The following "long and boring" narrative was written from my point of view. I've attempted to be as objective as I can (but don't hold your breath!).|
It all started in the fall of 1997 when Jimmy Pena invited the members of the "rush-tabs" mailing list to join him at a "TabCon" he was arranging in New York City (in Manhattan) in 1998. Jimmy was one of the "founders" of the "rush-tabs" mailing list. "The List" was an email list where musicians could submit transcriptions to Rush's music (called "tablature") via email. The list was (and still is) an open forum where the musicians could comment, debate, and sometimes even argue over how the songs of Rush are played. One of the side benefits of the list were the TabCons arranged by the list members. The first TabCon was held on November 2nd 1997 in Milwaukee, WI. This was then followed by others in California on November 15th and 16th 1997, in New York City on June 27th and 28th 1998 and then in Illinois on August 21st through the 23rd 1998.
It was after the 1998 Tabcon in New York City, while on the way home, that Chris Luongo and I decided to host a Tabcon in the Philadelphia area. Thus, the birth of the Greater Philadelphia Area Tabcon or GPAT.
The first thing we did was to test the waters to see who was interested. So I sent out an email some time in the fall of 1998. I was initially "under-whelmed" by the lack of responses but a subsequent email I sent out stating such was well received. I was surprised and disappointed to find, however, that Jimmy Pena and Adrienne Ginsburg weren't interested. I even called Jimmy up and tried to get them interested but, for whatever reason, they just weren't interested at the time. C'est La Vie...The first person to actually respond was Tony Kennedy. Like...15 minutes after I sent out the initial email! Then the same old "culprits" expressed an interest over the next few days...Jim Cironella, Don Dianetti, Bill Ferrarini, Matt Lee, Sean Jones and Rich Soto. All of these individuals had attended the New York Tabcon the previous year. Tony Kennedy was going to attend the New York Tabcon but bailed at the last minute for personal reasons. Bill indicated that his brother Fred, who played guitar, was also interested.
The second "order of business" was to find an adequate location. A quick search on Switchboard.com under "recording studio" yielded around 70 different studios. In order to pare the list down a bit, Chris and I decided to hold it outside of the city of Philadelphia. There were a number of reasons for this decision:
Do I see a pattern here?
- The cost of parking would be less
- The cost of food would be less
- The cost of lodging would be less
- The cost of studio would be less
- The cost, the cost, the cost!
So we narrowed the list down to about 4 or 5 candidates. We made a few more phone calls and narrowed it down to about 3 candidates (the others wanted too much money). Chris and I then spent a Saturday (or was it Sunday?...I can't remember) driving around to check out the last few places. The only place that we actually got the opportunity to enter was Trito Music Center in Norristown Pennsylvania. The other places we checked out didn't meet the requirements we were looking for (e.g., size, adequate parking, lodging close by, etc.).
We then met Mike Trito who took us into his studio. Trito Music Center is primarily a rehearsal studio. At one time it was a recording studio but the former "primary" owner had passed away and when Mike Trito purchased the facility, the other co-owners pretty much "looted" all the good recording equipment from it. So the ability to record was somewhat limited, however, the facility had some great features that Chris and I really liked such as:
There were some negatives such as the limited PA capability and a limited number of guitar or bass amplifiers but the positives far outweighed the negatives. Needless to say, we found our venue! We worked it out with Mike Trito to have the large room starting Friday Afternoon and ending Sunday night. The cost was reasonable (email me if you want to know, out of respect for Mike Trito I'm not going to post it here). It worked out to about 30$ per person which we felt wasn't too bad at all.
- A Large Room: The studio had a very large room which could accommodate all the equipment and people we expected to have.
- PA System: The studio had some PA equipment (albeit limited) that we could use. This equipment, combined with what we would bring would do the job.
- Parking: Free that is...off-street parking was available.
- Security: There were several doors and locks between the studio entrance and where our equipment would be as well as a security system. We would be able to leave our equipment in the studio with no fear of it getting "ripped off". It was also a nice plus not have to "break down" every night.
- Off The Beaten Path: The studio was located in a light industrial complex between train tracks and the Schuylkill river. It wasn't a "pretty" place but it also wasn't a place where you had to worry about some street urchin passing by and messing with your car.
- A Reasonable Guy: Mike Trito seemed like a reasonable guy and he was willing to work with us on the price and start/stop times.
- Close to Cheap Lodging: The studio was only 10 minutes from a brand new Motel-6 (...we'll leave the light on for ya') located in King of Prussia Pennsylvania. There were also numerous restaurants and stores in the area (the King of Prussia Mall/Plaza is one of the largest shopping mall complexes on the east coast).
