Brisbane Steel Guitar Festival - 2018
Terry Bethel and the 'House Band'
Left to Right: John Mazur, Milton Quackenbush, Bill Turgeon (hidden), Terry Bethel, Hugh Curtis and Ken Myers
This is the 23rd anniversary of the festival and my last. The first time, 2013, I just went for a listen and enjoyed myself. All the other years I played Bass in the 'House Band'. This year and last, I was given the opportunity to play the opening set, quite an honour.
Yes, my last appearance and that saddens me. The reason for my decision falls into two parts: Travel and Change.
Given that I don't trust the airlines to transport my equipment gently and have them all arrive undamaged, I have opted for the long option and driven.
This involves a drive of two long days, roughly one thousand kilometres a day, twelve hours duration. Given that it's very close to the shortest day of the year it's guaranteed to include some night driving.
Having had a Kangaroo strike eighteen months ago, I have become much more conserative with my driving and don't actually enjoy the experience. I used to love driving, not so any more.
This year was more stressful given the number of Kangaroo bodies on the side of the road. Never seen so many in all of the trips I have made.
On the way up I didn't see any live animals, but saw plenty of Kangaroo and Wombat bodies by the side of the road.
On the way back I saw the following live animals: Kangaroo, Wombat, Emu and Deer.
Thankfully there were no collisions. Driving at night, I drive slower, to give myself a chance of not hitting anything.
On the way up I was wondering how long I can keep this behaviour up.
The trip is a big task, but, it's worth it to attend the festival.
As with any event, over time, things will change.
What attracted me to the festival in the first place was the friendliness of both the audience and the club members. Everyone supported everyone and no obvious egos.
It was a oasis in the wilderness, a fabulous find and well worth supporting.
All of the 'House Band' members are very good personally and musically, with heaps of 'live' experience. Just what you want in a support band. We all listened to each other and to what the artist performing wants. It's a real dynamic situation. Just the way I like it.
Last year change appeared and unfortunately was in full force this year, which made things very difficult for me.
Now don't get me wrong, this is not a character assassination, but a report on the dynamics and interaction between us.
As you can see from the pic, I occupy a place between Bill and Milton, rather squeezy. This year Milton had a foldback amplifier which he placed right next to my chair. Being an electric piano of course you need foldback.
My issue was two fold: The loudness of the foldback amplifier and Milton's playing style.
Firstly, the loudness. I was the closest to Milton's amplifier and it was loud enough to mask out everyone else. Couldn't hear the whole band.
Secondly, the playing style. Unless you are careful with your playing style, a piano can tread on an awful lot of other players notes. You need to play appropriately to give the other players space for their instrument. Respect.
Milton has a solo act where he backs himself on piano and sings. So, the left hand plays the bass line and the right hand the melody/chords. That's all fine and dandy if you are solo, but not so in a band!
I found that Milton's left hand was playing 99% of the notes I was playing. I was effectively redundant. I was adding no value at all.
What to do?
I could have made a fuss and complained to either Milton or the organisers, but that would upset the flow of the festival.
I could have put my guitar down and just walked off the stage. Somehow that seemed petty.
So what I did do was play the music that was given to me but have the amplifier turned off! Yes I mimed about 99% of the festival and no one noticed.
The 1% of the time I did play was in two sections. The first was while backing up Michel Rose. As is done, the artist sometimes wants a break and indicates to either Milton or Hugh to take a solo. Milton took the break and was killing them with his right hand but his left hand had the wrong rhythm. Michel looks at me and calls out 'Swing!' I turned the amplifier on and played swing bass until Milton had finished his solo and then turned the amplifier off again. Back to miming.
The second time was during the Combined Jam Session where I'd just had enough of miming, turned on the amplifier and took a bass solo. Ah, that was good.
I did my job, just no one heard me.
The Festival Line up was as follows:
Before starting my set, I asked the sound man to only give me foldback on my backing tracks. I didn't want to hear either the guitar or my voice. That took a few attempts to achieve. Getting the volume right also took a few attempts.
I have no control over what comes out of the Front of House Speakers (FoHS). That is all mixed by the sound man.
I was the opinion that there was no guitar coming out of the FoHS. I was assured that there was. After I finished my third song, someone came up and had a close listen to the FoHS and announced there was no guitar. After some fiddling I was given some guitar through the FoHS. This unsettled me somewhat.
Paddy Long asked me to sit out as he had his own bass player. That was fine as I had something to eat. I let the bass player use my amp/speakers as that saves more equipment being set up.
Terry and Milton had played together in the U.S.A. and during their set often reminisced about the old days. Their's was a long set compared to the others. Terry was happy for Milton to call the shots.
During the Combined Jam Session, someone called out for someone to sing Route 66, so I put my hand up and sang it. Michel called me in to finish the song after the long instrumental break.
Always enjoy listening to Michel Rose and Hugh Curtis. Very accomplished musicians.
Almost had a full house at one point. The organisers will be pleased.
A most interesting festival.
Me and Bill Turgeon.
On the Sunday, a social get together was held at a nearby hall.
From 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, Terry Bethel held a workshop to discuss the finer points of playing the Pedal steel. Terry had prepared a booklet containing maybe eight techniques which he took us through. As Terry took us through each section and explained the concept he took his time. Terry's not a young man and has hearing issues. If someone asked him a question he had to walk up to the person asking the question to understand what was being asked.
This all took time and some of the players became a little bored waiting and started talking amongst themselves and practicing new techniques which raised the background noise level. Terry didn't seem to notice and just ploughed on. If you'd had used that behaviour at ResoSummit you would have been shouted down.
From 1:00 to 4:00 there was a round robbin session. One person would play a backing track and every player took at a turn at either the verse or the chorus in anti-clockwise order.
There was an odd player out in the sense he was playing a Telecaster not a pedal steel, although he had both. During the break I asked him if I could play a couple of songs on his guitar. He replied to the affirmative.
I waited for him to ask me up, but he never did. He walked in front of me quite a few times but never stopped or looked my way. That's friendly!?
The most unfortunate result
As I said, between the Traveling and the Changes, I've had enough. I'm moving on, I'm not needed.
This event used to be the highlight of my year, sadly no more, but, I do have fond memories.
Big thanks to Jeff Spencer for the encouragment.