Once again I must apologize to my readers, who may have to wait a bit to see photos and tags on this blog post. I am dashing it off quickly before returning to work; I set aside a fair bit of day-job stuff to prepare for last night’s concert at Longmont’s ArtWalk.
Last night’s show was a big success for a number of reasons, even if for some time at the beginning I felt like I was headed for a major disaster. I have the opposite of “sophomore slump”; I tend to sweat technical details pretty hard when I’m doing my first show in a new environment, or my first show in a new format in a previously familiar environment, and it’s actually very difficult for me to finally settle down and just enjoy making music. But I managed it, belatedly, last night, and the next show will be a lot smoother. (“Next show”? Heh, see below.)
First of all, huge thanks to my friend Allen Goodman, who came out with me and played with his usual grace and aplomb, keeping me calm and centered when tech stuff was spiraling (sorry) out of control. Allen had one or two tech issues of his own, but nothing compared to what I was dealing with, and he played, in my opinion, the lion’s share of the really good music that everyone heard last night. It was and is an honor to share a stage with him.
Second, more huge thanks to Chris, Ku, and Micah at La Vita Bella Coffee, our gracious hosts who kept us fed and watered throughout the night while providing moral support and tweaks to the house PA as we played. This was my first time using the relatively new PA inside La Vita Bella, which has finally built a stage and is operating as a live-music venue in downtown Longmont as well as a fantastic coffee house and bakery, and with a few hiccups the experience was good enough to convince me that I no longer have to bring in my own speaker systems any more.
Third, even more huge thanks to Gypsy Witch, who was waiting patiently on the other side of the virtual divide to hear if there was even going to be an online component to the concert. Her rude awakening to “Spiral in problem-solving preshow mode” at last month’s Second Life premiere had her prepared for me being effectively radio-silent with occasional snippy Skype messages, and she was calm and pleasant as we nailed down the problems and got things going, effectively acting as my liaison and hostess in both the StillStream.com radio chat room and on Second Life, where a small audience listened to the show in that virtual world.
Fourth, yet another round of huge thanks to my wife Suzanne, who came to the venue with us, provided a bit of roadie help, and was as always my smiling and friendly ambassador in the real world, chatting with fans and making them feel welcomed and special for having attended. I love her more with every passing year, and doing things like this makes me appreciate what a rare treasure she is.
So! What went down?
Allen and I had spent the day cleaning gutters and downspouts, and after a rest and a cleanup and change of clothes, we got our gear packed up and ready to take to the venue. Technically, ArtWalk starts at 4 PM, but things really don’t start swinging until 5 PM or after, especially on a blistering-hot day like yesterday was. So we figured we’d get there by 4 PM, load in, and be set up and ready to go by 5 PM. No sweat, right?
Into the car and out the door by 355 PM, in downtown Longmont by 4 PM… only to discover that the police have sealed off Main Street already and parking nearby is filling up fast. Not only can we not park in front of the cafe as for previous shows, we can’t park within two blocks of it. Much roadying of heavy gear ensues, mitigated somewhat by a chat with the organizer of ArtWalk, who kindly pointed out a place where we could bring in a car under the watchful eye of the police, unload our gear, and then move it to a spot that was technically forbidden to visitors but cleared for performers. All well, but we were already behind schedule by the time we started setup….
La Vita Bella isn’t wired for Ethernet at the stage (although there are wired feeds back at the PA, etc.) and I didn’t want to trust the wireless router, which is often slammed with customers using it for this and that. So Allen, bless him, brought a spool of Cat5 Cable and a crimper, made a cable, Chris and Micah strung it… and it didn’t work. No connection. Allen double checked the wiring but there was nothing. We concluded that there must be a bad spot somewhere in the length, and there was no way we had time to troubleshoot it. Fine, going wireless, moving on… it was now less than half an hour to showtime and the entire rig was still in bags.
Setup was frenetic. I don’t share space on the little stage at LVB very often, and Darwin (my usual partner) tends to pack small, but Allen’s a great keyboardist and had brought a huge keyboard workstation for most of his playing. Cable lengths weren’t right, connections weren’t right… rigs got moved, shifted, back and forth, here and there… it was now past showtime and still no noise. The photographer who was showing his work in the cafe, Gerardo Brucker (www.gabfoto.com), was watching us with bemusement as we ran about trying to get things to work. He must have thought we were insane.
