There are a few things on my mind about SPAH.  The main thing on my mind is this: there are a lot of good things about this event, but it’s on a downward slope, and if something doesn’t change it’s going to run right into a hole in the ground.

There are two main reasons.  The first is something I’ve mentioned before: SPAH’s membership is way, way old, white, and male.  Well over half the attendees, I would bet, were over 55.  This is a dangerously skewed population.  Organizations survive and grow only when there’s new blood coming in.  Organizations are relevant only when they reflect what’s going on int he world.

The second main reason is this.  The current leadership of SPAH is not very business-savvy, and their cultural reference points are located in the 1960s and 1970s, when the generation that grew up in the Depression and World War II began to retire.   At that time, SPAH served a social function primarily–the harmonica club was where that generation went to hang out after their working lives were over.  The current generation doesn’t need SPAH or any other harmonica club for that function anymore, and SPAH hasn’t given them another reason to show up. 

The lack of business savvy means, among other things, that at a point in time when major manufacturers are beginning to notice harmonica players and several companies are running thriving harmonica seminar businesses, there are barely any corporate sponsorships for SPAH.  Major conventions run on corporate sponsorships, period.  The absence of any for SPAH means that the convention runs on a shoe string, and man does it show.  I was handed xeroxed copies of two entirely different schedules at the registration desk, and nobody knew which one was correct.  There was a near-complete absence of signs at the event, and people were constantly asking “where do I go for…?”  There wasn’t a single seminar on the topic of making a living with the harmonica in the music business, let alone a seminar on how to write or perform any music that might be defined as currently popular. 

I’ve talked elsewhere about what’s great about SPAH, but what’s great can be done by other people too.  The “Rockers in the Rockies” event is an example.  The point is this: what’s wrong with SPAH is fatal if it isn’t fixed, and given the age of the current audience for this event, I doubt there’s more than 5 years to fix it. And it really would be a shame if SPAH goes away.