18 April 2009

switched on

As noted earlier, I was offered a ticket to the Switchboard Music Festival, and my original plan was to stay for the whole thing, taking copious notes on each act; I ended up just sitting back and listening, partly because I eventually realized I wouldn’t be able to stay for the entire thing, and partly because that’s just the best way to experience a festival like this. I stayed for around five hours; if I had had the foresight to take the following day off from work, I might have made it to the end, but I slowly realized that even if the festival ended at the scheduled time (10:00 p.m.), and there was a good chance it wouldn’t, I still would get back to the east bay later than I would like to if I’m working the next day. Also, there was one point when it was extremely hot in the theater, and I felt the need to eat something that wasn’t chocolate-based; though they were selling food there, I decided to go out and have some delicious carnitas tacos, since I was in the Mission District.

It was my loss not to hear the entire festival. This was a tremendously fun event, and next year I hope to attend and stay the whole time, after appropriate arrangement of my precious few vacation days. The few problems I mentioned (excess heat, a little schedule slippage as the day wore on, and I haven’t mentioned this yet and it’s not the festival’s fault but – someone needs to fix the lock on the men’s room) were pretty minor – this was an impressively well-run affair. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I climbed up to the brightly painted second floor space of Dance Mission Theater, especially since this was only the Festival’s second year. I’m sure this is dully bourgeois of me, but I value efficiency, a quality often not found in black-box theaters in the Mission District. I realize I don’t give off this impression, what with my general aura of glassy spaciness, but I’m actually quite efficient myself and appreciate it even in artists.

No need to worry; the whole day was impressively well-run and well-considered. Each act pretty much kept on schedule and adjustments were made smoothly whenever necessary, set-up time between acts was minimal and allowed for a little stand-and-stretch time (which was great because I was developing Bayreuth butt), introductions were short and appropriate, the excess heat was dealt with immediately, and the music was great. There was food for sale in a room off to the side where you could go for a break (though there were also speakers so you could still hear the music). I really have to congratulate the co-directors – Jeff Anderle, Ryan Brown, and Jonathan Russell – on a great job.

On the whole the audience was also pretty considerate and well-behaved. I had a bit of trepidation about the “come and go” policy, but movement and extraneous noise during the music was fairly minimal (though this might have been due as much to the problem of negotiating steep bleacher seats in the dark as to a sense of aesthetic propriety).

If I haven’t said anything about the music yet, it’s because the totality of a festival experience includes much more than just the music, though that is the main point of course. My personal taste is for the pieces more on the jazz/klezmer side than on the rock and/or roll side, but to my ears everything was pretty consistently enjoyable and varied. In the middle of the schedule was Melody of China, in a dazzling and fluent performance of Chinese classical music, some of which I recognized from the performances of the local man who wanders around Chinatown and the BART stations playing what I think is a samisen. This group was nicely placed, since they had a very different and refreshing sound from the other performers, and I did compare hearing them to having a sorbet course, as sfmike notes in his write-up (which, Saragossa-Manuscript style, contains further links to other write-ups). Clearly the schedule had been carefully planned to avoid stylistic monotony.

Though I wanted to hear all of the performances, I was especially sorry to miss the final group on the schedule, Japonize Elephants; even though I had never heard them (or of them) before, I was enticed by their self-description: “hard-core gypsy circus bluegrass klezmer pirate clown madness.” So I bought one of their CDs as I left (the break room where they sold food also had CDs for sale and mailing-list sign-up sheets; again, everything was thought-out and well-handled), and I listened to it the next day, and damned if they didn’t describe themselves exactly right.

It was well worth sacrificing one of the early beautiful days of spring to sit in a dark room and experience this Festival. I look forward to next year, and if you want to donate to them, you can do so knowing you're supporting a good cause.


vicmarcam said...

Your post made me go and check out the website and look at the schedule, and I'm totally impressed that they almost stayed on schedule. How is it that major rock acts, with highly paid roadies, can't switch acts as quickly as these acts must have?
I also realized that, even if you didn't like one of the performers, no one lasted very long, so no great loss. I was going to tell you that I wanted to hear Japonize Elephants, but I could make a column of the words I liked vs. the ones I don't in their self-description and I think the don'ts might win.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

I did basically like all the acts, though, which was kind of surprising. When I got a bit restless I knew it was just a blood-sugar thing.

As for the self-description of Japonize Elephants . . . and here I thought all the world loved a clown. :-(