The Australians put on great conferences. Every evening there was another reception, and at every reception, there was a table at the door laden with glasses of champagne, red & white wine, beer & soft drinks. And as we mingled with the other delegates there would be eagle-eyed attendants weaving their way through the crowds with baskets of bottles, making sure that no glass got within an inch of being empty.
We were in Melbourne for the "Rivers of Knowledge" conference -- a joint meeting of the Specials, Health & Law librarians from throughout Australia. Lynn was doing the keynote for the medical day, and I had prepared a paper on the challenges of taking the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association electronic. We'd brought Marian along and were now a little punchy from several weeks of travelling, having had other stops to make in NZ and elsewhere in Australia before getting to Melbourne. Fortunately, Bruce was at the Melbourne conference as well, doing his "international librarian of mystery" thing, so we'd been spending as much time as possible hanging out with him, drinking whisky, and enjoying one of the most marvelous cities on the planet.
In order to encourage mingling among the librarians from the different sectors, the organizers had scheduled the banquet for midway through the meeting rather than at the end. We gathered in a grand foyer and drank champagne and half listened to a few, brief welcoming speeches. We entered the banquet hall and drank more champagne before moving on to red wine and appetizers. The band took the stage and played a few rousing numbers while people danced. The band took a break and people went back to their seats for more wine and the first course. This went on for hours. Somewhere in there, a tall and attractive blonde came up and introduced herself, "I'm Jo, your convenor. I just wanted to meet you before the session tomorrow."
I think I neglected to mention that by putting the banquet in the middle of the conference schedule, they had placed it directly before health libraries day -- the day that Lynn would be kicking off and that I would be closing. Jo and I had corresponded in the weeks before the meeting, and I had sent her some biographical stuff to use for her introduction. Champagne-fueled as we were, she alluded to that info saying, "It's too bad that we couldn't fit your guitar in some way."
"It really is," I said. "Because my stepdaughter Marian is along, and she I have performed together a number of times. And my good friend Bruce is here, and he's also a guitar player, and he and I have never had a chance to play together..."
It seemed obvious to all of us at that point that we should ditch my presentation the next afternoon, get some guitars, and play some music instead. It was the kind of thing that one enjoys fantasizing about before coming to one's senses the next morning and returning to normal responsibility.
The next morning, as I groggily made my way toward the auditorium in which Lynn would be delivering her speech, I was intercepted by a young woman who introduced herself as the conference manager and said, "I understand that you need a guitar for your session this afternoon?"
"Ah yes," I said. If Jo had gone to the trouble to try to make arrangements, I couldn't disappoint her, could I? "And, actually, I'll need two."
"No problem. Just check in with the AV guys and let them know exactly what you need, and they can arrange it."
After Lynn's talk (splendid as always), I collected Bruce and we went to see the AV guys. They were secluded in a little back room in the venue where they could manage the various meeting rooms. They were bored to tears, having spent the last three days moving from room to room lining up PowerPoints. We explained that we'd need a couple of guitars, and that we'd then need to adjust the sound in the room so that we could amplify the guitars and manage the vocals. They could hardly have been more delighted. They said we'd have the guitars that afternoon.
Bruce and I walked back to the hotel to break the news to Marian. Never one to shy away from a performance, she was thrilled. We started working on the set list, and then went back to the conference hall, in hopes that the guitars would arrive in time for us to practice a bit.
They did not. Fortunately for us, my session was scheduled for immediately after tea-time, which meant our room would be vacant for half an hour. The guitars arrived just as the break was starting, and we went over to the room with one of the AV guys. It was a bit of a challenge (which he seemed to enjoy), since he had only equipment designed to aid the typical conference presenter, but we worked it all out, and by the time we opened the door to let the earlybirds into the room the guitars were tucked out of sight, Marian & Bruce were sitting in the front row, the first slide of my BMLA presentation was up on the screen, and I was looking very formal in my three-piece suit, my black hat tossed casually on the table at the side of the room.
The room filled up, and Jo went to the microphone and did a perfectly straight introduction, with no hint of what was to come -- until the very end when she said, "And I understand that this will be an international presentation, as Scott will be assisted by Bruce Madge from the British Library, and Marian Earnest from the University of Montevallo."
At the microphone, I thanked everyone for coming. "We had a great party last night, and it's late in the afternoon now, so I commend your dedication in sticking through the day, and I hope that it's been useful to you.
"Early in my career, I learned that the most important thing about doing a presentation is to be entertaining." A bit of laughter from the audience. "Content is only the second most important thing."
I crossed over to the table, taking off my suitcoat. I tossed it on the table and picked up my hat. "Given the time of day, and given that we're all tired, I think that we'll just do the entertaining part." I reached behind the podium and picked up a guitar. I reached over to the computer and pressed the space bar. "My presentation slides are going to cycle through now, and you can watch them, but in the meantime, we're just going to play some songs." Marian and Bruce moved out of their row to join me, and we launched into our first song ("The Bug," I believe).
Pretty good. Marian and I had done it many times, but it was a real treat to see how easily Bruce slid into it, adding tasty little lead lines in just the right places. The audience applauded and laughed and looked slightly confused. One or two even looked a little alarmed.
"Now I know that some of you are wondering when we're going to stop all this fol-de-rol and get on with the presentation." I paused, looking rueful. "I'm sorry to tell you... we're not. If you want to attend a real presentation, there's one going on in the next room, and I won't mind at all if you choose to move over to that one. But for the next twenty minutes or so, we're just going to play some songs." As I recall, one or two people left, but the rest settled in.
Jo was great as a convenor. She gave me the three minute warning right on schedule, then the two minute, and we finished up our last song just as we had one minute left to go. I asked for questions. By this time, the presentation had cycled through twice and, since this was a crowd of librarians, someone did indeed have a question... "On slide sixteen, you say that..." So we did five minutes of Q&A before Jo brought it to a close and gave us bottles of wine and we had a photo-op.
Bruce and I had talked about music and guitars for years, but until that moment we had never played together. If you'd been listening, you'd've thought we did this every day. We left the hall hoping that we'd have another chance someday. Little did we know...