So we had the location and we were getting a good crowd, but I still thought we should see if we can get more players, especially another drummer. So I posted a message on the now defunct National Midnight Star website message board. I got a response from Dr. Asif Khan who had a lot of enthusiasm about the event. Great!, we needed that 3rd drummer to relieve Chris and Bill. I asked a friend of mine that I used to work with to attend (Jim Garlitz, a drummer) but, unfortunately, he was unable to attend due to a schedule conflict. I also asked a bass player that I work with and occasionally jam with to attend (J. Campbell) and, initially, he was going to attend but, once again, due to a schedule conflict, he had to drop out. I also invided a few others but, once again, they couldn't make it.
Then there was Karl Moyer (a.k.a., "Kork"). Karl and I (sorry Karl, I just can't bring myself to call you "Kork") work for the same company (PECO Energy/Exelon). Karl worked on the floor below me at the time. Its kind of a funny story. I didn't know Karl from Adam and he didn't know me either but...how can I put this...Karl "looked" like a musician to me! He has long hair so I thought odds are...he's a musician! So I approached him one day when he was up on my floor making copies of something and asked him if he was a musician. Karl then commenced to tell me that, yes, indeed he was a musician and, by the way, the band he used to be in years before used to play a 1 hour set of Rush! Quite a coincidence I must say! Like most of us, Karl had put his music aside to raise his family but this event gave him the opportunity to get back into the swing of things once again.
Things were coming together. I started receiving emails from all the participants identifying what songs they wanted or what equipment they could bring, etc. Chris took on the task of organizing the setlist and arranging the drum equipment end of the business. He came up with a rotating arrangement based on the drummers. Chris would start, then Bill, then Asif. The way it worked out, each drummer got two long sets per day. The other players would then rotate in and out as necessary. This was similar to what was done in New York. I took on the task of putting together the equipment lists and became kind of the "general" organizer. I also acted as the "coach". I would send out "keep working/keep practicing" emails on a regular basis. Eventually, Chris and I had pretty much covered everything. We would all meet on the Friday afternoon before the event, set up, do a sound check and then reconvene on Saturday morning to get the ball rolling.
There were some initial "set backs", about a month before the event was to occur. As mentioned above, J. had to bail, however, Don and Sean "assumed control" of J.'s songs. No problem there. Then Sean indicated he was having transportation troubles. For a while we thought we may have to go ahead without him. Thankfully, he was able to work out his transportation woes. Then...a few days before the event, things started going haywire!
A few days before...
I get a phone call from Bill Ferrarini, "Uh...My brother (Fred) can't make it for such and such a reason." I respond, "Ok, I'll take 'Discovery' and 'Presentation' and I'll post the rest of his songs to the participants to see if they want to pick them up." Tony Kennedy took all of "Overture" and "Passage To Bangkok", Rich Soto took "Subdivisions" and I ended up taking "In the End". I hadn't played "In the End" in about a million years and never really learned the solo. Fortunately, it's not a real difficult one and I was able to figure it out to the "passable" level that night. The other issue was...what about the $30 that Fred Ferrarini was going to pay for the studio? Not a problem! Chris and I had put some "contingency" into the dollar amount that we asked everyone to contribute (...a very good idea! Chris should get credit for that one!). To be exact, we assumed possibly 2 people would drop out.
The day before (Friday, June 25)
It's the Friday before. My plan was to do a "once through" on all my songs and then pack up my gear and hit the road. I'm putting cereal in front of my 3 kids sitting at the table around 8:30-9:00 AM and the phone rings...its Sean Jones (Bass-Vocal-Keyboard-Sampling "God" from the "Land-O-Cheese"...a.k.a., Wisconsin). "Uh...Matt's not going to make it...yadda yadda yadda, he's in some contest...yadda yadda yadda...$70K worth of gear if he wins...yadda yadda yadda." So there goes the rest of the "contingency" and now I have to re-learn all of "The Fountain of Lamneth". "Bacchus Plateau" was one that Chris and I used to jam around with so that one wasn't too bad (I think the solo is a D major scale...you "theory" guys could verify that). "No One At The Bridge" is easy and I had played "Panacea" many times, however, I had never really learned the solo for "The Fountain". Well...I know it now! Too bad we never got to play it!
By the way... Matt never did win any gear... uhum...
