BEHIND THE SCENES: Slaid Cleaves’ Soundcheck @ Caffe Lena at the Grove, 8/5/16
Story and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Joe Deuel, the sound engineer for Caffe Lena for over 20 years, greeted singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves and his accompanist Chojo Jacques and explained the intricacies of The Grove’s giant mausoleum-type soundstage where every whisper could be heard across the room.
The Maine-reared Cleaves, now Austin seasoned, came to Saratoga Springs with mandolin/fiddle maven Jacques in tow, to perform his music at The Grove, the temporary summer home of Caffe Lena on Lake Avenue, east of Broadway and the city’s downtown district.
While the iconic coffeehouse is undergoing some major renovations and expansion in its old hallowed space on Phila Street, the new sonic peccadilloes of The Grove have been surmounted to some extent by Deuel’s expertise, but it’s still a crap shoot considering the performance space’s marble floors and cathedral ceiling. Add some electric amplification to instruments and voices and the whole thing can go to hell in a hand basket in a heartbeat – as far as the sound mix is concerned.
First up, Cleaves started the ball rolling with his voice and then separately his guitar. Deuel explained that the sound would be different during the concert, absorbed to a degree by the audience members sitting in the room.
Next up, Jacques played a melody on the mandolin, and the sound was dialed in on the soundboard. It sounded good.
Then it was time to bring Cleaves and Jacques together and mix them both, taking into account the acoustic signature of the room. They started and stopped several songs, and discussions ensued. Deuel made the recommended adjustments for the best mix of the guitar, voice, mandolin and fiddle.
Once the mix was right, Deuel stood in the middle of the room, listening carefully to the duo’s sonic blend. Everything was good and ready for the audience to experience.
The band came in at 5pm; the sound check concluded at 6pm, and the audience started pouring in around 6:30pm for the 7pm show. During that last half hour, orders were taken for food at the tables and drinks were ordered from the make-shift bar. Before long the night was underway for a great night of Cleaves’ songs and an almost full house audience having a wonderful time.