Sunday, June 12, 2011

Summer 1977: Sound at the Joyous Lake

I came home from my freshman year at university, not yet of legal age to drink or vote, eager to snag a job in town. My friend Igor had exposed me to “doing sound at the lake” the previous summer, and with Igor’s high-praise, Ron hired me on the spot. The job would pay $20 a night which I thought was terrific. Ron somehow felt the need to sweeten the deal, telling me that I can have food and drink gratis.

The job involved showing up for soundcheck around 5PM, before the dinner crowd would get going and doing soundcheck so everything would be good-to-go for a 10PM showtime. This took about an hour. Most evenings, Paul the chef would cook me a meal I would eat at the bar, while people-watching the mixed townie and touristo crowd.

I was infatuated with a blonde waitress named Cornelia, who drove a red Fiat 124 Spider with Colorado plates, and would park next to my 1968 Ford Fairlane in the gravel behind the lake on Deming Street. It would frustrate me that when soundcheck was over, my work was momentarily done; but her dinner duties were just starting. With four hours to showtime, I would usually drive back to West Shokan to hang with my friends.

Around 9 I would head back to the lake, sailing along Wittenberg Road with unbounded teenage optimism. Usually the spot by Cornelia’s car would be taken by my return; so I would select some choice spot on the Deanie’s side of the street instead.

The sound booth in the lake was located just above the dessert cooler to your right when you walked in. Getting up to the booth, without actually placing your feet on the cooler, involved a simple gymnastic move anyone who has ever been on the rings on a swing set would appreciate. The Lake’s sound system at the time was comprised of a dozen or so “speakers” spread around on the ceiling, each with maybe ten Bose CTS drivers. I’m not going to lecture sound reinforcement here; but this is highly unusual for live sound. It makes delivering a clear, phase-aligned image nearly impossible. It dictated that, whenever possible, we would use on-stage amplification; and house sound would fill in the gaps. Vocals and harp, for example, would live or die by the Lake’s sound. On the countless nights when Butter’ or Sebastian would step on stage, “more harp” was almost always the correct answer to an unbalanced mix.

You mixed both front-of-house and monitors from the booth. There were two Crown DC-300s for the house; and one for monitors. Ted Rothstein had modified the mixing desk, which was both quirky and functional, a year prior. The desk had both pre- and post- fader solo in the booth: very nice. I speculate that Albert must have been in some night, not liked the sound, and as a favor to Ron, sent Ted (then chief engineer at Bearsville) over to make it right.

The speakers on the ceiling vibe meant that to get the sound right, you had to leave the booth and walk around and listen. This gave you an opportunity to look busy (I’m listening real hard!) while stopping to get a drink at the bar. I took my work seriously and tried to make every night the best possible experience for the guests and the talent.

Halfway through the first set, which was about when the kitchen would be slowing down, Cornelia would climb up and sit with me. She would bring a chocolate mousse, which I think she brought to share, but mostly I ate. We would listen, voyeuristically, to microphones on stage which would be muted to the house in between songs that would reveal to us exciting talent banter, or more often, gripes about my monitor mix.

Second set at the Lake in the summer of 1977 was consistently, um, insane. Insane! The dinner crowd would be gone. The house would be packed. The band was going to put it all out there. There were all manners of pills, powders, and potions circulating. Surprisingly, there was only the occasional smell of pot. Pot smoking was outside-only. The drug thing didn’t interest me very much then; but I was keenly aware of it.

Every night seemed to pass in a millisecond. Ron booked the lake with so many hot acts that summer that each night seemed to be “once in a lifetime”. And they were.

As the room cleared, Lenny would give me my $20 and comment on the night. Once the mics were stowed and the house clear, maybe a drink with Gary and Sue or a chance meeting with an erstwhile OCS classmate. By three in the morning I’d be in my Fairlane heading back home towards West Shokan on Wittenberg Road again, alone, listening to a tape of Larry, Jaco and Joni knock it out of the park on Hejira’s “A Strange Boy”, wondering .

Sunday, June 05, 2011

An Early June Sunday on the Pond

Brian, Jack, Charlie, Shep, Ali, Wendy, John and Sue stir up the water and catch some rays.