As a classically trained violinist as well as a fiddle player, I have found Abbey Road on the River and orchestra rehearsals to be worlds apart. When you show up to an orchestra rehearsal on time you are considered late. You should already be unpacked, tuned, warmed up, and ready for the downbeat by the scheduled rehearsal time. Everything is structured and organized in a way to utilize rehearsal time in the most efficient way possible.
Now Abbey Road on the River on the other hand is (in polite terms) much more relaxed. If your rehearsal/sound check is supposed to start at 11:00am, expect to start an hour later. Grant it, orchestras don't have to worry about sound systems and plugging gear in. At Abbey Road on the River no one arrives before their scheduled time, that is when they start sitting up. This has always been a pet peeve of mine, harbored by years of classical discipline. I just assume I should be ready to play at my scheduled rehearsal/sound check time. Maybe all of us musicians should start scheduling 'call times' to start sitting up instead of scheduling times for rehearsals/sound checks. That would probably give a more realistic time line. I call this running on 'Beatles' time, hurry to get there and then sit around for a while. We all love playing this festival and many of us have done it for years, so despite the delays we have come to expect and accept it.
Then once the rehearsal/sound check starts more idle sitting occurs. Each person takes their own good time to sound check themselves, which to some extent is required to get a good mix. Sometimes we just go overboard. Musicians are very fickle when it comes to our sound. Then it takes a really long conversation to determine which songs to play through. All the while we could have probably played through all the music at that point. We play through the songs maybe once, some songs we play for the first time during the concert. Don't get us wrong, we've play those songs before just not on the stage in that environment. It's common for a rehearsal/sound check to take anywhere from one to three hours. Somehow miraculously though everything comes together beautifully and the music sounds amazing. That's just some of the magic of Abbey Road on the River.
Photos: courtesy of Anna Blanton