Tales from the Pit: Hair, with Ross Hoekman by Jonathan Moody… There are few shows that, when I hear the title, bring forth a slew of memories and imagery. One of those is Hair, possibly the most well-known musical of the “rock opera” genre and a vivid snapshot of the counter culture movement of 1960s America. And, while the subject matter is dated, it’s surprisingly apropo for this day and age, which is why this musical is still regularly staged. I got the chance to compare notes with Colorado native, Ross Hoekman (find him at www.rosshoekman.net) to talk about how we both “let the sunshine in.”
- Hair at the Evergreen Theater, for a 5 weekend run
- The pit consisted of 4 musicians, upstage “behind” the set. Still on stage, but the back of the warehouse.
- Gear used: 2009 Fender Precision V and a pedalboard consisting of Ernie Ball VP Jr., Boss TU-2, Ampeg Sub Blaster, EP2, 3Leaf Pwnzor, 3Leaf GR2, Tech21 Bass Boost Chorus, Hardwire Reverb and Sansamp BDDI, direct into the house system
- Hair at Whole Art Theatre, for a 3 weekend run
- The pit consisted of 6 musicians, in the pit behind the stage
- Gear used: Heavily modified P-Bass, Line 6 Bass Pod XT Live! pedalboard, early 70’s Univox UB-50 1×15 combo amp
Because this is a snapshot of a different time, you will find that entire production follows suit. As Ross put it, “Since the director didn’t want to mic the vocalists, we all used in-ear monitors, including the drummer who was playing a V-drum kit. It was actually a pretty sweet setup; the soundguy was really good and we got compliments on sound/levels almost every night.” Because this show is in the “rock opera” genre, it is not uncommon to see the pit stripped down to just a core rhythm section. In Ross’ case, that opened the door for some wild experimentation with effects.
“Because there were only four of us (guitar, bass, drums, keys), we had to get a little creative to cover some of the parts. The guitar player actually bought an EHX Ravish Sitar pedal specifically for the show to cover sitar parts and the drummer programmed things like woodblocks, a gong and other various sounds to the triggers in his kit. He also hung a pair of Tibetan tingsha cymbals from his kit for that extra little bit of flavor.”
My situation was similar, in that mics were not used (with exception of some floor mics for soloists over the company). We were literally backstage in one of the wings, so we could hear everything fairly well, but needed to heed our volume in order to make sure that we could maintain that rock energy without overpowering the singer(s). In terms of the orchestration, we were more filled out as we included a trumpet and trombone player for the horn parts. Everything else was easily covered by the guitarist, myself or the keyboardist with the use of effects. Any auxiliary percussion was absorbed into the drummer’s kit, which also included a very large gong hanging right behind his head.
When it comes to embellishing or filling out a section, this is one of those shows where you would think that the musicians would be given free reign and permission to go wild. However, after playing it twice myself and talking with many musicians that have had it, I’m surprised by the answer. As Ross put it, “We played Hair fairly straightforward, so I didn’t have a whole lot to fill in that the other players weren’t already covering. We added group fills/runs in a couple spots, but other than that, we had all worked together before on a number of occasions, so he pretty much trusted us to do our thing.” And in regard to the bass score itself, Ross said this: “For the most part, we struck somewhat closely to the book, but generally used it more as a guide than a strict map. There were a few sections/songs that we changed on the fly or revamped completely.”
The Whole Art production that I did was a little different in this regard; the choreographer really wanted the more funky version of the show that was featured in the movie over the hippy rock feel of the musical production. A couple of numbers we completely rewrote the style and feel, using the score more as a roadmap in terms of how long the song needed to be over anything else. As someone that had played the show prior, this was quite a change to create something completely different than what you are used to (and led to a little head butting during the tech rehearsals). The end result however, was something that everyone was proud of, after we all put egos and preconceived notions aside for the benefit of the show.
One thing that Hair has always meant for me was that I could pull out as many effects as I wanted (many of which my wife would hear and say “When are you ever going to use THAT?!”), and it would be okay. For my run, I had a very customized P/J bass run into a early 70s Vox amp, which had that old school vibe DOWN. From there, I used a slew of effects on my Line 6 Bass Pod XT Live board to give me everything from slight dirt to full on fuzz, slightly delayed to completely trippy, syrupy tones.
Ross approached it roughly the same way that I did. “I played my go-to 2006 MIA Fender Jazz V with nickel rounds for the first couple rehearsals and didn’t feel it was fitting the sound as much as I wanted. I switched to my 2009 MIA Precision V with (D’Addario) Chromes, which was a much better fit. I set up my pedalboard for the show to include pedals like my Pigtronix EP2 for spacey phaser or trippy envelope sounds, the reverb for ambient parts and the BDDI for preamp duties direct to board.”
If there’s one thing that everyone can agree upon, any theatre that does a production of Hair will wind up with large audiences and packed houses, leading to unforgettable nights. Ross’ theatre had 95% of the run sold out. They are currently in the running for a Henry Award (awarded by the Colorado Theater Guild). Our run was no different; I remember holding the show to allow the stagehands to scramble and add extra seats in an effort to accommodate everyone.
Hair is a show that everyone on some level can relate to. The issues that faced the characters in the late 60s are surprisingly similar to the ones that we are still facing today, hence its appeal. Thanks to Ross for taking the time to compare notes. Check him out at www.rosshoekman.net or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/rosshoekman).
If you’re a fellow “theatre rat” and would like to be included in an upcoming “Tales from the Pit” article, contact me at email@example.com or find me on Twitter at @monjoody. Thanks for reading, and have a great month!