The actual performances were scheduled for Thursday August 25 through Saturday August 27. After three days of prep and rehearsals I was now balancing rehearsal schedules with performance schedules. On Thursday I had one gig with Innes Sibun at the Corderie Stage. This is at the west end of the historical Corderie building, a restored rope making factory that was the center of the Rochefort naval base. Rochefort is a true Garrison Town, built as an alternative to La Rochelle which was not suitable controlled by the French crown. but I digress…
Innes had run the band through some song forms back at the Clos, and from the get go we had a really good feel and the audience was enjoying the show. Innes took a trip out into the crowd for a solo, and Bruno Bertrand, Or Solomon and I made up a good rhythm section, with Or taking some sweet solos. This was where things kinda got blurry. Esra Mowhawk played before Innes, and then Vic Moan played, and then I left to get back to the Clos for either a rehearsal or food or both… I’m pretty sure it ended with a late rehearsal with Moris. The demands of the highly-proscriptive arrangements in Napoleon’s, Moris’ and the Beefheart sets meant that I needed to be interlacing rehearsal time with performance time and had very little availability to either sit in or to just watch a performance.
The next day we started as usual… Shiatsu at 9:30 (Caroline, to the rescue), then working on material in the headphones until I was needed at a rehearsal. This was where things got ugly because of conflicts between Moris, Napoleon, and Moris’ sleep schedule… I had not been so much running my own schedule as being run on other musician’s schedules. So it was hard for me to switch gears, and that was even harder because by Friday morning I was not able to remember who asked me to rehearse when. Add in the fact that rehearsal schedules kept changing and needed to be interlaced with actual performance schedules, and it was borderline mayhem. As a musician who has been working in the format of improvisation and experimentation, all of this rehearsal and tight arrangement demands took some adjustment. It certainly didn’t seem to be in the true spirit of the festival. But those are the cards that I got dealt. Anyhow… Mother Nature had a solution:
The Friday schedule had a break of about 3-4 hours between the early performances and the evening schedule. During this time I was scheduled for soundchecks on the main stage with Moris, then napoleon. For some reason Moris decided not to soundcheck, so it became a combo soundcheck and last-minute tweak session with Napoleon. As I stood on stage I was noticing some very dark clouds bowing by, but the locals didn’t seem nervous, so why should I be? About halfway through the wind picked up, and up, and up… and I heard this sound like a tearing bedsheet behind me… It was a wall of rain, accompanied by 40-50+ knot winds and hail, blowing onto the stage from the rear at the stage-left corner. This proceeded to blow Benoit’s marimba off the riser, sent 70kg road cases scurrying toward the lip of the stage, and put down about an inch of water and ice on an electrically live stage. This drenched Nicolas’ effects rig, and had me wondering what the odds of being electrocuted were. I was also having a memory of the recent stage collapse tragedies, and i didn’t want to be next. All of this was happening while holding on to a portable metal-frame canopy by one of the legs, while two road crew held two other legs, and napoleon crouched in the middle holding his flute and music, while deflecting the rapidly disintegrating metal frame of the canopy… It was like rounding the fucking Horn on a soundstage.
Finally we persuaded Napoleon to make a run for it, and the storm began to subside. It looked 50/50 that the show was going to be either cancelled or postponed. About 30 minutes later, while I was getting a ride back to the Hotel Roca Fortis for a quick break before what was supposed to be my second gig with Innes at the Place Colbert, a second storm hit, trashing the canopy over the main stage mixing desk and then dumping the mixing desk itself. That effectively ended the performance portion of Day 2. The same kind of wind and water damage impacted all the stages, and everything was going to be moved to Saturday. There was a feeling that the whole thing might be compromised if they couldn’t get the sound gear back together.
Back at the Clos there was a simultaneous feeling of shock and relief. Another great dinner at the hands of the Rochefort crew, and the relief turned into a party. As it got later I started looking for a beer (don’t get me started on French beer) and that led me to the beer tent, where I did the sensible thing and had a cognac. That twist led to the most fun I had at the festival, hanging in the little beer concession tent with the volunteers, drinking and passing around iPods and headphones. Tomorrow will bring whatever it brings, but for now we drink, and dance, and sing, and converse.
