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Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: frankie on May 22, 2004, 01:38:52 PM

Title: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on May 22, 2004, 01:38:52 PM
As summer approaches, I start thinking about festivals...

One thing I've noticed in going back & forth between the old-time and country blues music communities is the widely differing attitudes toward jamming.? At an old-time festival, it is absolutely normal for there to be numerous jams around the festival grounds, regardless of what may be happening on the festival stage.? Taken even a step further, it's also relatively normal for an old-time festival to have very little in the way of organized stage entertainment.? The main focus of a number of old-time events that I attend is not a performance of any kind, but the opportunity to meet up with other like minded musicians and have sessions.? Granted, very often there are contests involved, but out of 4,000 attendees at Clifftop, there were only 100 or so banjo contestants.? What's that?? 0.25%?? I know everybody has an opinion on contests.? They're certainly integral to history of old-time music, whether you think they're pointless or not.? I think it's cool to have the opportunity to win a bit of cash doing something I like, that's for sure.

I haven't been to too many blues festivals, mainly because the only focus is stage performances.? It seems to me that because the intent is to draw as much of the listening public as possible, there's very little in the way of country blues or acoustic blues at all.? When there is, it's often relegated to some "acoustic stage" or something (the acoustighetto).? Another thing I've noticed is that the fan base of country blues is largely made up of players - maybe mostly male, but regardless of sex, I bet it's fair to say that a fair percentage of fans also play.? I've often heard people interested in promoting acoustic blues lament that there aren't more people who just listen...? I used to think that too...? then I thought "wait... what if we could just accept that CB has a large base of fans/players - and build on it in that way?"? At the blues festivals I've been to, there's been no jamming at all to speak of - maybe in clubs around where the festival was held, but almost always electric in nature and more along the lines of a performance (although a spontaneous and informal one), rather than a bunch of spontaneous sessions.

How hard would it be to adapt the old-time festival model to country blues?? I know that CB is very typically something that's performed solo - but that's also true of old-time music, especially the kinds of fiddle tunes that have been in vogue lately.? Maybe it's harder with blues because it's so guitar-centric...? of course, it doesn't have to be, but that doesn't change the fact that the vast majority of CB players out there are guitarists.? My feeling is that this kinda makes sessions difficult - they tend to be pretty samey and "volume-oriented" when it's a bunch of guitars beating away.? Are CB players too cranky or misanthropic to participate generally in something as democratic as a session?? I'm talking about even moving away from the workshop model - the focus would not be to learn, but to play.? Period.? I'm not saying that there couldn't be a few workshops here & there, but that wouldn't be the focus.? Not at all.

Would you, dear reader, be interested at all in a festival that met this description:


Would you require some kind of stage performance to get you interested?? Would a three-day weekend (maybe more) of jamming make you want to break out your instruments & camping gear?? Whaddaya think?

Sorry to run off at the keyboard...
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Johnm on May 22, 2004, 04:27:56 PM
Hi Frank,
You are getting at a lot of interesting stuff here.  One of the great things about Old Time Music is that it is not about performance, it is about PLAYING.  I think partially for this reason, many really stellar Old-Time musicians that I know are somewhat tongue-tied and stymied when placed in concert situations;  their whole learning experience in the music has equipped them to participate in the music by making it, not to take into consideration questions of being "entertaining", putting together a good set, in-between tunes patter, etc.  One of the great things about the emphasis on playing is that it does equip people to participate in jams relatively quickly, so long as they apply themselves, listen, and are willing to defer to the more experienced heads present, which is perfectly fair and appropriate.

