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Road Stories #5

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At 6 o’clock one fine Saturday morning in 1994, my bedside phone rang. It was the crew booker for the sound company I was managing at the time.

One of our freelancers had spent the night in ER with his girlfriend, who’d been in a car accident. Everyone was fine, but could I sub in for the freelancer, mixing FOH at a music festival? Sure.

Set-up was, well… now. Start time was noon. I quickly got dressed and headed to the site, luckily only a 15-minute drive from my house.

The festival, an annual one-day event, took place in Queen’s Park, a large oval-shaped park in downtown Toronto encircled by University Avenue (a major thoroughfare) and bisected by Wellesley Street. The festival stage was set up near the southeast edge of the northern half of the park, with the backstage area about 50 feet from Wellesley Street.

The stage had a 30- by 40-foot deck, no roof, no wings, no upstage truss and no backdrop, just a big, open surface with a small scaffold tower on either side for the modest PA.

Off stage left a short distance was a mini-van. A gentleman who I came to think of as “the recording freak” sat cross-legged on the floor of this van, wreathed in pot smoke the entire day, recording the show.

On arrival, I discovered that the monitor engineer was my former (and future, he came back a year or so later) assistant, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. More to the point, that made two of us who might be a little… rusty when it came to manning a console.

Anyway, we got to work and in a couple of hours had the rig up and running. One of the other guys on the crew mentioned that he thought he “maybe remembered” that there was some kind of performance scheduled just before the first act. I asked our account manager about it, and he knew nothing (of course), directing me to the promoter, who I’d never met.

Our conversation went something like this…

Me: Hi, what time’s the first act?
Promoter: Noon
Me: I heard there might be a little something before the first act?
Promoter: No, the first act is the first act.
Me: And when are they on?
Promoter: First.
Me: Nothing on before that?
Promoter: No, the first act is the first act.

Around 11:30 am, I’m sitting at the house console and look up to see a couple of volunteers moving first one, and then another 4- by 8-foot box riser into place, directly in front of the stage.

A minute later, I observe the promoter talking to the account manager, who then walks over and informs me that, just before the first act, a group of children are going to sing a welcome song, and could we just move a few of the front vocal mics down to the risers to pick them up?

I reply “OK” and set about doing this with the monitor guy, who’s muttering darkly about putting ^%$^#@ mics in front of the PA and the increased probability of feedback that came with it. I wasn’t too worried but kept that to myself.

At about 11:55 am, the promoter steps on stage and tells the very sparse crowd that the kids are going to sing a song to welcome everyone to the festival, followed by… the first act.

I ease the mics up, the kids open their mouths and sing exactly one syllable “Laaa-” before SCREEEEEEEE! An incredible squeal goes tearing through everything.

From force of habit, I pull my master faders all the way down but the squeal continues… good, it’s not me. I glance up at the stage and see the monitor guy hunched over his desk, eyes frantically searching for the offending knob, left and right hands hovering, just waiting for the command to grab that knob and turn it down.

Then I glance to the right and see, through the smoke, the recording freak practically levitating as he tears his headphones off.

My eyes travel upward, across the stage and beyond, to nearby Wellesley Street, where the #94 Wellesley bus is just coming to a complete stop… and as it does, so does the squealing of its brakes!

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