The plan was for some of us to meet at the studio at around 3:00 PM that day and then hook up with some more of the "out of state" participants at the hotel later. I proceeded to the studio and stopped by the motel to meet Bill Ferrarini who had phoned me just before I left my house. We both proceeded to the studio and started bringing my gear in. Then Chris rolled in. Then I think Karl Moyer was next. Karl, in an act of pure brilliance, brought a hand truck to lug all the gear into the studio. And let me tell you, we had A LOT of gear! Then I think Tony Kennedy showed up with his gear. We started to set up, putzed around on a couple songs, and then Chris and I went back to the hotel to "hook up" with some of the others. We ran into Asif and his girl friend on the way out of the parking lot. When we got to the motel, we ran into Jim Cirronella. After Jim checked in, we headed back to the studio. That's when the "mayhem" began. Chris had set up his drum kit before we left and met Jim. While Chris and I were at the motel, Asif started to set up his kit. Instruments, couches, tables, chairs, amps, keyboards...a whole litany of equipment was starting to pile up all over the place!
We had two drum kits set up. Chris went back to the motel with Bill to see if Don and Sean were there yet. While Chris and Bill were out, Don, Sean and Don's friend Lou showed up. Everyone started discussing how the room should be laid out (everyone had an opinion...big surprise eh?!). It was getting a little crazy! I listened to everyone and then opened up my big mouth (I was one of the arrangers after all!). "We - I - We" decided to set up everything on one side of the room with the two drum kits side by side. Fortunately, the room was big enough to accommodate both kits.
So we started to tear the room apart. There was stuff all over the place! It was nuts! The studio owner could not believe the amount of equipment we had. 2 Roland Jazz Chorus 120's (for my evil plan to be discussed later!), 4 PA speakers, Jim's humongous Carvin 16 channel mixing console, drums, amps, effects stomp boxes...Then Rich and his cousin show up with his gear...we order pizza...lift that bail, tote that barge...it was absolute mayhem!
Jim and Sean were "crawling" all over the keyboards like ants trying to "do magic" with all the samples that Sean had gotten into his new sampler (an amazing piece of technology...we pulled off some things that I never thought possible!)..."adjust the LCO with the DCA, modulate this, adjust that, keep your DCO off me!..." Don's friend Lou Arena helped out with the mixing console. Lou's assistance was immeasurable!
We did a brief sound check. We did Red Barchetta and I think we did a version of Anthem. We finally got out of the studio around 11:30 PM. So much for a quick set up on Friday!
Day 1 (Saturday, June 26)
The plan was to start at 10:00 AM...not too early, not too late. We wanted to hit the ground running but we still had some bugs to work out. Jim and Sean were up 'til around 3:00 AM that morning trying to get all the sampling/synth stuff ironed out. I also only got about 3 or 4 hours of sleep...a combination of nerves and coughing all night from a cold that I was still fighting off. I imagine all the participants were excited and had trouble sleeping that night.
Finally, around noon, we got the ball rolling. We opened with "Anthem" and then we (Chris, Sean and I) implemented one of my many "evil plans". I had always wanted to play "The Necromancer" and I thought it would be neat to just start playing it, kind of as a surprise to everyone. Since Sean was on the bass for "Anthem", I let him in on the little secret to prepare for it. When we ended Anthem we went right into "Under the Shadow" (the middle section of "The Necromancer"). It's only about 3 or 4 minutes of music...mostly guitar solo!...He he! I wanted to play with a new toy I had received the previous Christmas, a Rolls panning pedal. I wanted to pan the guitar back and forth from left to right during the first solo much like on the album. Since we had my Roland JC-120 on the left and Jim's on the right...how could I not go in stereo! So we did it. I thought it sounded pretty cool. What I didn't realize was that my evil plan would be the catalyst for a confrontation.
We'd been telling everyone that "we're sticking to the setlist". Then we (I) threw in "Under the Shadow" out of the blue (from everyone else's perspective). Asif had requested earlier that morning if he could do some of his songs first for whatever reason and Chris told him that we were "sticking to the setlist". Then we went and did "Under the Shadow". Well, Asif was somewhat perturbed to say the least. Soon after "Under the Shadow" he went up to Chris, who was still sitting behind the drums, and said something like..."I thought you said you were sticking to the setlist?!" Well...a verbal frey between Chris and Asif commenced. I walked up at about this time and explained to Asif that I had planned the song all along and that it was my idea. It was getting a little dodgy. After a while, however, everyone calmed down and we went forward.
That day we ended up playing (or more accurately..."attempted to play") "Show Don't Tell", "Stick it Out", "LaVilla Strangiato", "The Big Money", "The Pass", "Double Agent", "Bravado", "Vital Signs", "Broon's Bane/The Trees", "The Enemy Within", "The Weapon", "Witch Hunt", "Subdivisions", "Limelight", "Red Barchetta", "Cygnus X-1" followed by all of "Hemispheres" ("Prelude" to "The Sphere"), "Countdown", "Analog Kid", "Driven", "The Body Electric", "Xanadu", "Afterimage", "Grand Designs", "Digital Man", "Freewill", "Marathon", "Entre Nous", "The Spirit of Radio", "Tom Sawyer" and "In the End". Wow!, now that I list all the songs on here, we really did cover a lot. Of course, some of them we didn't cover very well! Some of my other evil plans were implemented, e.g., my panning delay on the last note of the solo on "Cygnus X-1". I may of hosed the rest of the solo up but at least that last note sounded cool bouncing back and forth!
