Re Conventions

There are some great suggestions for artists for a SPAH convention coming 
in.  Even better have been some of the thoughtful observations about the 
actual putting on of festivals.

There is one prime rule which you have to observe if you are doing the job 
of designing a fest:-
You can't please everyone!

Secondary rule... if you are doing a festival you can't afford to lose money!

Tertiary rule :- see rule one!
(OK... corny and old... but still true.

Talking ONLY about the SPAH conventions as this is all I have detailed 
knowledge about...

Question... why a festival??

Most Fests come about because of a local club losing it's mind and taking 
on the huge task of getting it together...

Some are based on purely commercial interests

Some by a complete nutter who loves the harmonica to pieces but also has a 
commercial interest ( Hello John :))

SPAH started out doing conventions/Festivals for the first reason... 
building from a local club gathering and expanding a little. Then it became 
popular and people started coming from a distance to them...
With the influx of money it becomes easier to attract the bigger names 
which in turn attract more people to come to the convention.  Big balancing 

The SPAH Charter gives us something something of a strait jacket (which I 
happen to love!). The Charter states that SPAH is about promoting and 
preserving the harmonica.  It does NOT state Diatonic, chromatic, groups, 
jazz, classical, blues... it says harmonica.
In the spirit of the Charter SPAH has now been going for 40 years and for a 
large portion of that time it has tried to follow that leading thought.

This great idea leads to problems ( see rule 1!)

Again, in the spirit of the Charter that is why sponsors Harp-l... it is 
the only non commercially based or limited interest internet list there is. 
(note... sponsors, not dictates to)

OK, back to festivals.
There is always the thought of moving from big names and 'giving an airing' 
to 'lesser' names.  Agreed, and this is done to a certain extent.  BUT, 
carry that too far and you lose your attendees because the less the name is 
known the less people it attracts.    Even having names doesn't always 
help... there was a specific festival set up a couple of years ago with all 
the expertise of previous very successful events by the organiser... but 
done in a different district. To say it was a financial disaster is like 
saying Bill Gates has a reasonable amount of cash!  When the artists 
outnumber the attendees you have cause for concern!!

So... you have to get your audience there with attractors.

Next big problem... you have to house the thing!!
The more people you attract the bigger the problem!  Out in a field or in a 
Hotel?  event and housing of attendees in two different places or the same?
SPAH opted long ago to have people in a hotel where the event was to take 

Fact... you have to pay for the rooms where the concerts/seminrs etc take 
place!  You can do this in two ways.  Give the hotel lots of money (it can 
be $$$$ thousands a day) OR  get a lot of people to stay in the hotel where 
the event takes place in which case, if you get enough then the event rooms 
are 'free'.  (added advantage of being able to stay in the same spot and 
not have to get away from the atmosphere at the nightly 'finish' of a 
concert... people who jam after the events until the small wee hours 
appreciate this, so do people who are less able or willing to uproot into 
the cold night air and travel to another building some distance away.

Now comes another little problem...
You have three or four nights to fill (days are pretty easy to fill) but 
how do you get balanced evening shows which cover the range of what the 
charter allows and yet not drive certain portions of the audience into the 

It has been mentioned that we should get artists who should/would be 
willing to knock large lumps off their normal fees.  We do...many artists 
are incredibly generous to festivals. (and no, it isn't only self interest 
and the thought of CD sales)   But many do touring and cannot always give 
up the time... also, there are now many festivals who would like to have 
them.  So the pressure is on them.

The McKelvey Trio was mentioned by Smokey... The bass player, Danny Wilson, 
is a member of the SPAH team (our webmaster).  Their problem, like many 
stars is that they work certain circuits and are  very busy at that time of 
year... but they appear when they can.

It is my personal belief that we should have a couple of extra factors in 
our convention... some artists from outside the USA to ginger the local 
grown talent up a little :)  Fata Morgana and Philip Achille could be said 
to have done that this year...   And to include, where we can, experimental 
players who may appeal to almost no one at first... (THAT is much more 

OK... those are some of the problems!

Does it mean that there is no hope?? :)
Of course not ...
John Hall mentioned that we listen... too durn right we listen.  Turning 
the listening into a final, practical, and great convention is what can 
sometimes be difficult.

Please keep the suggestions coming.... they are valuable... and listened to.

Douglas Tate
President ... SPAH

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