I try not to be disparaging of people who put together some of these festivals. I've been in this business long enough and having organized a few myself, I have a very innate understanding of the stress level and amount time and energy that goes into organizing large scale events. However, this also gives me an understanding of recognizing where someone has bit off a little more than they could chew and like our trip to the Baltimore Music Conference, this is another experience which not only reminded me of what not to do in the future, it also proved once again how cruel and ungrateful some musicians can be. Well, I am quite adept at dishing out my own share of cruelty in response to those who actually deserve it.
Our trip out to Unicity was hectic. Leaving at 6:00am, allowing plenty of time for the unexpected, construction zones and other traffic hangups destroyed our ETA by almost 2 hours. The directions, both from Google maps and from Unicity's own web site, weren't exactly correct and once we got into the general area we were on the phone with one of their staff muddling through a step-by-step to get us to the stage. Half of what I was hearing from him on the other end of the phone, I could not understand, in spite of good reception, and I must be going deaf once I met the guy in person, there were things he would say that seemed to come out all garbled and mushy.
Though we weren't scheduled to play until 8:40pm, our ETA at the festival was supposed to be 2pm because I was under contract to supply backline for the stage we were playing. We didn't arrive until about 3:45 and the first band was scheduled to go on at 4pm. Yikes! Once we got there, we unpacked everything and got the drum kit on stage for the first band, deciding that it was best to leave the bass and guitar rigs off stage until after the first band was finished, since they didn't need them anyway. In spite of our tardiness (which we really had no control over anyway), Unicity graciously cut the check for backline provision.
First up was Bryan Russo. Very talented blues & folk rock. Not exactly my cuppa joe, but was obviously talented, laid back and had his shit together. His mix could have been better, but later I'll get to why everyone's mix could have been better. As soon as Bryan's set was over, we got the bass and guitar rigs up on stage for the next band.
Next up was Dakota John, followed by The Summary Band. Unfortunately, I don't have much info on either of these bands other than what I heard at their MySpace pages or web sites since we had to check in to our hotel and get some grub.
We headed out and proceeded to the Hampton Inn South in Fruitland. Reservations had been on file for at least four weeks, and check-in was at 3pm, yet when we arrived, one of our rooms wasn't ready and it was 5:30pm. Their exuse was that they were still cleaning it. WTF could have possibly been going on in a room that it wouldn't be ready for someone? The worse part is that in spite of that room not being ready on time, these people had the audacity to charge us for our stay in that room as if we DID check in at 3pm when the reality is that we didn't check in to that room until after 9pm. Gack! So, since all our rooms weren't ready, we dumped our stuff into the other rooms, got cleaned up and pigged out at The Outback.
As I had wanted, we arrived back at the festival in time to see Pauline Pisano. She and I had exchanged a couple of tweets a few days before the gig and out of all the bands on the High Art stage that day, she happened to be my favorite. Pauline has a beautiful voice, well-constructed songs and her band is really good. I think the aside from Pauline herself, the one other band member who stood out the most for us was her drummer. He was one of those guys who could quite obviously play with all the glitz and flash one could muster, if necessary, but he also knew what kind of music he was playing and he played for it. He was in the pocket, his fills were tasteful and he made fine use of ghost notes on his snare (which unfortunately could not be heard unless standing behind him backstage). Again, the mix could have been better and was nearly destroyed by an overbearing amount of reverb and delay, but again, I'll get to that later.
HEY FUCKERS? Did you NOT get the memo? Were you not privvy to the emails about backline? Or were you just not fucking paying attention? Drummer Dan McCool was the worst. Whining about not being able to use his own Pork Pie drum kit when WE DROVE OVER 800 FUCKING MILES TO PROVIDE BACKLINE including a perfectly good Mapex Pro-M kit (now dubbed "Saturn" by Mapex) was the height of childish, primadonna and rude behavior.
You should have been thanking us or Unicity for making your life easier by going out of the way to provide backline, not complaining and whining "I'm just gonna have to find some way to make it work." Seriously, who the fuck do you think you are? Aside from the fact that the Steve Gadds, Slim Jim Phantoms, Matt Camerons, Mike Portnoys and Neil Pearts of the world generally don't have to worry about such things, do you honestly think they would complain where a perfectly good drum kit was provided in a similar situation? NO. Those guys could make a box of rocks and a garbage-can lid sound like they were worth a gazillion bucks more than either of our kits are worth and make most other drummers, including you, look like they just came down the fucking tube yesterday while doing it, too! Don't get me wrong, I like your music and I have an intrinsic love of pop music in general, even though that's not what I generally write. I visited your site and almost every band's site who was listed as performing at Unicity and I liked almost all of what I heard from everyone. But the bottom line is that you had no business complaining about and screwing up a situation that you:
- (A) voluntarily agreed to participate in and
- (B) the conditions of which were known to every musician performing at the festival before hand.
