Yesterday we had what we call an outside event at Davies. Davies ‘Symphony Hall’ was of course built for the San Francisco Symphony but other entities use it when they can. It’s a beautiful hall and prestigious. In the last six weeks, we’ve had our usual spring spate of graduation ceremonies squeezed in amongst the symphony rehearsals and concerts.
Last night’s outside event was Burt Bacharach. We last had Burt a couple of years ago when he appeared with the Symphony accompanying him. This concert was promoted by SF Jazz and was Burt with his band only. Burt is particularly interesting because Hal toured with him for 12 years and talks often about the great education he got from it.
When I say squeezed in, I really mean it. Yesterday the orchestra was on stage rehearsing Rite of Spring until 12:30. Large orchestra with lots of percussion. As soon as they were released, the hands fell on the stage removing stands and chairs and rearranging risers while the sound crew unloaded their truck and began to install the PA. Actually, we have an in-house PA now that is good so there was no rolling in of large speaker boxes and tedious stacking and raising them on motors.That’s all permanent now. What Hal and his guys did have to do was bring in the mixing consoles, Front Of House and monitor, run the snakes, connect everything, build the mic stands and wire the stage: mics, monitors, keyboards. All in 2 hours.
Instead of being on the sound crew as I have many times in the past, I’ve recently moved up to Head Carpenter/Stage Manager for most of these outside events. I was wrestling risers, bringing in and setting up the backline. Besides the grand piano for Burt, the band had a drummer, a bass player, a violinist, a sax guy and a trumpet guy, three singers, and three keyboard players (five keyboards). The keyboards too the most time.
So I was busy too. A little later in the afternoon, after the sound check was underway, the production manager came to me and asked who was on the crew that could do stage moves. Well, that would be me. So, she says, one of the singers plays acoustic guitar for two of the numbers on the show. They didn’t want the guitar sitting on stage so I was the one to bring it on, along with a stool, at the proper time – twice.
That’s all really normal stuff. As they (the PM and the singer) were finishing up telling me all this, they said, can you tune the guitar? They had an electronic tuner so I said sure. They didn’t ask me if I was a musician or knew anything about guitars or anything, just, can you tune it. OK. When the sound check was done, I took the guitar offstage and tuned it up.
The first number was about a half hour into the show so we got started and I went over and checked the tuning but then I started thinking. The singer never said anything else to me after that initial orientation. As far as I know he never picked up the guitar to check the tuning before he went on stage. Wow! That seems really odd to me.
The handoffs went fine and the guitar was in tune. After the show I was working with one of the keyboard guys putting things away and I mentioned it to him. He said, ‘Yeah, last week we were in LA and the guitar came out all out of tune.’ He was kind of laughing about it but I was stunned. These guys are all really good musicians but evidently they have a blind spot on this. The numbers were basically solo pieces for the guitar. Pretty exposed.
Well, they’re gone now and tonight we have somebody named Ben Gribbard. It’s a similar deal: the orchestra is on stage until 3:30, then we come in and put in the show again. 8 o’clock start, I don’t know when the sound check is. Maybe 5 or 5:30. Hal was able to leave the mixers in so that part doesn’t need to be done again. It’ll still be a panic.
By the way, Burt Bacharach was born in 1928. He’s older than my father. He’s little guy and bent over but still going out there on stage, playing the piano, talking to the audience. I didn’t think to ask how much they’re touring but there’s no end date. Rumor is that the Symphony is having him back next year. He did two hours last night on stage without a break. Amazing. He told the audience there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing.