one’s disposal, not to mention dibs on future releases!
You see, it’s really simple: You send in one penny and your band mails you eleven CDs- directly to your home! All you have to do is buy six more exciting selections in the future at the band’s suggested price…
And there you have it- another one of the world’s terrible problems resolved! (All you bands that benefit from this incredible business model can thank me by not sending me eleven CDs.)
Besides, good things come in tens- just ask anyone that went to Harmony Park for the Big Wu Family Reunion X. This, my friends, was a swell time. This was also an accomplishment that I at one time was pretty sure may never happen. But as I’ve said before, time heals all hangovers and wounds.
Healing never sounded so good. The only thing really missing was a performance from my favorites, Baltimore’s All Mighty Senators. Even though they are on hiatus from music (or each other, something I’m familiar with), AMS bassist Jack Denning came to MC the event and join us onstage for a couple tunes (Cheech & Chong’s ‘Earache My Eye’ and that old jamband nugget ‘Sister Christian.’)
I had so much fun that I thought it might be time to review my top five things I love about festival season, and while I’m at it, five things I hate.
Top Five Things I Love About Festival Season:
Well, this one’s a no-brainer, no matter who you are. The very nature of festivals and other annual gatherings, like Christmas, brings everybody back together, for good or otherwise. But there’s always that group, that individual, that you never see until it’s time for your favorite summer smack down. Everyone looks a little older even though you haven’t changed a bit. (At least that’s what all your long-lost friends tell you… Ahhh, the more things change!)
It’s not just the old faces that bring such richness to the main event, it’s the folks you meet that help separate one year from the other, at least when you look back. Ask yourself how many couples met at a festival, and before you know it, you ended up at Macy’s buying matching coffee cups to go with their registered dining pattern. Now multiply that by thousands and we’ll find out exactly what effects that pelvis-gyrating rock-n-roll has on actual, naked in a tent hip gyrating. Amore!
Let’s not forget about our Community, which we wouldn’t have any fun without. Besides, the Community leads to naked gyration in tents- Cures what ails ya! (Unless you’re trying to sleep in the tent next door, but that’s your misdirected way of using up a festival weekend.)
2. Playing Music
I confess that this is my actual favorite part of the circus. Playing outdoors under the stars on a nice night is simply the greatest fucking way to spend a couple hours. (Balling in a tent is close, but I wouldn’t do very well if that was being witnessed by a thousand-plus curious onlookers. Best leave that to the professionals that live in my iPhone.)
Besides the obvious fun of performing at one of these acid powered, never-ending guitar solo, Tilt-A-Whirls of free love/expensive drug shindigs, there’s an honor to behold. There’s alot of good bands that could’ve been chosen instead of mine, so I’m always humbled when our number is called.
Until stage time that is.
While there’s always room to be gracious, I’m a big fan of innocent, unassuming, extrovertism. Festivals by any other name are parties, and Port-O-Potties aside, smell just as sweet. Thus, let the good times roll. As artistic the super introvert may feel as they’re ignoring the audience- so deeply sunk into their own musical offerings that they never look up to acknowledge anyone watching- I know why the All Mighty Senators absolutely and completely rule on stage: They turn the audience into an extra member of the band. And that’s what it’s all about.
3. Hearing Music
Despite the impression that musicians get to hear tons of different bands and make connections on tour, the opposite rings true: While the opener is working their asses off on stage, the other band is busy writing set lists, arguing, drinking beer, talking to folks backstage, calling the girl back home, etc.
However, at festivals, there’s too much fun constantly going on to get so wrapped up in the daily minutiae. First of all, there’s no sound check. You get your shit on the stage, plug it in, make sure the signal is getting to the sound guy (it’s almost always a guy) and fuckin’ play.
After that, there’s always time to hang out as it always takes two hours to hunt down the person holding your money. Beyond that, you would have to have a real asshole for a booking agent if your band has to leave immediately for another gig that night, so there’s always time to take in music.
After a set at NedFest in Colorado, I retired to the Wu van for a bite to eat and to take in the fluffy clouds on a perfect summer day. From the artists parking lot I could hear an eighty-year old black dude singing the blues with a voice only an eighty-year old black dude could sing. I mean, there is a sound that can only be conveyed by someone so old, so traveled, so… black.
Knowing that this kind of sound hits Minneapolis once every blue moon, I meandered up to the front of the stage to see that this authentic voice of pain, sorrow, remorse, and apparent blackness was none other than the blonde, dreadlocked, wallpaper paste-whiteness of Papa Mali, who was standing behind me in the lunch line.
Not only did I become a fan (yes, before I actually saw him) of the man, but Malcolm and I hit it off right away. I’ve been lucky enough to host him at the Big Wu Family Reunion, and we’ve shared the stage in a few other states. Suffice it to say that I’ll always have room for him on any stage. This is the fun of music.
4. Late Night Comedy/Shenanigans
At some point, all rock-n-rollers must unplug their guitars and call it a night. The same can’t be said for jokers riding on a magic carpet of booze and drugs. Everybody, and I mean everybody, at a festival knows what I’m saying. Because like Visa, these folks are everywhere you thought you wanted to be, especially after 3am.
I can’t count how many great comedic schticks have been born and constantly referred to as the night grinds into dawn and that somehow becomes noon, usually with a goddamned beer still in my hand. Though difficult to write about in any meaningful way, ask yourself how many inside jokes your circle started at sunrise while on festival holiday. (Seems like there should be a contest for this, but judging would be impossible.)
