News From The Woods.33


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published August 15, 1999

"It Pays To Be Flexible"

Sometimes it's good to stand by your convictions and hold your ground in the face of adversity. Sometimes it's better to bend with the wind, young grasshopper! I'd like to share a recent experience with all of you out there in the hopes that perhaps if this happens to you, you might be enlightened by my words of wisdom and take heed before you are tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail…or worse.

The group I've been playing with, "Spilt Milk", was recently contracted to play a county fair located deep in Missouri near the Mark Twain National Forest. We were informed that they were going to try out offering different types of music on different nights during the time the carnival festivities were running. There would be gospel/blue grass on the first night, classic Rock & Roll (featuring us, naturally) on the second night, and a good country band on the final night. No problem. Except that someone forgot to tell that to the attending audience on night #2!

As we pulled into the sleepy town of Raymondville, Missouri around 3PM and found the fairgrounds, I started feeling a bit uneasy. The town population sign was a chalkboard, and the carnival area looked shut down. We pulled alongside the stage (which was fortunately covered as it was very hot) and began to unload our gear. By the time all the gear was off loaded and ready to be set up we noticed some of the "carneys" walking around and getting their act together, setting out trash cans and opening up the concession stands. By 6PM we had the gear set up and people started arriving and setting up their lawn chairs around the stage area. (FIRST WARNING SIGN:"Danger - Will Robinson!!!") There was not a teenager in sight!

Well, we continued out set up when the PA arrived and thought it might be a good idea if we ran through at least one song to check out the system On impulse we decided to play our softest, quietest song. It was "Love Will Keep Us Alive" by the Eagles. The tune showcases some nice harmonies. It's not a rock song, with low guitar volume levels and dynamically inclined drums. We did the tune and we were all satisfied that the PA sounded good and we were ready. Then a "local" swaggered up and started yelling at us that the volume was just "too damned loud". OUCH! And that was OUR SOFTEST SONG in the old setlist. We reminded the gentleman that we had been contracted as a Classic Rock and Roll and R&B band but this person wasn't even interested. He just kept on about the volume being "too damned loud". Doug, our bass player who hails from Houston, Missouri (6 miles away) knew this guy and assured us he was just a local troublemaker who had always had it in for Doug anyway, and pretty much dismissed the incident. We drove to Doug's house to get cleaned up for the gig.

When we returned to the scene thirty minutes before "showtime" there were a lot of cars and pickups in the parking lot. We saw this as a good sign. The carnival rides were all in motion, people were milling about, and the usual game booths were set up as were the fundraising areas like the water-balloon toss and bingo tent. When we pulled up to the stage area… Lo and Behold….. The ENTIRE area around the stage was taken up with lawn chairs all occupied by Senior Citizens. Not JUST seniors, but local farmers who had never heard music other than perhaps Porter, Merle, or Waylon (not that there's anything wrong with that!). We knew then that we were in trouble.

We held an emergency panic band meeting behind the stage and made battle plans. Fortunately, we have all had a lot of prior experience playing outside our established genre, so we felt confident that we could still pull the gig off. We completely dropped about 60% of our material and leaned towards classic 60's rock songs with a smattering of established country songs. We started the evening by setting the PA system at about 30% of the usual normal master volume setting, and kept it there until the last set, when we jacked it up to only half volume. All monitors were cut to half volume to keep the guitar players from "subconsciously" turning up their amps. With three guitarists in the band this is a major factor in keeping the overall level below the equivalent of a 747 at takeoff. None of my drums except the kick were miked, and I even cut the preset volume to half, and rolled some of the bottom off the channel.

After some initial adjustments, the band did quite well with the highly modified set list of unfamiliar tunes and playing at a level which was actually below our normal rehearsal volume. After about the second set even some of the more diehard audience members took their fingers out of their ears and even clapped after a couple of familiar songs. By the end of the evening we were quite comfortable with the sound and the audience. To be truthful, I felt a bit more pride for the other guys as I thought they (we) all did an exceptional job of meeting an obstacle head on and making the best of a potentially bad situation. It brings to mind an old saying I used to have framed and hanging on the studio wall that said "Improvise, Adapt & Overcome".

Or, an even earlier motto, which shaped my young mind when I was earning all my merit badges back in good old Troop 157:

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