August Showcase

A Highly Personal Review

By Paul Moffett With help from Brenda Bowlin

Heading into the last week before the season-opener August Songwriter Showcase, the upcoming event was shaping up to be a walk-over. The Rudyard Kipling had been experimenting with a house sound system for a couple of months, which came complete with a sound man, meaning that the L.A.S.C. wouldn't have to assemble a sound system and run it. Great.

The publicity material had all gone out in a more or less timely fashion and the programs would be done by Friday. Looking good.

Then Jean said she couldn't be the emcee because she had to attend a family wedding. Dallas, our booking wiz and stage manager, allowed as how he had to work at another bar, just to earn some money and because it was the Brave Combo show. Time to find a new stage manager.

Brenda volunteered for Jean's emcee job, even though she had never been an emcee. I told her that since she was a real estate salesperson, she could handle a little ol' emcee job. She then was volunteered to be stage manager as well and got a line-up schedule straightaway.

Karen, our usual reserve door person, was in Sawannanoa, N.C., having a great time at the Great Smokies Song Chase with Billy Edd Wheeler, writing the perfect song, so Joyce said she'd work the door. Rhonda was still on tap for the hostess / usher job, thank goodness,

Then at eleven-thirty p.m. Friday, the night before the showcase, Ken Pyle, owner of the Rudyard, called and said that the sound man hadn't been quite consistent enough with his payments and the system had been repossessed. There would be no house sound system. And no sound man. It took a while to get back to sleep.

Bob Totten of Willis Music, who had been providing the Co-op with a sound system for the showcase, was on vacation, so that nice Fender board with matching speakers and monitors was not available.

Big sigh. Go into the back room and start scraping together the old system from Monday nights. Some of the cords need fixing and the snake has a hum and....

A fruitful summer on the yard-sale circuit, however, had yielded two pretty nice used Shure mics for five bucks each and a set of big rock-band-size horns, in homemade plywood boxes, at ten dollars a pop. Combining that with the Peavey bass cabinet I had bought from Tom when he needed the money to move to Nashville, it looked like I would be able to get by. There weren't any monitors or monitor amp, but that was tolerable at the Rudyard. The show would go on.

On Saturday afternoon, the trusty rusty Maxivan pulled into the gravel parking lot, after having stopped off to strong-arm Docrates into being acting roady and general helper. My wife Beth, Doc and I dragged it all in, including the boxes of T-shirts and mugs and set it up.

With only the usual number of glitches, the system got fired up, the sound checks went smoothly, even including the last-minute addition of an extra man to one act. Show time approached. I had loaded my 35mm with the new long lens and was ready to catch a few shots.

Ed Jackson was first up, after a slightly shaky introduction from Brenda. Jackson had been playing the open stages around town and had caught Dallas' eye. He got his degree at the U of L School of Music and was clearly an enthusiastic collector of songs, including the ones he had written. Unfortunately, I was too busy being busy to note what tunes he sang but did snap the camera at him a bit.

John Dowell and friends closed the first set. Dowell had gotten Bob Bush to play acoustic double bass with him and had even finagled a pretty hot guitarist from Indianapolis to sit in as well, so the trio was able to deliver the biggest sound of the night. Dowell blamed education for saving him from theater and music, but it didn't erase has talent. He closed the set with a crowd favorite, "Nobody Dances Like Eugene Anymore."

Sometime in the middle of the evening, a storm came up, the lightning providing dazzling echos of camera flashes and the rain poured down. The music continued.

Rick Ellis took the point for the second set, doing his best tunes and best job of sounding Beatleish without flat-out stealing their melodies. Lanky and bent over the guitar, he stirred the crowd, up. The lightning and ionized air from the storm was having a certain effect also.

Then came Jak Son and Alex, their first time on the showcase together. Jak Son Renfro, lead spirit and singer for Serpent Wisdom on vocals and groove and Alex Kelly, intense pianist, singer, songwriter, guitarist, all brilliant white teeth and angularity, did tunes that they had been working on together and singing two voice versions of Renfro-written Serpent Wisdom songs.

They were preaching, hallelujah, as always, singin' about South Africa and "Spirit, that's what matters," and trying to hew to a musically correct line as well, but not always succeeding, due to a sparsity of time to rehearse. With the lightning flashes, all that was missing was the mountain.

"If it's not right, we won't do it, that's our musical philosophy, " Renfro said softly when Alex stopped a tune mid-way through to correct an instrumental mix before starting the same song from the top. More pictures on the 35 mm.

Break. Brenda gave away the T-shirt and urged the crowd to buy one if they hadn't won it. Rhonda said good- night, as she had to drive back to Indiana and get up early to go to work. The crowd thinned.

The last set was the reprise everybody back around once more, to do the songs that they hadn't had time to get to. It got louder and the crowd got louder and finally everybody ran out of material and quit.

I got help packing the mics and wires, but decided to leave the speakers there over the weekend, as I would need them the next Monday. All the boxes, milk crates, suitcases and mike stands migrated to the Maxivan and, with a sigh of relief at the completion of yet another showcase, Beth and I headed for Pewee Valley and bed.

Come again next month.--