Saskatchewan Jazz Festival 2005
First days at a new job are nerve racking, especially after offering to help wherever and whenever needed with no idea of what that may actually mean. All I know is to be at the "Artist Hospitality" room at the swanky Delta Bessborough Hotel downtown at 11:30 a.m.
The classroom-size space, behind a door with dark glass panes just a few feet from the check-in desk, looks nothing like a posh place to welcome performers. It's a work area - whiteboards listing transportation assignments and other duties are leaning against a non-working bar, stacks of T-shirts and other souvenirs are piled in another part of the room, dozens of water and soda bottles for the artists are chilling in a refrigerator against a wall, and organizers do paperwork on a couple of long folding tables.
I pick up my T-shirt and am told I'll be selling souvenirs at a stand in a park about a block away, where a series of free concerts featuring mostly local artists are taking place all week. They're also hoping I'm available for "hospitality" duty starting mid-afternoon, which today means hauling gear for some of the day's main acts to a garden stage just outside the hotel.
The souvenir stand in the park is small and not terribly busy, with the large hemp shirt from a previous festival one of the few sales during my initial shift. The lunchtime quartet concert led by vibraphonist Roy Sydiaha, a longtime local symphony and club player, is two sets of mostly subdued standards, although it's interesting watching him break down "Happy Birthday" into a piece-by-piece demonstration of jazz composition for a group of students on their last day of school.
One of the day's more significant problems arises early in the afternoon as a storm delays Sandoval's plane from Toronto, forcing organizers to delay the 8 p.m. scheduled start to 9: 30 p.m. To someone's credit I hear the announcement a few minutes later on a local radio station as I begin "hospitality" duties by assisting maybe half a dozen others move dozens of boxes of gear in protective cases through the hotel's kitchen and back hallways.
If officials are overly stressed by the delay they aren't showing it since, as one notes, there's nothing they can do about the weather. Besides, there's no shortage of other tasks and people coming through. Among them is a younger-looking man asking about meal vouchers and getting paid immediately after their concert "because we have to fly out right away." After getting vouchers (organizers wonder only afterward if he's supposed to get them) and reassurance someone will take care of money, he exchanges a few pleasantries and leaves - at which point I learn he's Shawn Hewett, opening act for the day's featured K-OS concert. The encounter boosts a personal theory that it's easier dealing with famous people when you have no idea who they are. Most of the performers probably appreciate it as well, getting treated like real people instead of the awkward/fawning often experienced.
Getting the gear to the stage is the heavy lifting, so to speak, but little details take at least as much time. Among them is making sure drinks the performers want for the hip-hop concerts are brought out about an hour beforehand; making a run to nearby liquor store to get a bottle of wine for one of the performers; moving the barriers with sponsorship logos into place once gear is in place so audience members can't get backstage; plus plenty of other trivial details.
"Hey, do you have a sheet of paper?" shouts Hewett (I believe) from the stage as I'm getting ready to drop off the last barrier.
Being a reporter, I've always got a steno pad, but those are too small. So after making sure he doesn't need anything else obviously related to the request like pens or tape I find a nearby official who just happens to have a sheet of graph paper in his pickup. Easily my lightest delivery of the day, but also one of apparent significance.
By about 6:30 p.m. my share of things is done, right about the time people start lining up for the garden concert. I've already decided to do the hip hop shows since I'm trying to listen to local/Canadian acts instead of outsiders when possible. Sandoval is supposedly sold out, anyhow, and while a persistent volunteer might find a place to squeeze in, it's not something I'm inclined toward today.
It may be the wrong choice - and that's not just from someone a generation older than the target audience for the performers.
K-OS is better live because "there's more going on," but the evening's performance is somewhat off, especially renditions of well-known covers such as "Hit The Road Jack," says Robert Crowther, 11, a student entering sixth grade this fall who spends much of the week volunteering with his family.
"He put on kind of a bad show," he says, adding "he didn't sing that well."
Dedicating Pink Floyd's "We Don't Need No Education" to Michael Jackson ("leave those kids alone") instead of the last day of school seems a bit odd and the instrumentals seem mostly into crowd-pleasing riffs, sort of like Kenny G's insisting on endless circular breathing until the crowd applauds. Still, the crowd is large and generally receptive, making the festival's goal of reaching younger listeners a success in that regard.
Sandoval's delayed show at the Broadway Theatre, meanwhile, is described as "high energy" by Tony Allen, a retired teacher who volunteers for the shows there all week.
"They were tired but, my gosh, they never stopped," he says. "They played for nearly two hours and the breaks between songs lasted about 10 seconds."
Sandoval was constantly in motion, changing instruments and singing at times, Allen adds.
There's also an all-ages jam session featuring the Brothers Jazz at The Bassment, a downtown club popular for jazz throughout the year. In retrospect this may have been the best option for my mission and taste, but I make the mistake of assuming more such sessions are likely without actually reading the full week's lineup.