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GUEST,reggie miles Folk Festival Problems? (27) RE: Folk Festival Problems? 02 Jun 04

My weekend started a little early. The folks at Folklife called on Tuesday and asked if I'd be interested in doing an interview on the radio. The last time I played at Folklife, two years ago, I participated in one of these. So, on Thursday at about 7-8 in the morning I was scheduled to join the folks at KMPS. I ended up thoroughly enjoying myself with Ichabod Caine and the Waking Crew. He was a very gracious host and was nice enough to invite me back anytime that I had shows to advertise. He also hinted that he might be interested in having me as a monthly guest, a very flattering gesture. He was kind enough to advertise my show and workshop at the Festival. Even though they seemed more interested in my musical saw playing, I hoped that, by bringing my guitars along, he might offer me a chance to play one of my original songs and he did. I played one of my new ones called, "Wanted: Used Car". After the interview, just as I was about to head back home, Ichabod took me down the hall to their sister station KYCW. He introduced me to the host Tall Paul. Paul was nice enough to follow suit and offer an opportunity to play another saw song and then let me play another original song on my guitar. I played my song "A Dilly of a Tale", about having eaten some bad dill pickles. I left both Ichabod and Paul with a couple of my most recent recordings. Later, at the festival and elsewhere, I had folks stop and tell me that they heard the radio spot. They also told me they had heard them play one of the songs from my latest called, "Shopping Cart Wrangler." All that attention is enough to increase the hat size of any mortal man.

On Saturday I headed to the EMP for my workshop about how to play the musical saw. Being unfamiliar with the location, I had to call to ask where the learning lab was. The room was wonderful, and an enormous upgrade from the space that we used during my last workshop, two years ago. We had about the same number of folks in attendance or perhaps a few more. About ten to twenty showed up. From that small number I was able to reap five contacts of those who wished to stay in touch.

I made mention to all in attendance of my intention to start an organization of those interested in this curious art form and that I decided to call it the Sawplayers Association of Wasington State (S.A.W.S.). Fortunate indeed that I live where I do, as the end result of that spelling wouldn't have worked out in too many other states. I had no intense agenda to the idea of starting the club/group of enthusiasts. However, it is my hope that, by spreading the idea around we might gather more attention to this nearly lost art form. Perhaps some day we'll have enough interest by enough folks to host our own Northwest gathering of saws. If I were to really dream big, a sawchestra would be fun, but that idea may take a while to ripen. Actually, I'd be happily surprised to simply find another saw player out there in the woodwork (so to speak) with whom I could play a duet, but given the very varied and individual nature of the approaches that different folks have taken to learning to play, one of those electronic loop mechanisms seems my only alternative at present.

With one of those gadgets you can become your own partner by recording a melody part and then performing a harmony along with the previously recorded section. It's not as dramatic or dynamic a presentation as two players together on stage live but I'm fairly certain I can have some fun with the idea.

I was happy that Steve, an attendee of past workshops, showed up again, and this time brought along a variety saws to demo and share. He was also willing to share his insights concerning what was important to understand about the how-to aspects of playing and help with instruction during the hands on portion. Steve made a recording of the workshop on his mini disc recorder and took a photo of the event. What a wonderful contribution he made to this year's event. I just finished listening to the recording. Wow, I didn't realize there was so much to say about saw playing. Or maybe it's just the way I say it. ;0) I was a little saddened by the fact that after so many workshops Steve hasn't decided to focus on learning to play his saw these past few years. He said he's been working a lot more with his ukulele of late, an admirable choice. I'm a uke fan myself and have several that I don't spend nearly enough time with.

I guess my real inspiration was having seen Tom Scribner play.
Even though I've only had the opportunity to hear him play once, it gave me an idea of just what the saw could sound like. Just having that example was enough for me. I guess each of us get inspired in different ways.

