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FKO report - Phil's Rambling Rants
March 30th, 2004
01:09 pm

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FKO report
I will now babble a rambling account of my experiences at FilKONtario.

I left work Thursday at 4:30 to pick up the dogs and take them to the breeder, where they were spending the weekend. Normally, they stay at home and a friend or neighbor feeds them for the weekend, but my reliable neighbors were unavailable, and when Lori went in for her dental on Tuesday, they found that she had several teeth that had to be pulled, and she had to have extra attention and a pill twice a day for the next 10 days, which meant that it was beyond what I could ask for friends in Champaign to drive 25 miles to take care of them a total of 7 times while I was gone. I was expecting to have to cancel the trip when the breeders let me know that (a) they would be home this weekend (atypical!) and (b) they would be willing to handle the critters. Jim and Robin are great people. Of course, actually getting the dogs delivered over there and getting back home took longer than expected, so it was sometime after 7 PM before my mom made it to my place, we got all of her stuff into my car, and we got on the road. We made it to Ft. Wayne, IN, for the night, later than normal but not otherwise the worse for wear.

We got on the road the next morning, as best I recall, around 9:30 local (Eastern) time, or 8:30 body time, which isn't doing badly. We succumbed to hunger and had lunch arond Flint, MI; which is where we started noticing that the trip that we've made several times before was somehow longer than usual -- in the past, we've usually had lunch in Strathroy, ON, another hour of driving down the road. Then we hit the border crossing, which held us up for 45 minutes or so. With no further significant delays or incidents, we pulled into the hotel around 6:15 -- still looking at each other confusedly and saying "shouldn't we have gotten here at least an hour sooner? Why is this trip longer than it ever has been before?"

I checked into the hotel, and asked the clerk what floor I was on. He told me 7, and I grimaced and asked if he could possibly put me on a lower floor. I loathe waiting for elevators and prefer to take the stairs if at all possible, but walking up 6 flights is too much. The clerk said he could put me on 2, which I said would be wonderful. I half expected to be assigned a room that was undesirable in some obvious way, but the room that I got was in the absolutely ideal location -- directly across the hall from the closest stairway to the function space, on the second floor, and in all other ways the same kind of room I'd asked for. At the end of the hall, so there was relatively little traffic keeping it quiet. I spent the weekend half waiting for the flaw that had to exist in this perfect room to show up, but it never did.

About this time, I encountered Karen Linsley in the hotel lobby. To Touch A Star was one of the CDs we'd listened to during the drive that day, and I had been blown away again by her singing, and told her so. She mentioned that she was doing a concert; this was the first time she'd done a concert since Lloyd passed away, and she was worried that she wouldn't be singing well enough. I told her that I was sure she'd be fine.

By the time I got checked in, got my badge, freshened up, etc.,
it was almost 7. I took a quick look at the schedule, and saw that Karen's concert was at 9. The plan for the early evening was now clear -- get dinner, and be back by 9. I somehow misread the schedule, because what I'd remembered seeing in the schedule was that Tanya Huff and Peggi Warner-Lalonde had a concert at 8, and I had mentally written that off as not being doable without giving up having a real dinner, and I wanted a real dinner. (I didn't make a big fuss about it, but Friday was my 40th birthday, and I wasn't going to settle for scarfing a sub for dinner.) Had I read the schedule more carefully, I would have realized that Tanya's mini-concert was at 8:45, and I'd have made the effort to get to that.

Susan Urban, Deirdre Murphy, my mother, and I had a pleasant dinner at Kelsey's. I got to show my cat pictures to Susan, and Deirdre seemed to be interested as well. Over dinner, I learned that Susan and Deirdre were not staying in the Delta, because they had not registered before the deadline for the con rate, and the rate they were offered was significantly higher and more than they could handle. This seemed strange to me, because I had also forgotten to get my room until a couple of weeks after the deadline, but when I called, they gave me the convention rate without any fuss. So, since I had such a conveniently located room, I offered to let them store their instruments in it so they wouldn't have to schlep them to their hotel down the street. Susan and Deirdre are both poster children for too-many-instruments disease, so they were quite happy with this. When we got back to the hotel, they brought their stuff to my room, and I got my camera and we headed for the main room for Karen's concert.

Karen's concert was, of course, fantastic. I think she has the finest singing voice in filk. She seemed confident in her material, and Freddy Brown on guitar and Jodi Krangle on backup vocals supported her well without any hint of upstaging or overwhelming her. As I told her after her concert was over, she needn't have worried.

