Live music fans who dig the internet have heard of such programs as “Jam in the Van” and “Tiny Desk Concert.” A small group of folks at FloydFest, working this weekend to record and produce live music videos in a converted school bus, are jokingly calling their program the “Tiny Bus Concert.”
Every act in FloydFest’s “On the Rise” contest roster will have done a live performance by Sunday in the 2002 Thomas Built vehicle. At least one special guest act — Rock & Roll Hall of Fame members Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, also known as Hot Tuna — took seats on the bus to lay down a couple of acoustic blues songs on Friday afternoon.
The frequent FloydFest performers, inducted into the Rock Hall as part of Jefferson Airplane, were impressed with the experience.
“We were just talking about this little thing we did on the bus right now, what a really amazing acoustic space it was,” Kaukonen said. “You go inside a metal bus, and you think it’s gonna suck. But it didn’t. So our experiences here have always been extremely positive.”
This experience started with Sam Calhoun, FloydFest’s chief operating officer. He bought what had been an auxiliary use school bus in Baltimore. He had Roanoke artist David Rakes give it an exterior paint job reminiscent of the bus on the TV show “The Partridge Family.” Then Calhoun and some friends renovated the interior.
“I kind of had the idea in the same ilk as ‘Jam in the Van’ and ‘NPR Tiny Desk Concert,’ ” Calhoun said. “I think it’s kind of cool to have archived footage of what we’ve done here.”
To make video recordings happen, Calhoun went to longtime FloydFest partners Press Press Merch, which sponsors the bus, and to Peluso Microphone Lab, which is a sponsor for the On the Rise contest. Peluso’s Chris Newitt said that the company was happy to provide microphones, and suggested upstate New York-based Beehive Productions, which uses Peluso gear in its work, to record and produce the videos.
“Our specialty is the anti-studio,” Beehive’s Jeff Oehler said after the Hot Tuna session. “We travel around and we’ll pop up in a bus, a warehouse, a rental house, an alley. We did one recently on an upper deck of a ferry in New York City. We like to run around and do crazy things with cool mics.”
During the Hot Tuna session, music from other stages was blasting into ears outside the bus. You won’t hear it on the video, when it comes out on FloydFest social media channels after the festival — even though some bus windows and its door were open, Newitt said.
“We just listened to it, and it sounds real good,” he said. “I was afraid there would be a lot of bleed through from the other stages we’re hearing, but the environment in the bus, and the proximity of the mics to the instruments and the performers, was pretty bulletproof.”
It should work out well for the “On the Rise” acts competing in FloydFest’s annual patron-voted contest, as well, Newitt said.
“You give them an opportunity to get a lot more visibility through the videos we can produce,” he said. “Then all the patrons, when they go home and are longing for more FloydFest, they’re going to get to tune in and see these artists perform and really shine. We’re excited for the On the Rise guys.”