[Harp-L] Golden Age - or not?
Having a total insider's view of SPAH and the Conventions from 1995 - 2002,
I can tell you that, in 1995 and 1996, all the complaints about divisiveness
were discussed at the BOD meetings and taken very seriously. It was Bob
Williams that wanted to make these issues non-issues. Hiring me gave a link
between Chromatic and Diatonic - I was at first the Diatonic liaison and gradually
moved directly into the middle from getting to know the Chrom players. We
listened to the complaints, no matter how big or small, and took immediate
action to eliminate them. One thing we never did was pretend that nothing was
wrong. No matter how many people complimented the conventions, we focused on
solving all the divisive complaints.
Being in the middle, I didn't align myself with either camp and kept to a
plan of unification, keeping cliques from forming on either side in a proactive
sense. This was done by "busting up" cliques that were in place and keeping
new ones from forming.
We decided to forge a philosophy united within the BOD (essentially 5 guys
who agreed on a policy) and kept it sharp and focused. Bob and I implemented
everything ourselves regarding the convention. It was a great education, as I
learned all about negotiating contracts, working with sound/video crews,
transportation issues, press releases, equipment rental, hospitality parties and
media contacts, Chrom and Diatonic personalities, psychology of success in
planning and execution and making magic happen. Bob took care of the Hotel
negotiations, budgeting, banquet meals, tours and wives outings. By keeping it
clean and close to the bone with a united philosophy, the whole affair was much
tighter and professional. Actually, this approach was one I modeled after
watching and helping the NAJE (National Association of Jazz Educators) grow
from 800 attendees to the monster IAJE (International Association of Jazz
Education) now attracting 7000 attendees. Bob even flew out to an IAJE Convention
in CA to experience that magic and met with their President to discuss
philosophy and policy for success. After all, SPAH was attracting 800, just like the
fledgling NAJE, so why not duplicate the success?
The outside host groups were nothing more than a support system to
coordinate transportation, gather media contacts, etc. It was still run from a united
BOD and two people dividing up all the responsibilities and making all the
As 97, 98, 99 and 00 Conventions came and went, the divisive complaints
dwindled to nothing more than a few personality clashes and alcohol fueled
incidents. The compliments increased. The shows were ALL well attended - especially
the Blues Nights - by both Chrom and Diatonic - somewhat because the sound
system was kept under control by the watchful eye of Bob and myself and also
because of the uniting phenomenon that evolved in front of the attendees in
the form of a little 7 year old girl - Colleen "Sunny Girl" Crongeyer. She
attracted three generations of attendees along with their extended families to
Thursday Nights. Colleen had the talent and charismatic personality that simply
blossomed as time went on, charming young and old. She was an integral part
of the sparkle that united both camps.
A strong focus was placed upon the professional support musicianship that
surrounded the harmonica - I discovered Carol Beth True at an advance trip to
St. Louis to scope out the hotel and scene and brought her talent to the
convention. We never hired second rate back up bands or musicians. We always used
grand pianos - tuned on site - instead of keyboards.
Now, instead of divisive complaints, we heard sighs of nostalgia amongst the
older crowd -"Gee, remember when we had a swing dance at the end of the
convention in the early days? It was a great way to end the affair". So, bingo,
we pounced on this and shortened the Sat. Night Dinner Banquet show to 1 1/2 hr
and then hired a swing band to play, with sit ins from the older Chrom's.
The idea was that everyone was probably tired of sitting on their butts for 4
days watching seminars and concerts and would love to get up and dance. I
can't tell you how gratifying it was to watch the older attendees out on the
dance floor as years literally melted from their faces and they became 25 again.
This, alone, was the most complimented upon change and upgrade ever to the
Then, 2001 rolled around and a new posse rode into town. The first order of
business was to undo all the advances made to this point and reinvent the
experience. Once again, I was behind the scenes and privy to all the weirdness.
Gone was a united front and philosophy. Nothing was ever open to discussion,
agreed upon by the whole BOD or actually voted on during BOD meetings. Gone
was the Swing Dance. Gone was Sunny Girl. Gone was hiring quality musicians.
Gone were Blackie Shackner and Charlie Leighton who didn't like the changes.
Gone were the acoustic grand pianos. In came the cliques. The Host Clubs
(H.O.O.T., etc)had to do most of the work instead of a simple support system based
on a unified philosophy from on top. Disagreements and arguments raged
behind the scenes. I resigned in disgust.
The vibes spilled out and changed the course of the conventions.
Divisiveness and walls reappeared - at least according to the public comments posted. I
only attended the Dallas Convention first hand and can at least comment on
what I experienced. It was so depressing that I lost interest.
Of course it's great to have a convention and everyone involved, I'm sure,
wants it to work, but by ignoring the reality and being out of touch with the
problems by those in charge who politically claim that it just keeps getting
better and better sounds a little to me like George Bush telling the American
Public that the war in Iraq is successfully being won.
Anyway's, I hope that this enlightens some of you. I'm sure it may p*ss off
a few. Aside from the facts stated, the views expressed are mine and don't
necessarily reflect the views and philosophy of Harp-L Owners. Disagree if you
like, but don't ignore what is happening.
Luckily, I'm able to use my learned production skills and philosophies in a
new venture here in Orlando with my Front of the House Productions - first the
Harmonica Blow Out and next the Charlie McCoy Concert on May 23, so I have
an outlet and have lost a lot of my anger, bitterness and a**holishness.
Let's make the future brighter and tear down the walls of divisiveness.
Rhetorical Question - "What are you going to do about it?"
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