071518 Joe Nemeth, Ottawa, ON

Posted by

July 15th, 2018 was the final day of what had proved to be a really fun installation of the Ottawa Bluesfest.  Most of the bands I had caught had put in solid, arena-length performances (The Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews Band, Bryan Adams, Beck), and as usual I discovered a great band that had been previously unfamiliar to me when Sturgill Simpson opened for Beck and put in one of the best sets of the festival.  

Plus I saw Greta Van Fleet.

This final day wasn’t a day of taking in shows for me though, dedicated as it always is to the Be In The Band program.  Although I had been unable to actually teach a full course of Be In The Band for the first time (I believe) since 2009, my long tenure – and substitute teaching one class in the whole year – was enough to get me into the Be In The Band Instructors Band yet again.

Briefly: Be In The Band is a program run by the Bluesfest that installs musical mentors (like me) as band coaches for young musicians.  We throw four or five kids together and teach them how to become a rock band; writing songs, learning covers, how to practise together, that sort of thing.  Essentially, I am Jack Black from School Of Rock.  After several months of rehearsals the bands play at their local community centre and when summer comes around all the bands from all the community centres around town take over the Black Sheep Stage at the Bluesfest where they get to play two songs each on a totally professional festival stage.  It’s pretty freakin’ cool.

Anyway, I showed up onsite at two o’clock like I always do, but this was just to secure my artist pass for the day and abscond with an extra bracelet for m’lady (don’t tell anyone).  Just as I was bidding the child-herding mayhem adieu (we’re talking thirty or forty bands made up of 8-15 year olds) the teacher that I had subbed for caught my arm and told me that it looked like their drummer wasn’t going to show up, and if so could I sit in on the drum kit for their two songs?  I agreed to help if I was needed and with our Instructor’s set not scheduled until 10pm I cycled back home to relax.

I got the call an hour later – the drummer wasn’t going to show – and cycled to the festival again, three drumsticks sticking out of my back pocket (you always want an extra).  I spent ten minutes in the trailer going over the two unfamiliar songs with the guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist (all twelve years old) and their teacher Keith on bass.

I had only played drums onstage once before (for one song at a community centre) and I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to sit down at the already set up and mic-ed fully professional drum kit perched on it’s very own riser directly in front of the bigscreen.  I actually gasped.

Playing was super-fun, and it was thrilling to be stage-nervous for the first time in almost thirty years.  The responsibility of playing the drums is so much greater than any other instrument on stage.  If the bass player makes a mistake nobody notices, probably not even the bass player.  If the guitar player or keyboardist messes up only the closest listeners will notice, and there aren’t too many of those in any given crowd.  Singers can always cover their mistakes, and heck, what could they mess up anyways?

But if a drummer drops a beat every head in the room will instantly turn to the stage.  Conversations will stop mid-syllable and as the crowd watches the band struggle to keep the train on the rails everyone will know exactly who was at fault.

The kids did great, I did fine and I ran off the stage giddier than any of them.

Then back home on the bike again only to be driven by m’lady to our specially reserved (and very exclusive) backstage parking spot a few hours before my set.  I dropped my gear in our trailer and headed straight to the artist’s food tent where m’lady and I enjoyed an excelled dinner in pleasant, relaxing surroundings.

After dinner we caught pretty much all of John Nemeth’s set in the River Tent.  He’s a great singer leading a Memphis R&B band and it wasn’t half bad, though they sure could use a bass player.  It would have been a lot more fun to see in some backroads Tennessee roadhouse but instead it was at the Bluesfest Claridge Homes Stage where I was just killing time waiting to play.  I didn’t even have a beer in my hands.

But like I say, it wasn’t half bad.

At 9pm I went back to the trailer to warm up and go over a few songs with some of the guys.  Then right on time (which makes up for our extremely truncated slot the year before) eight of us took the stage and did a pretty fine job playing four original songs and five covers.  I even got to play my doubleneck electric sitar for Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered.  I loved playing with the drummer (first time with this guy and he was super-great), and performing again with my old friend (and musical genius) Kurt Walther was a blast.  Beers backstage after the show only augmented the experience and after hanging on as long as I could I loaded my stuff into our car right next to the trailer and let m’lady drive me home. 

For some reason I had felt compelled to wear my brother’s racing t-shirt while we played.  I don’t know why, though I figured it might just be the last time I play one of these Instructors showcases and I just thought it would be a nice gesture.  Again, I have no idea why that would have had anything to do with it.  It’s kind of a goofy t-shirt, but I was proud to wear it.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s