Last Saturday, I had a slot on the main stage at the Bend Roots Revival. I was looking forward to bringing the songs from my upcoming CD to a big Central Oregon stage.
A roots fest in Bend is a good idea. A high-desert block away from the Sisters Folk Festival, Bend is cultural enclave, teeming with outstanding musicians who’ve broken away from anxious stream of wannabeing that contaminates the larger music Biz. To name a few: Dennis McGregor, who’d give Leon Redbone a run for his money, and the whole virtuosic lineup of Empty Space Orchestra.
Mark Ransom (The Mostest), who masterminds the Festival, has the right idea, recruiting from Great Northwest, filling in the gaps with locals. Three main stages, and three side stages where smaller acts play while the main stage acts load in. So there is music going everywhere all the time.
And that turned out to be a problem. The space was too small for several stages with large sound systems and full bands. While I was performing, friends of mine Blaze & Kelly were rocking out in full funky-folk-rock glory soaring out over the festival. I could hear every lyric and savor every note. I could have played along on my stage. I don’t know if this was just an exuberant sound tech who cranked it up, or if nobody anticipated this problem in the first place.
As a professional, I rolled up my sleeves and pushed my music out with all my might. It’s part my job to enjoy myself regardless of the circumstances. (What performer doesn’t have stories about lousy venues, inhospitable stages, bad sound systems, and cold audiences?) I plainly asked the audience, “Can you hear me?” And they said yes. So I kept going.
But I wasn’t able to work the subtle intricacies that define quality solo acoustic music. If all you do is loudly hack away at chords and wail at the top of your lungs, then one song isn’t much different the next. I had to play some of my older rock material, which I fear makes me sound like mere classic rocker without a band. And worse, I was playing so hard that I broke a string, which really sucks at a festival gig. At smaller gigs, where the human element is on your side, the vibe is intimate enough so you can work with it. On big stages, for bigger audiences, a broken string is unbecoming… unless you have a guitar tech with a spare to toss from side stage.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t bad. I got my music across, and I even played the ukulele. The gig just didn’t go as planned. But, hell, in this business, you have to be able to adjust. I’d do it over again, and I hope I get the chance. I’m sure the festival will make its own adjustments by then.