News From The Woods - September 1, 2001


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published September 1, 2001

"I'm getting too old for this ! ! !"

I guess I've been getting a little soft lately. I'm referring to the recent gig I played with "Spilt Milk" over the Labor Day weekend. It was a local three-nighter which didn't exactly start out very well. The venue is the Club Winjammer, which is situated on the second floor of the Lake Norfork Inn which overlooks the main body of Lake Norfork and the twin bridges which span the lake. It's a very beautiful setting and in my opinion the choicest venue in this area to play. Although two walls are entirely glass, when the place fills up the patrons soak up a considerable amount of sound reflection, so audio reflections are diminished to the point of being negligeable. Fortunately, the hotel also has an elevator to the second floor.

Unfortunately, lightning had recently disabled the elevator system and since it was a holiday we were informed when we arrived for load in that a elevator service tech was not available and we would have to use the two flights of stairs to get the equipment to the stage. Our initial disgrutlement turned to horror as we discovered upon entering the club that there was no air conditioning. Assured that there would be AC as soon as their maintenance man could "get to it", we turned to the task of moving the gear upstairs.

One of the main reasons "Spilt Milk" has three guitar players in the band is due to the extreme flexibility needed at times when one member or the other can't make a particular gig due to prior commitments. Doug Deforest, our bass player, frequently gets called out of state for studio session work. Likewise for Robby Springfield and Steve Smith. We're pretty awesome as a five-piece band, but even as a four-piece we handle the chore quite well. But for this gig we learned that Steve AND Doug would not be available. Playing as a three-piece was not only new territory but it also meant that Mark Rex had to shift from guitar chores to bassist. Everything was twisted around and skewed. The set list was practically gutted and we had to make many adjustments not only to song arrangements but Mark and I had to reassign singing chores to each other to cover our losses. Robby does background vocals but no lead vocal duties. All this with a simple two-hour rehearsal just hours before the Friday night performance. To say I was concerned would be an understatement.

Now, let's cut back to the club at load in. Mark and I do not own vehicles which can accommodate gear. As a matter of fact, we BOTH own tiny sports cars! Robby has a pickup with a covered bed but he was busy right up to the last minute and could not get to the venue in time to assist us. It took Mark and I four trips with both cars just to deliver the gear to the location, which fortunately was only a mile from my house, where all the gear was stored. Also, since Steve (who owns the PA we use) could not attend we had to devise a different PA for the event. Between Mark and I we put together a decent system, and one fortunate thing that happened was that the club had an extra pair of JBL PA speakers which we could utilize. This was a double-edged sword, as on the one hand we didn't have to lug Steve's really HUGE PA system up those stairs, but we DID have to get a rack full of Crown amps and outboards to the club. This meant Mark and I could haul literally ALL the gear (including my drums) to the club in our little cars. So we would schlep two carloads of gear to the venue and up the stairs, then return to the studio for the next load. And remember, each time we got upstairs it was at least 20 degrees hotter inside than outside, due to a lack of AC in the club. With each new load we both prayed that they would have the AC unit up and running, but to no avail as we entered the club and greeted with a blast of superheated air from all the windows in the club facing the afternoon sun.

Finally, two hours later, we got ALL the gear upstairs and situated around the stage. Now it was time to set it all up. Well, needless to say, both of us were soaked to the skin several times over and gasping for breath in that sweat box. I found the ceiling fan main switch and turned them all up to high. At least it swirled the hot air around even if it didn't cool anything off. And right at that moment Robby arrived and wondered aloud why he couldn't get the elevator to work downstairs. One look at Mark and I and he guessed the terrible truth. So we trudged downstairs and then helped Robby get his guitar rack and gear up the stairs. An hour later we had all the gear set up and running. THEN……. It was time to rehearse!

Even with all the change up's to the set list and singing assignments we made short work of rehearsal because of the incredible heat in the club. Mark and I were already worn down by this point and not really looking forward to playing in just a few hours. We assumed that we would not have a large crowd on Friday night as most people would still just be arriving to the area for the extended weekend, so we called the Friday night performance "rehearsal night". Therefore we did not spend much time rehearsing that afternoon in the sweltering heat. After two hours we were spent and headed back to my house to clean up. As we walked out into the cool outside air at the entrance to the club, we passed the motel maintenance man headed upstairs with his toolbox. He gave us all wide berth as our stares probably gave him an indication of our mood of the moment. At least the club would be cool upon our return and our audience would not have to endure what we had just been through.

After a long cold shower and laying on my bed in shorts for thirty minutes, I dragged myself up and dressed for the gig. Jane and I headed to the club and arrived about fifteen minutes before we were scheduled to start playing. Sure enough, nobody was there. Let me restate that: NOBODY was there! There was one bar waitress, one security guard, and us. Mark arrived minutes later and we all three slumped in cushioned chairs slowly sipping iced tea to replenish our lost body fluids from the afternoon's "adventure". Suddenly we all realized that we had not eaten any dinner. The club manager kindly went downstairs to the kitchen and prepared BLT's which we consumed in short order, accompanied by great amounts of iced tea. Forty five minutes later a couple walked into the club. Our audience had arrived! It must have seemed pretty strange to them that when they entered the club, the only other people seated in the club all got up in unison and made their way to the stage.

Upon sitting at my kit I announced on the PA to the two incredulous people sitting there: "Hello out there! We're 'Spilt Milk' and welcome to rehearsal !!" We played the rest of the night to those two people (who stayed the entire evening) and the bar crew. We had a good rehearsal and since no one was there (so to speak) we laughed, took our time between songs, cracked jokes back and forth, and generally had a pretty good time, all things considered. Our couple were not only congenial but were having great fun with this! They sensed that they were "special" and we were basically played to them alone. They bought us drinks and clapped enthusiastically with the bar crew (and my wife who was "taking tickets") after each song. Needless to say, we quit an hour early.

Saturday night was a very different story. We had a large crowd of appreciative customers. Since we had our "Friday night rehearsal" we at least were somewhat prepared for the evening. Not to mention we were rested. We kept patting ourselves on the back for deciding to do a three-nighter because if we had decided to play Saturday night and Sunday night only we would have had to play to a large crowd on Saturday after going through what we had already gone through on Friday to get set up. Our spirit's were high and the crowd loved us and stayed all the way to last call. Sunday night looked a bit more sparse to us on stage but after conferring with Jane it appeared we actually made more money on Sunday night, indicating the Sunday night crowd was a turnover crowd. Nevertheless we still had a good time and an appreciative audience.

What these three days brought home to me was that it has been a long time since I played in a three-piece band! I had forgotten how much fun that can be. There is so much more latitude to how and what you can play. Furthermore, each player must actually give more to the song and the audience as you have to fill out the sound and cover more holes in the music. Robby was infinitely busy as he had to cover three guitar players arrangements all by himself. Mark was of course busy as he not only had to play an unfamiliar instrument but also had to double up on his singing while playing bass. Likewise for me. I had more to sing lead on and had many holes to fill as well. We became a power trio by Sunday night and the crowd really liked what they heard. I don't recall ever getting so many back slaps or people trying to buy me drinks. There was actually a buzz around town after Saturday night's performance, and many people showed up Sunday night just to see these three crazy guys performing. It really brought out the best in all three of us. And when it came time to pack it all up, the conversation kept returning to how much fun we had. The manager of the club liked us so much as a three-piece that they booked us for a pre-Halloween party and I must say Robby, Mark and I are really looking forward to it.

We may even rehearse for this one and work up some fresh material!

That is, IF there is a working elevator and air conditioning……………

For a RealAudio clip from Saturday night's funfest, click here.

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