Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Zone's Third Annual Toy Drive An Overwhelming Success!

   For the third year in a row now, I've had the pleasure of being a part of the Zone's Annual Toy Drive and I'm pleased to say it has been another successful event. I'm continually blown away by just how generous Victorians can be this time of year in spite of all the world's troubles. No donation was considered too big or too small because every little bit helps.
   This was the pile about 20 minutes after I arrived. I can't even see the items I brought because it built up so fast!
   From the beginning this toy drive has been hosted by local radio station 91.3 The Zone and benefits the St. Vincent De Paul Social Concern Office, an organization dedicated to assisting the less fortunate. I enjoy taking part in this toy drive and I'll continue to do so whenever I can. I've had a few Christmases in my early youth that wouldn't have happened without the donations of strangers, so it feels good to be able to give back whatever little bit I can. As usual Megan and I bought a bunch of small, cute stuffed animals that are guaranteed to make some kids smile.
   This year I even had a little help from my managers at the book store I work at and we put together a nice bundle of children's books for donation on behalf of the store. The books were gratefully accepted and many of the Zone's staff were delighted to see a book about space since the phrase "Spacebook!" often comes up in conversations about anything to do with outer space. Believe me, it happens a lot.
   I always enjoy it when I get to meet and mingle with the staff at the Zone and it's great that they will always remember who their listeners and friends are. I felt like Norm from the old show Cheers when I got a round of "Will!" as I arrived. Too bad I didn't have a witty line like Norm would have.
   After dropping off the toys and books, I stuck around to mingle and watch as more donations came in then I helped to load the truck at the end. I even got to participate in a morning show game live on the air called Dylan vs. The World. Normally, listeners would call in for this game, but I think because the hosts were on location and not in the studio they decided to ask someone who was present and they picked me. In the game listeners go up against morning announcer Dylan answering general trivia questions read by morning show co-announcer Jason. The listener is asked to choose one of two categories and is asked the first question. If a player gets an answer wrong, the other player has a chance to steal a point if they know the answer. The questions go back and forth until one player gets two correct answers.
   The category I chose was Charities, since we were at a charity event. After a strike each for both Dylan and myself, I got one point, he got one point, and suddenly I scored the tie breaker with my correct answer about Doctors Without Borders. I won! I won't say what my prize was as I intend to share it with someone as a gift, but it's still a victory for me. I almost never win anything! It's a Christmas radio miracle!
   Enough about me. To use a real cliche phrase here, the real winners today are the children. By the end of the Toy Drive the pile was huge! There are going to be a lot of very happy kids this holiday!
This angle shows how all the bins, and the sleigh, supporting the pile were stuffed to capacity!
   Thanks again to my friends at the Zone for letting me hang out and thanks to everyone who took the time to make a donation and a special thanks to Mother Nature for the dry weather. It may have been a little chilly, but it was nice to see the sun!
   I look forward to next year's Toy Drive.
The Wandering Oak

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Missing Sock Comes Home

   We've all lost socks in our laundry. It's a fact most of us have learned to live with and a lot of us have fun speculating on where they might go. Did they go to another dimension? Did gnomes take them? Did the machines eat them? Are they in Narnia?
   Several months ago I lost a sock to the laundry gods, and I realize that's not such an interesting thing to write about, but would you believe me if I told you that my missing sock came home?
   In early August I was staying at a hotel in Comox, BC while I worked at the Filberg Festival. During my stay I visited my Mother-in-Law and her husband and took them up on their offer to use their laundry machines. That's when I figure my aforementioned sock went missing, only I wouldn't notice this until I returned to Victoria and unpacked. I didn't have time to sort and fold my clean laundry in Comox and simply shoved it all into my bag the night before I went home.
   Although it was only just a sock and not the end of the world, we decided to tell Megan's mother to keep her eyes open for it and I hung on to the spare sock just in case the mate turned up. It's a brand new sock that has only been worn once and looks nothing like her husband's socks. It was either at her house or I lost it at the hotel, though I'm sure I checked that room many times over to be sure I didn't leave anything. Traveller's OCD.
   Two months passed and when we visited again for the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday in October someone mentioned the missing sock. Megan's mom had seen it but misplaced it again in the shuffle as she was clearing out old clothing. No big deal. At least it's still in this dimension.
   Two more months have passed since then and out of the blue I got an envelope in the mail yesterday from Megan's mother addressed to me. I'm not going to lie, I had actually forgotten about the sock and at first I couldn't figure out what she'd send me. It was Megan that got it right away when she picked up the envelope. Sure enough, there was my sock wrapped in paper, still as gleaming white as the day I bought it, and pressed flat by the sorting machines at the postal station.
   I'm glad I kept the spare sock.
"Re-united... and it feels so good!"
The Wandering Oak

