OVFF in Left Field

The Ohio Valley Filk Fest
October 29-31, 1999
Wyndham Hotel
Dublin, Ohio, USA

This was my very first trip to OVFF, and I think it was a Learning Experience. Now, not all Learning Experiences are bad things. For example, I've never been to Ohio before, but I Learned that Columbus is really a nice, little city. There's a great bookstore called The Book Loft in German Village, lots of microbreweries and brewpubs in the Brewery District next door, and cool little shops and galleries in the Short North (but sorry, Columbus, no matter how you bill it, it's still nothing like SoHo, whether you mean the original in London or the area in New York). I Learned that the Dublin Arts Council has an odd view of public art, even from someone who's used to public arts projects in the New York area. I Learned that Halloween is celebrated very differently in Ohio than it is in New York. And I Learned that I should have gone to OVFF years ago.

OVFF wasn't in Columbus itself, but rather in a suburb called Dublin. There's nothing much unusual about Dublin itself. It's farmland going to office park and housing, much like any other suburb starts. Except, of course, for the field of corn. Now, this isn't your normal field of corn. It's only an acre, not very large as cornfields go. But it's also not your normal corn. The ears are each individual scultures (and each different, I've been told) and each is 6 or 7 feet tall. We had to stop and buy a disposable camera (our camera having been dead for a year or so) so that we could take pictures of it. The con hotel, the Dublin Wyndham, was within an easy walk (less than a mile, at an offhand guess, although I didn't have to walk it) of at least one strip mall and reasonably priced food, and no more than a 10 minute's drive (traffic permitting) to lots of places to eat and shop. The hotel food prices looked OK, although I didn't eat there so I can't answer for the food.

The major thing I Learned at OVFF is to never again bring a new guitar if you plan on performing. Especially not if you're used to a 12 string and the new guitar is a 6 string that you've only had for 2 weeks, not even long enough for it to tell you its name. Even if you know the song you're doing cold, even if you've practiced it in the privacy of your den and hotel room. Because (if you're me, at least) you will screw it up at least once (two or three times, in my case). I was dreadful during the OVFF Pegasus Nominees Concert, I'm afraid, and I'm sure that at least one person was wondering just what the hell the OVFF concom was doing by putting me up on stage. Thankfully, the category was "Best Fool" (the specific song was Duane Elms' "Don't Push That Button") so making one of myself was OK, I hope. I did get more used to the new guitar as the weekend went on, fortunately, and I think I was OK by Saturday night's "Lies & Deceptions" song contest (which my entry, "Deceiver," quite properly failed to win).

A second thing I Learned at OVFF is that there are lots more really good musicians than I was aware of in filk. Yes, of course, I'm aware of some, but it's very hard to keep up with all of filk. There are filkers who travel all over the place, and there are those of us who, for various reasons, don't. And it's tough to keep track of even the published filk; there are so many good tapes and CDs out there that unfortunately must needs compete with other albums and books. But hearing the concerts and one-shots and open filk was overwhelming; there were just so many people who were very musically talented as well as good filkers.

Filk is, of course, the raison d'être of OVFF. But filk itself isn't easily defined and the boundary between filk and not-filk is very hard to draw. For myself, I steal a chapter from Randall Garrett's Lord D'Arcy and define filk much the way he defined black magic: a matter of symbolism and intent. Others use the definition of "filk is what I point to when I say filk." Weird Al singing about Star Wars ain't filk, because he's not a filker. If I, on the other hand were to write the exact same song, it would be filk. And there are a great many people whose repetoire consists of traditional ballads or Appalachian folk songs, or songs that, were they outside of a filk environment, would be considered straight folk songs. In Saturday's open filk, there was a wonderful blues jam between Pete Grubbs (who had this very cool-looking stainless steel guitar) and Howard Harrison. It was really very good, but it ain't filk. On the other hand, filk isn't a ghetto. It's not just bad parodies of 1950's and early 1960's folk songs (if, indeed, it ever was). There are songs from most musical genres. Some are good, some aren't, and more were than weren't. To quote Judith Hayman, "the musical bar has been raised" and, I think, to the benefit of filk in general (although when you listen to Puzzlebox, Urban Tapestry, Ookla the Mok, Kathy Mar and all those wonderful people, you can feel like you're falling far short of that bar. I can understand how some people would be scared to start singing, given the the level of people that we're listening to these days. Heck, it often scares me, and I'm utterly shameless about making an ass of myself in a filksing.)

OVFF itself started off Friday evening was the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, since this was Halloween weekend. Many of the assembled filkers showed up in costume, or at least in a hat. Prizes were awarded (I took one for most obscure reference with my "A Wizard of Note" costume), food was eaten, fun was had. Lots of fun, in fact. After the party was the Pegasus Awards Nominees Concert in the main ballroom. Most of the performances were great, a few fell flat (mine among them -- see above), and it allowed us all a chance to hear those songs that we hadn't heard before. This is actually a problem in filk because there are very limited channels for distribution. Very few songs have actually been recorded (and filk CD/tape purchases must compete for people's limited entertainment dollars, as noted above), and there are few opportunities to learn the new stuff other than going to cons (which is part of that limited entertainment budget) or the occasional housefilk. And even then, it tends towards the repetoires of those people in your local area; it can take ages and ages for songs to propagate. After that was, of course, open filking. I missed quite a bit of it on Friday because I was hunkered down talking about Chicon with a few people (Jan DiMasi, Judith and Dave Hayman, Decadent Dave Clement, Diana Huey, Lori Coulson, Carol Flynt...and I have the feeling that someone is missing from this list and I'm sorry, but I can't recall who else was there). When I finally got to the filk, it was still going well, though, and there was some really nice stuff being played. Gary Erlich pointed out that people would be confusing us that weekend; he was playing a 12-string and I was playing 6, which is a switch from what we normally do.

