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
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