I think Country Blues does not lend itself to jamming as well as Old-Time for a few reasons.  One is that most fiddle tunes are "one-offs", which is to say that there is no fiddle tune equivalent of the 12-bar form which tells the experienced player that the IV chord is going to arrive on the fifth bar, etc.  What this means is that to play on a fiddle tune, you have to learn that particular tune, whereas to play on many Blues songs you can get by simply by plugging the appropriate key into the form (not that this is going to result in particularly inspired or inspiring music).  Another reason jamming can be problematic in Country Blues is that more often than not it was set up for a solo guitar accompaniment, with that accompaniment calculated to be musically self-sufficient, running the rhythmic engine, providing the chordal sub-structure and playing melody or fills.  Those of us who love the style love these guitar parts, the best ones are amazing, but in terms of jamming the problem is that they make additional guitar parts unnecessary.  And when a group of aficionados get together and have all learned more or less the same version of a tune, how do they play it together?  All at once, on top of each other, taking turns, sitting out, capoing and playing out of a different position, what?  It's certainly possible to go after pre-existing duet sounds, like Frank Stokes/Dan Sane, or Fred McMullen /Curley Weaver, where there is a more tightly delineated division of musical labor, or create new duet sounds with similar approaches.  Part of the problem is that a guitar takes up so much musical space, being both a harmonic and melodic instrument.  For this reason, I think it is great to get more non-guitar instruments, preferably ones that are primarily melodic, playing Country Blues, like fiddle, mandolin, clarinet, trumpet.  For a jamming type of situation similar to what happens in Old Time music to happen with Country Blues, I think it is essential to get other non-guitar instruments involved, even if it is in ways that have never happened in the music before.  I think the jamming also becomes more interesting the more it welcomes tunes and songs that do not conform to the formal conventions that can end up making so many blues sound the same.  To the extent that songs selected for jams do not do what you expect them to do, they require greater attention, listening and focus in the moment, and serve notice that simply plugging into the form and going on automatic pilot is not going to cut it.  Musically speaking, this is all to the good, I think.

I would be very interested in a three-day week-end event of the type you describe, mostly for the emphasis on playing.  I like the idea of the learning happening in the course of playing.  And I like the idea of Country Blues players developing the kind of skills that will enable them to function as accompanists in a straight chordal "boom-chang" kind of role in addition to playing the great solo guitar parts we all love.  It would be nice to throw the repertoire a bit wider too, get some Old-Time or pre-Blues cross-over going.  It all sounds good to me.  I would be very interested in attending such an event.
All best,
Johnm   
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Rivers on May 22, 2004, 07:54:10 PM
We have one big annual folk festival here, the pool being too small to allow much segmentation by genre. In previous years I've always gone home with more or less a sense of disappointment. This year was different, I went to only one of the stage performances. The other three days were spent playing some righteous music in the campsite. I played more music than I've done in years and met a lot of good musicians.

We've learned to set up our tent site in proximity to like minded musicians, and bring plenty of camping gas lights, tiki torches, chairs, tables, etc. People just drift by and stay. Small crowds collect, groove along, and disperse.

So basically Frank I think your post is spot on. The trick would be selling it to people who are somewhat conditioned to expect everything to revolve around the stage. I think it's the direction we should all be pushing our respective scenes. I don't know what it's like in the States but here a lot of these things are arranged by enthusiasts who are not musicians so there's a bit of a gulf in what gets done to what could be done.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: lindy on May 22, 2004, 10:34:00 PM
The other three days were spent playing some righteous music in the campsite. I played more music than I've done in years and met a lot of good musicians.

So Rivers, following up on some of the ideas that JohnM mentioned in his post, what kind of righteous music was it?  Was it CB with people taking turns soloing over boom-chuck, jug band music, some uptown blues with some of those jazzy chords you've been working on? 

I'm trying to get at the point that Frankie raised, about the lack of CB jamming when compared to more folky scenarios, and I'm wondering if there are things that happened at your 3-day folk fest that can be recreated elsewhere.

Lindy
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: uncle bud on May 23, 2004, 08:52:25 AM
Having no experience of Old Time festivals and jams, I don't know how the jams work. JohnM mentions the players learning particular tunes. What then happens in a jam? I guess more variety of instruments helps but if you have 3 fiddle players and 3 guitar players and a couple banjos, what do they do in a jam? Each take turns playing the "head" (dunno what they call it in old time!), soloing, the rest comping or sitting out a chorus (or 2 or 3)?