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Buried In Books

   It's hard to wrap my head around how many different things I have done over the last half of 2012 or how much my life has changed and keeps changing. As if going from a painter to a roadie wasn't enough of a change, I've now gone from being a roadie to  working in the stock room at Chapters Indigo Books.
   The live music festival season is over for this year and there are no concert events that I'll be involved in for the foreseeable future, so it was necessary for me to look for a job that would carry me through the winter. In my past life as a painter I would normally just take the winter break, but my lack of work for most of this year really took a chunk out of the old savings account and Megan and I would really like to start saving again. Who doesn't, right?
   We've never been in danger of not being able to pay our bills or have food in our kitchen, thank goodness, because Megan has full time work and we both know how to budget our money. Also, in past years I qualified for unemployment insurance payments, but not this year. I simply haven't worked enough, so for the first winter in many years I needed to get a stable job, and I found one. It may not pay as much as my previous job, but it's okay. The fact that we can stop digging into savings is what's important.
   My new gig at the book store really isn't so bad so far. I haven't worked in the retail world for over a decade and I never was a great salesperson, so I'm relieved that the majority of my days will be spent buried in books in the stock room receiving all the deliveries and entering data into the computer system. If I do get stopped by a customer out on the floor I'll do my best, but right now there is so much to learn about the books and other products that I'll have to lean on my more experienced coworkers for some help.
   The really nice thing is that everyone I've met there so far seems very nice, and I'm not just saying that in case they read this. They're all very knowledgeable, helpful, and they seem to get along really well. If last night's staff meeting was any indication of how well everyone interacts then I'm sure I'll fit in just fine. I already know one of the girls there, Jessica. I used to buy coffee from her in my old life as a painter when I was working on a condo development near her store. It's nice to be able to catch up with a friend in person and not just through social media.
   On that note, it's about time I had something to eat and got ready for work. Those books don't count themselves!

The Wandering Oak

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lately I've Been Listening To...

   Just my luck. I start writing this post and the CD I was just listening to has ended and now I have to pick a new one. Yes, I still listen to CD's. I'd listen to vinyl if I had a turntable, but I don't.
   I suppose I could just bring up the playlist of songs I have on my computer, or my smart phone that's sitting right here on my desk for that matter, but I like the fullness of the sound that comes from my living room stereo. Excuse me a moment.
   *sounds of CD player opening then closing*
   You're probably wondering what I picked. I went with the album "Build A Rocket Boys!" by the band Elbow. Even though the album came out in 2011, I only just purchased it earlier this summer and it hasn't left my little stack of most played albums since then. I really can't say enough good things about Elbow and I only just discovered them a little over a year ago. Turns out the Manchester, UK based band have been playing for 20 years!
   Here is a live version of the song "Open Arms" from that album.
   So what else have I been listening to lately? Actually, quite a variety of artists. It goes without saying that my work in live music this past summer has exposed me to a lot of new artists I've never seen or heard before, so my playlist is forever changing. When I say new artists, I mean new to me. Like Elbow, many of the bands I've recently gotten into have actually been around for some time now.
   A good example of this is The Flaming Lips, a band I've mentioned a few times in my recent posts. Sure I've heard a couple of their bigger songs like "She Don't Use Jelly/Vaseline" and "Do You Realize" on the radio over the years, but it wasn't until I worked with them this summer that I really gained an appreciation for their wonderful weirdness.
   It's hard for me to pick just one song, as they're all so different, but here is a great version of The W.A.N.D. from a couple of years ago that shows just how fun their live shows can be.
   Another band I've gotten into over the past few years is Metric. I had the chance to see them when they came to Victoria a couple of years ago and I thought they were great. The CD I was listening to when I started this post was their latest "Synthetica", and it's another one that hasn't left my "most played" stack. 
   Here is an acoustic version of the title track from the album "Synthetica".
   Band Of Skulls is another great British band that I've really come to like recently, and is another band I had the pleasure of working with at the Rifflandia Festival. It was a real treat to help set up their stage equipment and then hang out with them later that evening after the show. They're the kind of band you just have to listen to loudly and they were a big hit at this year's festival.
   Here is a clip of Band Of Skulls playing "Patterns" at the Rifflandia Festival here in Victoria. Look close and you can see Wayne from the Flaming Lips hanging out stage side and enjoying the show.
   Finally I'll mention another one of my modern rock favorites, Mother Mother. This band hails from right here in Beautiful BC and has had a string of hits that are always played in rotation on The Zone radio station and I can't get enough of them. They also played at this year's Rifflandia Festival and I really enjoyed meeting with them and helping them, and yes, hanging out with them after the show. We chatted about Quadra Island, which is where a few of the members of the band are from and is also where I met my wife back when we were teenagers. Lead singer Ryan thought that was pretty cool.
   One of my favorite Mother Mother songs is "The Stand".
   Of course this is just has been just a small sampling of what I've been listening to lately. My long time favorites such as Led Zeppelin, U2, Queen, The Tragically Hip, The Foo Fighters, and Jack White will always have a permanent place in my playlist, but there are so many other brilliant musicians that I can't even begin to list here. I'm sure right after I publish this I'll think of some that I should have featured, but I can always write another post like this in the future.
   For now, I want to turn it over to you. Tell me what YOU have been listening to lately. Who knows, you might end up introducing me to another future favorite artist!
The Wandering Oak

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Travels, Turkey Dinner, and a Twisted Hull

