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Ohio Valley Filk Festival 2002

A Convention Report with Pop-Up Footnotes** and Graphic Illustrations

by Heather Rose Jones

**Grad students are contractually required to use copious footnotes. Just keep suppressing them as they pop up.

First, let me begin by noting that I had a really enjoyable time at OVFF and want to thank everyone who had a hand in making the event smooth and painless. And not one of the anticipated potential "nobody's fault -- these things just happen" disasters materialized.

I was actually rather startled to be asked to be guest of honor -- I'd pretty much given up on the idea that I'd ever be a filk GoH when I passed my peak and descended into grad school a decade ago. This isn't a false modesty schtick, but let's face it: I'm not one of those high-powered, charismatic, social-butterfly types that make up the usual GoH pool -- the ones who draw people to the con and are who you tell all your friends about afterwards. [1] And my immediate reaction was, "Eep! I don't have anything new to sing!" On this point, I consoled myself that most of my material would probably be functionally "new" to most midwestern folks. So I hauled out the songbooks and the harp and started getting in practice ....


The plane trip was delightfully uneventful (I even got some midterm grading done between Denver and Columbus). Lori and Jan [2] made the pickup of both me and Erica Neely, then we took the scenic route to the hotel, dropping by Borders to get theme music for the Alien Beach Party and making sure we went past "Corn Henge" to fulfill the tourist requirements. The hotel had managed to interpret the conversion of my room from one to two beds (because my brother was joining me) as a conversion from one to two rooms, and the computers were steadfastly refusing to accept any changes to this arrangement, but fortunately the manager on duty decided it was perfectly possible to give me a key to a room that the computer didn't yet know I was assigned to. (Given the usual way these things work, it was even more surprising that they failed to check someone else into the room while I was showering! Keep this hotel -- they're competent.)

After a certain amount of hanging out and bumping into people in the hallways, I figured if I wanted dinner before the opening ceremonies, I should get it now. [3] In the restaurant, Kathleen Sloan invited me to join her sprawling group and I got to reacquaint myself with the Haymans (who I don't think I've seen since Interfilk sent me to Toronto a long time ago), who were being entertained by a collage of ambiguous headlines about the Hayman Fire that Kathleen had put together for them. [4] The food -- when it finally came -- was delicious (bacon-wrapped pork medallions with rissoto) [5], but I had to gulp and run because it was time for the opening party and I figured that I might have some scheduled duties there. [6] If there were official opening remarks, I'm afraid I missed them, so the convention's first official introduction to me was when Dave Hayman and I [7] started handing out prizes for best Alien Beach Party theme costumes/hats. While motivated by the theme, the choices were to some degree whimsical -- the "best combination of motifs" went to a fellow with antennae poking through a straw beach-hat; the pilot outfit got "most clearly traveled a long distance"; and on the theory that every beach party will involve excess amounts of water, the clean-up detail award went to an avatar of Sponge-Bob Square Pants [8]. A small herd of moose got the "inadvertent ad hoc theme" award. These labels may or may not correspond to anything I babbled at the time. There were more -- the details slip my memory. (We had a lot of prizes to dispose of.)

The opening Tea Party shifted and morphed into the Pegasus Nominees Concert in the main hall -- a chance for me to actually hear many of the songs for the first time [9] and make some intelligent decisions about voting. Steve MacDonald dropped off my loaner harp for the weekend [10], which assuaged one of my remaining anxieties. Unlike guitars, it's not the case that "harps is harps" [11], and I was worried I might have to rearrange my playlist or at least a few arrangements if the loaner had a different range or fewer sharping levers than my "Fang" [12].

The Nominees Concert was followed by an evening full of Theme Filks and Game Shows in two of the function rooms, but was feeling like it was time to start doing GoHly things, so I let myself be kidnapped by the two delightful hostesses from the Tea Party to try to get something started in one of the alternate rooms. [13] It grew into a rather nice, laid-back, low overlap [14] chaos -- rather unlike the usual reputation that OVFF circles have (although there was plenty of the more "usual" high-overlap style on Saturday night). [15] Around about 1am I headed off to bed -- yeah, I know, I'm a piker. But I've got about one good late night per convention in me, and I didn't figure I was free to indulge until I'd taken care of my official programming on Saturday.


I got down to the breakfast buffet around opening time and shared a table with, among others, Joe Ellis with assorted incidental chatting. [16] By then my brother was awake and I figured it was late enough I could get away with practicing in the room, so I took the opportunity to get more seriously acquainted with my loaner harp. That took me up to time for the morning workshops.

You never really know what you're going to get with workshops -- especially workshops at a convention. I'd proposed one on the topic of composition with the theme "a linguist looks at lyrics" and had prepared a handout and with discussion examples to work from. [17] I didn't know whether people would bring actual lyrics they were working on [they didn't], but people came up with a lot of other examples to discuss, which was nice, and the attendance level was very gratifying. The basic theme of the workshop was that while good songwriting can derive from a number of factors -- inspiration, technique, context -- technique is one of the few that can be analyzed objectively and "exercised" to improve.

