NewsMar 14, 03:14 PM
The 72nd AFM Western Conference of Locals held in Dallas, TX February 26-28 was a fun, informative, and action packed 3 days. This was the first time I have ever attended a Western Conference, or any conference of the AFM, and what a wonderful way to meet a lot of our colleagues from across the western USA and Canada.
A lot of information was disseminated, so I will report on some of the highlights for me. Dallas local president and IEB member Ray Hair gave an excellent two part presentation over two days on “The Life and Times of the American Federation of Musicians, a fascinating history of the AFM from it’s beginnings to today. A major point of Ray’s was how our industry has always been changing with new technologies and new opportunities for musicians, ever since the days of small theatres to silent films to radio to recordings and on and on. It is clear from Ray’s history that the AFM has frequently suffered from divisive behavior and sometimes an unwillingness to modernize and stay current. Several times during Ray’s presentation, and also at other times during the convention, Ray Hair made a passionate plea that we cannot afford to be divisive, and that all divisive behavior must stop immediately if we are to be effective. For me this rang true not only for the larger AFM, but at a local and personal level as well. Ray’s presentation was received with enthusiasm.
Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Commissioner Dave Renfro gave an excellent talk on how to mediate. Mr. Refro has worked a lot with the Dallas local, and gave us quite a few insights on mediation/conciliation, including sound philosophical and psychological approaches. Bill Baab, who is Attorney for the Dallas local, also gave a fine talk about representing professional musicians and their unions.
Presenting Touring Theatrical Musicals featured Michael Jenkins, who is the Dallas presenter of touring musicals, and also a producer of new musicals around the USA. Michael is a breathe of fresh air in the music business, and I paraphrase Michael’s response to the use of taped music or a virtual orchestra: “How do you take the music out of musical?”
Paul Sharpe, head of Freelance Department for the AFM, gave an excellent presentation on social networking and labor unions, demonstrating many of the cool ways that the AFM is using tools such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and other internet resources to help musicians and to bring together independent (indie) musicians.
A very serious discussion about the AFM & Employers’ Pension Fund was led by Bill Moriarity and Ann Mayerson from the pension fund, and while the pension fund has been taking a hit with the current economy, I am impressed with the foresight and management of the fund by the Trustees. The good news is that we still have the Pension Fund.
Bruce Fife, President of the Portland local, shared an exciting program they have started in Portland called Fair Trade Music, in which a network of clubs that pay fair wages is being set up and advertised.
Savina Ciaramella, who works for the western office of the AFM, gave an interesting summary about new AFM agreements for Video Games. On Sunday morning, Phoenix local secretary treasurer Madlyn Roberts led the memorial remembrances of Western Conference delegates who passed away in the last year. Imagine my surprise to find out that the great soul/r&b/rock drummer Earl Palmer was a past delegate and secretary treasurer of the LA local!
Low points of the conference for me included a presentation Arts Management in Tough Times with several management figures from Dallas/Fort Worth area arts organizations. It all sounded like the same old, tired “artspeak” I’ve been hearing for 20 years. I thought these folks showed a total lack of imagination. Most disturbing to me during the conference were a couple members of the RMA who clearly demonstrated divisive behavior, including flat-out harassment of Ms. Ciaramella over Video Game agreements. Apparently they missed Ray Hair’s plea to end the infighting.
It was a pleasure to meet Wally Malone, our western states representative, and our brothers from Canada, especially Eddy Bayens from Edmonton, Alberta, whose brilliant wit and intellect serve him well whether asking questions or sitting at the dinner table. It was good to meet and listen to AFM President Tom Lee and Secretary Treasurer Sam Folio, and a special privilege to meet and talk to Harold Bradley, AFM Vice-president and a musical giant from Nashville.
We didn’t see a lot of Dallas, as the hotel (one of two union hotels in Texas) we stayed at was close to the airport. We did get out to a fine Mexican restaurant on Friday night, and the meals provided at the hotel for lunch and dinner on Saturday were first class, as well as the entertainment at the Saturday dinner which included the UNT Faculty Jazz Ensemble (with badass, top notch playing) and a show by local group The Quebe Sisters Band, three charming vocalist/violinists with guitar and bass that gave us a full serving of Texas Swing!
Late night hangs at the bar were a great way to mingle and meet folks, and I particularly enjoyed meeting Tony Brazelton, secretary treasurer of the Utah local, and a fine Alphorn player. Madlyn Roberts proved once again that she can hold down any bar, and I am ever grateful to Spokane president Tina Morrison for her values and her comment (I paraphrase): “There is no such thing as a volunteer musician. If you have one person listening to you, you should be paid!”
All in all, a fine conference loaded with useful information. But what most impressed me was the level of humanity and good, bright people that make up the AFM. As to our host, Ray Hair, I had been warned that he is a character, so before I left, I let him know that I knew him by reputation, and he didn’t let me down for a moment the entire weekend. Now on to the National Convention this summer!
Submitted by Thomas A. Blomster, Vice-president, DMA
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