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'The Green Room': The art of the illusion

Posted: May 23, 2012 - 11:01pm
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Courtney Nelson (second from left) stands with the California Honeydrops during Juneau Jazz and Classics.  Courtesy of Courtney Nelson
Courtesy of Courtney Nelson
Courtney Nelson (second from left) stands with the California Honeydrops during Juneau Jazz and Classics.

Drinks, towels, bowls of hummus, Caribbean hot sauce, coconut water and vegan meals. These were just some of the requirements for performers at the Juneau Jazz & Classics Festival, which ran May 4 to 19. Founded by Linda Rosenthal in 1987, the festival united the community through great music for the 26th time.

This year’s lineup included The Taj Mahal Trio, The Hot Club of Cowtown, Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers, Barney McClure, Jeffrey Solow, Yoni Levyatav, Dee Daniels, The Avalon String Quartet, Paul and Linda Rosenthal, The President’s Own Marine Corp Band, and the California Honeydrops.

I was the hospitality manager for the artists this year, a fun yet challenging job. My first artist was Grammy winner and legendary musician Taj Mahal. No pressure! He brought his trio to Juneau and packed Centennial Hall with more than 1,000 fans.

When musicians agree to perform, there are musical strings and contractual ones. Seasoned bands will have a “rider” attached to their contract outlining what they require for transportation, lodging, sound, concessions and what space and refreshments they’d like at the venue.

These refreshments can be found in the “the green room.” The green room is a place for the artists to prepare for and recover from their performances. They are temporary artist spaces.

A green room is not usually green and the root origins are unclear but there are many theories.

Some say going on stage makes people feel ill and look green. Others think it refers to the limelight, as opposed to stage lighting. Still others think secondary performers waiting to go onstage critique the main actors’ performances because they are “green” with envy. Shakespearean actors would prepare in a room filled with plants and shrubs believing the moisture in the plants helped their voices.

As I began to prepare the green room for Taj Mahal, with rider in hand, I searched Juneau high and low for Caribbean hot sauce. With no luck I finally called Taj’s manager, Kong, who said they could live without the hot sauce for one show. Phew.

Once their rider requests were laid out in an appealing way in the green room at Centennial Hall, no one could resist the food. Chocolate-covered almonds in tiny crystal bowls, fresh fruit, salmon spreads -- and no rider is complete without a bowl of fresh hummus. Problem was, the band wasn’t there yet. I made a large, ineffective sign reading “food for Taj Mahal Trio only.”

My next challenge was to keep Taj Mahal groupies out of the green room. They were coming out of the woodwork. Everyone wanted to meet Taj Mahal and since he’s been performing for more than 50 years, everyone has a story. Even my mother was texting me, “tell Taj I know Judy Campbell from La Jolla, he’ll know.”

By the time they went on stage, I was so exhausted that Grace Elliott, stage manager and unofficial Feng Shui consultant, and Christy Ciambor, volunteer coordinator, and I were doing yogic breathing exercises laid out on the green room floor.

Right after the encores, a fan burst through the restricted back doors into the hallway saying her friend wanted to invite Taj for dinner. I said no, she said I was mean. I had to gently nudge her out the door and shove it shut as I saw Taj making his way down the hallway. “Sorry, it’s in the rider!” I shouted through the crack in the doors.

Rider confidentiality prevents me from saying more about this interesting and memorable evening.

The Illusion

My next challenge came with a rider for The Hot Club of Cowtown that required a separate dressing room for Elana, the lead singer. I had the spacious ANB hall kitchen to work with but the only private rooms in the kitchen were a storage and boiler room. On a whim I’d grabbed some shiny silver glitter fabric from my house and some extra tablecloths.

A practical man named Bob was there to help me set up the green room so I asked him to hang up the glitter fabric and the tablecloth from the ceiling to make a dressing room. After holding up the fabric he pointed out that you could see into the “dressing room” on all sides of the fabric and from the bottom. I told him I just needed to create an “illusion” of a separate dressing room. I continued with my food spread while he scratched his head.

A while later Bob tapped me and said deadpan, “Your illusion is ready.” He’d found some bright blue painter’s tape to hang the fabric up with – not very secure, or attractive, but the illusion was holding. I was thrilled, Bob walked away shaking his head.

Soon Elana walked in and was genuinely touched with my attempt at making her a private dressing room. As she applied her make up inside her illusion, she chatted with me about life on the road. I watched in horror as the painters’ tape started to peel away from the ceiling, the illusion began to fall, slowly. The tablecloth soon landed gently and evenly on the diva’s head, the glitter fabric held up. Unfazed, she continued applying mascara as I gasped and covered my mouth between apologies and laughter.

The Honeydrops

I spent a lot of time with the California Honeydrops in that same kitchen and when the Blues Cruise was rescheduled at the Baranof due to bad weather, I made their green room there. They are a fun, young band with their early roots playing in subways.

The late change meant we had to be out of the green room by ten, and circumstances had the snazzy lead singer carrying a box full of leftovers to the lobby before his performance. As we boarded the elevator and he wobbled and adjusted the to-go Thai food, he said jokingly, “Did Taj have to carry his own Thai food? I’m an artist,” he said, looking wistfully up at the ceiling. I had one word for him with a sideways glance, “Grammy.”

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