We started off with phonology -- examining words in terms of actual sounds, types of sound-similarity and difference, stress both internal to words and as it operates on a phrasal level, and the ways in which these can interact with musical phrases and stresses. The discussion then moved on to word-choice: discussions of how vocabulary reflects an overall style or register; the correlation of register with the genre of the song (e.g., serious, humorous, in/formal); and the use of word-based structural patterns, such as deliberate repetition of words and phrases. Following the trend from detail to "big picture", we moved on to considering overall sentence structure (e.g. normal vs. "poetic" word-order) and the flexibility of lyrics to break the grammar rules for prose. To finish, we covered the ways in which songs can connect and evoke non-overt meanings: generalizing an event to make the underlying "message" more accessible; particularizing a scenario to make the "message" more covert; using deliberate ambiguity either for humorous purpose or simply to break open the possible readings of a lyric. [18]

After the workshop, my brother Earl and I went off to rehearse a couple of things we planned to perform together. Two of my three brothers have been doing Consonance with me for the last several years -- Seth's mostly a listener, but occasionally can be convinced to sing harmonies, and Earl's turned into quite a songwriter (if I do say so myself), primarily doing SCA oriented material. So when Earl decided to come out to OVFF, I figured I shouldn't miss the opportunity to get a little vocal backup and give him a bit of exposure.

Given the usual way of things, it wasn't at all surprising that the Saturday concerts got started relatively late -- what is astounding is that by the end of the afternoon we'd gotten back on schedule again, through judicious snipping and rescheduling. [19] I am awed by the cat-herding skills of Programming Head Mary Bertke and the sound crew.

A Side-Note About the Pictures

You have to understand that I grew up in a family absolutely infested with shutterbugs. So I've never been much of a photographer myself, since there was always someone else around who got off on taking pictures, and if I wanted copies, they were there. So having been freed from the constraints of documentary photography, somewhere along the way (well, ok, in the Fall of 1975 when my family was in Europe for my Dad's sabbatical, to be specific), having never really had an art lesson in my life, I decided to take up "tourist sketching". Mostly I worked on architecture, statuary, and wildlife and whatnot for the first couple decades, but lately I've been making the jump to people -- and in particular I like doing sketches at conferences and concerts and the like when people are less likely to notice me staring at them. I'm still working on the "making it actually recognizable as the subject" part of the process. My favorite angle is "1/4 view" (which dovetails nicely with sketching concert audiences). So I hope the unwitting models portrayed here will forgive the presumption -- I'm just the pencil equivalent of some fool with an instamatic camera.

The concerts started off with the Boogie Knights, whom I had heard of online but hadn't heard before (this will be a continuing theme) followed by Andrea Dale and Graham Leathers. Featured performers were interleaved with one-shots. I didn't take down names on the one-shots, but I was really impressed by one woman who did a very polished vocals & keyboard piece in a sort of a honky-tonk style [20] -- in the "Saturday evening scene" at the beginning of this report, she's at the upper left.

Joe Ellis went on next, and I started sketching him during the first piece which he did on the piano ... not realizing that was the only piece he was going to do on the piano. So, having left his head for last in the sketch, for a while I thought I was going to present you with a Halloween themed "the mystery of the headless keyboardist". Fortunately, I was able to get back and finish the picture Sunday morning when Joe was sitting at the piano again.

I didn't manage quite as well on Joellyn Davidoff. Just before her set began, Earl pointed out that we'd forgotten to run through one of the songs he was going to back me on, so I figured better to do it now and not have it hanging over us. But that meant I only got back for the last song of Joellyn's set -- hence the very rough sketch.

As I discovered while filling up a notebook at the Winnipeg Folk Music Festival a few years ago, guitars and glasses make everyone look alike. (To say nothing of the visual effect of microphone booms.) So for Interfilk Guest Rob Wynne, I went for a close-up to avoid yet one more "guy & guitar" pose. It can't be too awful because he asked me for a copy of it.

Steve MacDonald's set was one of the things rescheduled for the evening ('cause the Pegasus banquet was not going to be served on fannish time). This is the sketch I'm least happy with -- it doesn't really look much like him at all, I'm afraid, except in terms of "adult male with long hair and beard". Sorry, Steve. I thought about not including this sketch, but that would imply that the others actually have pretensions to objective merit.

Oh yeah ... and I did a concert somewhere in there. (I'm the one on the left, behind the harp. The other one is Earl. I'm afraid I've forgotten who supplied the photo.)

