Post – HGG20 thoughts
The 20th Harp Guitar Gathering® is now a month in the rearview mirror. We had attendees from 17 states this year (CT, NC, MA, ID, FL, CA, OR, WI, GA, VA, AR, IL, TX, NJ, TN, NY & ND, as well as 5 other countries (Belgium, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany. It’s so good to have people coming from abroad again! Thanks to everyone for making the trip! Tony Barnard certainly wins the award for coming the greatest distance this year. Thanks for making the very long trip from Australia, mate!
As I’ve said many times, the first Gathering was simply intended to be a one-time event. Now there’ve been 20 in as many years. One of those years was virtual, true, but even though it was only a 6 hour online event, it was the best that could be managed that first year of Covid. And it still required a lot of actual preparation and effort to pull off. So it counts as HGG18.
I’ve hosted 10 Gatherings prior to this year – HGG 1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 14, 16, 18 and 19. I wanted the 20th to be a different Gathering, in a variety of ways. It was. I also wanted this Gathering to be memorable, and it was definitely that too.
Our venue this year, Silver Lake Retreat Center, was a different experience than we’ve had before. The post-Gathering survey confirmed what I thought would be – and was the case, that most people either liked or loved that aspect of it while a few didn’t much care for it. The survey results are at the very bottom of this page.
We had a pre-Gathering concert for the first time this year, with Andy Wahlberg, Travis Bowman and Matt Thomas performing. It was fun and great! After not hearing Travis and Matt play for a while, wow! That’s all, just wow! The initial reason to do this concert was that we needed to have some folks arrive at the Gathering early this year. Why? Because, well, Andy Wahlberg…
If I’d heard the story of how Andy had first come across a harp guitar before, I’d forgotten it. I heard him tell it at last year’s Gathering. And as I’ve mentioned before, the idea to reenact a few scenes having to do with Andy’s discovery of the instrument popped into my head before everyone had left town last year. I knew immediately that Andy’s milestone this year – 50 years playing the harp guitar – was truly something that should be celebrated. The great Pasquale Taraffo, I noted in Gregg’s abbreviated Intro to the Harp Guitar presentation before our Saturday concert this year, lived just under 50 years (Nov 1887-April 1937). That means Andy has played the instrument longer than Taroaffo was alive. Celebrate Andy’s milestone? Check. Yeah, we did that this year!
Thanks to everyone who made The Andy Wahlberg Show!
Big thanks to:
- Our friend, the newer Stephen Bennett, for not running away after experiencing his first HGG last year. Quite to the contrary, Stephen started running directly towards the next HGG, first by going back and forth with me about ideas for the show, then by writing an actual script for it. He still didn’t jump ship when I asked if maybe he’d consider directing it. When I asked him if we’d be able to actually make the thing work, what with amateur actors and a bare minimum of rehearsal time, he replied that doing exactly that was something of a specialty of his. Indeed.
- The star of our show, Dave Powell. He immediately and enthusiastically agreeing to take on the role of Andy. And he kept that enthusiasm going right on through his actual performance as young Andy Wahlberg. At rehearsal, I was stunned to realize that Dave had not just spent time learning his lines; he’d also worked on sounding like Andy. As Andy himself noted in amazement, Dave had even worked on walking like him.
- Gregg Miner – who dug deep to find his inner Barney Fife (that’s not really true, as surprisingly little digging was required in this case). Unfortunately for me, the image of his pants being hitched up way too high, way too often has been seared into my brain. It still makes me laugh.
- Mike Doolin – who found his inner Gomer Pyle, which, again, seemed to not require all that much digging — wait a minute… have you two played Barney and Gomer before?
- John Riley – for being the Presenter. John leapt into my mind immediately as being perfect for that role.
- Kitty Wahlberg – for agreeing to play her younger self, for learning a bunch more lines than I told her she’d need to, as well as for writing down and sending me some actual events and stories from her life with Andy. Well done!
- Kinloch Nelson – for not (apparently) being too annoyed at me for forgetting that I had previously asked him to play the part of the store proprietor. Which was just as well, it turned out, as he was perfectly suited to play the role of Kitty’s dad!
- Mateo Coltura – for jumping into the role of the shoe-shine guy. That role was first intended for Tommy Loose (who, regrettably, was unable to attend after all) and then was given to Muriel Anderson (who it turned out wasn’t able to get to the Gathering in time for any rehearsal). Mateo immediately set about becoming the most convincing shoe-shine guy he could be. He may well be reprising his role on the streets of Brussels these days – hey, stranger things have happened.
