Thursday, June 10, 2010

Musical Snafus #1

Some friends have been telling me: “You need to tell more stories on the blog!” Ah yes, but one is always casting about for material, & when you’re producing daily posts as we do here at Robert Frost’s Banjo, it’s easy to fall into various patterns—not to say ruts!

Of course the best stories often involve some sort of snafu; that’s been a theme in my Country Living posts. But recently it occurred to me that the life Eberle & I have spent over the past dozen years as amateur & semi-professional musicians has certainly had its share of snafus that were maddening & occasionally scary at the time but funny in retrospect. So I started compiling lists of all the various screw-ups & mishaps I could recall.

It was striking in compiling the list how often the actual printed music & music stands cropped
up as a source of consternation; & when I think about these, I’m even happier than ever that in my current performing incarnation, there’s no printed music to worry about. Don’t get me wrong—I’m very happy to be able to read music. But as an item to worry about in performance—no thanks.

The Alice in Wonder Band, the band Eberle & I were in from 2001-2004 was, however, a “reading band.” We didn’t necessarily have all our arrangements written out note-for-note (tho we did have some of these); we also played from what are called “lead sheets,” which have the bare melody & chord names, which a musician uses to “fake” his/her lead or accompaniment parts—in other words, re-interpreting the information.

Nonetheless, we were tethered pretty firmly to our music stands—which brings me to the Alice in Wonder Band’s first stage show ever, outdoors at the McCall Folk Festival held in Roseberry in July of 2002. Roseberry is in Long Valley, a stretch of mostly level farm & pastureland around a mile in elevation in neighboring Valley County. In fact, that may have been the first year the Festival was held in Roseberry after years in McCall itself.

The Alice in Wonder Band was going to be the lead off act of several that evening. As we loaded in our instruments, the sky began to look more & more menacing—angry gray clouds piled atop one another & a wind began whistling thru the area. There were the usual sound check headaches—particularly, as I recall, involving my bass (I was playing electric guitar, electric bass & banjo at that time)—but eventually things were squared away.

I don’t remember the song order, but I believe our first song may have been the old hot jazz tune, “Jazz-Me Blues.” At any rate, there we were, lined up to play this up-tempo number—for
which Eberle had written a wonderful—but very exacting—arrangement. It's also significant to know that the arrangement was several pages long, & so it wasn't practical to hold the pages down with clothespins or other clips. Meanwhile, the wind was whipping & howling; I believe there were scattered raindrops. Our precious music notebooks were perched precariously on the music stands!

The song kicked off & the wind picked up. I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, but at
one point I noticed that the pages of our oboe player’s book were turning rapidly & randomly in the wind—I remember asking myself what I would do if that happened—which of course it did—& soon, pages, books & finally music stands themselves were all doing a most uncooperative & madcap dance—pages flapping, books closing, stands tipping over. The amazing thing is we didn’t have an actual “train wreck”—in other words, the song never screeched to a crashing halt. Thru some rather miraculous chance, it turned out that not more than one or at most two books were going haywire at a time—which left four people to take up the slack.

We made it thru the set. “Jazz Me-Blues” was the worst of it. As fate would have it, the squall passed as soon as we were done & the next band was taking the stage; the rest of the evening was calm & lovely.

Next Thursday: “Weebles Wobble & They Do Fall Down.”

Top Pic: The Alice in Wonder Band at Roseberry 2002 - not during "The Jazz-Me-Blues!"
2nd Pic: Turning the Page
Bottom Pic: "The Jazz-Me-Blues" line-up!


  1. Great post - whoever said it is right, you should tell more stories.

  2. Heh, heh! Great story! Outdoor performance blues, I know them well. Someday I'll have to tell the tale of the bumblebee who flew through the soundhole and into my guitar while a friend and I were trying to perform Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door". Lotsa fun, that was!

  3. Interesting post.

    Now you just need to add audio!

  4. I love stories. You told yours in a way that I could actually see the music flapping and dancing in the wind. Alice in Wonder Band is such a great name, by the way!

  5. great!

    the photos showing all the things dangling above head seem made me nervous, thought for sure there'd be a snafus involving a roller skates or other objecct d'arts falling on you guys

    but books, pages and music stands is bad enuf.

  6. As always, an awesome story!! Thanks for bending to peer pressure! Can't wait for more..... -- JB

  7. You didn't happen to have a version of "Blowin' in the Wind" up your sleeves, did you?

    More stories!!!


  8. Hi folks: I'm back in Indian Valley--long story, which I'll try to catch everyone up on in the next 24 hours.

    Alan: Thanks!

    Roy: Oh yes, insect things are always fun! Thanks.

    Eric: There is a fair amount of Alice in Wonder Band audio here on the blog if you're interested--check out the label "our music." Thanks for following!

    Nana Jo: Yes, it was an inspired name--my wife Eberle came up with it. She also came up with the name Robert Frost's Banjo!

    Mouse: That's funny! I think I'd rather have had tumbling music stands than in-line skates on the noggin! You've (finally) got something coming in the mail!

    JB: You're welcome! & thanks for the persistent encouragement. Audrey also weighed in on the story side, as has Eberle!

    Kat: How funny! Thanks.

    Willow: Amen!

  9. The stuff of nightmare, John! The kingdom plus daughter's hand in marriage to anyone who can invent the windproof music stand.

  10. Dick: So true. But what I've discovered is the windproof music stand=no music stand whatsoever!


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