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ConFusion report - Phil's Rambling Rants
January 24th, 2006
08:53 pm

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ConFusion report
Made it back from ConFusion.

The trip started on a bad note Thursday; I was tired, disorganized, and late, and as I was trying to take care of a bill that had to be paid before I left I discovered that my printer wasn't working.  Then 20 minutes down the road, I realized I had forgotten to put my belt pouch in the car, which among other things contained my book.  I need to have a book to read as part of my getting-to-sleep ritual.  So I turned around to get it, only to discover, when I couldn't find the belt pouch in the house, that it was already in the car -- I'd never removed it after the GaFilk trip.  By this time it was late enough that if we'd driven to where we normally have dinner on this trip, (a) we would have been really really hungry, and (b) the restaurant might not have been open, so we stopped at the Wendy's just over the Indiana border.  Despite all this, we still got to Ft. Wayne at a reasonable enough time with no more problems.

The second leg of the trip Friday was uneventful, except for the irony of the weather in Michigan being much more conducive to a picnic lunch than the weather three weeks ago in Georgia.  Made it to the hotel 2ish, managed to get registered and into the hotel room without problems, helped set up the con suite, and got to the interview with GoH Vernor Vinge (very interesting), opening ceremonies (amusing), and Heather Alexander's concert (awesome!).  Heather's concert was followed by a reception which included a really impressive dessert bar.  I managed to restrain myself from eating too hugely, but still had some fresh pineapple, chocolate dipped strawberries, and a piece of cheesecake, all of which were good, and a chocolate-dipped Rice Krispie treat, something I just couldn't restrain myself from.  Unfortunately, all of this excitement meant that filking didn't start Friday until around midnight, and the few people that made it there had all faded by 1:30.  I wanted to filk more, but nobody else was there, so I let myself notice that I was tired and went to bed.

Saturday, I didn't manage to get up until 1, so I missed billroper and daisy_knotwise's concert.  A panel with Vinge et al., discussing the Singularity (which he'd touched on in the interview Friday) at more length, very interesting stuff.  Then Heather and filkertom on a panel, being interviewed by scs_11 about making a living as a filker.  Not really a lot that I didn't already know from filkertom, since I get to talk to him regularly; somewhat more enlightening to hear what Heather had to say, but no big surprises.  There's not a lot of money just hanging from the tree of the filk market; both artists confirm that to make a living from it you have to (a) be really really good, (b) work really really hard, and (c) be fairly lucky.  But if you have the kind of performance and creative skills to support it, it can be a lot of fun.  And as long as they and other artists continue to make music that makes me happy and treat me with respect as a listener and as a customer, I will continue to spend what I can afford on their stuff.  Next was a conflict between Science GoH Mitchell Burnside-Clapp on a panel about space launch technology and catalana's concert.  I hope catalana forgives me for going to Mitch's panel, because I don't know when I'll see him next.  It was disappointing to hear that he's parted ways with rocketplane.com, the company he founded to try to develop a commercial spaceplane.  The panel made it clear that there's no sudden shortage of interesting ideas in the space business, but there's still a big shortage of vision on the part of the US government and others with really major financial resources.  Mitch makes a fairly telling argument that space tourism, a concept that everyone is really excited about now, probably doesn't have enough of a market to be financially viable; we need a more surefire way to make money going to space to generate the market interest that will get us there usefully.  Next, filktertom, scs_11, and markbernstein did a panel called "I've Got a Follower", which was fun and silly but had no more actual chaining of songs together than a typical filk.  This was followed by a little bit of frantic scurrying to figure out exactly how getting everyone to dinner worked, and a very nice dinner at P.F.Chang's with janmagic, birder2, and Sue, Art, and Nick, all of whom ANOLJ.  Brief appearances at  parties, including markbernstein and Tara Barber's joint 50th birthday party (with a nod to tnatj's not-50th birthday also around the same time), and barbarakitten_t's Heinlein Centennial party, and then getting down to the filk around 10, which was more lightly attended than it should have been, and very annoyingly interrupted by the hotel demanding they have the room at midnight.  (We were supposed to have another room to move to, but when someone said that the room we were supposed to move to was locked and already set for the next day, and it seemed like we wouldn't be let in there either, I tipped from being annoyed about being moved to being really effin' pissed, and I only gradually managed to calm down when that turned out to be in error and we did get into the room we were supposed to move to.)  Everyone else wussed out by 3ish, but Art and I stayed at it until 4, Art playing some Dead songs and me trying to follow along.

