Tuesday, November 8, 2016

EKU Pops Concert

Our last gig in August was a collaboration with the East Kentucky University Orchestra for their annual pops concert.

For The WannaBeatles, this meant brushing up our orchestral charts, putting our resident orchestrator Nathan to work rewriting the scores to accommodate the larger number of instruments that would be available. 


EKU is in Richmond, Kentucky, 225 miles from Nashville. The big show, with a full orchestra, staged under a large tent at the historic White Hall mansion, was booked for Saturday evening, August 27. Also scheduled was a rehearsal for us with the orchestra earlier that day, at their rehearsal room on the EKU campus. That meant we had to leave Nashville on Friday.

Squeezing us at the other end, WannaBeatles David and Nathan both had Sunday morning church services back in Nashville, requiring them to leave Kentucky Saturday night after the gig. Accommodating their schedules led to our decision to make the trip in two vehicles, David’s van and Dennis’s Camry, with our gear distributed into both cars. 

Readers of this blog have learned that The WannaBeatles, after years of experimentation, vehicle abuse, and budgetary considerations, have arrived at an efficient transportation system for traveling to gigs:  Nathan’s new 4Runner, with trailer hitch, connected to a 4x8 U-Haul trailer. 

Not only did Nathan purchase a car ideally suited to our needs (a comfortable ride for four, with enough power to pull a trailer), but he also volunteered to pick up the trailer and drive it back to his house (centrally located between the homes of the other three band members), each time we meet to load the gear for a gig out of town. 

Nathan’s value to the group is difficult to overestimate. Even though this particular gig did not include the use of his 4Runner, his continual generosity and helpfulness inspire gratitude that deserves mention. Bloggin’ Bryan feels motivated to reflect on this particular factor of the enduring magic of The WannaBeatles, by pointing out that Nathan is thrilled to be in a rock band. 

From his earliest exposure to Abbey Road at age ten, he had always dreamed of being in a rock band. Whether through native shyness or genuine lack of opportunity, he never had (or took) the chance, following instead the path of a classical music education, obtaining a master’s degree in organ performance. 

This assured him of a lifetime of Sunday morning commitments, if he accepted it, which he did. Even after moving to Nashville, the rock band dream remained secretly locked away in his heart for several decades. It was while playing for a school musical that WannaBeatle David became acquainted with Nathan’s talent and began the campaign to recruit him into the group.

And so, when we finally offered him the position of playing with us, the excitement of having his dream fulfilled triggered a burst of gratitude and enthusiasm on his part. His willingness to go the extra mile showed up right away, as he bought a Hofner bass and promptly learned how to play it. 

In addition, Nathan's strong spirit of teamwork shows up in practical ways, such as our transportation system.

We know it looks glamorous from the outside, but a band is a business, and part of our actual work is transporting a bunch of equipment to a specific location in a timely matter. While The WannaBeatles meet regularly for what we call “rehearsals,” besides working on music, we can spend as much time discussing practical questions for upcoming gigs, such as what time the U-Haul place opens, how long it will take for Nathan to pick it up, attach it to his 4Runner, and return to his house, where we can then meet to load our gear and drive to our destination.


All this is work we have learned to do by doing it, and we increase our efficiency as a team with each gig. WannaBeatle Dennis, besides being a talented performer, has an administrative gift. He is the spark plug who runs the operation, getting the gigs, writing set lists, deciding on uniforms, and generally making most decisions beyond the musical reality of four guys playing together.  He also serves as our travel agent and road manager, booking the rooms and negotiating the rates - even occasionally bartering for free rooms in exchange for a brief performance by the group - and attending to all the necessary details when we travel. 

Nathan, with his authentic rural New England background, is also a naturally efficient problem-solver, who thinks through logistical matters like group transportation while considering everyone else’s point of view. He’s a true treasure as a member of any group, in addition to his vast stores of musical talent. 

WannaBeatle David, with his lifetime as a teacher and worship leader, knows how to solve problems by breaking them down into smaller parts, then working out a solution that’s built on a foundation of knowledge. He is happy to research and study, and then apply himself to a variety of tasks, whether it’s learning to play drums and keyboards simultaneously, building a WannaBeatles website, or choosing the best engine size for a vehicle towing a trailer. In the music department, David is our coach and choir director, always reminding us of a higher standard that we can achieve if we’re willing to apply ourselves. His influence brings quality and energy to our performance, far more so than Ringo ever brought to The Beatles. Again, it’s part of our unique chemistry.

So for our drive up to EKU, we formed a caravan, staying in contact by cell phones to confirm our turns and pit stops. David and Nathan spent most of the few hours of the trip researching the use of the credit card swiper which we intended to use at our merch table. 

Another part of being a band is dealing with tech side of the business, selling merchandise, tracking accounts, and coordinating online services. WannaBeatle David can be very focussed when solving technical problems, so he and Nathan make a good team for wrestling with tech support to figure out how to use our credit card swiper. When we finally pulled off the road for a restroom break, Nathan and David were still on the phone with paypal, and attempting to run a trial transaction to test the system. 
Nathan follows directions for trial transaction with
credit card swiper

EKU is fairly close to Lexington, which brings us to the neighborhood of our friend Skip Benton, our most enthusiastic fan from that area. Skip has already entered WannaBeatle history during our visits to Berea and Lexington, and we’re grateful for his friendship. Anticipating our visit for this gig, Skip thoughtfully sent us very specific directions to Richmond, including some turns off of major highways, and onto smaller local roads. 

