Thursday, June 7, 2012

Welcome to Arizona!

I don't know why it's taken me so long to write about this event- it took place on March 14th.  My Facebook page seems to be more current and interactive and I use this blog to talk about things near and dear to me that maybe require more verbiage. I guess I had to collect my thoughts on this one. 

In March, I headlined the largest event I've ever played.  I've done larger events but as secondary entertainment or on a "second stage". I'll share my thoughts on the subject as we go through the pictures.  Citibank was in town for a reward retreat for top performers throughout their company.  People came from all over North America. 

This is load in at 11AM in the Gold Room at the Arizona Biltmore.  The hotel staff were incredibly concerned about my lighting rig getting close to the ceiling.  It was still a foot away but that's actually gold leaf pressed up there. It's LED lighting so, thankfully, it doesn't get hot- that was another concern.  Old school theatrical and nightclub lighting can get very, very hot.
That's percussionist, Bopa King Carre from New York City in the left of the shot.
Doing sound check here.  That's electric violinist, Grey DeVio also from New York City listening to himself.  I was to be center stage with my DJ workstation, Bopa on my right with a set of Latin drums and other percussion.  Grey was to be on my left with his electric violin.  I would take the lead as DJ and they would add live elements as the mood/energy presented itself. 
Here the three of us are being scolded about how loud it is.  (When there are 1000 people in the room, we will be hard pressed to equal the volume that they will be making)  We were a bit loud admittedly, but there was an energy level and an attitude about what we were doing that made it seem louder in the middle of the afternoon than it was in reality.  Sometimes, I think my stage clothes and leather and chrome boots make it seem louder than it really is.  Live acoustic drums don't have a volume knob.  To a certain degree, we had to match those or be drowned out.     
This part of the event is actually going to be the "after party"- more of a straight up night club experience from 10P to 2A after the Hoe Down earlier in the evening which I'll describe next. When the afterparty stage was set up, I unplugged my work station and moved that out to the Squaw Peak Lawn and plugged it into another sound system for the Bar-b-que/Arizona/Hoe Down/County Fair thing they were doing from 6P to 10P. 

Side note- Many years ago, when I was still living in LA, I came to Scottsdale AZ for a big grand opening for a regular corporate client.  In addition to me, they had hired a couple of local entertainers.  There was a trash can percussion band and a belly dancer and a caricature artist if I remember.  The trash can band was to go on first.  They had filled the stage with barrels, trash containers and various other interesting junk that they could make sounds on.  The 3 percussionists had ragamuffin/street urchin costumes that they wore well and they certainly knew their stuff. Several hundred event attendees gathered in anticipation because it did generate some interest.  They started the show and within 30 seconds, they lost the crowd.  They had no showmanship, no stage presence and there was no amount of cool costuming or interesting gadgets on the stage that could save them or the show.  It was a shame because I did enjoy the crazy beats they were creating.  The event coordinator shut them off early thankfully.  It was up to me to get the event back on track. I played one number at half volume as they were clearing the stage and then I shouted "Hello Friends!" and went into the next track at full volume and I danced and smiled a bit.  I  had no lighting or any specific stage show, it was me filling the stage with my personal presence.  It wasn't even my music, it was someone elses songs, but it was as if I had turned the switch on for that event.  The mood changed immediately to what it should have been for the occasion. 

Back to this event.  I gotta say, I was feeling very naked and exposed on this big stage. I usually have my lighting rig and my speakers close by. All I had was my work station/podium like back at the Scottsdale gig all those years ago.  I was feeling the pressure of 1000 people. I was feeling my 46 years. I was feeling the pressure of the largest professional fee I've ever collected.  I dug down and FILLED that stage with myself, that's what stage presence is. 

The sun is setting on Piestewa Peak in the background. The new politically correct name is "Piestewa Peak", but it will always remain "Squaw Peak" to me.
Somebody snapped a pic from the stage.  I was leading the masses in a line dance of some sort with my wireless headset mic.  I'm in the front there just to the right of center in this shot.  
I'm usually pleased when I have more than half of a room dancing. I connected with virtually the whole crowd of 1000 people.  

Here's a little bit of video that I shot from the stage. That's a LOT of dancing bodies. 
The event planner and the corporate client were telling me early in the evening about a local dance band they had on opening night of their conference/retreat, three nights before, and how good they were and how many people danced and danced. They came back to me later and said, that they didn't know what they were talking about. They had been pleased with 150-200 people dancing with a great band and a big lighting rig and everything. They had no idea that I could connect with the WHOLE crowd with just my personal presence and recorded music.

My only regret here is that when I say so, it's boasting, but if somebody else were to say it, it would be a compliment. It's MY blog and here's the video to prove it so I hope I don't come across as arrogant.   

One more thought before I move on to the afterparty: Part of "reading a crowd" music-wise, is how they are dressed.  When the event planner from New York hired me, we chatted at length about not wanting to do the obvious Arizona things because they are usually stereotypical, not authentic, and could come across as cheesy.  I only know a tiny handful of people who wear cowboy hats or boots around here. They had distributed cowboy hats and bandannas to the attendees for this bar-b-que dinner and, in a strange way, it threw me off.  I probably played more country music while the food was being served than I should have.  I didn't even become conscious of it until after the meal was winding down.  Reading the crowd is something so second nature to me, I just did it automatically even though I had consciously intended to go light on the country music.  Since the wearing of cowboy hats was artificially disproportionate to the actual number of country music fans, I almost blew it.  I caught myself in time thankfully.  

The lawn element ended at 10PM and I quickly rolled my workstation back into the gold room and plugged back into the other sound system and lighting rig and they let everybody in 5 minutes later. Everything sure looked good!
I played for about 30 minutes to find the groove and get every body settled in for the long haul and then I introduced Boppa and Grey. It was so good, it almost immediately changed from a dance party to a rock concert. People rushed the stage to feel the energy we were creating.  It was at a level that was off the charts!  We hadn't rehearsed anything.  We had chatted by phone and exchanged a couple of emails on the subject and had decided on a basic direction to go but we wanted it to remain free-form so that it could live and breathe and respond to the crowd. 
Sadly, we got to play for about 20 minutes and because of the volume of those live acoustic drums, we had to go back to just live DJ work by myself...  at a little lower volume.  The event was scheduled to go until 2AM but it wrapped up just before 1AM. I like an event to end instead of die out.  1AM was a good END time.  Left them breathless and wanting a bit more instead of a dozen drunken hangers-on.  It had been a long week for the attendees as they had done a community service project early that morning and many had early flights to catch the next day.  

I gotta give some love to the best roadie/sound tech/stage manager/wardrobe mistress/personal assistant/right-hand-man in the history of the craft. I couldn't have pulled off this event without my best buddy, Scott Blood, from Orange County CA. His work was brilliantly intuitive- he just anticipated what I or what the event would need next and he took care of it.  He and I were loading equipment at 9AM, rolled on to the site at 11AM, loaded out at 2AM and got back to the shop and 3AM.  Even after 18 hours, I didn't hate him. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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