Miami-Orlando-Tampa

Bayside Marketplace, Miami.

As usual, it took over two hours to clear Miami airport, the last thing everybody needed after such an early start. In fact, our flight landed about twenty minutes early, but had to wait on the tarmac for the gate to become available (there were many unused gates clearly visible from the plane, making that particular wait all the more frustrating).

Travelling in a group invariably slows everything down, often to a bafflingly slow crawl. Arriving at an airport we leave the plane, regroup so we can move to immigration together. Under 18s need to be with one of the tour leaders when they go through passport control in case the agent wants to know why a minor is there without their parents. Even with a group booking the group is never seated together on the plane so smaller fragments of the band a seated all over the place, meaning some take ages to make it off from the back of the aircraft.

Inevitably this delay puts us near the back of all the queues later in the process. Sometimes, if we think the baggage carousel area might be dodgy one of the group leaders will try to rush through ahead of the group to keep an eye on all our gear as it begins to come through. Otherwise we all get through immigration in dribs and drabs and regroup at the baggage carousel. A couple of people are given the job of minding the rapidly growing cluster of bags and instruments while everybody else spots our gear and grabs it as it appears.

Next it is a slow crawl through customs. Hopefully no bags are searched, and luckily on this current tour so far that hasn’t happened. Finally we will get out into the arrivals hall to meet our transportation. Hopefully it is waiting or nearby. This tour we’ve never had to wait more than about twenty minutes, which was in New York. Barbados and Miami were much quicker.

If arriving at Miami airport you should expect massive queues, few staff checking passports and various security and airport officials shouting at you. You should also expect to be jostled by other travellers trying to push in in front of you in the line. The same happens in New York.

Once through the airport at Miami we needed to hire some gear for the rhythm section to use at our gig that evening. We went to a massive shopping centre, Dolphin Mall, where there was a Sam Ash music store and a big food court. The people at Sam Ash were very helpful and we got what we needed without too much delay and made it to Bayside Marketplace with plenty of time.

We have played at Bayside Marketplace many times before and it has always been a great experience in a wonderful venue with a fantastic and enthusiastic audience. True to form, this time there was a very big crowd who enthusiastically enjoyed our music. Behind the scenes, sadly, it was less pleasant.

Previously the Bayside staff and organisation have been brilliant and well organised and very welcoming. However, there has been turnover in staff. It looks from outside like new middle management and a culling of “old” people (who know their jobs, the place and are good at them) to replace them with new. There were warning signs months ago when it was suddenly difficult to contact Bayside. We did get through to them, though, and set up the gig months before we arrived.

When we arrived there was a poster up showing todays bands. We weren’t on it. There was just a gap where we were supposed to be! We went ahead and set up anyway while Karen tried to find someone who worked for Bayside. Our contact for the gig hadn’t turned up and wasn’t answering the phone. In previous years the excellent Inbar Cohen, no longer working for Bayside, was always there to meet us and help set up. After a bit of to and fro we got a security guard to unlock the PA system so we could plug in Rosie and Sophie’s mics. There were no chairs to be found. No problem, the saxes can all stand if they need to. But things soon became simply bizarre.

As we were playing some new security guards came and told Karen that we had no authority to use the PA system and would have to unplug. But, they said, there were chairs for us set aside and they were expecting us. But they had no paperwork for us and we had no authority to be there…

Of course, we’d sent all the required paperwork to the correct person months ago. We’d even bought extra liability insurance just for this performance, as required. But the correct person apparently hadn’t passed any of it on. Luckily Karen can be very persuasive and we ended up finishing the gig without any more interruptions. The band played very well and the big crowd really enjoyed it.

Sadly, despite the brilliant audience, the sloppy management of the venue combined with maybe the worst airport in the USA means that we probably won’t visit Miami again.

 

Disneyworld

We got into our Orlando hotel late on Saturday night after a three hour drive up from Miami. After a bit of a sleep in the next morning it was off to Disneyworld, the happiest place on earth. Or the equal happiest, as presumably every Disneyland is very happy.

We were met “backstage” at the Disney Performing Arts dressing rooms by two of their amazingly professional staff Tina and Jeff. What a contrast with a recent venue we visited. Regardless of what you think of Mickey Mouse and friend, Disney is a fine model of how to present professional entertainment. They are always excellent to work with.

Everyone was already in uniform so we tuned and warmed up in the dressing rooms, large wooden-floored spaces lined with mirrors, an upright piano in one corner. It looks like a dance studio. Following a quick briefing it was back on the bus for a short ride to Downtown Disney and the waterside stage. There was a big motorcycle rally and charity ride on that day, thousands of bikes assembled in one of the car parks.

We played a short set of six tunes: Fun Time, A Night in Tunisia, It’s Not Unusual (Rosie Castle on vocals), A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Coconut Champagne, and I’m a Believer (Sophie Catsoulis on vocals). The band sounded excellent and put on a good show, enjoying the stage and the quality PA system.

After the show it was back on the bus, back to the dressing rooms, quick change, farewells to the backstage crew and then off to the park. We all split into various groups for the day, in contact by mobile phone if needed. Everyone enjoyed rides and various other delights in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot until closing at about 9:30 following the nightly fireworks display. Well, almost everyone.

Karen and I had just been thrilled by the breathtaking “Carousel of Progress” where we learnt all about the impending ecstasy promised by a bright and beautiful tomorrow, when the phone rang. That could only mean one thing: someone was calling us!

Indeed, that turned out to be the case. It was one of our musicians calling from the medical centre. It turned out we needed to get him to a doctor, who then sent us quickly to hospital. It turned out fine, a bad infection treated quickly with antibiotics, but it was a long afternoon and night of waiting, scans, waiting, X-rays, questions, waiting, injections, a bit more waiting, and finally back to the hotel for a very late and rushed dinner at the world’s biggest McDonalds over the road.

 

University of South Florida, Tampa & The Golden Corral.

Next day we spent the morning back at Disneyworld, this time at the Hollywood Studios park. Two popular rides there are the Tower of Terror and the Rockin’ Roller Coaster. From there it was a 1 ½ hour drive west to Tampa on the Gulf Coast of Florida where we had a workshop with the University of South Florida and their leaders Chuck Owen and Jack Wilkins.

We played three tunes for them (Fun Time, Tunisia, and Prime Time) before Mr Owen and Mr Wilkins talked to the band about some ways of improving their performance. Interestingly many of their comments echoed those made at all three workshops in New York, and at rehearsals in Sydney before that, and doubtless in most rehearsals. Those things (in this case accuracy of cut-offs, effective placement and articulation of “quarter notes”, and intonation) must be important!

Our band sounded very good, though, and it was great to hear them responding to the advice.

Next the USF band played for us, and were fantastic. They were mostly older than our band, with more than half graduate students. It was good that we got to hear another student band, but even better that they were able to take a mentoring role. Our bands combined to work a bit on Fun Time before some time just to meet and talk. The USF students and faculty were amazingly friendly and encouraging and we thank them for having us, it was such a good experience. After a brief visit to the campus gift shop for souvenirs we drove back to Orlando for dinner at the Golden Corral buffet next door to the hotel.

The buffet was a popular dining spot among the band with a dazzling array of every kind of food in an endless supply. After a happy hour or two in that temple of gluttony everyone meandered back to the hotel to pack and get an early night (right?). The following morning we were to leave for Atlanta.

 

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