Sunday I couldn't get up in time for Mitch's interview, but I caught Vernor Vinge's reading which was pretty interesting.  Rainbows End looks to be a good book (hardly surprising from Vinge), despite the first 10 minutes of the reading being not-very-appealing material.  The reading gave a glimpse into a 20-years-from-now where an awful lot of stuff has changed in interesting, if often scary, ways.  At this point, birder2 wanted to change our plans and check out of the hotel Sunday, rather than staying over, because it seemed like there would be very little if any dead dog filk.  I talked to Heather and she said she was interested in music in the evening, and fredcritter said he was definitely interested, and I was really interested in seeing what musical sparks might fly between those two, so I really wanted to stay.  Heather had an hour scheduled at the end of the convention, cleverly at the same time as the gripe session; I had thought it was supposed to be a session, while at least some people thought it was supposed to be a concert.  It ended up being about half an hour of concert and half an hour of not very organized session; I'd brought Tiger, thinking I'd be able to play a few tunes, but the only tune that got played that I actually knew was Morrison's, and braider was playing it far faster than I could keep up with in my sleep deprived fog (or, realistically, probably even at my best).  I was tremendously frustrated when I was just about to start "Star of the County Down" -- a song which I think I do a damn nice version of, thank you very much, when John (someone I'd met at last year's ConFusion, an interesting person to talk to but a very poor singer) started singing it himself.  Sort of.  He had the tune drastically wrong, and even when enough people started singing along that it became recognizable, he was in a completely unexpected key, and I was much too tired to transpose even once I figured out that he was (at least by this time) reasonably on pitch in Bm.  It was still a blast finishing up with March of Cambreadth accompanied by highland bagpipes, despite the volume mismatch.  (The vocals need to be amplified to match the bagpipes, or for that matter, even the enthusiastically-played bodhran.)  But Heather had a blast, and when Heather is having fun, everyone around is too.  We couldn't find anyone else who wanted to eat, so birder2 dragged me to Champp's (the sports bar across the street, a bit overpriced, last year the food was quite good, this year not so much so), and then we tried to get people together for music.  Unfortunately, Heather was a bit under the weather (at least according to her manager), but fredcritter did show up, and we swapped a couple of songs in the con suite, despite being a little bit inhibited by the fact that most people were still conversing full-blast.  And then skzbrust returned from the hot tub, and we got less inhibited and had some kick ass music for a little while.  Unfortunately, fredcritter ran out of steam around 11.  Well, unfortunately in that I wanted to hear more from him and skzbrust; letting their music wash over me was just wonderful.  Perhaps fortunately in that I had just about run out of things I thought I could play without embarrassing myself.  In a regular filk circle, I'm willing to play things that I may make some mistakes on, but when I'm playing for those two, I really want to sound good.  At the end of the evening, I did officially introduce myself to skzbrust; even though I'd been in the room with him several times before, I'd never actually shaken hands with him.  He seemed actually interested in meeting me, so I guess I acquitted myself acceptably musically speaking.  I mentioned that when I'd been in Las Vegas in 2004 I had made plans to meet up with him, but I'd gotten sick and had to cancel.  He invited me to look him up again if I was in Vegas.  I hope I get the chance.

We didn't see anyone from the con on Monday; the trip home was without incident and we got back earlier than expected.  But somehow I didn't have enough steam to write this report until now.  The dogs spent the weekend with Jim and Robin (their breeder), and I really missed them last night.

Covering what I did at the con, it seemed like it was all wonderful, but there were some disappointments and complaints.  First and foremost among the complaints was that the con did not have an art show.  They had space available for a demo room, which few people used, but no exhibit run by the con, and no auction or other sales.  Artists who are actually doing it for a living can't afford to come to the con if they don't have a chance to sell their work.  I fervently hope that this year's ConFusion was an aberration, not a trend, because if cons in general stop having traditional art shows, the art I like will stop being a part of cons and the SF community in general except as covers on books for sale in the dealer's room.  I really wanted to bring this up at the gripe session, but they scheduled an extra appearance from Heather Alexander at the same time.  I came to the con to hear Heather, so I was not missing that.  Which brings up my second complaint, which was that I never saw Heather except at her official appearances -- a concert Friday, a panel Saturday, signing autographs, and the bonus concert Sunday.  She may have made music informally during the con, but she didn't come to the filk room to do it.  The last time she'd been there, she'd made herself much more accessible.  This is not a complaint against the con, and I don't mean to cast aspersions on Heather (she did what she was supposed to do for the con, and she did a great job of it), but it was a personal disappointment.  Finally, the other big complaint was that we did not have our filk room properly scheduled with the hotel for the whole night.  Friday night they'd told us they wanted to throw us out at 2, and it only became a non-issue because everyone went to bed before then anyway, ya buncha wimps, and I discussed what happened Saturday above.  I had some very good hours at the con; overall I can't claim I didn't have a good time, but still, this seemed much less magical than the ConFusions I've been to before.  I really doubt I'll be back next year.