   I'm sitting at my desk with a mug of very hot hot chocolate, spiked with spiced rum, and the music of the Flaming Lips is coming through my speakers. Outside, the changing leaves and cool, damp fog might just be enough to convince Victorians that Autumn has finally arrived and that we can put away the shorts and sandals we were wearing just last week. My lovely wife Megan is at work and I have the condo all to myself. Well, not entirely. Our cat Merlin is at my feet demanding my attention making it very difficult to type this opening paragraph.
   Since Rifflandia ended, my life has been pretty quiet. I find myself looking for work once again and I'm hoping I have better luck this season than I did last season. I really only need a part time gig to get me through the winter and I hope to get back into working in live music in the spring, so long as the Mayans are wrong and we survive past December 21st.
   It was nice to get away from Victoria over the recent long weekend, though. Megan and I visited her mother in Comox for Thanksgiving (Columbus Day, for my American readers, or whatever the day was in your part of the world), and we had a nice relaxing time there. I always enjoy visiting Comox and I get along really well with Megan's mother and her husband.
   A highlight for me was taking a nice, long walk along the beach on the Friday afternoon. The air was so clear and the only sound was the chatter of the sea birds swapping fishing stories - or whatever it is birds talk about.
   I also made friends with Megan's mother's newest cat Sneakers.
   Of course, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the turkey dinner.
   In other news: I've also been spending my spare time working on another 1/700th scale model ship, my third, and the project is not without its challenges. The biggest challenge is dealing with a defective part of the kit. What you see in the next picture below is the main portion of the ship's upper hull from directly astern. Your eyes aren't tricking you, the hull is twisted.
Forgive the sloppy paint job around the portholes. Those details will be taken care of when I do all my paint touch-ups.
   Lucky for me the lower portion of the ship's hull is straight and true, so I went ahead and joined the two components as well as the main decks and gently, yet firmly, clamped it all down. With a little heat from Megan's hair dryer the twist should work itself out.
   I still have a lot of work to do on the ship and I hope this issue doesn't set me back too far. There are a bunch of components left to install including the entire bridge and superstructure, the mast assembly, and a variety of equipment for the main deck such as sensor and communication domes, antennae, and weapons. In ship building lingo that would be "fitting out" and I enjoy that stage of the build. Wish me luck!
   That's all I'm going to write about for now, my friends. I've finished my hot chocolate and Megan just got home from work. My eyes have gone a little buggy from staring at the screen, or maybe it's the rum, and I need to stretch my legs. I was going to write about some of the music I've been listening to lately, besides the aforementioned Flaming Lips, but I think I'll save that for my next post.
   Until then, take care of yourselves, and each other.
The Wandering Oak

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The "Rifflan-diaries" - Part 2

   As I look over my collection of Rifflandia 5 mementos, I find it hard to believe that over a week has passed since headliners Mother Mother took the stage to close out the festival at Victoria's Royal Athletic Park. Their blazing set of new songs and old favorites left the crowd wanting more, but sooner or later it all had to come to an end. By now the park is completely clean and all the building materials have been stored away in a warehouse for next year. The bands and their crews have moved on to other cities and the mobile stage they played on is likely already set up for its next gig somewhere on the mainland.
   Rifflandia 5 is now in the history books.
   Based on what I've read and heard, the festival was a success. People in Victoria are still talking about it a week later and new photos continue to appear on Facebook and on the Rifflandia website.
   I still feel very honoured to have had a role in making sure the festival ran smoothly and I had a fantastic team of staff and volunteers to work with. It didn't matter what the task at hand was, everyone I worked with all jumped into it with a genuine, positive, and helpful energy that really helped to make everything come together nicely. I can't say enough good things about the staff and volunteers.
   It goes without saying that anyone who attended, or worked at, this year's festival has a long list of awesome memories and will have stories to tell for a long time to come. I'm no exception. I could write about SO many things, but I know that the generation we live in has a short attention span and I don't want you to get bored.
   Instead, I'm going to quickly rattle off a few of my favorite memories and some well deserved shout outs in point form and pop in a couple of photos. Short, sweet, and to the point. Here we go:
  • I'm so grateful to the producers that as part of my payment for working at the festival I was given an extra wristband for my wife Megan so that she could come enjoy some of her favorite bands and keep me company as I went about my work. Megan also thanks you.
  • I got to go for a short ride in Sloan's tour bus. It was just around the neighborhood as I helped the driver find a place to park the giant bus, but it was still pretty cool. I would have taken a picture but something told me not to. Perhaps it was the friendly tap on the shoulder from the menacing looking body guard.
  • I really love being present when a band is doing their sound check in the morning. It's fun for me to watch the bands work out any kinks in the sound system. A lot of times I'll hear a loose rendition of one of their hits or they'll do a cover song. Cake covered Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On". Yes, you just read that. I was there.
Mother Mother's sound check was also fun to watch. "That would sound better if our voices were awake!"
  • In exchange for helping the Main Street merchants and food vendors with anything from changing light bulbs to hanging signs, I was given a lot of free drinks, snacks, and swag. Not a bad deal!
  • I loved that we had golf carts to drive around the park before and after the shows. They made moving materials from one end to the other so much easier - and they're just fun to drive!
  • Shout outs to all the awesome food vendors. I tried to sample something from everyone, but I know I missed a few. All the ones I did try had excellent food!
  • A big part of my job involved working with each band's road crews. From load in and set up to strike and load out, it was an absolute pleasure to work with every one of them. Many of them had no problem sharing their knowledge and experience and I learned a LOT! So did the volunteer stage hands that worked with us!
  • I'd really like to give a big shout out to every one of my friends at The Zone radio station. Many of the staff members I've known for some time now from previous events or through Social Media interactions and it was so great to finally meet the rest of the crew. Boss Man Johnny, if you get to read this, you have an amazing, friendly, and approachable staff that have become such a part of this city that if The Zone wasn't here, CERN could come to Victoria to study the black hole left in its absence!
  • Finally, it goes without saying that my best memories come from working backstage after the park was closed each evening and having access to the Artist Lounge and Green Room. Many of the day's performers would still be mingling about signing autographs or posing for pictures or just idly chatting with anyone lucky enough to be there. Although I kept my cool, believe me, it was hard not to get star stuck - especially when engaged in casual conversation with Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips!
Wayne Coyne autographs the Zone's "Star Guitar", which will later be auctioned off for charity. Photo by me.
Yours truly with the "Star Guitar" just moments after it was signed by Wayne. Photo credit: Webmeister Bud of The Zone.
   All in all, my time at Rifflandia 5 will stand out as the biggest highlight of my summer. The producers have told me they'll keep me in mind to help out at future events, including Rifflandia 6 next summer, and I can't wait. It's sad that festival season is winding down for the year. I'm going to have to find myself a part time job to get myself through the winter, but I'm clearing my schedule for next summer.
   To all the young volunteers out there that helped us present the biggest festival of the year, thank you for all your hard work. Keep it up and maybe you'll get noticed like I did and get yourselves put on the payroll. Who knows? Maybe next year you'll be hanging out with rock stars backstage at Rifflandia Six!
   I hope to see you there!
The Wandering Oak

