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Diary of a Harp Festival

October 29, 2015
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We just returned from the Southeastern Harp Weekend in Asheville, NC and thought we'd share some photos of the experience from a harp-maker's perspective. We came home exhausted, but with hearts full of smiles and stories form the harpists we met, and heads full of ideas and inspiration from our fellow builders.

A line of harps in the showroom, ready to be tuned and packed up

It all begins a month before the festival with a collection of the harps we plan to take. The strings are still new and stretching out, so we line the harps up in our showroom and tune them every day for a couple of weeks. The hope is to have them holding pitch by the time we get to the festival so we can spend our time meeting people instead of constantly tuning harps.

The Dusty Strings showroom littered with instruments, accessories and gear for the conference
The boxes are packed and almost ready to load on pallets

Packing up the harps, accessories and booth gear is a day-long event. The showroom becomes our staging area as we check items off the list and pack them Tetris-style into boxes. Banner? Check. Harp regulation tools? Check. Sue is an expert at visualizing exactly which oddly-shaped item will fit in that one leftover corner of a box.

Two plastic wrapped pallets of harps and booth gear ready to be picked up

After all eleven boxes are stuffed full, our crack team of shippers hauls each one down to the lobby and loads them onto two pallets. The shipping company will pick them up almost two weeks before the festival and we cross our fingers that everything arrives safely on the other side of the country!

Mitch standing in our empty booth space

Of course, sometimes mix-ups happen... Here we are at the conference center in North Carolina, but where are our harps?

Ray is relieved that the truck has finally arrived
Pulling harp boxes off the freight truck

After a long morning of phone calls, re-arrangements and anxious nail-biting, the truck finally arrives! There is no lift-gate to get the pallets off, but thankfully we have a lot of willing volunteers to help us lift each box down from the truck and carry it inside.

Our volunteer friend Al helps us unload our boxes
Empty boxes are dragged into the closet for storage

Then the grand unpacking begins, aided by our new friend Al, a fellow West Coast-er. Once everything is out of boxes, we make space in a closet to store the boxes for the duration of the festival.

All the harps are unpacked and ready for tuning

Luckily, Mountain Glen Harps hasn't arrived yet, so we can borrow Glen's booth for a harp corral while we set up tables and equipment.

The booth is halfway set up

After many sweaty hours, it's dark outside and we're hungry and tired, but the booth is more or less set up and ready for the final touches in the morning.

Sue tunes a harp

We're up bright and early and back to the booth to tune 13 harps before the vendor hall opens! And then the real fun begins...

Mitch regulates a harp in the back closet

Mitch clears a space in the storage closet and turns it into a harp-regulating workshop.

Ray adjusts a lever on a customer's harp

Ray tackles a lever adjustment at the booth...

Ray helps a customer touch up some scratches on her harp

...and helps a harpist give her instrument an Anti-Aging makeover.

Fall is lovely in Asheville
Fall colors in the woods around the retreat center

While classes are going on, things slow way down in the vendor hall. We have time to take a late lunch outside in the beautiful grounds of the Lutheridge Retreat Center and gaze at the fall colors.

Hanging out with our colleagues from Rees and Musicmakers

And we have time to hang out with our fellow vendors. We visit their booths to chat, share tips and play each others' harps. The collegiate relationships between harp builders make this world fun and welcoming to be a part of. While there is a healthy amount of competition and teasing, there is also an open sharing of information and building techniques that everyone benefits from. We look forward to seeing our family of harp-makers as much as we look forward to meeting the people attending the festival.

Group of harp-builders from Rees, Musicmakers, Stoney End and Dusty Strings

Many of these builders have been making harps for 30 or 40 years, and they've paved the way for younger generations to carry on their traditions. Eve of Stoney End Harps shows the younguns from Rees, Musicmakers and Dusty Strings how it's done.

In between classes, people flood into the vendor hall to try out harps, look for sheet music and investigate new trinkets and accessories. We talk to them about the differences between our harp models, or which tuning wrench will fit the harp they play, or which color of Wristies looks best with their outfit. We set them up in our little sound booth or in one of the empty quiet rooms to compare harps. We show them how our pickup works and explain the installation process. We love to hear the stories of how everyone got started playing the harp. And, of course, there's nothing more rewarding than watching the light go on in a person's eyes when they sit down behind a new harp and fall in love! (Of course, there are no pictures of any of these things because we're far too busy to even remember we brought a camera...)

But we do have pictures of some of the other fun! When presenter Ray pool shows off his Dusty temporary tattoo during his evening concert, he starts a fashion craze and the next morning our basket of tattoos is cleaned out. We'll have to bring a larger supply next year!

Two harpists and Ray show off their temporary tattoos

Harp tattoos!!

Mitch works on a harp in the hotel before going to bed

Sometimes the booth is too busy to fit in all the harp work that we've promised to do! Here, Mitch adds a few sharping levers to a customer's harp before bed.

Mitch takes a break from packing to pose with boxes on his arms

At the end of three packed days, the revelry is over and everything must be torn down and put back in boxes. You know that giddy feeling you get when you've gone beyond being tired?

Ray and Sue work together to close up a large shipping box

Once all our boxes are re-packed and stacked on the pallets to await pickup, we have just enough energy left to help some of the other builders load their vans. Then we're off to a late celebratory dinner at our favorite restaurant in Asheville...

Ray asleep on the couch after a long day

...followed by a well-deserved rest.

View of fall colors in the mountains of North Carolina

In the morning, it's a 2-hour drive to Charlotte and a 5 hour plane trip home to Seattle. Bye Asheville! We'll see you next year!

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