Friday, April 17, 2009

Huntington Symphony vs. The 1937 Flood -- In the World's Most Lopsided Battle of the Bands, uh, They Won...fam

What a farcical, sad, strange week this has been for the Family Flood. Cascading events have culminated in our being forced to cancel plans for a June 14 concert with our old steamboatin' buddies, ragtime pianist Jazzou Jones and tenor banjo master Bob Schad, both of whom we've known and played with over the years on The Delta Queen steamboat and elsewhere.

How strange a week was it, you ask?

Well, it's not every day you find musicians blocking other musicians from performing. But yesterday that's just what the board of directors of the Huntington Symphony Orchestra voted to do.

Background: Jazzou and Bob have been invited to Huntington to play with the orchestra as part of its POPS series in a Saturday night concert down on the riverfront on June 13. They'll be here because of the good works of a local longtime steamboater who is a member of the orchestra board.

As soon as we heard our pals were coming to town, we contacted them and made plans for a Jazzou-Bob concert with The 1937 Flood on the day after the orchestra's performance. The Flood never intended to have any financial stake in the concert. On the contrary, donating our time and energy, we planned to charge admission for the Sunday concert and all revenue would go to Jazzou and Bob. We figured we could draw maybe a hundred people. At $10 a head, Jazzou and Bob would each get $500, perhaps doubling what the orchestra would be paying them for the previous night.

We then contacted the folks at Renaissance Arts Resources (the old Huntington High) who agreed to donate space for the concert, returning favors for The Flood's helping with their fundraisers. Once word got out around the Internet about the big Bob-Jazzou weekend -- the orchestra on Saturday night, then with The Flood on Sunday afternoon -- steamboatin' fans from as far away as New York and Florida started making plans to be here. So we were set to go.

Or so we thought.

But then out of the blue last Sunday night, Charlie got a call from the same orchestra board member who had originally arranged the appearance.

Now, we all know poor ol' Charlie is a bit naive, but he actually thought she was calling to thank us ... you know, for donating our time, enhancing the weekend, making it even more attractive to those out-of-towners who may be thinking about coming here ... not to mention, oh, providing a chance for more income for our mutual friends. Sorry, Charlie -- not so fast. No, the board member was upset. She said she believed The Flood concert on Sunday would somehow detract from the orchestra's performance the previous night.

Uh, what now?

Saying it slower so Charlie could grasp the concept, she said she thought that people might decide to go to The Flood event instead of the orchestra's concert on the riverfront.

Okay, now, well, that's sort of flattering. Why, yes, of course, there are many similarities between The Flood and a symphony orchestra (though we think we've demonstrated that our kazoo player is better). Still .... well, we don't exactly draw from the same fan pool. Surely no one would seriously think that someone interested in the orchestra would opt for The Flood instead, or vice versa. Who would honestly think a Sunday concert by the Flood would adversely affect the previous night's performance by the orchestra? In fact, it might have really improved turnout for POPS' Saturday evening event. Here's why. Jazzou and Bob have friends all over the country, and the pair -- living thousands of miles apart, as they do -- get to appear together very, very rarely these days. As word spread that there would be not one, but two opportunities to see and hear them together again, there would be twice as much reason for their many out-of-town fans to invest in coming to Huntington for that weekend.

Nope. Not having a bit of it. She remained unconvinced.

Matters escalated on Monday morning, when Charlie talked to the new orchestra manager, who told him that Jazzou and Bob would be bound by "performance contracts" that prohibited them from playing within 60 miles of Huntington for 60 days before and after the concert.

Huh. Well, now, that was news. The board member certainly hadn't mentioned anything about contracts during her lengthy conversation with Charlie the night before. And honestly? You got to question just when these performance contracts actually came into being. We're betting that West Virginia jazz great Bob Thompson didn't signed such a contract before his performance with the symphony. Hey, come to think of it, The Flood itself didn't sign anything like that when we played with the symphony orchestra on the riverfront several years ago. So, you just have to wonder if these restrictions were only now being brought up.


In advance of yesterday morning's monthly orchestra board meeting, we asked a longtime Flood fan who is also on the orchestra board to make our case to her fellow board members. We wanted her to at least make sure they understood The Flood's good intentions in all of this. Alas, despite her efforts, she reported afterward that the board discussed the issue but in the end would not remove the "60 days, 60 miles" contract provision.

So, there you have it. After consultation with Jazzou, we've reluctantly canceled the June 14 event. We're sad, of course, but also we can't help marveling at the ironies of this week. ...

That someone would work so hard to bring beloved steamboat musicians to town, then work just as hard to keep them from perhaps doubling their income while they're here. ...

That the city would open its arms to steamboat and ragtime fans from all over the country to come hear these musical giants, then systematically cut in half the opportunity to visit with them in our town. ...

That a mighty orchestra all of a sudden would turn protectionist and worry about losing money because of the efforts of a quirky little string band that was simply trying to donate its services and make memories for friends.

But then, on a brighter note, who'd've thought The Flood would ever get to scare a whole symphony orchestra?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Nice Words from Br'er Lavender

Our friend Dave Lavender gave us a nice shoutout in the Herald-Dispatch last week about the "Hip Boots" CD. Heading a section of his column with the title "The Soggy Basement Boys," Dave wrote:

It was a long winter. So long that everyone and their cousin has a new CD out and so long that The 1937 Flood said the heck with it and finally released their own bootleg tape.

With an obvious homage to Dylan's infamous "The Basement Tapes," one of the state's best known string bands, The 1937 Flood has scoured the dusty and even the digital archives to put out the new CD "Hip Boots: The Flooded Basement Tapes."

It's a clever "then" and "now" collection of nearly two dozen songs that showcases the long and wonderful kazoo-and-fiddle-powered trip that's been 30 years of The Flood.

Step in The Flood's time machine (i.e. recordings made from everything from digital recorders to reel-to-reel machines) to hear the family-esque band that's featured a ton of musicians including Rog Samples and Chuck Romine, Stewart Schneider, Bill Hoke, Randy Nuckols, Michelle Walker, Kathy Castner and many other folks who have played with the band that was started and still driven by former H-D'ers Dave Peyton and Charlie Bowen and fiddling Joe Dobbs.