Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Calgary Stampede in Review

So the Calgary Stampede is over. For the city of Calgary it meant a boost in tourism revenue (despite the economic and weather conditions). For me, it meant 18 gigs in 10 days. Last year I did 22, the year before 26. From my perspective, there was a real downturn in the number (and lavishness) of the corporate parties. That said, it was fun (most of it) and I earned a good sum money in a short period of time.

I thought it would be fun to talk a bit about some of the things I saw/experienced during my Stampede gigs and mention a bit about keeping your hands healthy during extended gigs. I also included a bit of simple bass playing math.

First, some highlights:
  1. Playing Flames Central as an opening act for Colin James (who I'm not familiar with).
  2. Opening for Fred Eaglesmith (who I am familiar with).
  3. Seeing a 30-foot tall image of myself on the jumbo-tron at Flames Central.
  4. Playing on the roof of a diner.
  5. A wet t-shirt contest for charity.
  6. A nervous burlesque dancer throwing up backstage.
  7. Running through downtown between gigs while carrying an upright bass.
  8. Hearing the "That's a mighty big violin" joke approximately 48 times. (Yes, I counted.)
  9. Explaining to several "sound-men" the difference between mixing as a DJ and mixing live music.
  10. Surviving.
With respect to the latter, Stampede usually takes a huge toll on my sleep and my fingers. Regarding my sleep patterns, I had more than a few nights that I played until 2am and had to be at a pancake breakfast for my next gig at 6 or 7 am.

As for my fingers, the average gig I play is three 45-minute sets. That's a lot of slapping on a double bass. For those not familiar with slapping on an upright bass, its like performing a Bartok slap very quickly and repeatedly. Some people use gut strings or weed whackers. My bass had steel strings (Spirocores) on it during Stampede.

Now some simple math:
13 songs per set at 3 minutes each, average tempo of 160 = 3,120 times per set that my fingers pull up a string.
And that's only if I'm playing I-V's the whole night (i.e., two notes per measure). If I'm walking (which I do about half the time) the better estimate is 4,680 plucks per night. (I just shocked myself figuring this out.) And this isn't even counting the slaps on the string/fingerboard.On the three-set night that means about 14,040 times my fingers pluck a string. Over the whole of Stampede, 252,720 times. Crazy. Oh well my fingers survived.

I've written before (here and here) about the need to take care of your hands. To the right is a picture of my fingers at the start of Stampede. At the bottom of the post is a photo of my hands near the end of Stampede. Overall, I did a pretty good job taking care of them: each night I used some lotion (Burt's Bees is my preferred) and put a band-aid on any cuts. This kept my hands from drying out too much , thereby helping them stay in shape for the next gig. I only had a couple of nights that I was really bothered by some pain and no major cuts or blisters, which is more than I can say for some of my compadre bassists during Stampede. At one gig where many of us were hanging out, some guys/girls had a bit of show and tell regarding their blisters. Regardless, that's the cost (along with the sleepless nights, running between gigs, and listening to DJ's swell a room with feedback while trying to figure out how to set up stage monitors) many of us pay during the Calgary Stampede. Now its time to start training for next year. Yee Haw.

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