On my end, the concert stands out as being the first on-stage performance I've given where I experienced no physical stage fright at all. This is rather astounding (some may recall my rather impassioned tirades on the subject on A pleasant surprise if it sticks. On the other hand, ten years worth of standing up in front of rooms full of undergrads and babbling ad hoc for an hour at a time may have had a positive effect. You'll have to ask the audience how the concert went -- I'm no judge, although I was pleased to hear all the laughter (in appropriate places) during Earl's song "Last Will and Testament" (aka "Feed the Bears"). I tried for a mix of "oldies" that some people might have heard before with a larger selection of songs that I suspected would be new to just about everyone (except the handful of Californians, who have probably kept up with my relatively light recent output). And I tended to lean heavily towards pieces I do with a harp accompaniment, since it's one of my standard gimmicks. (And goodness knows, you don't want to hear an entire hour of me doing idiot-picking on a guitar. But idiot-picking on a harp .. now that's unusual!)

The Pegasus Banquet got off to a good start with excellent food. Have I mentioned that this hotel does good food? The awards were announced and handed out (which you can read about elsewhere), and every filk convention in existence (I think) did a short promotional spot. After the banquet, we returned to the main room for the remaining concert-bits and the "This is a Schtick-Up" song competition, for which I was one of the judges. Now, I know that the most memorable song-schtick tends to evolve organically, but it was a bit odd trying to judge a schtick competition where the songs were about schtick but didn't actually include any. (I think I summed it up with, "If the song mentions a rubber chicken, then I want to see a rubber chicken on stage. [21]) There were good songs entered, mind you, it just wasn't quite what I expected from the category.

After that the Interfilk auction started (for which they had a very impressive real-world auctioneer). Now, I'm a great supporter of Interfilk, but my budget is still that of a starving grad student, and since I hadn't been tapped to assist in the selling end, I figured there would be better ways to do my guest job than being an audience member, so I wandered off in search of music and found it in the Metro room (the larger of the alternate spaces). I tended to wander in and out for the next few hours -- it seemed like every time I went off to re-fill my water glass (or deal with the inevitable consequences of keeping myself well hydrated) I bumped into someone in the hallway and started chatting. The Metro wound down to nothingness when the Weird Sisters auctioned-concert followed the end of the auction and I decided to move my stuff into the main room for the open filking there afterwards. (One of the problems with filking with a Large Harp is that there's no such thing as casually wandering from room to room. You pretty much pick a spot an ensconce yourself for the long term.) The array of instrumentation was stunning (see opening sketch) -- and the performances felt a lot more like an ad hoc concert than a filk sing: lots of relatively long, high-powered, highly orchestrated group performances, with a little over half a dozen groups and individuals pretty much passing it around between themselves. As a concert, it worked very nicely (and I wasn't exactly feeling the need for more performance time myself at that point), but I'd had my heart set on something more in the line of an open filksing. When the dynamic of a circle is such that I know I couldn't get a song in edgewise if I wanted to, it's hard for me to enjoy it even if I don't want to get a song in. So I packed up and headed for bed, but stopped by a while for a cheerful, laid-back largely media-oriented circle in the room opposite the con suite. And so to bed.


If the idea of having complimentary breakfast buffet tickets come with the hotel rooms had been designed to get con-goers up and about, it couldn't have worked better. (I suspect it may actually have been a plot by the hotel to make it worth while to have restaurant staff on duty.) When I got down there, the line was starting to back up fast, so in good ski-lift style I hooked up with the "single" next to me in line, which happened to be Susan Urban. About halfway through, Earl joined us, figuring that it didn't count as jumping the line if he was joining an existing table.

After breakfast, I found Mike Stein and some violinist whose name I didn't catch off in an end of the corridor sight-reading from O'Neill's Ancient Music of Ireland [22], so I dashed off for the instruments and joined in. Unfortunately I got torn away to help judge the second song contest: "For Our Children" -- a theme that was interpreted in a number of creative ways. It's always interesting to see different styles in judging. For this one we had detailed judging sheets with possible point-ranges assigned for a variety of factors (although the results were a starting point when we sat down to hash out winners, rather than an ending point).

I was looking forward to the closing jam, but these things are always catch-as-catch-can and the songs took off in directions that flute and harp just don't quite work on, so I mostly hung out socializing, but caught in a couple good flute parts as the jam wound down. Then it was time to hand off the loaner harp (although not before I had the interesting experience of concertizing for a python) and head off to the dead dog dinner run. The dead dog filk afterwards hit a perfect balance of talent and coziness, confirming my decision to fly out Monday morning rather than Sunday night. Odd thematic runs came out of the woodwork. When else can you introduce a follower with, "Speaking of aggressive food ..."? [23] I dragged myself away long before I wanted to, but I had an airport shuttle to catch at 5:30 in the morning, and -- entirely true to form -- I was coming down with a respiratory bug [25] that only sleep could hope to hold off.

And with another delightfully boring flight home, I was once again ready to face Berkeley undergrads and metaphor theory.

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