I remember one Port Townsend jam several years ago where about 12 guitar players were playing Walkin' Blues. I nearly fell off my chair laughing it was so absurd. It was hugely dumb and tremendously fun for a few minutes, and I think the park ranger showed up and shut us down. He should have thrown us in jail. But to break out of that kind of absurd jamming requires a good knowledge of seconding or different instruments (mandos, harps, jug band instruments etc). There was a class on jamming a couple years ago as well. It was a noble effort, but is the kind of thing that comes from experience and repetition, and as people have said, this is in so many ways a solo performance music.

That said, when I listen to the Mississippi Sheiks, one of the things that's often in my head is how good some of the material would be for Port Townsend jamming if a bunch of people would learn the tunes in different ways (on mando, fiddle, etc). There'a a lot of basic guitar accompaniment for other instruments to play over.

Very interesting topic. JohnM's point of learning happening in the course of playing is very appealing, as is getting more pre-blues and old-time in there to widen the repertoire (and limit the chance of descending into 12 bar blues jam hell). Also, thinking about different ways to approach a tune to open it up to more players. An example that comes to mind was Michael Browne teaching Bull Doze Blues on mandolin. A lot of Henry Thomas would sound good on mando, IMO. Things like that.

Re. Port Townsend, why not put together a list of tunes people could listen to and work on a bit with a mind to ensemble playing or jamming. Perhaps without being too standard in our selections (e.g., Walkin' Blues may be considered standard). We could post chord changes and lyrics here (in a new thread, since I'm now veering off topic)...

Of course, I couldn't solo to save my ass but hell I can boom-chick :)
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: GhostRider on May 23, 2004, 10:38:44 AM
HI:

I think Uncle Bub has a good idea about getting a list together for PT. One song that I've tried in ensemble settings that has worked out OK is Goin' to Kansas City, either the J.Jackson version or more appropriately the Memphis Jug Band version. And this tune lends itself to vocal jamming as well, as any blues verse will work.

And someone has to play lead kazoo!

How 'bout melding together the many versions of How Long, How Long Blues?

Where they don't allow you,
Alex
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on May 23, 2004, 10:51:53 PM
I should probably clarify the dynamics of an old-time session for those of you unfamiliar with one.? A typical old-time session has no list of tunes.? The tunes played may be common ones, or it may be a session that developed on a certain topic:? as a result of picking the brain of a particular player for less common tunes, tunes from a particular regions, tunes in F (usually a short session!), tunes with animals in the title, whatever...? The session usually sticks with one key for a long time in deference to the banjos and fiddles, since many players use specific tunings for each key.? This definitely cuts down on re-tuning, and also allows participants to really mine a particular position on their instrument.? There are no breaks or solos in an old-time session.? Everyone is free to play the tune in the way they see fit (there are limits, of course).? Songs may have instrumental interludes between verses, but these are more a collective statement of the melody (or reformation of the melody) than they are a solo of any kind.? Instruments in an old-time session have pretty specific roles - the fiddle is primarily responsible for the melody, the guitar for the rhythm and the banjo does a little of both.? There is a tendency these days for fiddlers to draw very heavily from the solo fiddle repertoire of West Virginia and Kentucky.? These are typically tunes with a lot of subtlety with regard to bowing and as a result, it seems to me that a lot of guitar and banjo players have adopted a? "don't interfere with the fiddle" mentality.? I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiment in principle, but it does have the unfortunate effect of avoiding interplay almost entirely.? It also, in my opinion, has the tendency to make the music a little bland.

In my opinion, old-time music is as close to the spirit of early jazz as bluegrass is to swing.? Much of old-time music is a controlled cacophony of spontaneous counterpoint.? Speaking for myself, I'm not a big fan of the rhythm/lead dichotomy.? I prefer the division of labor to be more flexible and to allow different musicians to find and explore voices in different registers.? If there are less experienced players, of course they should feel free to get a handle on the tune in the best way they can...? I do love good backup, though - done well, it's as demanding any "solo" you could think of.

