(from December 15 issue of the Yukon News)
Full disclosure: I went to the Caribou Records Decade Ball on Saturday night with high hopes for fun.
But a fun time was not to be had.
The sound quality was poor. The artists were low-key. Nobody danced on the out-of-the-way dance floor. The organizers were unorganized, and the emphasis of the evening seemed less focused on entertainment and more focused on artistic back-patting.
Whoa … did I just say that … in Whitehorse!?!
Insert gasping crowd noise here.
My mom always told me that if I can’t say anything nice, to say nothing at all.
And while I’m ignoring her advice, the chronically self-supportive Whitehorse arts community seems to live by it.
Example: Kristina Mercs, concert producer at Caribou Records, received dozens of compliments but nary a criticism after Saturday’s show, she said.
“I keep hearing that people are very happy, that they had a really great time, that it was great music, that it was a great party,” said Mercs on Wednesday.
“People really dug it.”
But nobody was digging much from where I was sitting, in the back third of the Convention Centre.
From there, people couldn’t hear very well at all, save for the muddy-sounding explanations of why we had to wait 15 minutes for the next artist, or Mercs telling the crowd that we needed to be quieter.
Several were a bit miffed and said some nasty things that I will not repeat.
The apparent disconnect between what the arts community told Caribou, and what the average Joe or Jane anonymously said after the event (this is Whitehorse, after all) comes down to expectations.
The evening was billed as a “ball.”
But instead, it seemed more like a private party for the Caribou Records people and their friends.
“I think the people who were there for a good time came for another show, and didn’t get it,” said Michael Clark, artistic director of Nakai Theatre, who attended the concert.
Though more than 300 people paid $25 for a ticket, as the evening dragged on, many of them went home.
But despite some missteps, the ball had highlights.
Caribou’s newest artist, Indio Saravanja, broke the evening’s low-key mold with some upbeat, rhythmic music.
His voice and his personality are bright and entertaining, and he will likely mark the Yukon even more boldly on Canada’s musical roadmap.
Saravanja was the evening’s cornerstone performer, backed up by Caribou’s other artists Kim Beggs, Kim Barlow, Anne Louise Genest and Hungry Hill.
The indie label’s Cuban band, Valle Son, did not play, but will come to the Yukon in the summer, said Mercs.
Two distinct crowds emerged at the event, she said.
“I realize that there was a select group of people that definitely were into more of a party, a dance, a ya-ya sort of thing.”
But, she added, “If you know the artists who are on there (Caribou’s label), you know that it’s not a huge party/dance/rockout scenario.”
I’m part of the apparently forgotten group that does not know much about Caribou Records.
But was it my mistake to attend with improper expectations, without first learning more about the label?
Not everybody thinks so.
“Given that it was the holiday season, and that it timed itself perfectly to take over after people’s boring holiday parties, they had an opportunity to cash-in on a different crowd, which they didn’t do,” said Clark.
“They missed an opportunity to raise Yukon music, and Caribou Records, to a new market.”
The Decade Ball was extremely low-key — a concert that would have been more at home in the Yukon Arts Centre, where the emphasis is placed on quiet, attentive listening.
The Convention Centre is a venue where quiet, attentive listening is often difficult.
“If you’re trying to showcase the music, then you’re probably not going to put it on in the Convention Centre,” said Eric Epstein, artistic director of the Yukon Arts Centre, who also attended the ball.
“Maybe the people who came to hear the music were disappointed. All those artists could be better served in a different venue.
“People who came for a social time had a good time; I saw people I haven’t seen for a long time,” he said.
“I enjoyed it.”
“I thought it was great,” added Celia McBride, Nakai Theatre’s artist-in-residence.
“But I say that with a clause — that is the Convention Centre is a beast. If you’re standing further than halfway back, you’re not a part of the music show.”
The main culprit for the bad sound was an old-school condenser microphone that most of the artists used.
When turned up, it fed back and projected crowd noise so the levels were left lower, said Mercs,
“It’s very sensitive to room noise, and the Convention Centre was a bit of an unknown in that department,” she said.
“We didn’t realize how much sound people would be making.”
And so, those who had shown up for a ball were simply told to “shush.”
While Mercs feels the condenser mic “provides a unique experience for the artist,” it should be pointed out that it provides a bad experience for listeners in big rooms.
But bad sound is only one part of the equation.
Acts were late; sets were shortened.
The whole show got off to a late start, because users of the room took down the main stage, said Mercs.
That ate up a bunch of preparation time.
The breaks between artists were a great opportunity to get up, get a drink, then come back “and get ready to pay attention again,” she said.
But the straw that seemed to break the backs of many concertgoers was when the host yelled, “Don’t go home!” as she announced a 20-minute break.
The timing couldn’t have been worse.
Saravaja had just finished his set; the bar was set to close in 10 minutes; and the dancing band that everyone had patiently waited for, The Licorice Whips, wasn’t coming out anytime soon.
Like many, many others, I left.
“The evening wasn’t just about party and music and celebratories, it was also an opportunity for Caribou to put on a show that the community could come and appreciate the diversity of what we have going on,” said Mercs.
Too bad many showed up who would have appreciated more concern for simple entertainment.