The travel aspect got a bit more complicated because of a hotel snafu. The short version is that the conference hotel (The Geneva Ridge Resort) didn’t honor several confirmed reservations and switched people to their sister hotel (The Cove), 4 miles away. The email they sent about this was horribly unprofessional and the desk staffs at both hotels were completely clueless, but the other options in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin were way more expensive, so I just made the best of it. I will have more to say about The Cove later on.
No, actually, let me rant right off. I have stayed at many badly designed, inefficient, and/or otherwise annoying places in my life. I have dealt with a hotel that had no hot water (but did have heated towel racks), a hotel that had rooster feathers on the floor, a hotel that was above a noisy bar with a soundtrack of three songs - one for each of the Somali prostitutes who frequented it, a motel that was next to a drive through liquor store leading to a drunk cussing under my window all night, and more than one hotel filled with noisy French-speaking people. But it is rare to deal with a hotel with quite so many issues. The Cove proudly advertises its condo-like suites. True enough, but what kind of idiot puts the bed a quarter inch from the front door of a suite, ensuring that one will be kept up all night by doors slamming and screaming drunken girls from a bachelorette party (or so I deduced from the large inflated penis-shaped balloon one was carrying)? It’s not like there is enough actual traffic in Lake Geneva that putting the bedroom by the window in the back would create a noise issue. This is pure and simple ineptitude. There was a lovely Jacuzzi tub – or it might have been lovely had it actually been cleaned and, oh, say, if the grout weren’t moldy. The wifi was not working and, when I called down to the front desk, they just said, "oh, sometimes it doesn’t work." There was also no business center and not even a boarding pass printer. To add insult to injury, they charged a resort fee for the wifi and other amenities I was not going to be able to use because I was there for a conference 4 miles away (remember – at their sister hotel that didn’t honor confirmed reservations). They were supposedly offering shuttle service to the other hotel, by the way, but I heard from someone else that it was less than reliable.
I should note that this wasn’t the only travel annoyance. Car rental at MKE was very cheap (although with the typical taxes and fees that were more than the rental itself), but, really, Hertz, does your clerk have to spend 10 minutes discussing where she parks with another employee while a customer is waiting to pick up a car? Oh, and Wisconsin? I know it was a rough winter and all that and I’ve heard that the two seasons are winter and road repair, but I’ve been on dirt roads in Africa that were better surfaced than I-43 is. I know enough Midwesterners to know that they are perfectly nice people, but these things don’t show the region at its best light.
So, was it worth the hassle? I can give an unqualified yes. Details below.
I arrived just in time for the Friday afternoon intensive session. I chose Loren Niemi’s workshop on Mapping the territory: Exploring Narrative Paths, largely because I have a few things I’ve been working on and struggling to find a way to organize into a story. I did accomplish that, but there’s a certain aspect of "be careful what you wish for" to it. I’m still not completely convinced that some of the alternate plot structures work well for oral storytelling, so being pushed to try more of them might have been better for me in the long run.
After dinner came a story concert with performances by Cathryn Fairlee, Linda Gorham, Laura Packer, Jo Radner, Nothando Zulu, and Pippa White. All of them told well. I want to particularly note Laura’s personal story about how she reacted to being told as a child that girls couldn’t do certain things. It’s a subject I relate to and she had a wonderful and humorous take on her response. I also want to mention Jo’s story about pie, which I’ve heard before and enjoyed just as much on hearing it again. And I can’t leave out the excellent job of emceeing by Yvonne Healy.
I stayed up for one fringe performance, by Britt Aamodt on her experiences in Air Force Basic Training. This was an amusing and enlightening look at a life few of us are personally familiar with. I found this story particularly interesting in light of Loren Niemi’s workshop earlier in the day.
The first workshop I went to on Saturday was Pippa White’s on Mining the Gold in the History Books: How to Find Captivating Stories in History. There was good material in this, but it wasn’t entirely satisfying because an hour and a half was not nearly enough time to really get through the whole process of crafting an historical story.
My favorite workshop of the conference was on How to Create a Story-telling Based Walking Tour by Dale Jarvis. Dale had lots of practical tips, based on years of doing ghost tours in Newfoundland. I came away with my mind racing with ideas, which is always a sign of an excellent workshop.
After lunch I went to a workshop by Sara Slayton and Terry Visger on Guilds and Festivals and Shows, Oh My. Most of this had to do with festival organizing and, frankly, it would have been better to maintain that focus since there was so much material they didn’t get to. I did pick up some useful tips, so it was worthwhile.
I followed that with going to a story swap, which was fun. I did tell a story ("Thank You, Miss Tammy") but the point was mostly to hear a lot of tellers who I don’t usually hear. And, besides, the drum circle was outdoors – brrr!
I skipped the Northlands annual meeting in favor of continuing a dinner conversation about critique in storytelling (or, as I think of it, how to damn with faint praise). Having just said that, I don’t think I can critique the evening concert, which featured Catherine Brophy, Barb Schutzgruber, Sara Slayton, Susan Stone, and Connie Reagan-Blake.
I had intended to go to a Sunday workshop and concert, but there was a high risk of travel issues due to weather approaching. So I ended up changing my flights. That proved to be a good move, as one leg of my original itinerary did end up getting canceled.
What this summary doesn’t cover is, of course, the general chats and networking, which is where much of the value of storytelling (and other!) conferences. All in all, I would consider going to Northlands again, although it is challenging as it is always the last weekend in April, which is the same time as about 700 other events. But I would stay far away from The Cove of Lake Geneva.