That concert set the pattern that I ended up following for the rest of the concerts I attended. Although I was definitely listening to and loving the music, I was devoting part of my attention to my camera and taking a lot of pictures. When I've had a camera at cons before, I've been a halfhearted photographer at best, but this time, I found that I was getting into it much more. This is probably because I was using my telephoto lens to take closeups of people and faces rather than larger scenes, and they seemed much more worthwhile. I'll post again when I've had a chance to see how the pictures turned out -- even though I'm using a digital camera, it still takes time I haven't had yet to go through the pictures.

After the concert, I went back to the room, exchanged camera for guitar, and went looking for a filk. I ended up standing and listening in UT's fantasy theme filk (which ended up being almost all Tolkien filk) for half an hour, and eventually taking a chair. I recall mrpsyklops doing his awesome setting of "Tom Bombadil's Song", and decadentdave doing "The Old Grey Inn". I did Anne Passovoy's "Dangerous Color" and Brian Leo (Molly & the Tinker)'s "The Sea", neither of which seemed to cause rotten fruit to come my way. I went to bed early, having decided to sign up for the Juried One-Shots (great idea) at 10 AM (terrible idea). That's about all I remember from Friday.

Saturday started out with the Juried One-Shots. In case anyone isn't familiar with this concept, which folkmew cleverly appropriated from last year's OVFF, this really isn't a one-song concert like regular one-shots, it's a performance workshop where the participants do a song, and then get sage advice from the masters and comments from the other participants on how they could make the performance better. Every filkcon should do this, and any filk-oriented regular convention that is willing to devote function space to a workshop that can only have a small number of primary participants could certainly consider it.

Because Mew was running this particular session, she devoted a lot of her comments specifically to singing technique -- and since I've never had any formal voice training, what she had to say was fascinating to me, especially when she told other performers to sing a line again, concentrating on some specific technique like opening their mouth wider, and we could really hear the difference. If I can remember some of the things she said about vocal technique and learn to apply them in my own singning, it will be well worth the price of admission.

The song I did myself was Lou & Peter Berryman's "After Life Goes By". I chose this one because it's one of the few songs that I've actually practiced a fair bit lately -- I was sick enough for a couple of weeks before the con that I have been way behind on my practice. I wanted to choose a song that I could perform well enough that I could get advice on connecting with the audience, rather than all of us concentrating on how I was screwing up the song. Sort of ironically, my performance went so well that I wasn't demonstrating most of what I really wanted advice on how to improve. I felt confident, I was making eye contact, I was using facial expressions and such to emphasize the jokes -- and more to the point, the audience was with me and the song worked. Usually, though I'm trying to do these things, they fall flat, and I get to the end of the song and most of the audience applauds politely, or maybe out of appreciation that I'm done. Next time I do this -- and I hope I do get to do it again, and often -- I will have to set the bar higher by either doing a song that I don't have as polished, or one that I don't think works as well for me.

The Saturday afternoon concerts by Kathleen Sloan and Michael Longcor were great, but with few surprises. I'd heard just about all of the songs before; they're good songs, they did them well, I enjoyed them. I'd heard Heather Dale at Worldcon, but it was certainly a treat to hear her again. I don't have the endurance to spend the whole day in concerts and actually enjoy them, so I missed Blind Lemming Chiffon and instead visited the dealers and chatted in the con suite.

musicmutt and I were interested in chatting about animals, so we formed the nucleus of a dinner party. We went to Montana's to avoid the problems of having to drive.

I intended to take a nap after dinner, but I found that I was too wired. I was playing songs in my room instead, so I went to see if there was any open filk going on, but there wasn't. I wandered back to my room, and realized that I was sleepy enough to try to nap for a bit, so I did that instead of going to the auction. (Just to clarify a point here -- I love Interfilk; it's auctions that I don't like.)

A little before 11 I wandered back downstairs with my guitar. There was a very small circle of chairs in the main room where Pete Grubbs, the Fibs, and Freddy Brown were jamming. It seemed likely that more people would drift in, so after encouraging the small circle to move some chairs, I set up. Several more people did come in, but it never became the really big hopping filk. I did a couple of songs, but when the circle broke up around 1:30, I found that I was pretty tired and regretting my choice of barbecued ribs for dinner, so I ended up going to bed early rather than joining the other circle.

