[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?"
The Iceman


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