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The "Rifflan-diaries" - Part 1

   It was just moments before the most anticipated performers of the night, The Flaming Lips, took the stage to close out the Friday evening of Victoria's Fifth Annual Rifflandia Festival at Royal Athletic Park and I had a firm grasp on a giant net filled with beach ball sized balloons. I was with about a dozen other crew members backstage awaiting the cue from the stage manager to open the net and start tossing the balloons into the crowd and we were all buzzing with excitement. This was going to be fun!
   Up on stage my friend, and Zone Radio midday host, Pol Plastino led the crowd in a fun filled sing-along of the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song before screaming "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Flaming Lips!!!" at the top of his lungs. It was show time!
   As the band took the stage and started showering the crowd with paper confetti, we hauled the net out from backstage and suddenly Royal Athletic Park was an explosion of colour!
   My wife Megan was in the crowd and captured this amazing photo:

   So what was it like being a part of the crew for Victoria's most talked about music festival? In a word: surreal. Yes, it was a lot of hard work, but the payoff was what my boss called "an epic weekend of awesomeness." It's hard to imagine that less than one year ago I was working as a commercial painter applying my skilled brushwork to everything from elementary schools to prominent Victorian Heritage buildings. I still can't believe how rapidly my life has changed!
   It started with volunteering. Last Christmas Season, when my work as a painter ended for the Winter, I helped out with the Zone's Toy Drive for charity. That warm and fuzzy feeling of doing good things for others carried through to the summer time when the opportunity to volunteer for the Canada Day celebrations presented itself. That was when my hard work and great people skills got noticed. It wasn't long before I was hired to work at another big music event, Rock The Shores, and that experience changed my life. I knew then that I wasn't going to be a painter anymore!
   From there I quickly gained employment within the world of live music as a backline tech - or roadie, if you prefer - and I've been spotted working at a number of different shows and festivals ever since. Throughout the year, as I've been getting more and more involved in all these big events, the one festival I couldn't stop thinking about was Rifflandia.
   If this was a movie, this would be the point where some magical force works in my favour because in early August I got the email I was waiting for:
I hope you are doing well.

I would like to know if you are available to work for Rifflandia at Royal Athletic Park.

Here is the information: ... (This was followed by the shift schedules and my pay rate.)

Please let me know if you're available and this will work for you and I will send you a contract.

Thank you."

   Well twist my rubber arm. Of course I was going to say yes! I had no other gigs booked for that week, so my schedule was wide open. After a little back and forth correspondence, I got my full schedule and list of responsibilities. My new title for the duration of the festival was Production Assistant. This all-encompassing role meant I would be responsible for everything from stage set up to assigning volunteers to help with clean up and just about anything else you can think of that goes into a festival of this nature.
   Although this year's Rifflandia Festival had been in the planning stages since last year's festival ended, we really only had just 3 days to get Royal Athletic Park ready for the big event. By the time I arrived on site on Wednesday morning, some of the tents were already set up and ready to be moved into position.

   My first task was to assist with assembling the main stage. Just as we did for Canada Day and Rock The Shores, we rented a mobile stage that was self contained in a standard sized transport trailer. Here's a photo I took showing the partially opened stage:

It took only a half a dozen people working together just a few hours  to open it up and get it ready for the sound and light crew to install their equipment.