For the sake of argument, I'll take the position of a country blues hard-liner - the merits of other music forms aside, why should country blues be compelled to borrow repertoire from other styles?? The guitar arrangements in CB are exciting, but I wonder...? if you took the specifics of the guitar line away and were left with the chords and lyrics to a tune, would you not still have a pretty damn good song?? Take Ed Bell's Hambone - the guitar part smokes, but even stripping most of that away and playing that weird 8-bar pattern with the elongated phrase for the I chord - I imagine that'd be a pretty cool tune to pull out in a session, as long as the participants, as JohnM so eloquently puts it,? "apply themselves, listen, and are willing to defer to the more experienced heads present."? In this vision I have of a CB session, it'd be perfectly acceptable, even preferable, to play tunes that were consistently 13 1/2 measures.? This would mean distancing one's self from the definitive version of a song and being willing to re-think it on the fly, using whatever musical vocabulary you have at your disposal.? I'm not interested in abandoning the solo performer aspect in CB (anymore than I am for abandoning it in OT fiddle music), but I am suggesting that making CB work in an ensemble context will require having a different relationship to that body of music.

My biggest fear is that it would result in taking OUT all the stuff I like about the music simply for the sake of getting it played in groups.? It definitely wouldn't be worth doing if the end product didn't meet my expectations both as a listener and a player.? It's gotta have lots of ingredients - preferably yummy ones.

It's late and maybe I'm not expressing myself as well as I should...? I'd love to find a way to get CB out of the shadow of electric, post-war blues styles (the acousti-ghetto).? Appealing to the mass audience of passive listeners doesn't ever seem to have caught on, does it?? It often seems like it's about to catch on, but never really makes it.? CB has a lot going for it - interesting songs, lots of stylistic diversity, rich instrumental and vocal vocabulary to draw on.? Seems like it's a natch for ensemble playing...? just need to get a bunch of people together who are on the same wavelength to start treating it like their own music, rather than something gleaned only from CDs and TAB books.

Would this result in a bunch of half-assed crappy music?? I dunno...? maybe...? but at least you would have made it yourself in the company of friends, using your own hands and ears.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: lindy on May 24, 2004, 10:34:18 AM

I remember during the first couple of years I attended the workshop, when I was still trying to figure out "Freight Train" and what "dropped D" meant, I sometimes felt this weird pressure that I *had* to jam.  A couple of other participants felt the same way, and one pointed out that a lot of the workshop staff had worked for many many years with the Fiddle Tunes workshop, where players jam on porches, in bathrooms, on stairwells, and in broom closets.  I'll never forget the time I was in 204 and the elevator doors opened and I saw 3 guys playing Cripple Creek.  Those people play with their friends all year long, and when they go to Port Townsend, they play the same songs in the same way but with different players.  And they have a blast doing it.

I've got some ideas why country blues folk tend to be soloists more than ensemble players, but I'll save that for another rant.  But it's a natural fact, which leads to the kind of situation that Uncle Bud gave such a great description of.  I once counted 13 guitar players sitting around in a big circle upstairs in 204, playing the longest renditions of Jimmy Reed tunes I've ever heard.  There seemed to be some unspoken rule that once a song started, everyone had to solo. 

I have a bias about the word "jam." I associate the word more with jazz than any other music genre, perhaps the result of sneaking into jazz clubs in NYC as a high school kid and being enamored with that music.  The way I have the word wired into my head, it fits for bluegrass, electric blues, and rock and roll--that is, solo single-note improvising over a rhythm section.  It fits for some kinds of CB, but not all.  There's that large body of music that JohnM referred to where the player is a one-(wo)man music machine, playing a song the same way they've played it hundreds of times before.  I've mentioned this idea several times in this forum, but can you imagine Mance Lipscomb, John Jackson, Mississippi John Hurt and a long list of other CB heroes playing *by themselves* for a Saturday night dance?  Keeping those grooves going for hours to keep dancers dancing without the help of any other musician?  That's what a lot of them did.  Not much improvising, but a lot of pure rhythm.

