OTR-64 Festival Season Ends

The summer music festival season is pretty much over for this year. Take a moment to digest that fact, but be of good cheer, old-time musicians. ("Be of good cheer" is how we talk to each other; it's old-time talk.)

So, other than playing music in your utility room or tiled shower (turn OFF the water this time, remember), what outlet do you have for those fiddle and banjo tunes? Ideas:

1. Learn some new old tunes. If you really want to feel like you're stepping back in time for this one, use one of those dozens of cassettes you have from festivals in that other century. Nothing like spooling through unlabeled tapes with the volume up, looking for gaps in the squirrel-chatter of fast forwarding. You'll definitely feel older, and as a matter of fact, you'll also BE older, because that process takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Give it a try before you give up. Then you can give up.

2. Volunteer at the local Old Folks' Home to play at lunch hour. It's truly enjoyable for the residents who really do lack for visitors, unfortunately. And in between those volunteer gigs, consider this: If the ten's digit of your age is 6 or greater (hey, that's me), your own house is already an Old Folks' Home. Get a rocker and a porch, and you're in business.

3. Donate some time to play for your local school kids. This involves approaching the principal and arranging to do an assembly or some in-class demos. Please don't just loiter outside the playground fence at recess time with your banjo. I know the old line about not minding bad reviews as long as they spell your name right, but when your bad review takes the form of a restraining order, trust me, they'll spell your name right, and you'll mind.

4. What about an airport gig? Captive audience, people bored out of their skulls, the occasional kid who might recognize you from that playground fence--suddenly you're a star! It helps if you are waiting for a flight too, because that gets you into the boarding area beyond the security checkpoint. Outside of security, everybody's moving pretty quickly to get the TSA process over with, and they can't linger to enjoy the magic you can produce with just 4 strings and some hair on a stick, or 5 strings and a couple of extra long fingernails. Putting out a hat or an open case for donations might be fine, depending on the airport police or the Cinnabon concession in the Southwest concourse at Pittsburgh International where apparently the sales of monstrously caloric, overpriced, teeth-rotting, fat-oozing "food" drop dramatically whenever old-time music is heard within 30 feet. They could have just asked nicely.

5. The subway! Great acoustics. People with loose change. Thousands of volts coursing through the third rail and keeping your audience closer to you as they avoid pitching over backwards onto the tracks. Always an adventure. If you play in the station, your audience is replenished every 6 minutes or so if rush hour has been declared. If you board a car, they're REALLY captive, but then, so are you--you do the math. And have you seen the Joshua Bell video where he played incognito in the D. C. metro? ("Incognito" is not a Vivaldi etude, as is sometimes rumored.) Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myq8upzJDJc. Fun fact: In the Paris (France) metro, buskers must have a laminated photo ID displayed when they're playing in the stations or on the trains. Troubadours with bar codes.

6. Your local restaurant. Just show up, sit in the corner, and start playing. What's the worst that can happen? Oh yeah, the Cinnabon effect. Well, assuming the diners are caring, compassionate, patriotic, and of good moral character, you might even get a free drink out of the deal, and if fiddles and banjos kill a few appetites, maybe a free meal.

7. Your friendly laundromat. Acoustics like a subway station with constant low-level train noise. Be careful of humidity issues from the damp delicates--your banjo head could revert to its original saggy goatskin self, or your fiddle glue could surrender and leave you with a DIY Stradivarioid kit. I myself have actually performed in several laundromats, and it does take a certain amount of nerve if your "audience" is just one person who arrived hoping to catch up on some reading. Smile a lot and just keep playing.

So here's hoping these ideas carry you through to next year when the sunny, warm weather returns. Unless you live in California, where we'll be stuck with it for at least another month with no festivals except for Hardly Strictly next weekend but that's in San Francisco and if it gets above an overcast 65 we'll be lucky. Fest on.

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Posted By:  Geff Crawford

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