Not that I'm complaining. I was more than happy to be a part of the weekend. From Friday to Sunday I worked with my pals on the stage crew for approximately 16 hours a day. It's hard to describe exactly what goes on in those long days backstage for someone who's never seen the likes of it. Generally, we start the day by loading in the headliner's gear. This is followed by an extensive set-up and sound check. The rest of the bands file in throughout the day for their own pre-show stage time, albeit shorter than the headliner's. Our main objective is to absorb all the details of each band's set-up, and then recreate that as precisely as we can in the 15 minutes between the main stage acts. As you can imagine, some change-overs are more difficult than others for a multitude of reasons. Many acts tour with a support crew that may include a monitor technician, front-of-house sound engineer, lighting designer, road manager and so on. Some artists bring amazing support staff who are a delight to work with and recognize the efforts of the stage crew. And then there are the few artists who hire total dinks. These guys seem to only insulate and distance the artist from the local crew. Despite my dedication, these types do not bring out the best in me.
As a musician, I've learned much from both ends of this spectrum.
Like all years, this one brought its rewards and life lessons. For me, Sunday was the day I was looking forward to, and when everything locked into place. In particular, it brought the opportunity to work for two artists that I truly admire: Charles Bradley and Neko Case. I'm fairly new to Bradley, and so it was just so fun to meet the band, most of whom reminded me of the musicians I went to school with at Grant MacEwan. It's the first time in my five years at the festival that any band has ever asked for a drink table, or lit up a giant spliff onstage during the sound check. And Charles... he's worthy of celebration. He is full of honesty and gratitude, and truly understands the gifts of performance. Just watch him open his eyes and take in his surroundings during a concert. He does not take for granted what a privilege it is to have an audience, and I can wholeheartedly say that this is a rare thing to see in a performer.
The sound check for Neko Case was another story. I was overwhelmed by the mere thought of it. I deeply respect her integrity, and her determination to build her career achievement by achievement over 25 years. She is a force, and anyone who appreciates her work knows it. Just seeing her three guitars lined up on stage was enough to put a lump in my throat. Not to mention my love for her sideman Jon Rauhouse, Tom Ray and Kelly Hogan. When Hogan introduced herself to me I did my best to not stare at her goofy and gape-mawed, muttering adoringly, "I know who you are."
So, fighting my natural instinct of becoming a blathering idiot, I focused in on what mattered, which was assisting them in whatever way I could in hopes that it would contribute to a performance that left the artists and audience both feeling full. In a rare occasion, I aimed to over-achieve.
And, I'm damned sure that we all came together in a beautiful way to make that happen – crew, audience and performers alike. I heard the sincere gratitude of Case's band first-hand as I said my thank yous and goodnights to them all. I was especially touched by Case's road manager, Mahina, who came back twice to say thanks to all of us for our help. And then there was this:
There's one more thing I must share with you. After my gleeful goodbyes, I heard that an iPhone was lost and that it was Neko's. I found my dear old friend Jeremy the Piano Player (the folk festival's stage manager) under the stage looking for the phone in the dark. Informed by my personal experience, I said to him,
"Has anyone checked her purse? It's always in the singer's purse."
Mahina came around the corner a moment later and Jeremy felt at liberty to repeat my words to her, prefaced with, "She can say this. She's a singer."
And then, Neko Case comes running, shouting Mahina's name, and saying that she found it. That her phone was sandwiched between two cheques, and that it was totally hidden, and that she was sorry for making everyone look for it.
Mahina asked her with a level tone if it was in her purse, took in Neko's affirmative answer, and gave nothing away of our conversation. But I did detect a tiny wee smirk.
Neko spontaneously hugged Jeremy and I both, and thanked us for looking for the phone. And then she was off. We were left with dumb-faced smiles, grateful that the phone was retrieved.
It was a rewarding end to a long, hard festival. So enriching. So exhausting. I'm always deeply proud of what our little prairie city pulls together for this one weekend in August. It's just a pleasure to be a part of it all.
On this high note, I'm going to leave you with a track that Case's sound engineer played on the main stage speakers before their sound check. It totally bowled me over, and made me crave more from Miss Sharon Van Etten.