Back around the turn of the century I started booking concerts. Like most worthwhile things in this life my music-promotion career began rather by accident – or was at the very least unplanned – and came about mostly because I wanted to see a Bob Wiseman concert. One of the shows I produced occurred on November 30th, 2000 in Carleton University’s Alumni Theatre. It starred guitar phenom Don Ross and featured an opening set from the late great Oliver Schroer.
Earlier in the year I had booked Don in the same room with Bob Wiseman opening and the show had been a huge success in every possible regard. There was a great crowd, the music was exceptional, everyone had made money, and everyone was happy. And while the crowd went pretty manic for Bob’s set that night the promoter in me was pretty sure that Don was the guy who got most of the butts in the seats (I won’t bother making apologies for Bob for that as everyone knows the high esteem I hold him in), so when I decided to try another kick at the can it was Ross that I rebooked. Though Bob had records out on Warner Brothers and was a former member of the hugely successful Blue Rodeo, Ottawa was Ground Zero for Don Ross. As far as I could tell the guy was basically a household name amongst the indie ticket-buying public, and I suppose this concert proved me right.
I really can’t tell you how Oliver Schroer got involved; Don must have recommended that he be part of the show. I’m pretty sure that previous to this I had never heard of Oliver. In case you haven’t, Oliver Schroer was a tall solo electric fiddle-playing creative monster with a Mohawk haircut and a perpetual smile parked under his glasses. He referred to himself as The World Tallest Freestanding Fiddle Player and I suppose he was. Oliver played a six-string electric violin and he recorded album after album of solo pieces, which sounds fairly inaccessible until you hear how they actually sound. He seemed to draw on so many influences that you heard none of them in the music directly, it was more like an amalgam in his brain filtered out any recognizable traits from his improvisations and left just a pure stream of Schroer bleeding out of his fingers.
Then of course there was Don Ross, who is probably one of the best fingerstyle guitar players you will ever see. The guy is just so solid, and he wraps his well-rehearsed guitar acrobatics around some pretty nifty open-tuned compositions. I swear, Don retunes his guitar so much he changes his machine heads more often than he changes his strings.
With all of this talent you know it was a good concert, and I know you’re right ‘cuz I was there.
And so were hundreds of other people! Once again I mode a ton of cash even after overpaying both artists. I think I came out of this one with something like $1,200 in my very own pocket, and yet I think this may have been the last show I produced (that I or nero wasn’t playing). When I struggle to wonder why I gave it up I can only come up with one memory: asking my boss at the Folklore Centre why he had stopped booking concerts. He told me that he had a big show booked the night the infamous Ice Storm hit Ottawa and exactly one person showed up and that was the headliner, who was looking to get paid. Arthur told me that he lost thousands that night through no fault of his own. I guess that must have scared me off.
Two final post scripts: Oliver was kind enough to get up early the next morning to appear as a guest-lecturer at the Contemporary Improvisation class that I was running in the university’s music department. I remember his workshop vividly. It was on melody recall; basically learning to spit out an improvised line and then spit it out again exactly the same, which is a) much harder than it sounds and b) a pretty good thing to be able to do. The students loved it and so did I. Oliver was an awesome human and a great musician, and he died much to early. His music deserves your attention. (He once walked the Camino de Santiago with his fiddle and a DAT recorder, which he used to record improvisations inside every single church along route of the famous pilgrimage. He turned it into an album and it’s divine.)
Secondly, I see for this show I had finally settled on “Avalo Productions” as my company name. This began a long line of me naming things “Avalo” if I was concerned about their success. Y’see, in Mahayana Buddhism there’s a bodhisattva named Avalokiteshvera who descends into the Earthly realm to aid and bring good luck to whomever says the his name enough times, and if you name your production company Avalo then you end up saying Avalo a lot. And though I’ve always leaned towards the Theravada school I figure there’s nothing wrong with hedging my bets. So far my experiences with projects named Avalo have been 100% successful.