copyright 2001, D. Glenn Arthur Jr.
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An Adventure At Oatlands

A tale of mishaps at a gig

Before I begin, I should probably spoil the suspense and tell you that everything did, in fact, sort itself out in the end; and that my experiences playing at the Oatlands Celtic Festival (every year since it started) have been, overall, pleasant and rewarding. Nonetheless at any performance, potential for disaster -- or at least adventure worth retelling -- abounds. (This tale is in the second category.)

Setting the Stage

The Oatlands Celtic Festival is a large event held annually at the Oatlands Plantation near Leesburg, Virginia. It gets pretty hot out thisaway in June, and saying 1997 was the coolest year yet for the festival doesn't say much: it was somwehere around 95 Farenheit and humid as ... well let's just say that the analogies that come to mind aren't printable. This year I arrived early in the day -- earlier than I'm usually awake, in fact. The day got off to a good start despite the heat and the early hour. I checked my instruments at the instrument-check tent except for the guitar I was going to use for my first performance of the day, chatted a bit with the volunteers handling instrument-check-in, said hello to some other performers, and tuned up.

The first thing on my schedule was Skye Gathering's performance at the Acoustic stage. All four members of Skye Gathering are also in The Homespun Ceilidh Band, and they'd suggested that two other members of HCB, myself and Becky Ross, join them for a couple of tunes near the end of their set. The catch was that Becky was driving in from Norfolk, VA, a good few hours drive away. I didn't see her arrive, but she got there. After listening to Skye Gathering for most of their set (a worthwhile way to spend some time, I must say), Becky and I joined them for the last couple tunes. So far the day was going well. My going to the Carriage House stage first by mistake didn't delay me long enough to be a problem. *whew*

Next, I headed over to the Dance stage to talk to the folks there about amplification for Thrir Venstri Foetr (aka Three Left Feet). When I met the sound man, he asked me how many musicians I had. "Thirteen," said I, and he nearly spilled his lemonade.

"They told me I'd never have more than two or three musicians at a time up here." Note that we'd told the festival organizers how many musicians we were bringing and they'd said they would tell the sound man. Note also that an act earlier in the day (a Galician pipe band and dance group that were truly amazing) had a similar number of musicians, and apparently he hadn't been warned about them either.

Okay, at an event of this size (and Oatlands is not a small affair) things do fall through the cracks. The sound man and I discussed how to properly deal with Three Left Feet until an act came on that needed his full attention.

Thunder on the Stage

Back to the hospitality tent for more lemonade and to get my twelve-string out of the instrument-check area. I tuned that, drooled over a bass fiddle, handed my cheesy little camera (35mm equivalent of a Brownie Box Camera) to someone I knew would be watching, and headed off to perform with The Homespun Ceilidh Band at the Acoustic stage.

That's when the thunder started. Fortunately, HCB -- even missing four members who weren't able to be there that day -- is loud enough to compete with a little thunder without microphones. We got off to a good start, and then the rain hit. We're talking major deluge here, my friends. Nearby merchants folded up shop and vanished right quick, foot traffic in the area skedaddled, and our audience huddled in nice and tight to get away from the edges of the pavilion where the rain was splashing in.

The stage, of course, was right at one edge of the pavillion. I was somewhat aware of a couple of people (the stage manager and a member of the audience, I think) scurrying around behind us to gather instrument cases, purses, and the like and throw them in out of the rain while we played on and I felt the rain on my heels. Now when I play with the Homespun Ceilidh Band, I tend to move around a lot. You just can't play rythm guitar on Scottish reels without dancing a bit and jumping around. It doesn't work.

The back edge of the stage, where I was standing, became very, very slippery.

Despite making Lorraine, our harpist who was in front of me, very nervous, I managed not to slide more than an inch or two at a time and did not lose my balance. One disaster averted. Despite the noise of the rain striking the pavillion and the thunder crashing, we managed to entertain our *ahem* captive audience. When I went to change guitars, the one I picked up off its stand (which had been further in from the edge than I was) was utterly drenched. Well, better a guitar than a fiddle or the cello or the harp or the gamba. I dried it off as best I could and kept going. (Late the following day my leather guitar strap finally finished drying. The guitar appears to be unharmed. Don't try this at home.) Count the lack of actual damage to instruments as a second disaster avoided.