I got to hang the big purple banners on each side of the stage!
   Rifflandia is more than just a music festival. It's also an opportunity for local artists and merchants to showcase their stuff. For this purpose, the event planers set aside an area of the park that became Main Street. Once I was finished with the stage, I was on hand to help make sure Main Street came together nicely. One of the most popular stops along Main Street was "Zone Landia", an apocalyptic themed collaboration between the Zone Radio Station and Wolf/Sheep Arthouse.  I snapped this photo of the crew raising the geodesic dome:
   There is a seemingly endless list of things that needed to be prepared for this festival that I can't even begin to list here, and I can honestly say I was directly involved in almost all of it! But, you know what? I was happy to help. I wasn't alone, either. We had hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers on hand that worked so hard to get everything set up, and by the time the gates opened on Friday afternoon we were ready to rock!
   I'm going to end Part 1 of my "Rifflan-diary" here before I start to ramble on too much. In my next entry I will share some of my favourite stories from the festival from giving hi-5's to the first people through the gates on opening day to drunken good times at the VIP Wrap Party, so please stay tuned for that.
   In the meantime, I've come down with a cold over this past weekend - likely brought on by working like a machine and partying like a rock star all week - so I need to get some rest and have some chicken soup.
   Come back soon, my friends!
The Wandering Oak

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I Showed Him The Ropes

   I had the day off, so I decided to visit the cruise ship pier today.
   At one point an elderly gentleman came up to me and asked me to explain how the crew handle the ropes that moor the big ships. I was caught off guard at first, mainly because I was listening to music in my earphones, but I really didn't mind answering his questions. As the crew hauled in the lines and tied the ship off, I gave play-by-play details of what they were doing. He seemed genuinely interested in what I was saying as we watched the ship come in.
   After I answered all of his questions, the gentleman then walked over to a bench where his wife was sitting and proceeded to explain everything to her as if he was suddenly an expert on the subject. I don't think he realized that she could hear me. The smile she gave me was priceless!
   Elderly people are great!
The Wandering Oak

Friday, August 24, 2012

Managing The Filberg Backline

A First Hand Backstage Report from the 2012 Filberg Festival
*Author's note: This composition was originally written on August 8, 2012 and submitted for publication in an upstarting Vancouver Island lifestyle magazine. At present I have not heard from the publishers or editors, so I have chosen to share an abridged version of it here on my personal blog for the enjoyment of my friends and loyal readers.
W.L. Aug. 24, 2012
   It was a hot BC Day long weekend in the Comox Valley. The guitars and fiddles were duelling while the drums and bass were shaking, and the aging Baby Boomers were dancing in the aisles at the 30th Annual Filberg Festival in beautiful Comox, BC.  This year’s milestone festival featured the popular juried arts and crafts fair as well as a wide array of home grown musical talent with deep roots in folk, traditional, bluegrass, jazz, rock and blues. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work backstage with all of the performers and to get to interact with them in such a casual, almost family like environment.
   The lineup of very talented Canadian musicians featured: headliners Spirit of the West, The High Bar Gang, Michael Kaeshammer, David Gogo, The Flora Scott Trio, Babe Gurr, Pear, and a long list of other brilliant artists that can be found on the Filberg Festival’s website. Closing the festival was the annual Great Canadian Songs Concert featuring Ian Tamblyn and the festival’s Master of Ceremonies, Jake Galbraith. Every one of those musicians is a master of his or her craft and I found their performances very inspiring.
   Filberg Park is a gorgeous venue ideally suited to this type of relaxed festival with two stages: the Main stage, where I worked, and the intimate Garden stage located at the other end of the park near the Filberg Lodge. Unlike the massive music festivals seen in other cities, the Filberg felt more like a gathering of friends playing a few songs together while local vendors sold everything from jewelry and art to traditional foods and delicious beverages. Oh, and those mini donuts… Mmm! All of the proceeds from the festival go towards the Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park Association which they use to maintain the heritage buildings and park throughout the year.
   Many of the musicians have performed at the festival in previous years and enjoy coming back to play at Filberg Park every summer. Honestly, it’s not hard to see why they like it so much! I’ve always enjoyed visiting Comox, not just because I have family members living there, but because it’s a very pleasant little community with breathtaking ocean and mountain views that never fail to amaze me. On every street you’re very likely to pass by someone who will smile and say hello. You’re also just as likely to come face to face with one of the many local white tailed deer that have no problem stopping traffic as they wander about nibbling on the buffet of gardens and well-manicured shrubbery. They seem to be very fond of the geraniums on my mother in law’s front doorstep!
   My involvement with the Filberg Festival came about purely by chance and, quite literally, at the last possible minute. I got a call less than a week before the festival from a contact I made backstage at a recent show in Victoria, a gentleman by the name of Lu, and he told me he was in a bind. He needed someone to step in and take care of the Filberg gig because his other staff member couldn’t make it.  Although my experience in stage management is very limited, I needed a job so I decided to accept the offer because I also saw it as a learning opportunity I couldn’t afford to pass up.  And believe me when I tell you, I learned a lot!
   While the performers were working up a sweat on stage, I was working just as hard backstage making sure each artist had everything they needed for their sets available and ready to use the moment they took to the stage. This generally involves everything from setting up instruments and amplifiers to placing guitar, music and microphone stands and so many other responsibilities that vary depending on the needs of the performer. The colloquial name for this is a “roadie”, but the all-encompassing industry title is called the Backline. The term “roadie” is being replaced by cool sounding titles like “guitar tech” or “drum tech” and “front of house sound engineer” to name a few. I was the “Backline Manager” for the main stage.
   We started preparing for the gig four days ahead of time. I met with Lu at his shop in Victoria and our first task was to take inventory of some of the equipment we would be packing into the trailer: Two complete 5 piece drum kits with cymbals and hardware; Four different models of Fender combo guitar amplifiers; Two bass guitar amplifiers with speaker cabinets; One full sized Yamaha CP-300 keyboard; One small acoustic guitar amplifier; A handful of stage lights; A box of different cables and plugs; and several other essential items one would expect to see around a concert stage. Many of the musicians brought their own instruments - but not drums or amplifiers, so we had to pack like Boy Scouts and be prepared for anything!

