Monday, June 20, 2011

Flash Flooding

It's been said that hindsight is 20/20.  In this case, I'm not sure I knew enough to be able to say that it was possible to have anything other than that!  The main reason I'm writing this blog entry is to help prevent someone from being electrocuted.

For those of you who have been to the Bluegrass Shack, you are probably wondering how we ended up with flooding.  We are not near a creek, though we are near the Kaskaskia River.  Not only is the river WAY downhill from where we are located, there is a levee there as well.  Even if the levee broke, there is little chance of our building being affected by it.  With the storms we had over the weekend, though, things were just right all over the place for flash flooding.  The road in front of the shop sits higher than our parking lot, and our building is not raised.  We have some drainage ditches and pipes set up to take the water away from the building.  There were strong winds that caused the rain to come very hard, very fast, and at an angle to the front of the shop.  This allowed the water to come off the road in sheets and fill up the drainage ditches.  That alone may not have caused the flooding, but with the rain coming in at an angle, it was forced in under the doors at the front of the shop. 

At first, the only thing I could think of was to get rid of the water, which was about an inch deep in both my teaching room and the workshop.  That's an area of about 40' x 12', separated into two rooms.  By the grace of God, Dennis just happened to come by so I wasn't cleaning up by myself.  He took the shop and I took my teaching room.  Part way into cleanup, I noticed my computer screen blinking.  As a matter of habit, I never leave power strips, surge protectors, or plug-ins of any kind on the floor.  (For me, it is more a matter of cleaning and keeping them out of the way of the vacuum cleaner.)  There had been a lot of lightening, so I initially thought the surge protector must have taken a hit.  Then the power went off to the outlets in my teaching room.  I went to the electric box to see if any of the circuits had tripped.  Everything was locked into the "on" position, so I just started going through the box turning every circuit off and then on.  The power to the outlets was restored, so Dennis and I got some fans going.  Then we both started smelling electricity.

Neither Dennis nor I know much about electricity.  There is an outlet in the front of my teaching room that is low to the ground. It didn't look like water had been in the outlet, though there was evidence of water creeping up the wall there.  I made a couple of phone calls and was informed I should turn off the circuit to the outlets.

We have several friends who are electricians, so I first contacted Rich.  He is only a block from the store.  Not long after that, Dan just happened to drop by.  He is also an electrician.  The two of them were working together to try to figure out what was going on.  The outlet in front was actually bone dry.  There was even dust inside the box.  The outlets all showed full power, though every time I tried to plug in my monitor, it would flash and a surge was visible every few seconds at regular intervals.  When I plugged the monitor into the entension cord that was run from an outlet in the main showroom, it worked fine.

Without going into more details, it was eventually determined that there is a junction box in the concrete floor in my teaching room that is apparently waterlogged.  It's not visible because it is below the floor.  Only the three outlets in my room are affected by this junction box.  When the floor was covered with water, I was unknowingly standing and working in a live electrical field.  The type of problem that was occurring probably would not have killed me, but it was, excuse the pun, quite a shock to find out about this!

The best way for someone to avoid getting shocked from flood waters of any kind, is to turn off the circuits to the room(s) that are affected by water until you have removed all the water.  Wear rubber soled shoes.  As far as knowing anything else, I can't really answer that.  If things don't work right, if you smell electricity, if the circuit or outlets or lights don't work correctly, turn off the circuits and call an electrician.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Making a Band Work: Personnel

I think band personnel suitability is probably something that has been overlooked (or maybe under-looked) by many when considering start up and/or replacement band members.  It is also one of the most important things to consider, so don't let this seemingly little issue sneak up on you!

What do I mean by this?  Well, basically a band is like a marriage, only you are married to more than one person!  Not exactly, but close enough.  When considering adding members to a band, there are so many things to consider in addition to raw talent.  I'd like to discuss this, and would love to hear your comments on this as well!  And remember, just as there are no perfect people in this world, you will not find the perfect band member either!  Decide what is most important and HAVE FUN!

TALENT & MUSICAL COMPATIBILITY - I am listing this first because it is very important.  This is probably the sole factor that most people consider, and it is certainly an important one. 

