Sherry McCamley jammed on the piano as she sang original pieces to a packed house at the Allen Street Stage on Saturday afternoon.
But guests may not have been able to hear her music echoing through downtown State College during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts if it weren’t for Tom Gallagher.
Gallagher — the owner of The Music Mart on East Beaver Avenue — has been handling the sound and auto switchboard for musical acts at the fest for about 35 years.
“I can’t believe how long it’s been,” he said. “I’ve been doing this before I had The Music Mart.”
He’s been with The Music Mart for almost 27 years.
The switchboard is equipped with dozens of buttons that alter the sound of a singer’s voice or musical instrument, Gallagher said.
Nearly each button is labeled with a piece of tape and black marker with words like “keyboard” and “guitar,” which allows Gallagher to adjust the dials appropriately to the right instrument.
But even when labeled, it can get complicated.
“This one’s easy,” he said about handling the sound for McCamley. “It’s gets hard to do when there are more people on stage.”
McCamley was a solo act who played piano and used two guitar players for a few songs. It only required Gallagher to use about six channels on the switchboard.
But when Pure Cane Sugar hit the stage a few hours later, it took about 18 channels.
“They’re a larger band with more to handle,” Gallagher said. “It usually takes more than one of us to get this done.”
More than 25 years ago, auto mixers only had about 12 channels, Gallagher said.
Now there are dozens of channels to target every sound.
Gallagher even had his iPad wirelessly connected to the machine, which allowed him to step away from the tent and adjust the sounds remotely, if needed.
“That’s the power of technology these days,” he said.
But to make things more complex, Gallagher said there are no sound checks before a singer or band takes the stage.
“This is how it goes with fests like this — you mix on the fly,” Gallagher said with a laugh. “There is a fast setup. We maybe have 30 minutes to an hour before the next act comes on to make sure everything is ready.”
And even then there is a little bit of a “trial and error” approach during the first couple of songs before the sound slides perfectly into place, Gallagher said.
Luckily, he knows what it’s like on the other end.
“It’s good to know both sides of things,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher is a saxophonist with Jackie Brown and the Gill Street Band, and will play Sunday morning as a guest saxophonist with the Triple A Blues Band.
“I love it and really enjoy being out here,” he said. “It doesn’t matter the kind of weather we get like that tornado warning the other day, it’s still enjoyable.”
Acts scheduled Sunday include the Bellefonte Community Band, Urban Fusion, Feats of Strength, The Earthtones and Biscuit Jam.