Friday, August 2, 2013

Once is a mistake. Twice is a theme

Hold on to your precious moments. Last night was one of those, a perfect gig.

Inland from the Oregon coast is an arc of volcanoes, part of the Pacific Rim of Fire. We first saw The Cascades two years ago when, ignominiously, we were thrown off our flight from Vancouver to LA and forced to catch two flights hopping down the coast via Portland. On our left reared these mighty volcanoes in various stages of aliveness. Mt St Helens, Mt Adams, Mt Rainier, Mt Hood. Spectacular from an aircraft. Wouldn't it be great to visit there one day?
The end of Mt St Helen's as they knew it.

I now sit at dawn behind the range, staring west at the Three Sisters, from our humble abode in the town of Sisters. Another perfect ukulele host, Peggy, has let us occupy her granny flat for our sojourn in Central Oregon.

We are on the eastern side of the range. The sunrise should be spectacular on the snow flanked peaks. This is 'high desert' in Bend and Sisters, a place which you'd think would be forsaken to the coyotes and sagebrush, but which actually has a city the size of Bendigo, populated by plain people with a mix of outdoorsie environmental types. Erratum - just slightly smaller than Bendigo - in name and in population. Bend has 80,000 people. Bendigo has 100,000 people and three more letters. It almost seems like the Ecotopia that Ernest Callenbach wrote of does exist. They have just made pot legal in Washington State.

OK. I exaggerate. But not about the pot.

Sisters is only 2,000 people, with a city planning order that deems that any new construction must look like a 'western' cowboy town. You gotta do what you gotta do when the logging industry that you once relied on just dies. They have managed the transition to eco tourism well.

The best little whorehouse in Sisters
Bronco Billy's is the town's saloon. Built in 1912, it seems like a two story rickety building (I presume the City ensures its structural integrity). Swinging doors, and a long upstairs room that feels like it was once the rooms of an old whorehouse.

We met, we performed, we separated.
The best little whorehouse in Sisters. Horny devils.
Into the long upstairs room we crammed 30-40 people, who came along to see us, a trio who had barely met each other. We rehearsed pretty much in the arvo, and expected hardly anyone at all. But it turned out to be a spectacularly successful evening. The most fundamental thing to go wrong was the weather, so we had to decamp inside. That was fortunate because we had a loaned PA system, with no microphone stand. Upstairs was so acoustically perfect, we didn't need it.

So we performed entirely acoustically (except for the bass amp). In my opinion nothing can replace an acoustic performance. It is superb as a performer, and (insert some other grandiose adjective) as an audience. The last time I remember such an acoustically wonderful space and performance was the debut of the Bendigo Folk Club in the dungeon of the Gold Mines Hotel.

We put together a set of songs that were reasonably complementary, Kevin's Texas honourings, our mellow Australian reflections. Jane's n my voices blended well, and Jane blended superbly and smoothly on Kevin's songs. I didn't offend anyone with my verbal offerings. Bonus. Who'da thought you could capture an audience with just three ukes, three voices and no PA!? We did and the audience listened and appreciated every note (or so it felt).

In our newly acquired vocations, as community musicians, performing is a financially risky luxury. Unless you are famous, or virtuosic, or you have an excellent PR team who spend lots of your unearned money, the chance of getting people along to pay is pretty spartan. We now know that people are keen to pay for tuition and active participation, but to passively sit back and listen, that is a different offering and expectation for which many are unwilling to release their grip on the TV remote.

Mr Carroll doesn't need a guitar.
Kevin Carroll is a professional listener.
Kevin. Listening. Silver Lake, Oregon.
He identifies musical spaces and occupies them with taste, slide and silence. He has the first musical skill: listening. He is engaged by, and engages the music around him and all he needs to express himself is a ukulele. He used to be a country rock guitarist but has forsaken that rather tourbus laden lifestyle for a pared back one, with a pared back instrument. The country still infuses his MyaMoe Ukulele stylings, a bottle slide here, a judicious fill or chord there. He is an utter pleasure to perform wit (sic), and the one original song of his that we played is one that stays with you in your sleep and gently wakes you in the morning, with its vaguely Lennonesque lyrics and gently hooked chorus.

Entertain and include
The evening was well rounded off by a jam with the participants from our Sisters (Tuesday) and Bend (Wednesday) workshops, performing the songs that we had learned. After everyone had left, dear Nancy from Bend insisted that we do Price Tag (we kept forgetting it - perhaps conveniently). She is a great player of uke, a nice singer and an endearingly enthusiastic participant. On Wednesday night she was the only person who indicated they she was planning on coming over to Sisters for our concert. It is fortunate that she brought others - a 30 minute drive is rather hazardous for the blind.

Performers are nothing without an audience, but an audience needs to be trained. These were a well trained and well behaved mob. Bless a good audience.

Conclusion. Or not. Mistake. Or not.
Our main problem on this trip (ostensibly our last to these parts as we are finished our obligations to the James Hill course) has been the constant offers to 'see you next year' at this or that festival / event / weekend, and the guarantees or recommendations that more people will come along. The temptations of Ottawa, Toronto, Sisters, Bellingham, are ever present. We shall see what 2014 brings.

My toes are freezing. Peggy said last night that a frost can occur here on any day of the year. As a gardener this provides a particular challenge. Today we venture further south, back into the coastal valley and to places where my toes will be warm and the smoke from the bushfire haze is thick. (I have just read that Vancouver has had its driest July ever. Forgive me father, for I have carbon-sinned). Two more ukestration workshops to go with Kevin, then 3 more without. We are busy beavers.

Kevin made a mistake last night, starting his solo early in a part of the song that wasn't for him, but he recognised the mistake after a note or two. What does one do in those musical situations?

You use it. Once is a mistake. Twice is a musical theme.

Why did we come here? Because of an email error, because people are encouraging, and because we ran into some really nice people in a pub on Vancouver Island two years ago.

Be open to happy coincidences and mistakes, in music and in life.

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