   Lu gave me a ride up to Comox two days before the festival began and he parked the equipment trailer in a position just behind the stage that made it easy to load the gear in and out quickly and efficiently. He then had to head down to Duncan where he would be managing the backline for Sunfest, which also took place over the BC Day long weekend. I would be on my own for the next five days! *Gulp!*
   I enjoy playing the guitar as a hobby, so I already possess an understanding of amplifiers and pedal boards, which meant I had no issues setting those up. Bass guitars and amps have a similar set up too, so no problems there, either. However, I must confess I came into the Filberg gig with a very limited knowledge of how drums are set up, so part of my preparation involved a few lessons on how to properly assemble and disassemble drum kits. It took me a couple of turns to get the hang of it, but I’d say I picked it up fairly quickly. As each drummer is different, I generally had to get the kit assembled and set up just to the point where it was ready for the drummer to make his or her own final adjustments. Every drummer I encountered was very pleasant and understood that I was new to this and many of them even offered tips and advice on set up. It’s all valuable knowledge I can put towards the next gig!
   The festival kicked off at about 10 AM on Friday, August 3rd and at Noon the first headlining act to hit the main stage was local favourites Spirit of the West. This very friendly group of guys have been playing together for nearly 30 years and they’ve still got it! Hits such as “If Venice Is Sinking”, “Is This Where I Come in”, “Crawl” and the ever popular “Home for a Rest” had the crowds on their feet and singing along and the happy energy they delivered in their show set the pace for every other act that followed. They even signed a copy of their set list for me after the show with personalized thanks for helping them with their gear!

   Over the course of four progressively hotter days, every performer braved the heat and played at their very best. I admit I found myself just sitting and watching several times, which resulted in a couple of minor mistakes on my part as I should have been getting the next act’s equipment ready and paying more attention. I’m lucky the festival was so casual and that everyone understood I was new to that kind of environment, but I still learned my lesson and won’t make those mistakes twice.
   The festival’s Entertainment Director, Bobbie Blue, dubbed me with the nickname “The Puppy” and she meant it as a term of endearment. She knew that I lacked experience but saw that I have the ambition to learn, the youthful energy to get the job done and the desire to make everyone happy, have fun and make friends. Of course she also noted that, like a puppy, I sometimes required some calm and assertive correcting and a little bit of training here and there to avoid making any major mistakes along the way. In good spirit I joked that it was a good thing I’m already paper trained. Just feed me and walk me twice a day and I’ll be a good dog!
   Overall I’m happy that I had the opportunity to work at the Filberg Festival. It was a great initiation to the world of concert festival backlines and the knowledge I gained from this will help me if I’m asked to work at future events. I got a passing grade and compliments from the promoters and producers as well as the occasional shout out from the performers and that really boosted my confidence. When I did make a mistake I took full responsibility and I’m told that’s what really impressed everyone. At the crew’s wrap party, after all the equipment was loaded back into the trucks and the bands and crowds had gone, Bobbie Blue toasted me by saying “Here’s to The Puppy and all his hard work at his first music festival!”
   This puppy would like to thank Bobbie Blue and all of the festival staff, and most importantly Lu, for the opportunity to work with so many amazing people and learn so many new skills. Big thanks must also go out to all the volunteers for their help moving some of the heavier gear around the stage and carting stuff to and from the Garden Stage in such a timely manner.
   If the staff will have me, I would be delighted to come back again and manage the backline for next year’s Filberg Festival. By then I should be a well-trained dog!
The Wandering Oak

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Shores Were Rocking!

   On Friday July 13th, the first ever Rock The Shores concert took place just outside of Victoria in Colwood and I got to be a part of it. The all Canadian show featured headliners The Tragically Hip with Sam Roberts, Current Swell and Jets Overhead.  It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.  As life would have it, it's taken me until now to finally sit down and write about my experiences. To be honest, I just haven't been able to figure out where to start!
   I suppose I should explain how I got involved in such a big event. During my time volunteering for the Canada Day celebrations on July 1st, I spoke to the promoters and told them I was interested in helping out with future events like that because it's something I can see myself doing and enjoying. I must have impressed the right people because I soon received an email telling me they'd hire me to help build and strike the big stage for Rock the Shores. You can't imagine how thrilled I was, especially since I haven't had a job for some time now, so I said I'd be there.
   We started work two days before the show. The concert took place in a large sports field, so our first task was to arrange enough plywood to cover where the big mobile stage was going to be set up. The stage itself was contained within an average looking 53 foot truck trailer - a big white box on wheels. But once the operator fired up the hydraulics it was like something you'd see Optimus Prime towing...

