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History of Modern Drummer Magazine and The Making of Modern Drummer Festival
I can't believe it has been sixteen years since the first Modern Drummer Festival, which makes it the longest running Drum Festival in the world. And it all sprang from the dream of Ron Spagnardi, the Founder and Publisher of Modern Drummer Magazine. When I began writing articles for MD in the late '70s, I never realized how successful the magazine would become. After all, when I first met Ron and Isabel (his wife and business partner), they were just starting their publishing venture in the basement of their home! Yet this year marks the 27th anniversary of Modern Drummer Magazine, which has long been recognized as the world's most widely read drum magazine. Backstage at this year's MD Fest, Ron himself confessed to me that he never dreamed his magazine would become as successful as it has, not to mention blossom into the likes of the MD Fest.
Modern Drummer Magazine has long since outgrown it's humble beginnings in the basement of Ron's home and, over the years, has also outgrown two office buildings. Since 1994 it has been located in its fourth and (Ron hopes) final home in Cedar Grove, NJ. The building was designed from the ground up by Isabel Spagnardi herself. (Who had, I've been told, spent many a day on the building site wearing a hard hat to verify that her plans were being following correctly!)
Prior to this year's MD Fest I had the opportunity to visit MD in its latest location. It was the first time I visited the magazine since Ron's basement, so I was looking forward to the changes. There have been a few!
The Latest Digs
What It Takes To Coordinate the MD Festival
Rick's work actually starts months before the date of the Festival. The first step is to decide what artists to invite. Once a decision is made, Rick then gets it in touch with them to verify availability. At the same time, Rick must find out what gear and what band members (if any) each artist will be bringing with them. Now Rick's "fun" really begins. He produces a booklet detailing exactly where each piece of equipment will go onstage and how his stage crew will need to coordinate the moving of gear (and personnel) on and off the stage during the two days of the event. This booklet is copied and handed out to each member of the stage crew.
Although this daunting task might be enough to make the biggest festival enthusiast think twice about going through with an event of this proportion, Rick attributes his university training in theatrical set and lighting design for giving him the necessary know-how to easily pull this off. In addition, Rick's wife Crystal has training in professional stage management. So Rick designs and coordinates each Festival and Crystal is the stage manager and has been since the event's inception, sixteen years ago. Rick's son, Colin, who is entering his senior year at Rutgers University (and who is also studying technical theater), has been the assistant stage manager of the Festival for the past three years. This is what accounts for the Festival running so smoothly from year to year, despite the unexpected events (like equipment failures) that happen occasionally during any live performance.
But don't think Rick's job for the Festival ends once the stage plans are down on paper. It is just the beginning! He is also responsible for making arrangements to get the artists into town and confirming that they have a place to stay, etc. There are many things Rick needs to do before the Festival becomes a reality.
Festival Day (Finally) Arrives
The above is only a synopsis of what it takes to put together the MD Festival but I'm sure you get the picture. It's not an easy task. Now let's check out what happens in line prior to the doors being opened on Festival morning.
Where Do DrumHeads Gather in the Month of May?
Although the doors don't officially open until 12:30 PM, many DrumHeads arrive early so they can be among the first in line. This year, all previous records were smashed by a father and son duo from Portland Maine, who actually arrived at 11:30 PM Friday (the night BEFORE) and camped out at the door so they could be first in line. (They are the first pair on the left in the photos below.) I also met many of my Web site members in line. Those of you who were at the Fest this year will want to check out the photos below and see if you can find your picture. If you do, drop me an email and let me know!
DrumHeads waiting for the doors to open...
When the Festival doors open, the fun really begins.
Click the following link for MD Fest 2003: Saturday Performances!
Click the following link for MD Fest 2003: Sunday Performances!
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