I didn't have a great deal of time before my performance on the Exhibition Hall Lawn Stage so I went directly there afterward.
I managed avoiding the highest concertrations of visitors last weekend by knowing a few shortcuts and walking around the outside edges of the event when in a hurry.

I had a good half hour set. I was tickled to see so many smiles on the faces of friends and family. I wish I could have had more time
to continue. It's a real blessing to be able to bask in all of those smiles.

If I have any complaint about the event it's the same one that I've noticed year after year.

I still feel that offering the drum ensembles an indoor location of their own is the best of all possible solutions. This handful of performers continue to dominate, via the sheer volume of their instruments, most of the available listening environment on the entire festival grounds. They have been getting away with this for far too long and nothing is being done to deter this from happening by this festival's organizers. They are, however, quick to pass rules against any musicians, playing instruments of lower natural volume, to keep them from using amplification while playing casually. These folk musicians would not want to bring in amplification if there were no issues with volume to compete with on the grounds. This habit of looking the other way at the abuse of the few to the detriment of the majority isn't fair or right and something should be done about it. The entire main walkway on the west side of the fountain was dominated by four drum bands that set up camp all weekend long and never moved. They never offered the space to those who played instruments with lesser volume. When some friends and I tried to play one brief set on the south end of that same walkway, the nearest of these drum bands began to drum loudly right over the top of our music. Instead of waiting and kindly offering us an opportunity to play one measly set of music all weekend long, they used their volume level as a weapon to destroy our chances of being enjoyed by the folks who had stopped to listen to us, ruining an opportunity for folks to hear our folk music. I don't think the majority of the space should be alloted to the minority of the peformers just because they have louder instruments. Putting these groups indoors with their own stage, just as the dance bands had their own stage and space indoors, is a viable solution. It gives focus and attention to their art. Just as the Exhibition Hall was set aside for the dancers, the drummers should have a venue where they can perform and be heard (indoors!!!). They can take turns as the rest of us do, performing their "set" of percussion before all who would attend such an event. Give them their own stage/venue and let them set up and tear down their gear after their half hour set as we do. This would effectively eliminate them from being hogs, via their volume, of the available listening area that the festival has to offer and thereby make the entire grounds available for the many more folks who have instumentation of lower natural volume. There are ways of muting drums as well that would decrease their level of output volume.

Another point is this. I was offered a single half hour performance slot last weekend. By contrast, these drum bands are setting up camp all weekend long. One group even had their own tent set up. Do they have to apply to the festival for the opportunity to play their four day long performances as we do? Their volume easily carries for an entire city block in all directions. I say take them out of the outdoor mix by offering them a specific venue either away from the highest concentration of stages on the outskirts of the festival, or inside where their volume can't negatively impact the available listening space. I would love to have an opportunity to play on the grounds and actually be heard above the din. I can't compete with their volume. It seems as though, by letting these drum bands get away with this volume bullying year after year, that the festival organizers are telling me that my music isn't worth accommodating. Or perhaps they think that folks are not actually interested in my folk music. Maybe next year they should just change the name of the event to Drumfest and be done with it.

What is seriously needed is a Volume Czar to organize the event. Either that, or I'm going to start working on the biggest dang drum on the planet for next year's event, and take over ALL the space via my volume. It'll shatter ear drums, glass and guitar tops with a single thump, and nobody better complain either especially after what I've been putting up with in years past. (Okay, that last comment may be a bit extreme)

And please don't respond with how this outdoor playing has some historic tie to their art and that putting them indoors is denigrating this history or tradition. Most of these guys were just beating trap sets, and besides, the history of performing outdoors is tied to many more folks than just drummers. And lest you think I'm down on percussionists, I've been playing percussion for the last twenty years. Having no formal training, just scrubbin' on my ol' 1929 Maytag Custom Dixie Delta Deluxe Eldorado Special, I still only consider myself a pre-cussionist but even I recognize that the best percussionists I've heard know that, when it comes to volume, less is more.

End of rant

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