One of the things about volunteering to work festivals that really got me hooked was they unlocked hidden stores of confidence within me. This came at a time in my life where I was picking up the pieces from a brutal trauma and so, embracing fearlessness was the name of the game. It was all about new rules and a whole new me. The way I booked festivals in my first year of volunteering was on the fly, the weekend prior. I would attend a festival and over the weekend I would hear about which fests people were going the following weekend. I’d weigh the options, rally the troops and approach the organizer of the event I’d decided on.
I’d rarely had courage like that in my life. I would say, “Hi, I’m Janna. I’ve worked so-n-so fests and taken on such-n-such roles. I am capable, I get sh** done, I bring in people and I have been an asset at these (*cue name drop) festivals. I would like to come to your festival and offer you my team to put out the fires as they arise. Would you like this?”. They would agree and were so pleased with what I could offer. I knew I could handle any job. Not because I knew how to do every job, but because I knew people. I knew who had what skill, who could do what job or who could teach me how to do it myself. Plus I brought volunteers, which actually wasn’t that hard. My friends and I had all been travelling the country since we were young teens, sleeping in parks, busking street corners, general vagrancy, etc. Now we had trucks, more passion for nature and music, and these fests would feed us! It also offered us a way to connect with driven musicians, collaborate on new projects and offered some of us a chance to get on stage.
When Labor Day rolled around and I approached my 9th festival of 2016, Quadrapalooza on Quadra Island. They needed volunteers and invited me to come and stay with them the week before to help out if I’d wanted. The day the fest was to begin I discovered my role would be stage manager. I’d worked every role at events but had never delved into the world of stage/sound. There was so much I didn’t know, but I’d become a master of winging it! My approach to researching the role was indicative of the type of tech I’d eventually become. Even though I’d never worked on a stage I could logically deduce some duties as stage manager. The term manager alone refers to multitasking. I could assume that keeping things on schedule was a big factor and I knew there was often a clipboard involved.
I began to research what I couldn’t assume by speaking to my new musician friends. I asked them, “What makes a good stage manager from your perspective?”. The answer that stuck with me was from Zonnis who agreed that it was the ones who brought them water. To this day this rings in my ear when wading deep in stage hi-jinx. It may sound trivial but it’s genius and it’s not even about the water at all! It’s about taking a moment to connect with the artist, seeing them as a human about to bare a part of themselves on stage and offering them a gift. Many don’t want the water, even better! But let me tell you every single one of them appreciates the offer, and they will remember you for it. Buzz quickly around the artists but enter their personal space with grace and care. When I’m busy and rushing around an artist as they’re setting up to perform, if I get within a foot and a half of them, I stop, exhale, channel calm, smile genuinely and ask how they are and if they need anything. The most fulfilling feeling is running a 24 channel re-patch direct to the board by yourself in a 15 min switchover and still bringing each of the eight band members a cup of water. I win, they win, everyone’s happy!
So at Quadrapalooza I jumped in over my head and quickly learned when sound issues began to arise, that I needed to learn as much about the role of the sound person as possible if I was going to do my job effectively. Within a couple hours I had reorganized how we designated channels and devised what would become my signature style of drawing stage plots. I loved being busy and having such an important role in keeping the party going. Attending events was forever changed, I now need a job to have fun!
Don’t get me wrong, it was stressful and scary too. It’s how you handle it that matters. We all make mistakes and it’s how we learn from them that counts. As the headlining band of Saturday night was wrapping up I was approached by a dear friend of mine, Doug Koyama (Doug the Hug). He told me, “Janna, this is chaos.” I sank, sighed and apologized. He corrected, “No, this is chaos. You are organizing chaos. You are awesome.” I don’t even remember if I cried or not, but I’m tearing up remembering that feeling of being recognized by someone who really knows what they’re talking about.
It’s true. It was chaos. I organized chaos and no one had to teach me how! Feelings of value and self-worth flushed through my veins, reminding me what life could be and again telling me that I was indeed still on the right path. The only parts of the weekend I wasn’t pleased with were the things I could’ve remedied had I known more about amps, cords, mics, speakers, frequencies and feedback. Hell, who am I kidding, I never used the word frequency back then, but this realization sent me on a personal mission to start! The next week I embarked on a two month education intensive that had me hitch-hiking again, but this time with a whole new purpose and direction….
Janna Dickinson aka JDog broke into the industry last year, when she accidentally worked nine festivals! At the Last-ival, having worked every volunteer role through to stage-managing, she watched the techs and realized that she had finally found a job where her varied skill sets could finally all work in unison. She spent nearly two months couch hopping while hitching to every tech across BC that she had met at festivals who were willing to teach her anything. Her first gig was waiting for her when she returned! With a childhood free from live music, she had never played in a band or plugged in an electric guitar. She was learning it all from scratch! So, learning WHAT an XLR cable is called, let alone what it’s for! She returned to the same festivals this year with a new role and received honorable mentions at each one. Follow her on her journey of navigating such a complex industry as a complete novice, working solely on instinct, an ear and the drive to work at her passion no matter the odds. Unafraid to ask embarrassing questions on her quest for excellence, she carries with her goals of touring, teching/tuning, tv and teaching. Her freelance company is Penny Lane Audio & Production.