He as also offered to meet us when we arrive, and to take us out to dinner that night. The fast food options close to the hotel are not too inspiring, but Skip knows the area, and leads us to a nearby Chinese restaurant. Sitting down to our sweet and sour chicken, we hear Skip talk about his hobby of flying a parachute plane. It sounds like fun.
Skip describes his parachute plane 
Skip poses with The WannaBeatles at Chinese restaurant

Skip also gave us a brief tour of the EKU campus, so we would be able to find the music building the next day.


After a free hotel breakfast, we gathered into our two vehicles to find the music building on the campus.
Foster Music, a great name for a music department
Front entrance of music building
Dennis and Nathan in hall checking directions
We found the orchestra rehearsing on the third floor
Loading minimal gear into music building
EKU drummer offers his kit
David, Nathan, drummer and Dennis at rehearsal
Dennis adjusts speaker
Dennis smiles at speaker
David sizes up orchestra from drum kit
Dennis with woodwind section in background

Nathan setting up keyboard
View of conductor
Trumpet section
WannaBeatles in rehearsal

It was quite a treat to be in the room with the orchestra. We heard some of their other “Pops” material, which included orchestrated versions of hits by Eagles and Led Zeppelin. We worked on the Beatles songs that featured orchestra, like “Here Comes the Sun,” and “Live and Let Die.” (technically not a Beatles song, but McCartney.)

We also caught a glimpse of orchestral humor. One of the students was celebrating a birthday. The conductor honored her day in what was apparently a long standing joke. He gave the signal, then had the entire orchestra play "Happy Birthday," except that every instrument played random notes, as loud or out of tune as possible, but everyone phrasing together as he conducted it, so that the tune was recognizable but possessed of maximum silliness.

Our next stop was the site of the concert, which is on the grounds of the historic White Hall mansion.

Here is where we learned a bit more of Kentucky history. Most people know that Muhammed Ali, the famous boxer, was born in Louisville with the name Cassius Clay. What many people may not realize is that he was named for a famous Kentucky politician, whose house was the site for our concert.

Here are the markers that tell the story.
White Hall sign 
Other side of the marker, (the story continues)
with view of the mansion

The curious cultural tradition of African Americans being named for famous white people is also exemplified in Martin Luther King and George Washington Carver. Until we played this particular gig, and read the historic markers, we confess that we were unaware that Cassius Clay belongs in that same tradition.
View of tent
Nathan and crew unloading at stage
Tables on lawn
Table being decorated
Psychedelic table and tie dye shirt
Colorful Beatles display
Another tie dye costume
 View of tent later in evening
 View of mansion
Another view of tent
David setting up drums under tent
Dennis onstage, mansion in background 
Orchestra in position
Bloggin' Bryan poses with monkey guitar,
displaying the sticker contributed by his 
granddaughter Ella
Dennis sets up the merch table
Debbie Kidd and Bill Ackerman, 
our concert sponsors at banner
Getting dressed in the maintenance shed
Our loyal sound crew beside the stage
Military honor guard

As part of the ceremony of opening the concert, a local military honor guard marched slowly to the front of the stage, as the orchestra played appropriately dignified music for the occasion: “My Old Kentucky Home,” and “The Start Spangled Banner.” 

The show was introduced by a local radio personality. The first half of the concert was the orchestra playing “pop” hits. We were free to listen out front. Certain portions of pop songs work well in the symphonic idiom. The soft verses to “Stairway to Heaven” already resemble a Renaissance era song, so adding strings and winds only makes it more authentically “classical.” Trying to get an authentic blues shuffle out of “Heartache Tonight” was a different matter, but the quality of the playing and arranging came through. 

The second half of the show started with us as a quartet, doing earlier Beatles songs, then featured our collaboration with the orchestra. As the night wore on, listeners got up from their tables and came to the front of the stage to dance. It turned into a most enjoyable party.
Nathan and David say goodnight to one of the volunteers
David says goodnight before driving back to Nashville

One final detail: After David and Nathan had left for Nashville, Dennis and I returned to the hotel, deciding to enjoy a milkshake on the way. It was only when I looked for my hotel key that I realized that it was in the pocket of my shirt, which I had accidentally left at the maintenance shed where we changed clothes. 

Dennis had the phone number for Debbie, who helped us, but she couldn’t help us contact anyone at the mansion. We took a chance and drove the approximately ten miles back to White Hall. There we found that the sound system was still being disassembled, so the crew was still working. 

In fact, the shed where we had changed clothes was still open, and my clothes were still there. So everything was recovered with minimal fuss, and we finally got back to the hotel with everything we were supposed to have.

Another fine fun WannaBeatles gig, a delightful evening on the warm Kentucky evening, with a local symphony joining us to make music for a very appreciative crowd. 

Bloggin’ Bryan 8November2016

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