Sunday I went to the Filk Hall of Fame concert. Although most of the songs were individually good, the concert as a whole seemed very long and didn't really hold my attention. I suspect the fault was mine for not being in the right mood.

musicmutt kicked off the Filk Preserve with the Arrogant Worms' "Canada's Really Big", which set the unofficial (at least I think it was unofficial) theme of the jam as "Canadian content". I scrambled for a song that I did that I knew was by a Canadian artist that wasn't often performed by someone else in the circle. (Nobody wants to hear my version of Merlin when decadentdave is beside me in the circle...)

After dinner at a nearby Chinese buffet, we had a pretty good Dead Penguin filk. After Kathleen sang the_gwenzilliad's "Six Days", I really felt that it was the proper time to sing catsittingstill's "The Word of God". I was really nervous about doing this song, because I have some history with this song. I first heard it from Kathy Mar at a DucKon several years ago, in a filk circle very late at night, and it affected me more strongly on first hearing than any other song I've ever heard. I begged Kathy to let me borrow her copy of the song and sheet music, and begged the front desk to photocopy it, and learned the song and figured out how I wanted to play it based on the sheet music and my memory of Kathy performing it. This song meant a lot to me, so I worked hard on it and had a version that I was proud of. I performed it at the next Chambanacon to a packed filkroom as the chaos died down after Howie Harrison had performed the Reincarnation Song -- and I had the full attention of the audience, and (as far as my limited audience sense could tell, anyway) my performance worked, the audience really paid attention, I had several people ask me for copies of the song afterwards. Then Kathy's album My Favorite Sings and Echo's Children's Under the Gripping Beast came out, and the filk community became familiar with those versions. After that, my version of the song seemed to go over like the proverbial lead balloon -- audience looking through their stuff or talking to their neighbors or going to the bathroom, only polite applause -- and I was so devastated that I stopped doing the song. I felt that I couldn't compete with people's impression of how the song was supposed to sound. And I haven't practiced the song enough lately to keep all the polish that I had put on my performance back then. So I was nervous, but the circle seemed to receive the song well, and it felt good to sing it again. I resolve to sing it more often, because I still think it's one of the best songs I've ever heard.

The next morning, we got down to the hotel lobby around 9:30, said goodbye to the people who were there, and were on the road by 9:50. The drive back was smooth (zero wait at the border crossing!), and whatever mysterious force made the trip to the con longer than normal was not troubling us. We got home around 7:30 or 8 (Central time), I picked up the dogs, and I actually got to bed at a reasonable hour.

Overall, a good con, good music, good food, and mainly good friends. I'll be back next year.

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From:catalana
Date:March 30th, 2004 10:27 pm (UTC)
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I thought your version of Word of God was just fine - don't worry so much! I'm always happy to hear that song!
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From:tigertoy
Date:March 31st, 2004 11:29 am (UTC)
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Thanks for the encouragement!

Having the audience apparently all thinking "Beige. I think I'll paint the ceiling beige." during my song never feels good, but it's really painful when I'm singing a song that really means a lot to me. Getting zero audience reaction to Word of God a couple of times has made me really reluctant to sing it. It felt good to sing it this time, and I need to remember that.
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From:trektone
Date:March 31st, 2004 11:39 am (UTC)
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I was particularly interested in your comments regarding the Juried One-Shots. Your approach of having a performance-ready piece is probably the most useful so I'd suggest, fwiw, always going in with a song you think is as ready as it can be. When I'd read/heard about the workshops I wondered if it would turn out to be like an American Idol thing, but I gather you found the suggestions helpful. Was it strictly one-on-one or was there cross-talk among the participants? Did you record your performance and the subsequent commentary? Maybe in the future a set-up could be to have each person get a DVD of their workshop segment for review.

"... sage advice from the masters ..." made me chuckle.
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From:tigertoy
Date:March 31st, 2004 01:54 pm (UTC)
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I've never actually seen American Idol, but I think I understand what you mean based on what I've heard about it. Everyone involved made an effort to be positive and useful in their comments. This was made easier in that none of the participants' performances were the sort where you really have to work at it to say something nice.

I didn't record my performance, but that would make an already useful workshop even more useful. Video would be even better, if I had a way to play it back. (I hate commercials so much that I've never bothered to buy a TV. Now, I look at how much more stuff I want to do than I have time for, and think "If this is where I am without spending all the time that most Americans spend watching TV, where would I be if I did watch TV?!")
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