Midwest Stick Seminar
Nov 6-9, 2003 - Michigan

The Michigan Stick Seminar has been an ongoing event now for about five years and by all accounts is one of the best events the Stick community has each year so I was very excited to be asked to teach at it this year. Glenn Poorman and Steve Oz did a wonderful job of pulling this year's event together, even through some unusual logistical hurdles. (Glenn incidentily also has a great writeup on the event at www.detroitstick.com) The event this year drew about a dozen students with myself, Greg Howard ("Mr Seminar") and Jim Lampi from the UK. I jokingly refer to Greg as "Mr Seminar" in my head because nobody does more of these events than he does. There's a good reason for it though.. he's simply an excellent teacher. It's been several years since I've seen and gotten to hear Jim Lampi, so it was great to have him around as well.

Th Nov 6, 2003 - travel day
I had a slightly confusing start to the day when I realised that my ticket bought through one airline was actually for another airline. Glad I called ahead. Of course my mind was also made a bit foggier by only sleeping about three hours since I stayed up late packing and re-packing to try to get my gear balanced out evenly between two cases. Flying with gear is brutal since all the airlines lowered the baggage weight from 70lbs to 50lbs. I wound up loading my carry-ons with the heaviest stuff I could cram into them. Even my Stick bag held my toiletries bag, camera and a few other nick nacks.

Glenn met me at the airport, and then we were off to find Jim Lampi who's flight from England arrived about the same time as mine. We spent maybe 30 mins or so wandering around the airport looking for where he might be and then waiting outside the customs/international arrival door. After some time Glenn stepped outside to call his wife only to see Jim standing on the curb, Stick in hand waiting for us. Oops! Off we went.

clear and cool

Things were a bit cool in Michigan, at least from a San Diegan's perspective. I was once again reminded that I really don't have the right clothes for the north east in winter. Someday... Still, it was beautiful there, with a bit of fall color still hanging on and fresh clean air (a welcome change from the smoke filled skies I'd experienced during San Diego's fires a week before). Glenn and I dropped Jim at one of his relatives' homes and then he and I and his wife Rasa went out to dinner. Afterwards we sat around waiting for Greg who was driving up from VA. It seems Greg never manages to leave when he thinks he will. In this case he was hours later getting started than he'd originally told Glenn. He's a busy man... soo.. Glenn and I watched TV (Mel Brook's The Producers!) till Greg finally showed up at about 12:30. I think we got to bed around 2 or so.. and awoke about 8:30, giving me a total of about 9 hours sleep in 2 days. Could be worse, but....

Fri Nov 7 - Ann Arbor MI
The seminar officially began at 11 am today. The "teacher carpool" arrived at the school about 10:30, and we quickly moved some furniture around and made some plans for the day. Greg has really made a study of how one's hands should work on the Stick so we started things off with Greg helping everyone with their instrument setup and then working on hand usage. Glenn, Jim and I made a coffee/bagel run and then were back to participate. Today was very much a "Greg day" as far as instruction went with Jim and I wandering the room a bit helping people as Greg demonstrated.

Glenn, Greg and Jim unpack
Greg sets up to teach

The group arrives
The main room

At about 5pm, we broke to make our way into Ann Arbor for the evening's concert. It was a joy for me to be in Ann Arbor again, having been there with the California Guitar Trio back in May. It's a beautiful little town, and I actually recognized some things. I've been traveling so much lately, and more often that not to places that are new to me that it was nice to be somewhere familiar

The show tonight featured myself, Greg, Jim and Glenn. I've heard Greg several times and Jim once or twice at NAMM shows, but as the show drew near I found myself more and more curious to hear Glenn. Glenn is probably one of the most active online members of the Stick community. It seems he's always involved with every discussion that comes up in the online forums. I really didn't know what to expect from him as a musician though. Turns out, he's fantastic! His performances were based around his use of looping and were just very very musical. After a day's worth of hearing gobs and gobs of Stick notes, it was great to just sit back and hear some nice music coming from Glenn. Jim was a treat for me as well, and for some similar reasons. He's got an amazing way of using space and dynamics in his playing. Sometimes he'll just hang on a note or chord for awhile, letting it ring till it "hurts" and you find yourself sharpening your attention again to see what's going to happen next. And Greg.. welll.. "Mr Seminar" really is "Mr Technique".... always impressive.