- Michael Schreiner – for agreeing to play the store proprietor who sold the harp guitar – eventually, after a lot of funny back and forth dialog with young Andy Wahlberg. Perhaps that’s because Michael was a music store proprietor himself for many years; Kinloch simply couldn’t have brought the gravitas that Michael naturally acquired over decades.
- Martin Pleass – for so convincingly playing the part of British rocker Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. It was almost like Martin actually is a British rocker himself – oh, wait, now I remember – he is! As well as for playing that role, Martin also played the part of young Andy Wahlberg’s alter-ego Andy Whipper with his band the Snappers! For me, it’s probably a tie between Gregg’s Barney Fife and Martin’s performances as to which was most over the top hilarious.
- Speaking of the Snappers, Matt Thomas and Travis Bowman whipped Andy’s old song – Nobody – into performance shape. Rounding out the band nicely was Ed Dowling, king of the suitcase drum kit! Ed also played the theme song and some other music along with me during the show.
- Tony Barnard – with an assist from Paul Price – for jumping in and making the car prop that Ian Anderson would be speeding through Mayberry in, doing 26 in a 25 mph zone. The car was perfect!
- Nancy Conescu – for jumping in and spending hours making the sign props. Incidentally, the shoe-shine sign went home with Mateo and, as I suggested above, might well be routinely seen on the streets of Brussels these days. The signs were perfect, as was the lettering of “Expensive Sports Car” on the front of Tony’s creation.
- Randall Sprinkle – for bailing on playing the part of Kitty’s dad, because, let’s face it, pal: Kinloch nailed that role! You simply wouldn’t have been that good. I am however happy you did take up – of your own volition – the task of finding a variety of (mostly) relevant sound effects for the show. Whether or not a ringing telephone or police car siren would sound at the correct moment seemed to be a fairly open question all the way through rehearsals, but you got there. And the rest of us had abundant unexpected laughs along the way! Barney, pick up that siren!
- Jaci Rohr – who, although not able to be there with us, still contributed to our costuming. And dahling, what a fabulous addition to the show it was!
What else was different this year? Well, while there have been Thursday night parties for early Gathering arrivals, and while they have all been pretty good get-togethers, this year’s was a doozy. Nancy and I have thought our new house would be a good space in which to have a party. With more than fifty people in it for our first real party here, it proved to be exactly that!
Thanks go to:
- My old friend Sid Mitra (that’d be Dr. Siddhartha Mitra to you; here’s a link to his real life) – for volunteering to cook for the party – and then doing a great job of it!
- Another dear friend, Pam Gurley, who volunteered to be Sid’s sous chef. In addition to having an absolutely lovely voice, Pam’s been a nurse and also has run and cooked for a couple of restaurants over the years. A highly qualified sous chef indeed! Nobody went hungry. And as some of you heard late one night at the Retreat Center, Pam and her husband Bill certainly know how to make beautiful music together too!
- Andy Wahlberg for the cool harp guitar pumpkin carving that decorated the front steps that spooky evening!
- Bob & Carol Hartman for the lovely poem that she read that evening from the second floor balcony. In fact, just thanks for being there again, Bob & Carol! I remember you sadly telling me five years ago, at HGG15, that would be your last Gathering. You didn’t think you could do it anymore. I am so happy you were wrong!
- My sister-in-law, Leigh Bak, for coming to help with the Thursday party and to stay at our house and take care of our critters so Nancy could be at the Gathering as much as she was this year.
- Everyone who attended! I also appreciate that you took my carpooling suggestions to heart.
- Martin Pleass for reprising his Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard style piano playing down in my studio! It was great!
We may not have had the great Halloween bash with all the great costumes like we did in Williamsburg, Virginia for at HGG7, but Andy Wahlberg, Tony Barnard, Ed Dowling and I did do The Monster Mash this year! Now there’s a song Andy Wahlberg was born to perform, eh?
We were sorry that several folks who had registered and fully intended to be at HGG20 were not able to get there, due to last minute circumstances or events. I mentioned Tommy Loose earlier. Dan Pease & Bets Schwarz had a “vehicular incident” that prevented them coming from Iowa, which would have made it 18 states to be represented. Oh well, next time! The multi-talented Michael O’Brien fell ill and wasn’t able to make it. His also multi-talented daughter Emily, who would have been coming from Massachusetts, was registered but didn’t get here. I may be forgetting someone here, but those are the folks I can think of who meant to be in attendance – but weren’t.