We joked about our luck with weather -- we got rained on at our last outdoor gig as well -- played more foot-stompin' Scottish, Irish, and Welsh music, and waited out the storm loud and melodious.

The Walkabout Oud

When things finally calmed down weather-wise, we had run over our allotted time by a bit. About half of us were due over at the Dance stage (which was running on schedule but without the sound system) to perform with Three Left Feet. I handed my guitars to Three Left Feet dancers who'd been watching The Homespun Ceilidh Band and ran over to the instrument-check tent to collect my oud and recorders. I'd planned a change of clothes (out of the kilt I was wearing and into a medieval tunic) between the two performances, but decided I no longer had time.

Apparently I also no longer had an oud.


The volunteers at the instrument-check had given my oud to someone else who claimed to be taking it to me. I went to the Dance stage and it was not there. I went back and got more information -- the person who took it was not someone I knew. They thought he was headed to the Acoustic stage. I went past the Acoustic stage on my way back to Dance and didn't see it. The other members of Three Left Feet were concerned on my behalf. I tried to put the matter out of my mind so I could play, and got on with the job of lining people up on stage where I wanted them and starting the music going.

The Three Left Feet set mostly went okay despite a miscommunication with our photographer who kept wandering through the middle of things. The plan I'd discussed with the soundman for allocating microphones became moot since they'd already struck the sound system (so that lightning wouldn't strike it), but fortunately amplification is really optional for Three Left Feet. It's just a good thing the thunder didn't take out one of the groups that danced to recorded music!

Afterwards the search for the oud resumed. "Who would steal it? Nobody else here knows how to play it!" was a comment I heard from more than one person. Another was advising me that the festival almost certainly had to have insurance that would cover this sort of thing, and after all, the instrument had been checked. We ran into more festival management folks and volunteers and security, who were busy trying to coordinate the search via their walkie-talkies. Things were very confusing and lots of people were looking lots of places and trying to figure out who took it and where he took it to. I said I'd be back, but I wanted to get my guitar cases from the instrument-check tent and put my guitars in them. Over at the instrument-check tent there were very concerned faces ("Oh my God, we've lost somebody's instrument!") and lots of people who wanted to make sure I was coping okay.

Then came a shout from someone with a radio, "It's been found!". Then a short time later, my oud arrived. The disaster of the lost/stolen oud had been averted.

What happened, you ask? Well it seems there had been two instrument tag / claim ticket pairs given the same number (35). The holder of the other claim ticket #35, who was about to perform over at the Carriage House stage had sent a runner to pick up their instruments. The runner had come back with my oud, to be told, "That's not mine." What with all the rain and chaos and other things that had to be done in a hurry, the oud was tucked "someplace safe" (Under a stage? Inside a nearby building? I don't know that detail) and forgotten. Eventually someone either found it or found the person who'd put it there and I was reunited with my oud. Now most of the event staff seems to know me as "the owner of the missing oud".

I must say that the Oatlands folks were quite serious about recovering my oud and handled the matter professionally. But they day's adventures were not yet done! Leaving the festival presented its own challenges!

Broken Down at the Gate

On our way out, Karin Loya (cellist in Homespun Ceilidh Band, Skye Gathering, and Three Left Feet -- also the one who drove me to the festival) and I spotted two other members of Three Left Feet changing a tire. So we stopped to help. The spare turned out to be flat, but fortunately yet another carload of dancers showed up with a portable air compressor. While we were taking care of that, word came that another musician in the group, Maugorn, had lost a transmission hose. So Brian, having finished changing Crystal's tire, went off with some plastic tape to help Maugorn. He had returned and was about to leave when Maugorn came walking up the drive saying he needed either transmission fluid or a tow and he didn't know which. So Fred drove off with his carload of dancers, Karin drove Maugorn to a gas station to buy transmission fluid, and Brian, Crystal, and I hung around until Karin and Maugorn got back. When everything got sorted out again Brian and I had recruited a flutist to join Three Left Feet -- she stoped to chat and ask about various instruments while we were waiting for Maugorn and Karin. Finally Brian followed Maugorn home and Karin and I followed Crystal home to make sure neither car suffered additional mishaps.

I finally got home a few hours later than I'd expected to and very tired, after a long day of near-misses. I've taken to summing up the day as Thunder On The Stage; The Walkabout Oud; and Broken Down At The Gate. Maybe I'll write tunes to go with those titles.

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