This is the third year running for this prestigious event and I'm not quite sure why I haven't gotten my lazy ass down here before now to take in this acoustic guitar extravaganza. A few months back I got an email from Del Vezeau about coming down to help film it for the DVD he plans on making and I was sold! So I picked up fellow gobyfisher Pat Ang and headed to Odessa from downtown Ottawa. Two and a half hours later we found the Odessa fairgrounds, saw all the tents pitched in the back, this was definitely the place.
There was a workshop going on in a side-building when I got there, and soon after, the guitar luthiers set up shop. There were two, Tony Karol and Josh House. Josh has been mentioned to me as an excellent new builder by several people of late and Tony I've been bugging with emails for the last two years(grin). It was the first time I've seen Tony's stuff up close and man does it look and sound great!(I've just put in an order in on a custom multiscale from him. Watch this space in 18 months!). There was an open mic which Pat played in, and there were a number of players who could have easily headlined the main stage that night, but they were in the competition so that's a no go.
I got to meet Don Alder, a player I had heard about for years but had never seen play. As someone said: "He's sick", as in, very talented. He also swears like the Bejesus so I got along great with him. I've come to the conclusion that most musicians, especially guitar players, swear like soldiers. I don't know why, but when I come back from a thing like this, a guitar weekend, or even Steve's music in Ottawa, I start using the F-word as punctuation.
After checking out the guitar builders and open mic participants I spotted Andy Mckee from Kansas (he started the sets off that day). I had had the chance to meet him a few months back at Don Ross's place in Cannington. He's a heck of an acoustic player and an avid gamer. He was looking around for Don, who was going to join him on-stage for Andy's version of Don's Tight Trite night. Speak of the devil, just then, Don came barreling in with his Van. To me, he's what canadian finger style guitar is all about, great to have him here too! I also got to meet the guy running Candy rat records, the online place where I get all my CD's these days. He's sort of a gobyfisher too (gobyfishers are fingerstyle guitar nerds Don Ross's email list).
Right then the producer for the video crew arrived and I moseyed over to get a 30 second lesson on the TV cams they were using. It was pretty slick, a huge tripod with an XLR cable going to the camera that brought the zoom and focus puller down near the tripod pan and tilt handles. I was kinda worried about pulling focus while zooming and panning but the guy goes, "Don't have too, zoom in as far as you can, set focus to the player's eyes, and zoom out. You'll see it stays in focus." No way! So I tried it with a roadie and man! IT WORKED! I've been playing with Mini-DV cams for the last 6 years and I always have to adjust focus when zooming. Perhaps these cams have some extra guts that take care of that shit for you(I have to investigate this further) , in any case, all I had to worry about was zooming, pan and tilt. Piece of cake!
I practiced some slow zooms and pans for a few minutes and before I knew it, the MC was talking and Andy was on-stage. They had some headphone cans you wore to hear the switcher in the truck so I chucked those on.
They're pretty slick these broadcaster dudes. They asked "Camera #1" if it was manned. I looked at my cam, it had a big #1 on it so I figured that was me, but I couldn't find the push to talk button on my headphone mic quick enough so the switcher(guy that sets up shots and switched video feeds) quickly said "Tilt your camera up and down if you read me." So I did and he said "Ok, Camera #2, etc.." And boom, Andy's playing.
So you kinda stare up into the video monitor and get good shots and the people in the truck pick and choose between all the different cameras, or they set you up for some sort of move (like zooming in from a wide shot) and tell you go for it and then they transition over to you(they have fades and dissolves they can do from there). When I was the live cam it's sort of nerve wracking because you don't want to screw up the shot, so you end up gripping the handles a little tighter(not good) but after awhile I got used to it and kept it slow and smooth. On Cams 1 and 2 you didn't know you were the live feed unless they told you (they usually say "Take Camera 2", etc. and you hear them push the button which makes Cam 2 the live feed). We had some mix ups, a few times the camera with the live feed didn't know it and they did some wacky pan or zoom looking for another shot and they get all excited in the truck and yell "Camera 3 watch it you're live!". At one point a guy with the same name as me was on camera 1 while I was on 2 and when I'd hear my name I'd start setting up and they'd get all excited in the truck. They they stopped using names and just went by the camera numbers.
When you have the cans on listening to the switcher and producer they are always talking, and a lot of times they make really funny comments about what you have framed in your camera. One of the other camera operators was telling me he does a lot of city council meetings and when this one particular councilor is talking the truck debates which parts of her body are surgically enhanced, and he has to not laugh and try and keep the camera still. Near the end of Andy's set he brought out his Harp guitar and the truck goes "What the hell kind of guitar is that? Look at that thing, it looks like a harpsichord!", or when Don joined Andy on stage, the switcher knew who Don was but didn't know Andy's name, so they say stuff like "Ok Camera 2, set up for a two shot, Camera 1 give me a close up on, uhh, whatsis name, the other guy who isn't Don Ross.."..
I also got to meet Erik Mongrain, a guy I didn't know was gonna be there who I blogged awhile ago after seeing his 'Air Tap' video on youtube. His managers gave me his CD and a disc of his video performances. He does a neat xylophone type harmonic slapping thing with the guitar on his lap. Check it out!
Man there were some great players that day. In addition to Andy, Don and Don Alder, I really liked Michael Michael Chapdelaine, Pino Forastiere . Chapdelaine did a really cool arrangement of "Come together" by the Beatles.
It was a fantastic weekend of music, I'll definitely be back next year! Hopefully to film again! If you live nearby you can always volunteer to help out. As Del says " We could use help with parking, keeping things tidy, & hospitality. If you can smile while using a two-way radio - you're our kinda people! :)"