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From:tigertoy
Date:January 25th, 2006 04:02 am (UTC)
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I don't really know Heather personally, and I haven't been at many cons where she's been at, and none for a few years. I have seen a lot more of her at cons in the past, and I'm not sure why this was different. She was at this con this year with a manager, whose name is something like Corrie, and I got some hints that Corrie was trying to push Heather into being a "professional star" and not doing anything more than what was required. I phoned Heather's room on Sunday night when I was trying to get her to come to the dead dog, and Corrie told me (a) that she was in the bathroom at the moment, and (b) that she was recovering from the flu and wasn't sure she was up to anything more. I took that at face value at the time, but I realized later that if she was trying to get rid of me without blatantly alienating a fan, that's exactly what she would have said, and when I'd actually talked to Heather earlier in the day she'd been interested.
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From:peteralway
Date:January 25th, 2006 04:27 am (UTC)
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I heard her chatting with Bill Roper in the dealer room at some point--she said then that she was doing studio work currently and when she was doing that, she felt she had to pace herself especially carefully and that she didn't want to either mess herself up with sleep deprivation or by blowing out her voice.

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From:billroper
Date:January 25th, 2006 04:58 am (UTC)
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Actually, that conversation must have been with Gretchen, because I missed it. :)
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From:peteralway
Date:January 25th, 2006 05:04 am (UTC)
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Or with a customer at your table. Or with someone else hanging out behind your table. I just remember overhearing it in the dealer room, and I remember her sitting at your table.

Or I was severely sleep deprived from going to bed at 5:00 am, and it was actually the wooly mammoth puppet two vendors down talking with a being of pure energy floating about the vendor room.
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From:catalana
Date:January 25th, 2006 04:24 am (UTC)
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I would have been at Mitch's panel too if it hadn't clashed with my concert. *Grin* So no worries there.

I gather Heather has been going through some rough times lately, so she may well have not felt up to more. Also, she was there as Toastmistress, not as a filker, so her obligations to make music with us are somewhat lessened.
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From:peteralway
Date:January 25th, 2006 05:12 am (UTC)
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I had to make the same choice. But at least I got to hear you sing a (relatively, at least) perky, upbeat song with Bill Roper in open filk.
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From:daisy_knotwise
Date:January 25th, 2006 02:23 pm (UTC)
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Face it, Phil. Heather is a professional, not a filker. As a matter of fact she is enough of a professional that she behaves far more graciously in a circle than a number of our home-grown "stars". But she still is doing this for a living. As her position at Confusion was not as a music guest, she had no responsiblity to be at the open filks, as nice as that would have been.
It's the same as, say, an author guest. He has a responcebility to show up at the panes and readings that he has been scheduled for, but we really don't expect him to hang out in the consuite and chat. If he does, that's great, but it isn't part of his "job".

GHR
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From:braider
Date:January 25th, 2006 04:18 pm (UTC)
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Next time, if you want to play? Unpack your instrument, ASK US TO PLAY A TUNE YOU KNOW, and we can start off at a speed that's comfortable for you. So far as I noticed, you stood there watching and looking content to watch for a few minutes, then walked on. I was playing tunes with new friends, but would have been happy to accomodate my playing to adjust for more.
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From:tigertoy
Date:January 25th, 2006 08:08 pm (UTC)
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I was talking about the short session Sunday afternoon with Heather, not the one in the hall on Friday (or was it Saturday) night. If the Sunday afternoon session hadn't been so short, I would have managed to start a tune slow enough that I could play it. When I didn't stay on Friday night, it wasn't that you were playing too fast for me, it was that I wanted to sing (slightly) more than I wanted tunes.

I did not mean to criticize your playing on Sunday; even if I can't keep up, I enjoy listening, and everyone enjoyed that set of jigs you did. You only got a chance to do the one set, because they took the room away, and I never got my turn at all.
From:exapno
Date:January 25th, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC)
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First and foremost among the complaints was that the con did not have an art show.

Which reminds me - any chance that you'll be bringing any of your Ecuador albums to Capricon? and/or any others? Want to order at least a couple pictures (yes, _finally_!)
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From:tigertoy
Date:January 25th, 2006 09:10 pm (UTC)
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I can bring the Ecuador pix to Cap. I don't know if I'll be able to print anything; my printer died last week and I haven't tried to resurrect it yet.
From:exapno
Date:January 25th, 2006 09:38 pm (UTC)
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That's okay - you'll have my shopping list for when you can :) Thanks!
From:starstraf
Date:January 26th, 2006 10:11 pm (UTC)
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Ah, I'm jealous that you got to hear fredcritter and skzbrust play together, some great memories there
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