News From The Woods.32


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published July 6, 1999

"Making Waves With Music"

Another July 4th Celebration has come and gone, and the next event will signify the start of a new millennium. For the past 7 years I have set aside all recording projects, gigs, video shoots, and any other job that come along on July 3rd in order to devote the day and evening to my annual Ferry Barge Party held during the Independence Eve Celebration on Lake Norfork. For the past 14 years my good friend and resident pyromaniac Kent Jones has been the arranger and promoter of the Independence Eve Celebration, which is always held annually on July 3rd.

The ferry barge is the former Arkansas Highway Department ferry, which used to transport all vehicles traveling on US Highway 62 and US Highway 101 across Norfork Lake, before the twin bridges were constructed. For years I - along with all other motorists - had to schedule all my comings and goings around the ferry schedule, which was every 15 minutes in the summer months and every half hour (if you were lucky) in the winter months. One of my teenage fantasies was to someday travel up and down the lake on that ferry with my band and playing rock and roll music for an appreciative and enthusiastic audience. Little did I realize then that this might actually be possible!

In 1983 the twin Veteran's Bridges were completed, which spanned the lake in the two former locations of the original ferry routes. And in a single day, the old ferry barges and their tugboats were instantly obsolete. The Highway Department relocated several of the barges to other locations and decided to sell off the remaining barge and a tug. Two enterprising local residents formed a partnership and after adding bathrooms and a concession stand turned the ferry barge into an excursion boat capable of holding 200 people. Most of the time they take out private parties and have a jukebox on board, but occasionally they will have a large group requesting a live band. That's where I come in! In recent years I have played so many times on the barge I know the "little problems" that arise on such a venue. For instance, since the electricity is run by a single generator, I know just how much gear we can use before we blow the fuse. Forget a lighting system. No way. We're lucky enough to be able to use a medium-sized PA system and four guitar amps with little voltage fluctuation. Also, instead of saving the rockers until last, we hit them hard in the first two sets, then bring it down towards the end of the evening. This saves the barge operators some embarrassing and threatening phone calls from the Corps of Engineers who are responding from residents living near the lake and can clearly hear the music within a mile of the ferry. Remember - sound travels faster and better over water.

In 1992 the Independence Eve Celebration was in its 7th year. For the previous couple of years I organized the live music entertainment for the land-bound spectators. Typically we would erect a stage on the shoreline near the center of the display area and line up an afternoon and evening's full of live entertainment, usually culminating with my band acting as headliners for the event. Literally thousands of people were massed all along the shoreline of the lake for the fantastic fireworks display. It was a lot of work, which required many days of preparation and scheduling and assembling an entire work crew to handle parking, tickets, concessions, etc., and then in addition I would take the stage with the band and play until late in the evening. I won't even go into the load out at the end of the night. Suffice to say I was well spent by July 4th! However, that all changed in 1992 when I was approached by the operators of the ferry barge who wanted to bring the band aboard for the evening which included the ferry cruise, the music, AND the fireworks display. Well, once I started doing that, I haven't been able to go back. We even got a breeze while we played . . . oh, joy!

So, seven years later, here we are once again. Each year I ask a select group of playing buddies to come help me entertain the masses, and each year we have a larger contingent of audience members who are musicians themselves. The event has become sort of a "thing to do" for many musicians who just like the whole ferry vibe and can occasionally sit in during the night and jam along with the main players. As they say, "A good time is had by all!". Every year I assemble a slightly different group of "core" musicians, and usually come up with some smarmy band-name for the advertising flyers, even though everyone knows it will be me and some select players. Two years ago it was "The Amazon Love Gods". Last year it was "What About Bob?". This year it was "Spilt Milk".

The only difference between last years' band and this years band is that last year I played guitar and this year I elected to play drums. Doug DeForest played bass on both dates along with Robby Springfield playing guitar. Last year Tom Dappen played drums and I played guitar, but this year I decided that the core was so strong (and we had SO much fun) that I should just stick to drums - my main "axe" - and hand the second guitar playing to my long time pal Mark Rex. For MY money - this is the best band YET! Robby and Doug are seasoned vets who make their living hiring out as "hired guns" in recording session work. They are TIGHT! Mark has long been a player in the Albuquerque music scene. He spends his summers here at the lake giving dive instruction and writing tunes for his just released CD (On HYPE Records, by the way [plug]).

But what makes this band so special to me more than previous bands? Well, I'm glad you asked that! It's simple, really……. It is years of playing experience and professional attitude coupled with a healthy dose of humor and confidence in each other. In other bands I might have to schedule two three-hour practice sessions a week just to keep up with current arrangements, only to hash over some of the same arrangements at the next rehearsal because someone forgot their part of the arrangement or wasn't paying attention or whatever. I mean, how can you concentrate on your own arrangement when you are expecting someone in your band to blow the key change coming up in the song? Now, I'm not saying we don't occasionally blow the arrangement, but at least we laugh about it instead of turning and scowling at the "offender".

As a matter of fact, I have rehearsed less with "Spilt Milk" than in any other band I have been in. Our last gig was May 14th, for which we had ONE 2-hour rehearsal. Due to our respective schedules we have not even seen one another until three hours before the July 3rd gig, when we sat down for 30 minutes with two electric guitars (unplugged) and the bass running into a "pocket amp" powered with a 9V battery. Instead of drums I sat there and slapped my hands on my legs for the beat. That was rehearsal. Our next gig, at a fair in Missouri, is July 16th and I can assure you we won't even get a rehearsal for that one. But I have learned not to worry, because I have faith that the other guys will not only remember the arrangements, but we will be keen to lay and have some more fun together. And for me, that's the bottom line. I have been playing live music for over 35 years now so I can tell you I have played in just about every situation. Making the music fun and entertaining the audience is where it's at for me, and I believe the audience picks up on that. "Spilt Milk" always gets a great audience response because any idiot can look up on stage and see four guys really having some fun up there. Call it fellowship or whatever you like. There are no pretenses. We aren't claiming to be the next Rolling Stones. All the songs in our set lists are bona fide classic rock or R&B hits that everyone has heard time and time again. We may throw an original in once in a great while, but 99% of our set list is dance and party music.

So, I'll ride the "Spilt Milk" wave as long as it's feasible for all concerned. Robby and Doug are busy guys in the studio scene and Doug is just about finished with his own solo CD release (also on HYPE Records [another shameless plug]). Mark lives just across the lake from me and has elected to stick it out here in the Ozark's this year while we work together on his next album project. I am still mixing songs for my first solo release (ALSO on HYPE Records [what GIVES, anyway?]) and have to work mixing in between "paying sessions". You can find audio clips and details on all these projects at

In the meantime, remember . . . . It's okay to be serious about playing music, just don't let it get in the way of actually enjoying what you are doing or it then becomes that most dreaded of words to a musician: "WORK!"

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