Is the person you are interested in talented enough to fit in with the rest of the members?  Too talented?  You want to find someone that will mesh musically with the other members.  If they are not a good musical fit, there will either be problems with the other band members because the newbie can't keep up musically, or the newbie will become frustrated with the progress of the rest of the band. 

Is the style of music compatible?  As with most types of music, there are major differences even within the same style.  What style does your band want to play?  Do you want something straight-forward and simple, or are you wanting something more complex and less traditional?  Are original songs important to you?

Do you need a singer?  And does that singer need to be able to sing lead AND harmony, or just one of those?  Will the new singer's voice blend well with the other singers?

Are you planning to TEACH the newbie, or does s/he need to pretty much know everything or be able to learn everything on his/her own?

MATURITY LEVEL - Is the person you are considering on the same level maturity-wise?  Will they become offended easily?  Will they know when to have fun and when to be serious?  Will they be an embarrassment to the rest of the band, or will the rest of the band embarrass them?  These issues are important to consider, because you will be spending a lot of time with this person.

VISION - This is oh so important!  What is the vision of the band?  Is it important that everyone share the same vision?  Probably so!  If one person is looking a different direction, they won't truly be involved whole-heartedly in the band.  Are you wanting local gigs?  Gigs that you can come home to every night?  Do you want to travel?  Spend entire weekends or even more at festivals?  Do you want to become famous?  Make it in Nashville?  If the band is not together on this issue, you will be butting heads constantly!  All of your practice, advertising, bookings and dreams are going to be rolled up in the band's vision. 

Please be aware that vision can change, too!  Someone who might have started out on the same page can decide later that this isn't what they thought it was.  Life can change and cause the vision to change as well.  It's NO BIG DEAL!  Don't be mad at the person, wish them well!  It's better for everyone!

DISTANCE & PRACTICES - Is the new person close enough to be able to attend practices without a hardship?  How often are you planning on having practices?  How long do you expect the practices to last?  Where are the majority of the gigs going to be?  Will one person have to travel a lot farther than everyone else?  Will they be compensated for gas?  It doesn't really matter what the answers are to these questions as long as you have covered them to everyone's satisfaction.

TIMELINESS - Everyone has a different level of comfort as far as how important it is to be on time.  As a person who tries to be on time, this is something that is very important to me, especially when it comes to being to gigs on time.  However, as a person who is married to someone who is generally not on time, I understand how this can affect others.  I have become more prepared to make us on time for important things, and let the less important things slide a little.

PAY & EQUIPMENT - Will any of the band's monies be put away to purchase equipment or other band needs?  Is everyone in agreement with this?  Does the equipment (PA, mics, cables, etc.) belong to one person and will that person be the one doing all the hauling, setup, replacement, etc.?  Will they be compensated?  How many freebies will the band do?  Favors?  These are important for a band.  What is the standard pay for a gig?  Does that change with distance?  Once again, the answers aren't as important as the agreement!

VENUES - Will you play in bars?  Smoky places?  In the heat?  Cold?  Do you have religious or health reasons for not playing in certain places?

THE LOOK - Are you going to have outfits for the band, and if so, will the band members be responsible for purchasing these?  If not outfits, are you going to have restrictions on what can be worn for certain gigs?  For instance, if it's hot, are shorts allowed?  Tank tops?  Jeans with holes?  T-shirts with advertising?  Tennis shoes?

IMPORTANT OTHERS - Is the new person single or married?  Young?  You do need to consider the important "others" in this person's life because they WILL impact the band.  Is the new person married to someone who hates music and will do anything to stop it?  Is the new person underage needing transportation to everything?  Will parents be involved?

If you want harmony and fun in your band, these are all important issues.  As with a marriage, you want to add someone who will enhance what you already have.  Don't count on making major changes to the person you add!  If a person doesn't fit in with your group, that's okay!  It doesn't mean they aren't a good musician or good person!  It just means they aren't right for your group.  And it's a good thing that your group isn't the only one available!  There's something out there for everyone -- so go find it!