That evening, the choice each participant had was to either stick around and just jam or go out and grab something to eat and have a few drinks. I opted to jam since I get so few opportunities to do it. So Don, Sean, Asif and myself stuck around. We first did a version of "Natural Science" which ended up being a little better than the version I would do the next day (at least in my opinion). After that song, Don left with some of the others to go out to dinner (Hooters of course!). Sean, Asif and I "stuck it out" for 3/4 of "2112" (from "Presentation" to "Grand Finale"). It was a lot of fun and it gave me the opportunity to work out some of the bugs in my effects levels (not all of them unfortunately).
Day 2 (Sunday June, 27)
At Asif's request we did all his songs first so he could meet another obligation he had later that day. So we went though Asif's songs..."Limelight", "Circumstances", "YYZ", "Red Barchetta", a 2nd version of "Subdivisions" (on which I was roped into playing guitar since Rich hadn't shown up yet), "Superconductor", "Leave That Thing Alone", "Half the World", "Face Up" and "Dog Years". I think our playing was a little better on that day, probably because everyone was getting more comfortable playing with one another. I recall "YYZ" sounding particularly good (must have been my keyboard playing! Ha!).
We then went on to play Bill's and Chris's songs..."Alien Shore", "New World Man", "Natural Science", "War Paint", "2112" (all of it, from "Overture" to "Grand Finale"), "Closer to The Heart", a 2nd version of "The Spirit of Radio", "Test For Echo", "Fly By Night", "In The Mood", "Dreamline", "Lakeside Park", "Something for Nothing", "Distant Early Warning", "A Farewell to Kings", "A Passage to Bangkok", and a 2nd version of "The Trees". I thought 2112 turned out really well. Tony did a nice job on "Overture" and "Temples of Syrinx". I (being the glutton that I am) took the rest of it. I had some minor effects difficulties on "2112" however, namely my "panning" wha-wha setting. Someone had foiled my evil panning plans by turning down the amp on the right side of the drums (must have been one of those pesky bass players!). Every time the guitar panned to that side it "disappeared". I also played "Discovery" a little too fast. Other than those few glitches, I thought "2112" was one of the high points (at least from my point of view).
We finally ended the day with "Time and Motion", "Mission", "Where's My Thing" and "Animate". Sometime during "Where's My thing" one of the legs on the tripod for the video camera came loose (I gotta fix that thing one of these days!) which made for a rather interesting video shoot for that particular song. By that point in time we were so loose from playing all day that we played "Where's My Thing" at about a hundred miles an hour! We'll get the tempos right one of these days! By now it was around 4-"something" in the afternoon and Sean had to catch his plane back to the Land-O-Cheese (Wisconsin). So after we packed his stuff up he was "off on his way" with Rich Soto. The harrowing story of Sean's trip home is enough to double the length of this story, however, I'm not going to go into it here (I'll just mention that there was talk that Rich may be qaulified to drive in the Indy 500...).
It was all over...sniff...
Meanwhile, Asif was finishing up breaking down his kit. After breaking down all his stuff, we helped him pack up and soon he "hit the open road" as well. The playing was over but the work certainly wasn't. Now it was time to clean up the horrendous mess we had made...couches, tables and chairs strewn about the room, empty pizza boxes, drinks and shopping bags all over the place. At this point everything seems to be a blur. Everyone who was still at the studio was cleaning/moving/etc. Every once and a while someone would announce "Who's 'thing' is this?". I think everyone managed to get all their gear (and not take any of the studios!). Everyone stayed as long as they could to help - I can't remember exactly who ended up staying to the end. I think it was myself, Tony, Karl, Jim and Chris. We cleaned up the room and set up the equipment such that it was in better condition than the way we had found it.
Now it was really over!
We stood around for a little while and chatted a bit, but everyone had to get going. So everyone who was "left"...left, probably around 8:30PM or so. At some time during the event (I think Saturday afternoon) someone asked me, "Would you do this again?" My immediate response was "no!", however, after looking back at how much fun it was, I've changed my mind. Even though we had some rough spots, we also had a heck of a lot of fun playing together and/or hanging out together. So hopefully, this will become an annual event in the Delaware Valley (PA-NJ). Next time, however, it will be better...a lot better!