5. Back Stage
I’ll admit it- Life is favorable backstage. First of all, I prefer the sound of bands stage side. I’m used to how it sounds as opposed to the smoother mix out front. Unless you’re trippin’ balls, it’s hard to hear the space between the players. At a show with SCI and Phil & Friends in Wisconsin, I asked Phil if they were going to play ‘Unbroken Chain.’ He told me: ‘No problem, and sit behind my bass amp for the full effect.’
Sit behind his amp I did! While he lead the band, I got the greatest perspective on how seven dudes chopped through that weird, odd-time middle section without looking nearly as worried as they felt. If the crowd is where the magic is witnessed, stage-side is how one sees the magic made, traded, improved and oops upon.
And if nothing else, the crappers are always much cleaner back stage. (Keep reading)
Top Five Things I Don’t Like So Much About Festival Season:
Ah, the arch-nemesis of anyone with functioning senses… the Green Tower of Shite!
Besides being that special place where the near-indescribable meets near-anonymity (don’t make eye contact when leaving!), the shitter just plain sucks. Even if you’re going for the Top ‘O The Morning sit down (right after Crap Shacks, Inc. just cleaned them out after sun-up), every trip is degrading.
I’m not sure how much more I can be compelled to talk about The Can, but someone brought up an interesting marketing idea concerning the House of Horrors: Rent them out like condos or RV parking spaces. The idea is that you pay a fee, given a Masterlock, and how you allocate use of your personal hopper is up to you. Ideally, you would go in on the rent with your inner circle, hoping that everyone remembers the combination, yet doesn’t drop the padlock down the rabbit hole. Sounds rather reasonable to me: If being exposed to a little cigarette smoke in a bar is a national felony, not being exposed to the indignation of the dreaded Satellite sounds positively life-affirming.
By ‘People’, I mean those people: The whiskey-fueled jackass that wants to start using a hunting knife in lieu of darts in a game of ‘Can You Hit Anything If You Throw It Real Hard’ or the bitchy, semi-retarded girlfriend of some 3rd stage band drummer that thinks people need to hear… well, anything she has to say. Especially when you can still hear her whine on and on while attempting tent-bound gyration-gymnastics late into the evening.
These folks are hard enough to endure as is. When you get a hybrid of the two, (such as the escaped mental patient woman that was both screaming obscenities and wielding hand axes- true story), you know there’s a reason for law & order. Not that you’re going to get up from your camping chair and locate them, but…
3. Cops and Security
Even though I just mentioned these folks might come in useful, they’re never around when one would want them, yet curiously present at all the wrong times (which is, well, all the time- as long as someone takes out the crazy axe bitch before she does something reckless, like bury the hatchet into my beer cooler.)
Since most festivals are private events, cops have to leave well enough alone. This leaves the local Sheriff with little to do except line the road leading to the festival with all the spare units he can get overtime funding for. Besides being an incredible hassle and paranoia generator, it’s accepted as a valid fundraiser.
I call that last stretch ‘The Gauntlet.’ Can you pass? Are those your buddies unrolling their sleeping bags along the side of the road while the cop barks orders and his dog barks for treats? Is the inside of a dirty sock a safe place to keep the stash? Oh God…
4. Shitty Sound
If there’s a hallmark for the qualities that make up the BWFR, it’s because we learned what makes for both a great, and conversely, retched, festival.
The sound is the very lifeblood of a successful weekend. I remember playing some piece of shit gathering with Yonder Mountain in Georgia years ago. Besides the promoter demanding that everyone try his moonshine (it smelled/tasted like Satan took two glassed of rotten tequila, filtered them through rancid t-bone steaks under his armpit, let it drip down through his scrotum, which ran through his pubescent son’s gym socks and into a Mason jar, garnished with a peach), this clown provided a sound system that made my first boombox sound like a million dollars.
There is no better way to wreck a good festival than to go cheap on the one thing that folks came to witness. Assholes that knowingly or otherwise endorse this bullshit need to be put down for good. I mean, everyone can’t be on acid just to make up for craptastic sound, right?
5. Packing Up For The Weekend
The smartest folks are the ones that throw a couple t-shirts and three cases of beer in the car and drive. The rest of us start making lists. As you damn well know, once that list gets started, there’s no turning back, especially if there’s a girl involved.
No offense to the ladies, but a 10% chance of rain doesn’t necessitate a special trip to Wal-Mart for mud boots. In a way, the guys are just as guilty: Do we really need to ice down 275 beers for a simple weekend? (Actually, yes. See: Positive Point 4- Late Night Comedy/Shenanigans)
As for me, I was a Boy Scout, so I come prepared- thus the 275 iced beers. But when my list gets so involved that I’m looking around my house for a flashlight so I can search my garage for the camping flashlight, there’s something wrong.
As of two weeks after the Reunion, I still have random items in the suitcase I took down. A quick inventory shows: A drumstick bag I use to carry my Wustof chef knives, Purell hand sanitizer, three Vikings jerseys, and so on…
Meanwhile, my wife has put everything of hers back where it belongs, including the mud boots. See what I mean?
And so on. Since I’ve started constructing my lists, I thought it might be nice to hear from you. What is it that you love or not like so much about your stays in tent town? Please let me know. While not exactly an official jambands.com contest, I’d be happy to mail off a groovy Big Wu shirt to my favorite list. Please submit ideas to: email@example.com. Do me a favor and include your t-shirt size with your email.
Alrighty folks- Here’s hoping that whomever you are and where ever you went this summer, it was/will be good…. So drive safe, be nice to your mother and drink your milk!