   A second flat deck trailer was delivered that carried additional frame sections as well as the black and gray walls. Some assembly required indeed! Once we got it all put together it was ready for the sound and light crew...

   I had the following day off, so fast-forward to the day of the show. Because I wore a stage crew ID badge, I was allowed backstage to hang out for a while, and I did, but my wife and some friends were in the audience so I chose to enjoy the show from up front with them and we had a lot of fun. I can't say enough good things about the artists. Local band Jets Overhead opened the show and used the opportunity to debut some new songs that were well received as the crowd trickled in.

   Up next was another local act Current Swell. They also played a very good set and are really nice guys, too. Since I was getting a snack during part of their set, I wasn't able to get a better photo than this one.

   The third performer of the evening was the always terrific Sam Roberts Band, but Mother Nature had her own plans and the show came to a halt mid way through his set.

   Mr. Roberts was a good sport about not being able to play a full set saying nobody can control the weather. A rare, yet spectacular, thunderstorm rolled over the site that produced a lot of lightning, so for safety reasons we were all told to wait. And wait we did. Not counting people stuck in lines for food and drink (I'll address that a little more in a moment), most people were in a good mood during the delay. We even broke out in a spontaneous rendition of O Canada!

  Once the worst part of the storm system passed, The Tragically Hip finally took the stage only half an hour later than scheduled. Those of us who stuck around were rewarded with and incredible performance by the band that included many of their best known hits. I sang along to every one of them! Even Mother Nature had a change of heart and would occasionally punctuate a song with well timed flashes and booms behind the stage!

My view of guitarist/vocalist Paul Langlois was obscured by the stage frame, but at least I had the big screen overhead. This man actually said hello to me backstage before the show! Being a fan, I was a little star-struck. All I could do was smile and nod politely.

   All in all I had a great time, even when it rained, but I feel I should take a moment to address something I find rather heart breaking, for lack of a better term. While people like myself and many others enjoyed the experience, there is a disturbing number of people who have done nothing but complain about every aspect of the show. The biggest complaints seem to be about the lineups for food, water and, not surprisingly, beer.
   I stood in line, just like everyone else, but I guess it didn't bother me as much as it bothered some people. I guess I had good timing or something because I really didn't miss a lot of the show and I figured it didn't matter anyway. If I couldn't see the stage, I could certainly hear what was going on. They were pumping a lot of power through the speakers!
   When I read the postings on the promoter's Facebook page over the last few days I felt sick. It seems that for every person that left a positive comment, several more would dump all over them with nothing but negativity and misplaced aggression. I posted a comment suggesting people take a moment to consider all the hardworking volunteers and staff that had to clean up the next morning and a girl replied with something that basically said she didn't give a crap about those people because "that's what they signed up for."
   That pissed me off.
   Yes the lines could have been more organized, maybe more food and water stations, but this was the first time an event of this scale has been attempted at that location. I only got a bit of food and didn't even go for beer. I had to be up early the next day to help take down the stage and clean up the site. Beer was my reward after all was said and done. Why do so many people feel it's important to consume mass quantities of alcohol at events like this? People complained that they ran out, which wasn't true. Perhaps if people would limit themselves to one or two and not ten that wouldn't have been an issue. There were kids present for crying out loud! Kids that watched plenty of drunk people falling around and puking everywhere while getting a good second hand dose of certain smoky vapors. Come on, people!
   It's unfortunate to hear about so many people that didn't have as good of a time as most of us did and I wish those people didn't feel so compelled to rain on our parade. For me, this was a personal milestone because it stands out as the biggest event I have ever taken part in. This could very well be my first step in attaining a very cool career as part of a production team and I am not going to let the whining of a few disappointed spectators ruin it, no matter how hurtful their words may be.
   Thank you. Good night. *drops microphone*
The Wandering Oak

