What should I do with my instrument at festivals? - Apr 2002
The most obvious answer to this question is, “play it.” The less obvious answer relates to the fact that whether you camp in a tent or RV or stay at a hotel or motel, instruments that go to festivals experience risks that they don’t experience at home: loss & theft, temperature & humidity changes, exposure to chemical solvents, dropping, impact or crushing.
Three strategies are available for dealing with that risk. One way to completely eliminate the risk is to go to the festival without an instrument. This option is pretty unrewarding. A way to reduce risk is to take an instrument that is durable & inexpensive. This option allows you to play at the festival, but may not allow you to play an instrument that you enjoy. In addition, with the second option, you’ll still have to adopt some parts of the third option...to develop & follow-through on a care protocol for what ever instrument you take.
What Can I Do?
To reduce risk of loss & theft, make sure that your instrument case is easy to identify from a distance; attach a unique tag, tassel or cloth that is hard to remove. Some people paint their cases. These identifiers help you notice if you are leaving your instrument behind or if someone else is walking away with your instrument. Use discretion about putting too much information about yourself on the tag...someone who steals instruments may also steal from a house that he knows is empty (because he knows that you’re at the festival). Your name & phone number are adequate information for someone who has good intentions in contacting you.
To reduce effects of temperature & humidity changes, your best protection is to have & use a good quality case whenever you are not playing. Also, beware of leaving your instrument in direct sunlight, whether it’s in the case or out of it. Direct sun can raise the temperature of the instrument enough to soften glue so that string tension pulls things apart. So, play & store your instrument in shady areas. Some people buy reflective outer covers or light-colored cases to keep instruments cooler. While a good quality case also protects against humidity changes, the case won’t help while you’re playing. To some extent, you have to live with a humidity increase at dusk & accept that tuning is a frequent necessity at festivals. However, don’t ignore rain. Water can damage instruments, especially varnish. Also, don’t ignore the temperature difference between the fireside & chilly evening air. The rapid change in temperature that the finish experiences as you turn to & from the fire glow can quickly create a crackle-glaze reminiscent of the platter that your grandmother put in the oven.
To reduce exposure to solvents that can attack your instrument’s finish, you’ll need to be aware that a lot of everyday things are solvents. Insect repellants, perfumes, aftershaves & sun screens, along with ANYTHING containing alcohol, can cause serious finish damage. Tanning agents or vinyl on instrument straps, rubber on stands or shoulder rests that are left in contact with the instrument for extended periods (especially in heat) can remove or discolor instrument finish. So, as you prepare to go out & jam, have fun. But be aware of what you’ve put on your body & clothing; be aware of the accessories that you put on your instrument.
To prevent dropping, impact & crushing, a good quality case – again – is your first line of defense. While gig bags are convenient, they don’t give the protection of a hard case. When the instrument is out, pay attention to you surroundings to avoid tripping. Take care of who you allow to play your instrument. Avoid propping your instrument against anything or laying it on the ground or in a chair. Including these few simple steps in your habits will cost a little time, but save many bitter tears & many dollars in repairs.