I already mentioned a couple of newbies – Pam Gurley and Sid Mitra. There was also Travis Stramer from North Dakota (I’m glad the Hartmans talked you into being here, Travis), Joni Bishop from Tennessee (Chuck talked her into it), There was my friend Massimiliano Monterosso (Max) from Italy. Michel Pellerin brought his daughter Florence (pronounced more like Floraunce) along. She may have been to a Gathering before, I’m not sure. A friend of the Rileys, Larry Haron, was here this year. His wife Pam was mostly out doing other things, but she did stop by for a bit. Craig Keever was back again and brought his wife Amy along this time. She had to fly off to Ohio for part of the weekend to be in an art show, but she seemed to enjoy herself while she was with us. And doesn’t Craig seem happier than we’ve ever seen him before? Chris Miele spent part of the weekend with us. I met her when I was teaching at Tommy Emmanuel’s camp in Nashville in late September and, as she lives an hour and change away in NY state, she decided to come learn more about harp guitar. Joseph Sobol, a guy from around these parts, showed up for one afternoon and a concert. Turns out that, years ago, he had done the repairs on the old Dyer that now belongs to Steve Farmer. I don’t think they’d ever crossed paths before. I’m looking forward to seeing hearing all these new folks again, hopefully a year from now.
Before I forget to mention it, I have a new box of stickers for this year’s Gathering. It very quickly became apparent that the stickers we had weren’t, well, sticking. That being the most basic function of a sticker, I inquired with the promotions company I got them from (and whom we’ve long dealt with) to see what was going on. It turned out that they had switched this year to a different manufacturer in order to save money. When I alerted them to the problem, they promptly ordered a new batch from the previous manufacturer – who has made lots of stickers for us over the years. I’ll bring the box with me next year but if you need/want them sooner, let me know and we’ll figure something out.
Many of you were part of the ensemble arrangement of the piece I wrote for our late friend Hirokatsu Takai that we learned a few years ago in NC – Please Listen. It was fun to have a new ensemble piece to play this year. Thanks to Andy Wahlberg for taking on that task and coming up with the lovely Silver Lake Suite. I already have an idea for arranging something for us to learn and play together next year.
We had some great workshops and performances this year. How great to find out that Travis Bowman and Matt Thomas aren’t just amazing harp guitarists; they’re also excellent teachers. And how about Martin Pleass!
Thanks to Steve Silva for anticipating and offering to deal with various potential issues before and throughout this year’s Gathering. Thanks also to Sally Dowling for coming up to me so often to ask if there was anything she could do to help. Thanks to newcomer Travis Stramer for the same. Matt & Travis, same thing. If those guys saw something that needed doing, they just did it. They were hugely helpful. Thanks to Chuck Thompson for his relentless good cheer (and for bringing Ellen again).
Thanks to everyone who came this year, whether it was for your first — or your 20th time!
Thanks to Nancy B for doing all she does to help make the Gatherings work (trust me, it’s a lot). It’s not been easy this year.
Near the end of The Andy Wahlberg Show!, the Presenter (John Riley) says:
“So let’s all raise a glass to a world-record holder
No other exponent comes anywhere near
From the moment he fell for that Dyer in the window
It seems Andy’s fate was abundantly clear –
To wander the world spreading harp guitar magic
A maestro who meets with few musical peers
And if this weekend’s showing is anything to go by
He’ll be twanging that thing for the next fifty years! *
Who nows how the next fifty years will shake out, but I do know that we’ll be having another Gathering next year. The location and dates for HGG21 will be announced before Christmas. I hope to see friends old and new there, as well as to raise a glass with you all to those in that third category, our friends who’ve passed on.
So stay well, play your harp guitars and I hope to see you next year!
P.S. Chuck Thompson is taking on the task of getting links to photos of these Gatherings up here on the Gathering’s website.
P.P.S. Dave Powell is taking on the task of setting us up a YouTube channel that will, appropriately, be called The Harp Guitar Gathering®. He’ll soon be putting up videos of Please Listen and the Silver Lake Suite, as well as The Andy Wahlberg Show! – for starters!
* Again, that was written by our newer Stephen Bennett – the one with the British accent!
Post HGG20 Survey Results
I received 43 responses to the survey. Here they are: