An hour online educated me on the house concert scene. It became evident that the main marketing tool in cracking said scene is a live performance video, bereft of studio gimmickry or post-production pizzazz, that gives prospective hosts a realistic peek at what they’d be presenting in their living rooms. I did not have such a video.
Serendipitously, that same week I received an invitation to my 40-year high school reunion in Ohio. Perfect, I thought—I can go re-une with my aging compadres and have a video made of me providing some welcome after-dinner entertainment. After all, wasn’t I remembered as a musician by all who would be in attendance?
My first call was to my old friend Joe, who was on the reunion planning committee. The suggestion of a mini-concert of my original songs was met with unbridled enthusiasm. I believe his exact words were: “I don’t think anyone would mind.” Alright, consider me booked!
A second call to another hometown pal garnered a recommendation for what he considered to be the best video production company in the area. I called that company and had a lengthy phone conversation with Chip, the head man, in which we planned, bid, and booked a two camera shoot for August 1st, the night of the event, ten weeks away.
During those ten weeks several things happened: 1) I contacted another ex-classmate who’d been hired as a DJ for the upcoming festivities to see if I would be able to utilize his PA system for my performance (I would); 2) I practiced my set religiously every day, honing my singing, guitar work, and between-song patter; and 3) I contracted a case of frozen shoulder which made strumming my guitar a painful pursuit. An ominous development, but I was confident I could tough it out for a half hour on stage.
The reunion weekend finally arrived and I arranged a lunch with Chip at the venue the day before the shoot so we could meet in person and work out some last minute details like when and where I’d be setting up, where the two cameras would be placed for maximum effect, etc. The space chosen for the reunion was fairly new and sterile looking with horrendous, boomy acoustics, but there was a set of impressive wooden doors that would not be in use during the event, so we decided they would provide a cool backdrop for the video. I told Chip to expect a 9 pm start time and he responded with a wince and a confidence-shaking “Oh…I thought it would be earlier.” Turns out he’d booked himself another 9 pm shoot somewhere else. “Don’t worry”, he says, “I have my right hand man Steve lined up for tomorrow and I know a guy to call for the second cameraman—it’ll be fine.” I left the meeting miffed that Chip was blowing me off and concerned about the airplane hangar acoustics of the space.
The next night, everyone showed up in their finery looking as good as people creeping up on sixty could look. After a tasty meal it was time for my moment. I plugged into the PA and a 60-second sound check confirmed my suspicions that the acoustics were, in fact, dreadful, and the equipment was grossly inadequate. The crappy beat-up gear had an effective range of about 10 feet; unfortunately, ninety percent of my intended audience was sitting at the opposite end of the room, well out of earshot.
When I got up to sing—no one to announce or otherwise welcome me to the non-stage—I tried to cajole my classmates to come closer, but all my wild gesticulating and pleading failed to budge a single butt from its distant perch. In light of the inability to be heard, rampant disinterest, and my now-throbbing frozen shoulder, I seriously considered for a few moments just chucking the performance altogether. But, cameraman Steve had positioned himself on the floor about five feet in front of me and an unnamed fill-in cameradude was roaming about getting shots of god-knows-what, so I decided that the main point was to get a usable video, and I soldiered on, playing four songs, abbreviated from my originally-planned seven. The mercifully short set ended not with the thunderous applause I’d heard in my daydreams, but with a whimper. Thanks to the awful PA no one actually heard my whimpering.
Two days later I was back in Nashville awaiting the arrival of the edited video. Finally, after an entire month had elapsed, I heard from Chip: “We have a problem.” The fill-in second cameraman he’d hired was apparently unfamiliar with the camera and had botched the shoot. All his footage was red-tinged and out of focus—totally unusable. After a few grumbles and “ain’t-it-a-shames” we decided he’d send me an edit of a one-camera shoot.
Another month passed until I received the first evidence of Chip’s handiwork. The opening visual was a title card with my name misspelled: Tom Mache…M-A-C-H-E. Not a promising beginning. The first song begins and reveals an annoying delay between the audio and video. Back to the drawing board for Chip so he can address the sync issue and learn the name of his client.
What followed was a protracted series of friendly reminder emails, unanswered phone calls, and ultimately, a nasty litigation-threatening letter to Chip. Finally, a full six months after the reunion debacle, I received the final edited video.
I sit down to watch, like revisiting the scene of a crime. I see myself moving stiffly, a by-product of the frozen shoulder. I see in my expression a guy who’s trying in vain to relate to people who couldn’t care less about the guy with a guitar flailing about at the other end of the hall. Even so, the optimist in me is saying that it’ll probably be good enough to serve its purpose of attracting a few house concerts. Then, as on-screen Tom moves his head a few inches to the right so that his mouth is unhidden by the microphone, the final straw is revealed. There, caught between my two front teeth is a remnant from dinner, a chunk of black olive looking like the world’s biggest cavity--the final middle finger from the video gods. But the wooden doors in the background did look pretty cool.