Bluegrass Parkway members were fortunate in being able to tour with one of our true heroes, a man who has spend years mastering his craft, seeking out the source and refusing to tolerate mediocrity. The opportunity to tour with Mike Compton could, therefore be leapt upon with blind enthusiasm or approached carefully with more than a little dose of soul searching. We paid a visit to each camp.How did this all come about though? How do you find yourself in a position of creating a partnership that could turn out to be the most inspirational musical experience of your life? Sometimes these things come down to being in the right place at the right time and this was certainly the case here. Mike Compton and I have developed a relationship over the last few years through our common interest in the mandolin; he plays ’em, I build ’em. Fortunately for Australia, Mike has played mandolins built by Steve Gilchrist, based in Victoria, for close on three decades. Obviously this laid the foundation for Mike’s interest in coming out to Australia but only because of the foresight of the Director of the Playmakers Festival in Albany Western Australia, Rod Vervest. Rod wanted to expand the reach of the Playmakers Festival (a celebration of luthiers who are also able to play their musical creations) to the international level. I had offered some suggestions and as a passing quip asked if I’d teach Mike Compton how to saw off the end of a piece of 4 X 2, will that make him eligible? Rod could see the benefits of having someone of Compton’s caliber associated with the festival and his reply was “Let’s do it. He can provide the insight we need into discussions of tone production”. If there ever was someone who has spent a lifetime chasing tone, Mike is your man.
With Mike’s ticket out to Australia paid for we set about trying to organise an Australian tour. How often do audiences in Australia get the chance to hear some of Compton’s standing? Mike had been investigating the idea of developing a solo act to stand alongside the work he does in a duo, with David Long or David Grier and the band situation with The Nashville Bluegrass Band. Here was an opportunity to put his work to the test.
Organising an Australian tour is no easy process; just ask anyone who’s had to do it! Luckily for us we had Mick O’Neill there to do the majority of the work. Mick’s understanding of the requirements to make schedules fall into place is truly impressive. So what are some of the important elements you have to think about before you embark on such a task? There are many to consider but here are just a few worth thinking about: –
- Make sure you clarify what your visiting artist requires as an absolute minimum for coming out here. This could be the minimum amount of money they will need to earn. They may require a guarantee to do the trip. It’s a long way to come and although touring internationally sounds glamorous, bills still have to be paid at home. There may be other requirements too but, the key is to lay everything on the table in terms of minimal requirements are, both for the artist and you.
- How long do you want the tour to go for? There’s a fine line between staying long enough to make it worthwhile and having the tour feel as if it is dragging on forever. Most artists will have schedules you have to try to fit into so this decision is often made for you. Long does not equal Good. Having days of downtime between shows for an artist can be frustrating but you do have to provide some breaks there for R&R. Once again, some open discussion can help out here.
- It is important to try to work out what costs may be involved in the tour. Unless you’re a charity organization, things like travel, food and accommodation are going to have to be subtracted from the profits made by the artist. These things can add up. This is where friends and volunteers can really make a difference.
- CD sales can make up a substantial percentage of an artist’s income during a tour. Having the artist’s product to sell is important whether it be CDs, T Shirts, caps or any other item. They can turn a mediocre ticket sale show into a financial positive. You need to make sure the artist ships or brings merchandise.
For Bluegrass Parkway, the benefits of being able to learn so much from such an experienced musician were well worth all the effort required to create the tour. Sometimes you need to put in the hard yards to gain access to experiences that will only better your cause. Compton knows this only too well. He worked on Bill Monroe’s farm as hired help in order to gain access to someone whom he considered significant and worth putting in the effort for.
When all the dust had settled and the beans counted, Mike’s tour was a great success and a wonderful experience for both parties.
The measure of success does not only fall into the financial area however. Of course this is an important aspect but there are other welcome outcomes. We have a much closer relationship with Mike now. We all consider each other close friends and keep in contact.
Although we find it an extremely generous compliment, Mike said that he really enjoyed playing with Bluegrass Parkway and that he had a huge amount of fun. This pales in comparison to the thrill we had from playing with him though. We learned some powerful musical lessons throughout the tour.
We also now have an ongoing bragging session as to who has just bought the best 1940s vintage ties. This involves much good natured, heartfelt debate and something tells me these discussions will continue for a long time to come.
One of the original aims of this exercise was to test the water for future tours for Mike. I’m pleased to say that after the experience of the 2008 tour we are already looking to bringing him out again. After all, how often do you get the chance to play with Mike Compton for goodness sake.
Submitted by Paul Duff of Bluegrass Parkway for the Australian Bluegrass Blog