Time ticking away. I sat down at my rig… and realized that the streaming setup, which usually lives on an extension stand in front of me, was completely blocking my view of the entire cafe. It worked fine at the planetarium in Fort Collins last month because I was at the bottom of an amphitheater and no one was looking at me anyway. Now I was above the crowd and it was tremendously offputting… and the heavy extension stand was threatening to flip over and dump both laptops on the floor anyway. GRRR! Dissassembly took me, Allen, AND Chris several minutes, and then I had to find a bar stool that I could set up next to me and place the streaming machine, then find MORE long cables to run to its interface… panic, stress, now nearly an hour late…!
Audio sent to the PA. I packed balanced cables that could run from TRS to XLR or back to TRS again. Plugged into the 1/4″ jacks at the stage box… and realized that they weren’t balanced lines. Unbelievably awful ground loop hum. Messed with it as best we could to minimize it, and learned that the venue PA board had more than one skunky channel. With Chris’s help, finally sorted it and got audio going.
Fired up the streaming software and discovered that it had forgotten all the current settings and still thought it was 2010. Looked up settings, redid everything, and got online just as Rebekkah Hilgraves concluded her set… an hour late, but we were up and running… or were we?
Playing our first number with one eye on the IRC chat from StillStream. Strange comments there… “It’s very muffled” “Are they miking the PA?” “It’s very vibey and real” (i.e. it sounds terrible but if they’re stressed we won’t hassle them)… and then the kicker, “I can hear Mike talking.”
Wha-a? My mic is off!
Fumble, panic, blink blink… oh, great. Forgot to tell the streaming machine about the USB audio interface, and it’s streaming the ambient sound in the cafe from the laptop mic.
Apologize to the audience, apologize to the online listeners, stop the stream, direct the software to the interface, start up again… and magically the sound is near perfect! Yaaaaay!
So… one and a quarter hours after we were supposed to be online and playing, we were online and playing. I took a deep breath, had a bit of the Doctor Mike’s Special that Ku had made me (Allen gave it that name after he heard what was in it and had Ku make him one too), and finally settled in to enjoy the show.
That intense hour of troubleshooting taught me a lot about future shows at La Vita Bella, and confirmed what I suspected about ArtWalk as a venue… we had something like 200 visitors through the cafe, some 60 of which stayed long enough to hear the music, and we played material that was received well, with a number of families staying for hours (we played from 6ish to about 9, rather than the original plan of 5 to 8). We were able to take breaks, one or both of us, took turns doing solo stuff, had some rhythmic beat-driven material that went over very well (as a former punk musician with a strong love of electronica, Chris’s “turn it up” attitude was a refreshing change from that of most cafe owners), and ended with some amazing drift material.
Friends stopped by to hear us, not only members of the music community who made a trip up to Longmont but local friends who had never heard me play before. There was lots of support and kindness and the music turned out very much as I had hoped. At the end, we scooped the money out of the tip jar (provided by Allen with a note I’d made just before leaving home), and sat down to two more glasses of Doctor Mike’s and two slices of the amazing LVB “Mr. Peanut” chocolate cake with peanut ganache infused with rum. Allen looked like he was going to die and go to Heaven right there.
My main takeaway from the evening — aside from the realization that even wirelessly I can broadcast my shows from LVB and it’s fantastic to have a steady virtual audience even as the real-world folks come and go, and the extensive tech notes I took that will smooth things a lot next time — is that there will be a next time. Chris eagerly signed me up for the next ArtWalk, which will be on Saturday, September 20. So much for this being my last confirmed concert of the year! It will be nice to have one last blast of fun before the really stressful and busy part of the publishing year, stretching between the AES and NAMM trade shows with the winter holidays in between, begins.
Once again, my thanks to everyone who attended. And seriously, folks, if you’re ever in Longmont, try out La Vita Bella (www.longmontcoffee.com). These guys are serious about their food and drinks… they even make their own chocolate for their cakes and drinks, grinding their own cocoa. And they’re just great people.
Okay, off to work, and maybe I’ll see a few of you folks online tonight at my usual show time.