I do not remember much about my childhood. I have the worst long term memory in the whole world, but there is one summer where I remember everything vividly; the summer of 2002. I moved to California to stay
with my father that summer. My dad, George, at the time worked at Kemper Sound, Stage, and Lighting Company. We traveled all over northern California that summer. It was the best summer I have had.
I bet you’re wondering why we traveled so much? Well, Kemper Sound, Stage, and Lighting Company travels around to different fairs and concert halls, and as stated in the name, does the sound, stage, and lighting for the shows. The stage was not set up at every venue, but at some shows it was the most important service we provided. The stage came in sections measuring six feet by twelve feet. By placing different sections together, we could make different stages of various sizes. Black and textured with raised dots, the stage pieces were very heavy and connected to each other with thick steel clamps. Some concerts required at least 25 pieces if not more. The lighting was both spot lights and stage lighting. We provided the lights, the lighting board, and a technician to operate the system. The sound system included speakers, soundboard, monitors, microphones, and a technician to set it and run the system. The systems were all black in color and we had many different types of systems, from ones big enough for a major outdoor concert to a PA on a stick, a simple two speakers on sticks, microphone and a tiny mixing board. In addition to all the above we came early to set up, worked the show, and tore it down at the end.
One of the major events we worked was the Sacramento World Music Festival. For this event we set up the main stage and did the sound for the secondary stage. The main stage took all day to set up. I remember it was hot that day, and the stage pieces are about 125 to 150 pounds each. The stage we put up was made of 125 stage pieces and the stage sat six feet off the ground, easy enough for a grown man to walk under. By midday, we were all sweaty and tired. At the end of the day, after working for about 12 hours, we looked haggard, worn, and covered in dirt. It reminded me of the pictures you see of coal miners after their long day at work. The festival itself was amazing. There were 30 to 40 booths set up by people who traveled with the music festival. Each booth was different and carried everything from clothes, to food, to knives. Two older women ran my favorite boot. They were most likely in their 50’s, and reminded me of gypsies. The women were funny and sarcastic and had a joke for everyone. They had a beautiful, royal purple velvet cloak that I wanted very much, but it was $230. The festival was full the sounds of people, music and children. It smelled of delicious foods and incense. The food ranged from American burgers and fries to fancy Italian, as well as some foods from Africa. We were at the music festival for three days, from load in to load out. Load in and load out are terms we say for setting up the show and tearing it down.
Of all the shows we worked that summer, the Tracy Byrd concert was my favorite. I was very excited from the time I heard we were going to do the concert to the time we had finally finished. At the time, I was a big country music fan, and if you know anything about country music, you know who Tracy Byrd is. When we first got to the fair grounds, it was 9 o’clock pm. It was dark already but you could see the people setting up the rides and different booths. I could see the difference one ride made to the scenery. As a ride went up it also lit the sky. We had to set up the lights, which is Dad’s job and mine. We also ran all the lighting equipment, and the sound system, setting up and running, the sound system was both Ryan’s and Ryan’s jobs. The next day when the concert was scheduled, I was anxious, because even though Joan Kemper would not let me run the follow spot I was able to run the lighting board. Just before the show started, my dad helped me program the lighting board, so I knew the lighting combinations. The show went perfectly. Running the lighting board is tapping different buttons that cause a different set of lights to come on at once, to the beat of the music. Making sure, of course, the lighting matches the song that’s being played. So after many songs and a fury of lights, in all colors of the spectrum, the show ended. I was free to do as I pleased, so I ran to talk to the people on the tour. The bass player was at the souvenir stand. He was doing the accounting process (writing the sales, the purchases, and such on a report). I helped him do the calculations and in return he gave me a t-shirt. He even signed it for me. After that I helped him carry the rest of the products to the tour bus. Once we had put the merchandise away, he said “stay here, I have a surprise for you.” When he came back, he had Tracy Byrd in tow. I nearly fainted. Tracy Byrd was in his pajamas, well, pajama pants and a t-shirt with slippers. He signed my shirt and told me to keep being a music lover. When Tracey Byrd left, the bass player gave me some other souvenirs and then left as well. Unfortunately through my many moves I misplaced the shirt but I still retain the fond memory.
Though most of the summer consisted of traveling and concerts, they were not the only things that we did. As a group, the people who worked for Kemper Sound, Stage and Lighting Company, Dad, Ryan, Ryan, Harmony, and I, took frequent trips to the hot springs in northern California, about 30 minutes from the border of Oregon. We all piled into a suburban and headed north. People generally had to pay to get in the springs but we went late at night and took a back entrance. A thick chain roped off the road that led to the springs. Because of that chain, we had to park about a quarter of a mile from the springs and walk the rest of the way. Since we did most things late at night, it was dark outside when we arrived. All I could see was a little bit of the road that was lit up by the two flashlights in a sort of triangular pattern. It was a gravel road with trees on both sides. The road curved and wound its way to the hot springs, so much so, that at parts of the road I felt like the trees surrounded me. About half way to the springs, a slight scent of sulfur invaded my nose. If you have ever lit a match you know, it smells a lot like rotten eggs. The scent got stronger and stronger, until the smell almost overpowered my senses, and I could smell or taste little else. The hot springs are set on the side of a cliff, with a forested canyon below. I could see the outline of the trees and when my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, I was able to see the tree more clearly. There are three different pools made out of natural rocks. The lowest one is the biggest, meaning it has more seating. We usually sat there. To get to the lower spring, you go down a set of big, stone steps, which travels down the center of the three springs. Two on one side one on the other and the larger spring is on the left as you go down. After being there about five minutes I got used to the smell of sulfur, relaxed, and had fun with my friends, with an occasional strong scent of sulfur. We went there three or four times that summer. It was a place to relax after a couple of days on the road.
One summer evening we all decided, for no particular reason that we wanted to take a drive to the coast. It was somewhere in the neighborhood of midnight and midnight-thirty when everything was prepared and we were all packed like sardines into the suburban, the people who came to the hot springs and few others I do not remember, plus one canine were among the people who came. We were at the coast in about three and a half hours. Though cramped in one vehicle, we still laughed and sang the whole way there. We finally arrived at the beach at four in the morning. I could smell salt from the ocean and the air was cool but not cold. The air made every part of me tingle, and I knew I was near somewhere clean and fresh. As soon as we drove onto the beach, the suburban got stuck in the sand. Since it was late, we decided to dig it out in the morning. Then every one raced for the ocean, stripping clothes as they went. Every one but Dad and I ran into the ocean naked. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen, mostly because the water was so cold they ran back out again. They got dressed and Dad built a fire. We unloaded all the camping gear and set up a few tents and sleeping bags. We stayed up for a while around the fire just talking about the concerts we had done and the ones we had coming up soon. Finally, sleep came over me and took me to a place I could not hide from it. The next morning it was still a little chilly but the guys had already managed to dig out the SUV. We did not stay long at the beach; none of us liked crowds very much. We did not have anything to rush back to, so we hopped back in the SUV and headed north up the California coastline. It was stunning, the ocean almost a clear blue, the sun just barely risen so that the clouds were bright oranges and purples. We stopped at a café and had some breakfast, then headed home. That was the last time I saw the ocean.
The summer of 2002 was incredible fun, especially for a 17-year-old girl. I was able to go to many concerts, festivals, stay up late and travel all over northern California.. The best part was I spent the whole summer with my dad, and I learned a lot about theatre, music, lighting, and sound, that most people don’t know. For most teenagers that would be a dream, for me it was a reality.