Saturday was the “big one”… I had been waking up at about 0800 like clockwork, getting cleaned up, and having a light breakfast at the Roca Fortis. The crew there was Eric Longsworth, his wife Pascale, Eric Drew Feldman, Laurie Hall, Rob Laufer, Moris Tepper, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Nicolas Mignot, his wife Pascale, Declan DeBarra, and Emmanuelle Parrenin… I hope I have not forgotten anyone. The Roca Fortis makes fantastic coffee (Illy, the best! as Jean Marc told us with great conviction, and the results proved it), and fresh juice. The Apple-Kiwi was the star, and I used the excellent orange juice on my cereal. The long coffee was great, but when I found the double espresso… the deal was sealed. Jean Marc was right… The Best.
It was raining at first, but by 0900 the sun was out and we had a beautiful day on our hands. The deal now was that I had a 1000 soundcheck at the Place Colbert (outdoor stage in the town square), then a set with Innes at about 1330, then back to the Clos for a meal, and then the afternoon’s schedule which I hadn’t seen yet. I was able to walk the weekend market after soundcheck, with Innes and Celia, and that was my first and only actual touristy activity. The Innes gig was lightly attended but we had a ball, again. And I was ravenous after having nothing more than juice and coffee all day. The lunch at the Clos was awesome, as always, and I got about 30 minutes to get horizontal while listening to Karen Mantler’s set. That featured Nico (not a bass player) and Jeff (not a bass player) on bass and guitar… and that band sounded awesome. My work was to come at the end of the night. The last three sets of the festival were Napoleon, Moris, and the Beefheart Hommage.
Napoleon’s set was the big challenge for me because I knew all the songs by ear, but had only played a few of them, and had to get up to speed on some that required the bass to be in specific places at specific times. Advance Romance, Pygmy Twilight, and Inc Roads were the ones that I needed the most work on. The routine in Advance, and Pygmy, and Torture, and Willy… is that each section may be similar, but there are small tweaks each time. If the band isn’t coordinated it sounds awful. Inca Roads, which is alternately easy and ball busting, involbed having a good feel in the solo sections and being accurate in the hard sections. Watching Charly, Benoit, and Nicolas drill those parts all week was inspirational. I may have been the weakest member on that tune, but I was not going to let them down. Luckily Napoleon let me simplify some parts, and I was able to get through just fine. I found myself leaning on the sense of timing and funk/soul that I have been working with since the beginning, so even if there are less notes, it will still sound like me getting funky and trying to nail that timing. Napoleon complimented me on my work and performance, so no matter what the playback sounds like, it worked in the moment.
I only played on three songs with Moris, and I had said from the beginning that I have no ego about that kind of thing. If he wants to work with me I am fine with that, but I won’t bitch if he wants to go in another direction. He did, and I think the set had good energy, though there was a lot of frustration evident as some of the fine points had not been worked out. A pro-co rat would have solved the problems with bass distortion… I stood on the side of the stage and watched the show, and I would be lying if I didn’t think about what it could have been like. The most surprising thing was how huge the sound was Moris was pushing for. The recordings have this very detailed and often delicate sensibility, but the target for the live show was borderline manic.
The Beefheart Hommage was a triumph, but the actual set list was about a third of the prospective (24 tune) set list, and with songs being cut from the set right up to the opening piece, well, that was that. I said it before: a more accurate set list would have meant higher quality and less wasted rehearsal and preparation. I will probably have an audience recording to review to get the song list right, but IIRC:
- Hair Pie (solo)
- Love Lies
- Party of Special Things to Do
- Ice Rose
- Orange Claw Hammer
- Observatory Crest
- Carrot is As Close As A Rabbit Gets To A Diamond
- Sue Egypt
- When I see Mommy I Feel Like A Mummy
- Floppy Boot Stomp
- Tropical Hot Dog Night
- Suction Prints
Whew! Nice Set!
And with that there was a bow to the audience and a feeling that we had all thrived, as much as we survived. The after-party was filled with photos and back slapping, but then a dance event broke out, with drumming and singing and Leo on Saxophone, and it sounded like an echo of an American field-holler washed through the European and the Nautical. Fantastic night. I dropped into bed at about 0600, Skyped Sandy to get the latest on Hurricane Irene and then got two hours of sleep before making revolutions to return to Paris, and then Home……..