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Roadie For Canada Day

   Canada Day is one of my favourite national holidays and this year's holiday will stand out as one of the best I've ever had. Because I'm still without work, I decided to volunteer to help out as a stage hand for the Canada Day celebrations in Victoria's Harbour. Simply put, I was a roadie for Canada Day, and I loved it!
   Now, in my previous post I mentioned that I was interested in advertising and marketing. Really I was hoping it would help me to tap into this city's rich arts and music scene. As it turns out, it may not be as simple as I thought it would be to get into advertising. People I've spoken to in the industry say that it requires all kinds of schooling and warn that even with all of that education there's no guarantee I'd be able to even find work in the field when I graduate. Although I'm willing to take the courses, I need something that will guarantee me future work.
   That's when the volunteer opportunity presented itself. I've always had an affinity for live music, and being a music nerd, it's not surprising I'd have an interest in the logistics of big concerts and events. Needless to say, I was pretty eager to sign up. This has turned out to be the best decision I could have made. It is the perfect way to get into Victoria's live music scene and meet not only the artists themselves, but other important people like event coordinators, stage managers, concert promoters, publicists and even local media staff members.
   It was fortunate that Canada Day fell on a Sunday this year because it gave this city the opportunity to create a two day celebration that drew record crowds to the harbour. I was given the opportunity to work at two locations. My first day was at Ship's Point and I found myself doing everything but help out around the stage. In fact I did everything from mopping up excess rain water to taking out garbage from all around the site, including the food vendors. It may not have been what I signed up for, especially since there was another group dedicated to housekeeping, but I was told at the orientation that even stage hands could be called upon to help out everywhere regardless of what it says on our ID tags. So I went with it and I did everything I was asked to do and then some. It felt good to be doing something productive and it felt even better to hear how much my hard work was appreciated. It's been a while since I've heard that!
   It wasn't long until I finally took up a more permanent residence backstage helping the bands load their gear on and off the stage. This turned out to be my element and I took to it like a duck takes to water. It helps knowing a thing or two about guitars and amplifiers because I found it easy to communicate with the musicians to ensure things were set up the way they wanted.
   My experience at Ship's Point was only just a primer for my second day at the Main Stage in front of Victoria's Legislature Building. This was the big show. Six and a half hours and nine bands leading up to the big fireworks finale. As soon as I arrived at the site I was immediately assigned to help the stage manager switch the gear between each band's set. This was rewarding in so many ways. Not only did I learn a lot, but I got to meet every performer and I had the best seats in the house while they did their thing. Some of the artists were very impressed with my hard work and one of the girls in the band Sidney York told me they'd never had so much help with their gear. I said it was nothing but the rock star treatment for our performers.
   As if my day couldn't get any more awesome, one of the sponsors gave a big speech thanking all of the volunteers throughout the entire site. Then she called another volunteer and myself up on stage where we were given a huge round of applause from thousands of people as we received small gifts (I got a really nice ceramic mug) as tokens of appreciation. I can't describe the feeling of that many people cheering for me. All my co-volunteer and I could do was take a bow!
   I really think I could get used to doing what I was doing that night, so I signed up to volunteer for future concert events. I was told that's the best way to do it. Volunteer, work my ass off, and someone will notice me. And if I impress the right people, it won't be long before I end up as a paid staff member. I may never be a rock star myself, but there's something to be said for being a part of a crew that helps performers bring their music to their audience.
   Without the roadies, there would be no show.

The Wandering Oak

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Everything's Coming Up Milhouse!

   You know when life just isn't going your way and it leaves you feeling rather uninspired? Well that's what's been happening in my world and it's the reason I haven't posted anything lately. I won't get into any details, but my current state of unemployment has motivated me to make some changes in my life. It's time to leave the trades.
   I've spent the last few months exploring several different options and so far none have panned out. Federal budget cutbacks have eliminated certain programs that were offered by local schools, so I've had to change my plans more than once. It's an exercise in frustration to say the least.
   Then, recently, it occurred to me that I should try to capitalize on the skills I already have and build on them to drive myself towards a career in marketing, specifically advertising. To those who don't know me very well this could seem like it's out of left field, especially since I've spent the last five years working in the trades as a commercial painter, but to those close to me it shouldn't be much of a surprise. I've always had a creative and artistic side to me and I've always wanted to find a way to use those strengths in fun and exciting ways. I love to write, make music, dabble in photography, and even make videos for YouTube. I've got a solid customer service background and I have great communication skills. Did you know that I even have a little experience producing radio commercials? It was a part time job I had back in the late 90's.
   I know that it's not going to be easy and that I'm definitely going to need some formal training. Advertising companies won't just hire any random bloke off the street. In preparation for this, I've contacted several of the local marketing and advertising companies and asked for general information, advice really, on how I can go about breaking into the field. One of them has actually replied and offered to meet with me next month to give me some advice. That was pretty quick considering I sent them an email yesterday!
   I've also taken the first steps in college enrollment for a marketing course that I hope to get into this fall by submitting my application earlier today. I still have to work out funding, but one step at a time. At least I've gotten myself going in the right direction and I'm happy about that.
   My day got even better. Once I was finished with all that work on the computer this morning, I went for a walk around the lake near my home. On one side of the lake is a small boardwalk that extends out over the water and is a great place to watch the birds. Today was a good day for that! I happened to come upon a mother duck and her ducklings and I watched dozens of little tree and barn swallows fly around the lake like feathered fighter jets. Those swallows are probably my favorite of the small birds and it was such a treat to see so many of them fly so close to me. They're curious little birds and a few of them even landed on the rail in front of me to say hi before taking off again to chase whatever tiny bugs they can catch. Too bad I wasn't quick enough to get a photo with my smart phone.
   Finally, after I returned from my walk, I got a phone call from a pizza place that we usually order from, but haven't in quite some time. The girl said that because it's been a while she would apply a five dollar credit to our account. I guess it's an incentive to order pizza again, but with limited income these days it might still be a while. I wonder how long I'd have to wait until they offer me a free pizza...
   So, while things may not have been so great in my life lately, good days like today just make me feel like everything's coming up Milhouse!
(c) Matt Groening / Fox
The Wandering Oak
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