Rancho Silvestre turned out to be a large conference centre complex overlooked by wooded hills on all sides. After finding our rooms and unloading the luggage we made our way to the main hall, where we would be performing during the festival. A glimpse of the swimming pools reassured us that we wouldn't be roughing it.
Inside the hall we were introduced to the sound technicians who were (seemingly) finishing the set-up of the PA (sound system). After a few minutes of testing their English and our Portuguese it was clear that we'd need a translator on hand, but Renata was there with us and once we'd established the basics we were able to (mostly) get by with waving and pointing. We stood on the stage holding our instruments and they flitted amongst us with microphones, stands and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cables, weaving us into symbiosis with their system. Each of us was processed in turn, told when to play and when to stop while mysterious twiddling went on until the sound boomed out across the hall. The sound was very echoey in the empty space (especially the very boomy drum) but a room full of dancers would soak up this excessive resonance and in a (relatively) short time we were ready to all play together to sort out the final balance.
It was all going really well up to then.
Getting the right set-up for a live band can be tricky but it's not rocket science. The main objective is to amplify each of the musicians so they can be heard in the hall but almost as important is getting the right level in the monitors - the little speakers on the stage - so the band members can hear each other. If the monitors aren't set up well it can be difficult, frustrating or, at it's worst, impossible to play as you can't hear what you or your bandmates are doing.
Once we started to play together it was clear that the monitors weren't working. We waved and gestured while the sound guys fiddled with the controls and the equipment and slowly things improved, but for some reason they could only get my speaker to work very, very quietly (apart from a lot of humming and hissing). After twiddling the controls they decided to replace the cable that connected it to the rest of the system. Then they replaced that one. Then they replaced the speaker with another one four times the size, moved the original one to the other side of me with a microphone in front of it, and replaced the cable again. Still no joy. Eventually it was decided that this was a Big Job and we were released to have lunch while the system was given a more exhaustive going over.
After a splendid lunch (with a huge dessert selection - a harbinger of temptations to come) my dark forebodings had receded somewhat and we returned to the hall to finish the sound check. The speaker set-up had changed yet again but was only marginally better than before, not an encouraging sign. We pressed on despite tempers beginning to fray amongst the band - sound checking can be a wearying chore even when things are going smoothly. To have to 'perform' on your own in fits and starts, on demand and often at short notice, broken up with long periods of waiting and occasional blasts of deafening feedback, and knowing that what gets set up will have an enormous effect on how you will be heard later - it can soon start to wear you down. After what felt like hours the system was performing slightly better than before (although I may have been desperate to think so) and we decided that it was good enough and fled the scene.
The sound check had left me pessimistic about how our performances would go - not an uncommon reaction for me - but the day had also had its successes. We'd worked on our repertoire and set lists for the week and checked with the organisers that there would be people to teach the appropriate dances for each of them. I'd restrung the guitar. Bill, Rory & I had found some time to play through some instrumental numbers in our room and had come up with some interesting new ideas for a couple of them. And, in my role of communications facilitator, I'd set up my laptop so people could check their email and Lucy could Skype with her family back home. There were some dark clouds on the horizon but lots of things were going well. And we were still in Brazil!