October 9, 2005
Music Resource Center, Charlottesville, VA
Click any image to see the slide show
If there's one thing that Stick players like to to, it's talk about gear.
Oh sure, we all know that your fingers and your heart make or break you
as a musician and we occasionally preach the purity of just instrument
and music. But underneath, we'll all check out the latest multi-effects
unit in the hopes of finally finding that one missing piece that will
deliver the perfect tone (as impossible a task as that might be). But
aside from all of the frills that come with a wicked new processor, the
Stick by itself is beautiful sounding instrument that deserves a quality
path from the pickup to the ears of your audience. Said path doesn't
necessarily have to be an expensive or complicated path but should, at
least, be tweaked and setup correctly.
It was the notion of good amping, gain structure, and recording techniques
peculiar to the Stick that led Greg
to the conclusion that these topics should be discussed in a
seminar setting. The result of that thought was the first ever Stick
held at the Music
in Greg's home town of Charlottesville, VA.
The Music Resource Center itself was started in 1995 as a non-profit.
There is a fully equipped recording studio as well as several small
workshop rooms where teens can come after school and learn all about
making music, recording music, etc. It is quite a remarkable place and
served as a perfect setting for the workshop as it allowed recording
ideas to be not only discussed but demonstrated as well.
The attendees of the workshop were as follows:
Greg Howard - Virginia
Glenn Poorman - Michigan
Vijith Assar - Virginia
Paul Walters - Virginia
Dave Brosky - Pennsylvania
Frank Ford - Virginia
Rob Martino - Virginia
Jamie Duquette - Massachussetts
I had decided to make a weekend out of it quite a while back so I piled
into my vehical early on Friday morning and made the long drive through
the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes eventually crossing into Virginia
and arriving at Greg's house around ten hours after leaving home. Greg
and his wife Joyce were kind enough to feed me that night and already
the arrivals started. Jamie Duquette had opted to come into town a day
early as he knew the area and wanted the extra day just to spend in
Charlottesville. He called over to Greg's place and it was still relatively
early so Greg and I drove into town and met him at Starr Hill for a couple
Saturday was more or less a work day for us. I was surprised and pleased
to see that Greg had a prototype of the new Stick Amp at his place and
so we spent some time playing with that (very very nice piece of gear).
The plan was to bring it along to the workshop to give everyone a crack
at it. As for the rest of Saturday, we spent a good chunk of the afternoon
in Greg's studio working on some recordings I'd been making for an upcoming
record release. In the evening on Saturday, Greg had been hired to play a
full evening in a local Charlottesville restaurant. While that was going on,
I nabbed a table with Joyce, her mom, Jamie, and Vijith Assar. Vijith is
also a resident of Charlottesville. He is a Stick player and works at the
Music Resource Center. We had a great time Saturday night talking and
listening to Greg's tunes until they finally closed up and tossed us all
out (side note: we ended up on the topic of strange phenomenon and our
ultimate favorite creepy movies and I think everybody left just a little
Sunday was workshop day. We were up early and packed up my vehicle with
everything we would need for the day (and night). We got down to the
MRC about a half hour early but already people had started to arrive.
This was actually good since they all lended a hand unloading my car.
We were inside and setting up in record time. As we started assembling
various rigs for the day, Greg plugged in the Stick Amp and let everyone
take a crack at it. There was some good feedback on the unit. Especially
noting the nice sound and compact size.
So with all of our gear setup, the first order of business for the day was
recording. Seeing as how we weren't a very large crowd and also seeing as
how the control room in the MRC studio was suitably large and comfortable,
we packed in there for Greg's morning talk on recording. This was a really
cool session. The studio was computer based and Greg used a nice large
display along with a running copy of Digital Performer to display wave forms
and show the difference between, for example, plucked bass guitar and tapped
Stick. He also used the display to manipulate the wave form using compression
and EQ along with explanations on crafting your sounds to blend in nicely
with other instruments in a recording. He also demonstrated using these same
tools to smooth out and pretty up the sound of the Stick itself.
