Wednesday, November 25, 2009
How quickly the holiday season is arrived. I’m grateful to be home and am looking forward to the huge Thanksgiving Day dinner with the same group of friends. It has become a nice tradition. We eat about 2:00 then go for walk along the Rio Grande walking path, then go back for coffee and home-made apple pie. My own past thanksgivings have been not always too peaceful so I value these memories. There are about six poets, 5 musicians, 2 book publishers, 2 artists, 3 self-entertaining kids, about 20 people in all…and a partridge in a pear tree. Not really, but it seemed to fit. I’m back from my most recent travels to Florida. I played at the Native Rhythms Festival in Melbourne. This was their inaugural festival and I wish them complete success. What I like about it was how friendly the people were. The organizers, volunteers and the general public who came out stopped and took a moment with you. Hey when you tour like I do half the year or more you learn to appreciate very much friendliness. The festival didn’t feel as commercial as many festivals have become. Sometimes, just in my opinion, the drive to move product, sell flutes, be the headliner can make things feel aggressive. I think Native Rhythms is on the right track and I could see them already thinking on how to make a more integrated festival experience, i.e., vendors, entertainers etc. in a more communal space. That is something I think really helps for a better festival experience. Most festivals have the vendor’s tent backs facing the stage and usually a couple of hundred yards away. See photos at http://nativerhythmsfestival.com/2009_photos.htm
Here’s the thing. When the public is there talking to you at your booth, or sitting in the audiences or simply asking you where something is—you ARE their festival experience. They way they are treated reflects exactly what they will take away and report to others. For example: A woman stopped at my booth. She had heard me play and wanted to maybe buy a CD. She said she had flown from Pennsylvania to come to this festival. I asked if she knew anyone here. She said no but she had seen it advertised or posted on line somewhere. I asked if she was enjoying it. She smiled and said, “Oh yes.” She recounted how she had flown out to a flute festival (I’m not saying which one) and that it was good but that she didn’t feel very welcome. I asked if she wouldn’t mind elaborating. She said she didn’t know anyone there either and that while people were friendly enough, she kept feeling like she was bothering them (the vendors and musicians) when she tried to talk and that it seemed cliquish so she left early. Wow. I felt so sad when she said that I invited her to sit down and we talked for an hour about flutes, music, traveling etc, in fact I missed out on the final jam session because I thought it more important to make a connection and help build our community. She bought four CD’s; I gave a discount as well and put her on my mailing list.
The point here is not to say I’m great or anything. The point is what I’ve learned my many years as a professional musician. It is about human connection. It isn’t about your $1300 flute with Abalone Inlay and dinosaur totem or your press, reviews, awards, reputation, groupies you pepper in the audience or even your skill at some level. It is about sharing your passion, and your person, with others in a real and authentic way. I owe my success to making one fan at a time and selling one CD or download at a time. Believe me, when I’ve heard for the 179th time in a day (no exaggeration) if I make my own flutes and what a Hang is my eyes can glaze over but I remind myself to treat them as I would like to treated by performers. Michael Allen and I were playing on stage during his set. A woman walks up to the edge of the stage and says, “Could he tell everyone what that thing he is playing is?” I looked at Michael and he says go for it. Next day, he notices a woman in the audience (this was an afternoon set) who is looking confused and puzzled. He says I think we have some people wondering what that is Mr. Granger. So he says the Hang spiel and she yells, “But what is it?” The Hang is something so outside of people’s frame of reference that even if you tell them and explain what it is they just are not going to get it. Anyone who knows Michael Allen knows he is without ego and more laid back than a surfer. Still, when you are playing on someone’s set you are there to support. I was glad he tried to explain about the Hang. When I’m on stage I just ask people to go to my website… haha. Visiting with Doc Greene, Mark Holland, N. Scott Robinson and Jonny Lipford (a friend for several years) and Clint and Vera Goss was awesome. I love getting to know other musicians on a personal level and talking shop as it were. I spent a lot of time hanging out with Bruce the sound guy as I share a love of live sound and engineering.
I had a wonderful time. I am so fortunate that I am easily entertained. One of my pleasures is to think about something and follow that thought all the way through. One thing I think about is how the distance between electrons in an Atom compared to the universe, or how thoughts have weight, mass and velocity or how time is cyclical, dimensional and changes with gravity. I spend several hours driving just on these thoughts and it is such a treat for me. They used to call it “Daydreaming” but I just call it wondering. I got to see my cousin Toni who lives near Tampa. I hadn’t seen here since she was in training shorts and wore really high pig-tails. We don’t know much about each other but we knew we’d find something in common. It was great. She was showing me the ritzy homes along the water in Tampa. She is a professional in the TV industry. She asks me, “So cousin, what are your favorite top five movies or films?” I say, “Well probably, Humoresque, How Green Was My Valley, Bring it On…..” She says, “Wait wait wait…Bring it On as in Brrr it’s cold in here…?” I said yes that’s the one. She laughs so hard I think we’ll drive off the road. I said I have the dialogue memorized and recite it sometime when I’m driving. So much for her intellectual, artsy cousin image. While at Native Rhythms I got to say hi to Marsha the flute stand lady who is as crazy as they come—a kindred soul for sure, Dennis Fredrickson and hang out with new friends like Ed Doughtery and Jon Norris. These guys are like hanging out with cousins. We went out to eat Grouper on the intercoastal waters where a duo played Rolling Stone covers, then went back to the hotel—and not being one to ever pass up a stairwell—we played our rim-blown flutes unbeknownst to us waking up guests. One bleary-eyed guy opens the door and says hey guys it’s 1AM here in this hotel can you guys cool it? We’re thinking “in this hotel?” I pointed out it was only 11PM in New Mexico. We apologized profusely and promised to stop. Ed and Jon seemed embarrassed a bit but I assured them it happens to me all the time and most hotels put my room next to the stairwell anyway. Cirque de Solei’s cast was staying there as well and they were always outside the door smoking and stumbling drunk when not running up and down the hallways with not much clothing. So we didn’t feel so badly. There was sequence and glitter all over that hallway.
I know the crowds will only grow for Native Rhythms. All the factors are there and the organizers are smart, perceptive and flexible it seems. If I’m invited back I will definitely make the journey with gigs along the way as I usually do. I love Florida. How nice it is to feel part of a community who shares the love of the Native American flute and its peaceful effect on people. I hope the vendors made enough money to meet expenses. Don’t forget that while we all love what we do in the end we need to justify it to our bank accounts, wives, husbands, partners, children etc. I’m happy to say I’ve never lost money promoting or performing at a show. It has taken tons and tons of work, personal invitations, building an audience and a willingness to spend just as much time with someone considering buying a CD as it takes. I made double my expenses at Native Rhythms thankfully. I don’t say this to boast, but I am not at all squeamish talking about the business side of the music business. It is an exchange and when you feel what you do is valuable others will too.
I am thankful for so much every single day. I do a mental inventory before I even get out of bed. I have lived the worst and best of life and am glad that presently, it is mostly good. I read biographies and memoirs of successful people and one thing they always have in common is their passion. My passion is music and anything creative. I take pleasure in the lady bug who hitched a ride in my car over 600 miles until I finally put her on a rose bush. Likewise in helping giving someone directions. What I’ve learned from Dogs is that each moment is exactly what it is. And so it is. Happy Thanksgiving friends.
Here is an improve I did with Michael Allen on Mike Knight’s Zumba Tubes….Enjoy