MC Glenn at the Firefly Club
(photo by Greg Howard)
My new rig
(photo by Greg Howard)

Glenn dials-in mid song

Sat Nov 8 - Ann Arbor and Detroit, MI
This morning we broke the "big group" of Stickists into two smaller groups and Greg and Jim each led group efforts while I became a "body snatcher" and took volunteers for private lessons. It's always amazing how varied Stick players really are. There really is no one way people approach the instrument nor one style of music people do. In just one afternoon I had people come in with questions about rhythmic patterns and grooves, jazz soloing and modes, and classical arranging. Good thing I've been a bit of a musical psychophrenic myself over the years!

At night we broke and headed for downtown Detroit. Fun! We arrived early enough at Jacoby's (the venue) that after lugging the gear up a flight of stairs, Jim and I and several students walked to the nearby "Greek Town" area for dinner. Too many choices! We finally settled on a fairly inconspicuous cafe type place and ordered several variations on Gyros.

Tonight's show again featured Jim, Greg, Glenn and myself but this time interspersed with students.. anyone who wanted to perform. Glenn's wife Rasa wanted to see all of them play and could be overheard egging them on. Unfortunately the venue was rather noisy with a loud radio downstairs that was really distracting from the show. Oh well.. a nice "real world" experience for everyone. Tonight was our latest night.. I think we got back to Glenn's and to be by 2:30 or so. Eek.

Jacoby's with GM tower in background
Greek Town at night

Sun Nov 9 - Ann Arbor, MI
We were late today. It was almost a given with how late we were up. Once we finally got rolling, roles were reversed as Jim and Greg gave private lessons while I took on the group. To me one of the biggest challenges in playing the Stick is rhythm. It seems everyone (myself included!) struggles with it to some degree. So after some work on "fretboard geography" I took the group through an interlocking ensemble version of my song If's Jam. It took quite awhile to get things feeling right rhythmically, but finally it started to lock in, and I think all of us felt a real sense of accomplishment for our "new band." Nothing like having about a dozen Sticks working together!

Lunch today was massive. Steve Oz went and picked up maybe a dozen large pizzas plus some mexican food. Not knowing when or if dinner would come, I kinda stuffed myself. The day ended with Greg, Glenn, the students and I having a free form jam. What a lot of notes! It had some very nice moments. Finally, we cleaned up our space and said goodbye to the school as we made our way to Oz's music store for the final show. Most of the students left before this one to get back home early enough to rest up for work and school. A few stayed though for a show which featured Glenn, Gary Jibilian, Steve Oz, Wes, and later in the evening some cameos from Jim, Greg and myself. The "staff" of the seminar was pretty burned out by this point, so the show really featured Gary, Wes and Steve. Glenn did a great set once again though and ended with a looped improv that was just gorgeous. I was actually in another room chatting when he started it and hearing it through the door had to cut short my conversation and go give a closer listen. Greg closed out the night with a free no-fx improv that led into his version of Canon in D. Probably my favorite thing he did all weekend.

We said goodbye to Jim at the store, and after yet another late night it was back to Glenn's for Greg, Glen and I. But... the official business was done! It's always a little sad to say good-bye a great group of people. This was a great event, and I'm very happy I was able to be a part of it. Thanks to Glenn and Oz for organizing, Jim and Greg for the great music and insights and of course to the students for making it all possible! See you next time!

Goodnight at Oz's
Frost - scary to a San Diegan