After the morning studio session, we broke for lunch. Setting out on foot,
we all got a nice look at downtown Charlottesville. The main drag through
town had long since been closed to automobile traffic and was bricked
over. We made our way through town and ended up at a local joint that
served small pizzas and calzones. Seriously well fed, we ambled back to
the Music Resource Center for the afternoon session.
I started the afternoon off talking about my rig, looping, and the use
of MIDI for control and for time syncing. Much of the session was simply
playing snippets of my own tunes and taling about the motivation behind
them. I did talk about crafting loops of varying complexity with the
simpler loops leaving more room for harmonic changes and the more complex
loops leaving you locked into an idea. Then I wrapped up my session going
into some specifics about various looping devices on the market along
with their strenghts and weaknesses.
From there, Greg took over to wrap up the day. This session was one I
found particularly useful as it's a topic that not nearly enough players
talk about and that is gain structure. This was where Greg invited anyone
who wanted to come in and setup their rig for trouble shooting. Dave Brosky
setup and plugged in. With some very noticeable noise problems, Greg
proceeded to tweak and re-arrange in such a way that Dave's overall sound
was noticeably cleaner with the very same equipment he walked in with.
This was always a topic I felt needed more attention as I can personally
attest to how much of my own sound resulted from tweak sessions with Greg
during previous seminar weekends. With some time left, Greg opened the
floor to general questions on amps, effects units, etc.
We wrapped up and packed up for the evening gig at the Gravity Lounge.
The plan for the evening was to open the stage to any workshop attendees
to play followed by a full set from me and then a full set from Greg
along with drummer Matt Wyatt and percussionist Darrel Rose. Things began
and ended well enough but the night was not without it's glitches.
Greg opened the evening with some spacey solo improvs and then passed
the stage over to Paul Walters. Paul did a set of tunes all composed
by Charlottesville natives and even threw a vocal accompaniment in with
one of them. Paul then passed the stage over to Dave Brosky. Dave performed
a handful of tunes and continues to improve with each appearance. Next
up, local Vijith Assar did a nice set of tunes. We were doing great on
time at this point and Greg suggested I do a good long set. I had cooked up
quite a few tunes mostly technology laden, since that was my main topic
for the weekend. The nightmare of nightmares then occurred. Ten seconds
into my first tune, my rig lost it's mind. Things going out of sync. Loops
playing backwards. Buttons having no effect. Greg came up and did some
more solo improv while I desperately tried to bring my rig back to life
but it was simply not happening. Time for plan B. We'd setup the Stick
Amp right in the middle of the stage and that was what Paul, Dave, and
Vijith had played through. I had brought my 10-string and was planning
on doing a couple of tunes on it anyway so, I shut off the beast, plugged
my 10-string into the Stick Amp, and played a very short set before turning
the stage over to Greg. Greg wrapped up the night doing a nice extended
set with Matt and Darrel. These three guys really brought the house down
and Greg commented later that he'd had a blast (although he didn't really
need to tell us that). The trio ran several of Greg's classic tunes of
both the original and cover variety. There were many extended improvs by
everyone on stage and a lot of really cool interplay between the musicians.
It was a really nice wrapup and a nice high energy way to close out the
With the show over, we packed up, parted ways, and headed home. I went
back to Greg's for the night and headed out early the next morning. The
drive home was fast with very few stops. Somewhere just after Cleveland,
my radio began picking up WJR, the voice of the Great Lakes, and that
drew me home like a beacon.
All in all, I would call the first ever tech seminar a success. The
somewhat small turnout, in hindsight, was actually a perfect number
for breaking in this new idea and it appeared that everyone who came
took a lot of notes and left feeling like the whole event was worth
their time. Personally, I hope that more of these events get into the
works in the coming years.
So until the next one ... I'd like to say thanks to the Music Resource
Center and Vijith Assar for providing us a place for the event, to the
Gravity Lounge for holding our Sunday evening event, to all of the guys
who signed up, to Greg Howard for organizing the event and inviting me
to come out and talk, and to both Greg and Joyce for their hospitality
(and surrogate animal companions).