Saturday started off with one shots and concerts, and concerts and one-shots. There were workshops that I utterly failed to go to, because I was more interested in the music. I did one song in the one-shots (Demon Storm) and listened to a great many more. The level of musicianship was high, and the level of performance was high. Matt Leger did his wonderful, beautiful, gorgeous tribute song to De Kelley (d'ya think I like it?). And I was very impressed by the people who I hadn't heard before. I've never actually heard Puzzlebox, for example (although I've heard Good Things about them) and they were all that I'd heard them to be; good songs, good performers. Ookla the Mok, who I have seen before, were very cool (to quote GoH Tom Smith, "filk needs more of that big rocking sound"). Toastmistress Kathleen Sloan's concert included an hysterical song by Singaporean fan Terence Chua, a Cthulhu filk to the tune of Abba's "Fernando," with the audience (that would be us) waving their hands and wiggling their fingers for tentacles, as well as her own "Catalog Queen" song (a must for anyone who's ever ordered from a catalog or two or three or ten or...).

We skipped the Pegasus awards banquet because such things usually don't interest me (not the Pegasus awards, but banquets in general) and went out to eat locally. However, I found out afterwards who won by chatting with Kathy Mar briefly. The Best Fool Song was "Operation Desert Storm" by Tom Smith. In counterpoint to that, the Best Hero Song was "A Toast For Unknown Heroes" by Leslie Fish. Best Writer/Composer went to Cynthia McQuillin, Best Performer to Decadent Dave Clement and the Best Song to "The Word of God" by Cat Faber.

Saturday evening was the "original song" contest. The lyrics and the tune had to be original, and the topic was "Lies & Deceptions" There were lots of really good songs to be heard. I can't say I'm even upset that my own song didn't win (well, it would have been nice, but in a field like this, it's hard to see how it could have happened). 1st Place was taken by Taunya Shiffer of Puzzlebox, with her song "Skin." 2nd was Renee Alper's "Lyin' Billy Bob" (which was hysterical) and Paul Kwinn (also of Puzzlebox) took 3rd with "In and Out." I have to say that this was one of the hardest to guess contests that I've heard or watched. Most of the songs were good or better than good. And the few that weren't were Very Good Indeed. I'm glad I wasn't one of the people who had to figure out who won.

After the contest was the Interfilk Auction. We bid on a few pieces, although we only got one (a genuine Andrea Dale t-shirt, which she graciously signed). Hats off to Carson Gaspar who threw caution and probably food and drink and housing to the winds and bid LOTS of money on things. Harry Hemp made an appearance, looking as hideous as he did when we first saw him at Contata in New Jersey lo these many years ago and donated money to make sure he didn't end up in our house. An overwhelming amount of money was spent on Musk Life Savers (yes, really. They were in a bag from Australia that Kathleen Sloan got at Worldcon).

Saturday evening's open filk was...overwhelming, really. The main filk room had a filk going, one alternate filk room had a "cover someone else's song" filk going, there was filk in the other alternate filk room, in the con suite and in the "medical songs" filk room. And even with all that, there was filking going on in the hallway outside the main room. Maureen O'Brien gave me some nice backup for "Neverwhere," Tom Smith, Pete Grubbs and Howard Harrison played some cool tunes (backup up by Ookla the Mok, woo woo!), Renee Alper sang some great stuff (she has a wonderful voice, by the way), Cacie Sears (who I haven't heard in ages and ages) absolutely blew me out of the room with how powerful and clear her voice is (and she's what, 14??), Andrea Dale played...there were just too many people to name, and all of them were well worth the trip to hear. I wandered down to the alternate filk room at one point, where I parked my butt behind con chairs Diana & Shelby (which worked well...Shelby has lots of niftly little percussion things and knows how to back someone up on them.) I had to cut out at some point earlier than I'd planned because my voice was going (although after I packed up, I just HAD to sing one more, and a big thanks goes to Bruce Adelsohn for letting me use his blood-red guitar on "Feel Like Drinking Blood").

Unfortuately, Sunday was Hallowe'en. This was unfortunate because it meant leaving OVFF early (unlike Ohio's "Beggars' Night," New York does trick-or-treat on the actual day itself, and we surely couldn't miss that!). So we didn't get to hear any of Sunday's "Best Lyrics" contest (where the lyrics had to scan to someone else's tune) on the topic of "It's Not My Fault." The winners of this contest, according to the OVFF web site (at www.inkspot.com/ovff/) were Mark Bernstein (1st), Maureen O'Brien (2nd) and Mike Diggs (3rd).

All in all, as Learning Experiences go, OVFF 1999 was one of the better ones I've had. I'm looking forward to getting back and hearing more music, making more music and even making a few more Interfilk bids!