Had you just got up on stage and played, and not worried about a bunch of stupid stuffed animals bouncing around your clear acrylic, double deep kick drum, you wouldn't have had the disappointment of only getting 25 minutes to play and you wouldn't have practically destroyed Temple 8's set up and soundcheck time, either, creating for us one of our most uncomfortable performances ever. Thanks and congratulations. You've successfully made it on to my shit list along with every other band who has dissed me or my band in a similar fashion. You'd be well-advised to keep any performance you might have in Cleveland, OH on the down low, because there's a good chance you'd wind up with me as your sound guy. Barring that, you can rest assured that if I'm nearby, I'll show up and find some way to return the favor. Nevermind, I'll return the favor right now. Please save everyone the fear and desire to call the CDC next time and change your shirt behind closed doors. With the exception of a good dermatologist, no one needs to see the nasty, puss-filled boils on your back.
Okay, now that I'm done thoroughly ragging on Dan, it's time to rag on some other things. The sound system seemed pretty good. I still think my gear is better and under the right conditions (money/time) I would have committed to and provided a great PA and techs for at least one stage for both days, which I offered, but Unicity declined. And I could have even done two stages for both days. By the time Unicity re-approached me about backline, some other tragic events happened for me with the death of a long-time friend, so I could only supply backline for one day. The sound guy was mixing FOH and monitors from side-stage. Why a tented location out front for sound wasn't provided, I don't know, but doing FOH from side-stage (rather than doing monitors from FOH) created accessibility problems on stage and ensured that everyone's FOH mix was sub-standard.
I was told that lighting would be provided. What was provided were two odd-ball lighting pieces that I can't even describe. Not even a single tree of four par 46. The result was that the stage was so poorly lit, I would have rather played under the stage's white work lights than what was actually being used.
I'm almost afraid to see and hear the video footage we paid for, let alone the footage from our own camera. The videographer stayed fixed in one place the whole time. Her itinerary was incorrect, at least in our case, stating that we paid for edited footage when we paid for raw footage. When I inquired about file formats and such things regarding the actual data stream of what I paid for, the lady had absolutely no good answers for me. I don't claim to be a "videographer". When someone, who is not claiming to be a videographer, is speaking to a person holding a camera who IS claiming to be a "videographer" about things a "videographer" should know, then I'm not sure that the title "videographer" is accurate. I've met mere "cameramen" who've had more useful information for me if I had a question. Additionally, it is my understanding that she was late for Pauline Pisano's set and only caught two or three songs. I hope Pauline doesn't get charged the full amount, if at all, of whatever she was supposed to get.
Since I don't want to give the impression that I'm just ragging on everyone and everything, let me say that I can be as generous in my praise as I am in my criticism. Unicity is a festival for a good cause. I think Michel, Fred and all the Unicity organizers I met are great people with the best of intentions. As noted before, I think the selection of artists was pretty decent. Communications with Michel and her staff were top-notch, timely and professional. But also, as mentioned at the top, I think that sometimes people bite off more than they can chew and having been in Michel's position on more than one occasion, I can fully appreciate the difficulty of her position. So, allow me to offer some constructive criticism: Sometimes, less is more. I think Michel and the Unicity staff would be better serving their cause by being a little pickier about everything. Less bands. Higher quality. Pay them something. Go for only two or three stages. This allows stages a little more deck area, better sound/lighting, a good 30 minutes strike/switch time, more personal attention to the bands. If that means that Temple 8 doesn't get selected for the September 2009 or future events, then so be it, but the "slaughterhouse" method of production "get 'em up & get 'em off -- chop chop" is just too stressful on performers and technicians alike.
I do hope to work with Unicity again in the future. I'd just like to see an improvement in production/performance time tables over what I experienced. I do recommend this event for other bands, but be sure to ask plenty of questions and make sure you're willing to accept their backline provisions before you commit.