Jay Meehan: All-access passes
Ryan Summerlin June 17, 2014
When I accepted the gig as "Atmosphere Coordinator" and "Blue Agave Tech" with the "Barfly Wranglers" band for their "Highway 30 Music Festival" appearance up in the Twin Falls area of Idaho last weekend, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Actually, the labor-to-debauchery ratio proved to be decidedly in my favor.
Coupling the art of the "mosey" with packing a flask, while nowhere near as difficult as walking and chewing gum, was really about as demanding as it got. That, and partaking of all the perks (I recently read ‘perqs’ is out of fashion) associated with the "all-access wrist band."
Over time, going back to the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, the 1968 Northern California Folk Rock Festival at Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, and the 1969 Newport Pop Festival at Devonshire Downs, music festivals, at least for some of us California expatriates, have become pretty much an addiction of sorts.
Once we moved to Utah in 1970, Renaissance Fairs down at Westminster College in Salt Lake seemed to fill the void for a spell. Then, if memory serves, it was the bluegrass festivals associated with the Park City Arts Festival later in the ’70s up on what I believe was then called Bunny Hollow at the Park City Ski Area.
Of course, your humble scribe secured the MC gig, with its attendant backstage access, for any and all local fiddle-and-banjo related exhibitions in those days. How else could a guy satisfy his festival "jones" and meet his musical heroes in one fell swoop?
The "golden years" of single-day, multi-act concert promotion up on the mountain out at ParkWest were, in a way, mini festivals. In retrospect, it seems like most all major groups of the day would get packaged into four-act shows that would rival most anything else going on anywhere.
Backstage access to those shows usually came with securing a specific concert review gig with The Park Record newspaper. Say there were 10 or 15 shows coming up for a particular summer. Well, two or three or four of us would divide them up.
Some of the negotiations bordered on the hilarious. One concert season, I recall agreeing to do the John Denver and Julian Lennon reviews if I could also get Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, B.B. King, Ramsey Lewis, James Cotton, and Muddy Waters.
Another year I pulled off a Brer Rabbit-Briar Patch compromise by "consenting" to review Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart’s Eurythmics show plus a Beach Boys concert as payback for getting two earlier Bob Dylan’s, a couple of Jerry Jeff Walker’s, a J.J. Cale, a Stevie Goodman, and a Jimmy Buffett.
It wasn’t all that much different from an NFL Draft! One couldn’t tip his or her hand too early. If push came to shove, better to act nonchalant about an act that was at the top of one’s cultural wish list.
For Salt Lake shows during my radio years, friendships with record label reps usually resulted in a backstage pass without any concert review quid-pro-quo. Not that they didn’t get written-up anyway and submitted to The Coalition or The Newspaper to fulfill that week’s music column obligation.
It was really "high cotton" when "Waterbed" and his trusty sidekick "Kubee" were feeding all of United Concert’s southern rock acts post-show Texas-style BBQ. Sitting down with the original Lynyrd Skynyrd in a converted Salt Palace offstage dining area while Ronnie Van Zandt spun fishing yarns between reducing racks of ribs to their molecular level was just about as cool as it got.
The late Craig Badami, then vice president of marketing for the Park City Ski Area, came through for me big time during the late ’80s when he named me liaison between the resort and the retro-western-swing band Asleep at the Wheel, who were in Park City to perform at then Sen. Jake Garn’s Senator’s Cup Ski Ball up in the Rusty Nail. Work, work, work!
Among other local MC gigs that got me backstage during my early years in town were a few at the Egyptian Theater. The great John Hartford comes immediately to mind. Now there was a legendary, quirky, songwriting and performing genius. Another was the Dobro, and, as it turned out that night, whiskey, virtuoso, "Uncle Josh" Graves. Great memories.
My all-time favorite, however, has to be when I emceed a Doc and Merle Watson show at the old Terrace Ballroom and was able to hang out with them most of the day. Doc had me walking around in his new Wolverine boots while he and Merle worked out picking arrangements. ("Don’t forget to get them a half-size large, son.")
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.