Back to "jamming" as it fits country blues. One of the best sessions I ever took part in at PT took the best of both worlds and brought them together.  It started out as a song-sharing session, with people playing the solo tunes they'd been working on around their kitchen tables by their lonesome.  Then someone played a song that had a perfect space for a harmonica solo.  Someone else had a washboard handy, and then a big 'ol bass showed up.  But as the evening progressed, the solo players/songsters kept taking their turns, too.  It was a nice combination, some jamming in the sense of the word I described for jazz, a few guitar-and-harmonica duets, a few attempts at a jug band sound, and a some songster-types who didn't need accompaniment, who just gave a mini-performance of a tune they'd been working on.  I think this model of "jamming" fits country blues better than the old-timey model.

Two ideas from past workshops that I'd like to see continued or reinstated in this vein: jug band classes and inviting someone like Buck Sinegal to teach single-note runs.  Just try to program the jug band class so you don't have 25 people stomping on the second floor at the same time someone is trying to teach solo licks in the room directly below.  That didn't work.

Lindy
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on May 24, 2004, 06:48:23 PM
Hi Lindy - points taken.? Of course, there are lots of different kinds of sessions.? Song circles can be great too, especially the flexible kind you described in your post.? One thing I noticed in my one year at PT is that there were usually too many players (for my tastes) in any given jam.? This happens frequently in OT, too.? Sometimes a big jam is fun, sometimes (as Larry Johnson would say) a jam ain't nothin' but a jam.? It's hard to know how much is too much, and even after it becomes clear, there's a natural tendency towards group cohesion that makes dividing up the session difficult.? It tends to bring out the worst in people.

If I were to organize an event along these lines, frankly, I'd hope there were a bunch of different flavors of sessions happening.? I'd hope that there would be sessions until 4am every night, guys that make and sell homemade Peg Leg Howell t-shirts, campsites lit with kerosene lamps, campfires, canopies lit up with all manner of weird lights, kids seeing this music made by hundreds of people and not just by mom or dad in the living room...? I'd wanna wake up one morning to the sound of somebody fooling around with Noah Lewis' Devil In The Woodpile ringing through camp as the smell of coffee drifts by my tent door.

The main thing is that it would (in theory) be something that would offer CB nuts an excuse to get out of their respective holes, grab their instruments and un-self-consciously commune with other CB nuts in whatever way they can best do so.? I guess workshops are like that in a way, but there's something different about the anarchy & lack of structure in a festival.? It's almost like a chance to re-shape the world with like-minded folks into the way you'd rather see it.

Okay, so now I'm getting sappy about festivals...? time to sign off!
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: uncle bud on May 25, 2004, 07:51:16 AM
Interesting points. I agree with Lindy that the best jams I've seen at PT aren't jams per se but song circles with occasional jamming, different instruments sitting in. Those can be difficult themselves though when you have twelve guitarists sitting around feeling like they should be playing something.

Thanks for the clarification re. old time sessions for us unwashed ones Frank (or perhaps that should be washed). Is there a kind of tradition in oldtime equivalent to learning standards in jazz, a basic, broad repertoire that players familiarize themselves with? There also seems to be more "rules" and protocol, which may be restrictive in one sense but sounds like it facilitates things in another sense.

At PT, part of what it comes down to is more of us learning to play complete tunes! Certainly is this case for me. I hope to have a few to play this year. I think the same might be true of a festival situation of the kind you're describing, with people bringing their instruments. With CB, I think there's more of a division of people who perform and people who noodle around, rather than a bunch of people just getting together to play the music. One of the nice things about the Back Porch here is that it gets noodlers like myself thinking more in terms of putting an entire tune together, rather than this endless cycle of learning bits and pieces, constantly having something in the works, but nothing coming together completely. Notice I said thinking, not posting.  :D

You're talking about creating a space where people just play the music, as JohnM implied, which is a great idea.

Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Cambio on May 25, 2004, 11:21:08 AM
Hello Fellas,
I've sat on the sidelines for a little while, taking in the discussions and debates, which I have found to be intriguing and intelligent, this is the first time that I have really felt a strong urge to reply.  I have to say that I'm in Frank's camp.  I think that the kind of get together he describes would be fantastic and would present endless musical possibilities.  I think that I should give my musical backround first, since this is my first post.  I started playing harmonica and piano when I was a little kid, got hooked by Muddy Waters and started playing harmonica with bands on the South Side of Chicago when I was 14.  I didn't get into CB until I was 18 and saw a guy named Catfish Stephenson playing on the streets of Madison, Wisconsin.  I started playing on the streets with him but soon found that my Chicago style harp didn't fit in with the wierd hokum and rag tunes that he would play.  He sugested that I listen to some Jazz Gillum and Noah Lewis stuff.  I was hooked.  I played harp with him for about four years and then an upright bass came into my possesion.  I started noodling on that until I got good enough to bring that onto the street.  Our earnings doubled!  I worked as a sideman with different guitar players for a while after meeting Catfish, picking up little bits of guitar from each one of them.  I finally got tired of working in the shadow of guitar players and dealing with their unique personalities, so I did something very puzzling:  I started playing guitar.  I still can't figure that one out.  I don't read music or tab.  I sometimes learn a tune from a record, but more often than not learn it from what I remember of a record or from another guitar playing friend.  I am quite often told, "That's not how it goes."  I often reply, "That's how it just went."
I think that people have presented quite a few valid points about why a weekend of CB jamming would possibly be an awkward thing.  I think that people are looking at it from the guitar player perspective.  I think that it would be awkward if it was composed of all guitar players.  I assume that most of the people that post here are multi-instrumentalists, even the second or third instrument is barely passable.
I have only one OT Festival experience, I went to Clifftop last year.  A fiddler friend had talked me into going to try to peddle some guitars.   Now I'm not much of an old time guy, but I had the time of my life.  I heard some of the best live music that I have ever heard and I met Frank to boot.  I had a hard time describing it to anyone when I got home, because it was such a unique experience.  Try to imagine 5,000 people, 4,500 of whom are musicians of some sort, camping out in a West Virginia State Park, playing in their camps until the wee hours of the night.  When you're not playing, they're walking around listening to the music in the various camps.  The camps are the stages, and the festival goers are the performers and audience.  Every night there is a big barn dance that starts out with the 5 finalists from the various contests and ends with the music of a great band.  And I mean great. 
If every band were a fiddle, banjo, guitar combination the festival would have been boring.  But there were endless combinations.  There were harmonicas, musical saws, bowed basses, dobros, one gal even had a pump organ.  Can you imagine lugging that thing around?  I saw a mandolin, guitar duet that was astounding, playing rags that I had never heard.  At the same time there was a group that was playing Pink Floyd tunes with traditional old time instruments.  My buddies and I agreed that those were the real hillbillies and that's what old time had really morphed into, not people playing Civil War tunes.
Once a year some buddies that I used to play with, and I get together for a weekend during the winter, and go to a cabin in the woods in Northern Wisconsin.  We fill the place up with all kinds of instruments and play for the whole weekend.  We've been doing it for eight years and we look forward to it all year long.  It's the chance we get to play our bass, harmonica, mandolin, jug etc. with other people, make mistakes and learn.  We are all guitar players and we all play solo stuff during the rest of the year, some of which works with a group some which doesn't.  We don't play the stuff that doesn't.
I think that people who wonder about how such a weekend would work just need to listen to there record collection or use their imagination.  What did Charley Patton and Son Simms sound like?  What about the Shieks or the Memphis Jug Band?  Willie McTell and Curley Weaver?  What would Lemon and Leadbelly playing together sound like?  What about John Hurt playing with Narmour and Smith?  I think that the majority of the old guys played with other people, whether it was for comradery, or to make money.  I'll tell you from my experience playing on the street, you make a lot more money when you're playing with someone else and it's a lot less work.  It makes it easier for lay people to listen.  They have lazy ears, as did most of us when we first started listening to CB.  That's why John Hurt drags so many people in.  He breaks it down to a level that is easier to understand.
I'll stop there. Thanks.

Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: uncle bud on May 25, 2004, 08:36:48 PM
Hi Todd, welcome aboard! The Wisconsin weekend sounds like a blast.

There are a number of multi-instrumentalists here and who attend Port Townsend. Mandolin seems to be the favored 2nd instrument, and one I try to play at essentially a beginner level. It's been good to see the inclusion of mando and fiddle teachers at Port Townsend, which is obviously hugely guitar heavy. I'd like to see some more fiddlers show up as I think it's a great addition to country blues tunes.

Re. McTell and Weaver. Been listening to them a lot lately. Always get a kick out of hearing McTell straighten up his time all of a sudden when playing with Curly.

So, Frank, when's the festival. Do we just show up at your house? :D
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on May 27, 2004, 08:59:08 AM
I've just been re-reading this thread and it hit me how 'on target' JohnM's first post to the topic is.  He really nailed both the assets & liabilities of CB as 'session material'...  for myself, I'm excited of the prospect of a festival along these lines (couldn't tell, could ya?) , and curious as all get out to see what different folks would make of it.  After all, it's just an opportunity - it'll be (or not) whatever the participants make of it.

Anyway, Todd & I have been having a little off-list discussion - a buddy of his came up with the idea of setting up a CB camp within Clifftop.  I'm definitely excited about the idea of trying some of these ideas in real time to see what pans out.

Uncle Bud, you're always welcome at my house - just make sure you bring your mandolin!

I'm curious about what you all think about the idea of a contest, though...  Have any of you had any experience with a music competition before?  What did you think of it?  They do have a way of generating excitement about the music, but I can understand why people would feel weird about the prospect of competiton in general... 
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Johnm on May 28, 2004, 02:36:48 PM
Hi Frank,
There used to be a banjo contest at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in the first couple of years I went to it as a kid, 1963-1965 or '66.  There were also banjo contests at Sunset Park, a Country Music park I went to near where I grew up around the same time.  I remember finding them very entertaining and generally assuming, with the wisdom of my years (12-14 years old) that the fix was in.  Many people I know out here go every summer to the National Fiddle Championships in Weiser, Idaho, but my sense that it's like Clifftop in that people go more for the scene than the contest.
I think contests are okay, so long as people realize how nutty they are.  Can you imagine trying to judge an Old-Time banjo contest in which Hobart Smith, Fred Cockerham, Dock Boggs, and Will Keys were participants?  I suppose my other wish for a contest would be that the contestants play real music, and not a "contest style", created for the sole purpose of winning such contests.  The existence of such styles is a sure sign of a decadent contest culture.  Look out!
All best,
Johnm   
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Rivers on May 30, 2004, 11:49:44 AM
Lindy, Sorry I've been off the board for a week so couldn't respond before. The 'pooling' that tends to happen in these circles is, in my experience, dictated by a critical mass of players into a certain style that know each other and their repertoires. If you're playing country blues loud enough and well enough you attract others who play country blues. We touched on country blues (all kinds), jazz, old country. There's always room for a good tune played well whatever the genre.

Personlly I'm too eclectic a player to enjoy a strict regime of close-to-original anything. I avoid Irish/Celtic diddley-aye & bluegrass/old-time circles for this reason. Also for the reason I can't play it. It's too set and rigid for my taste, to the point of everything sounding the same, song after song. to my bemused ear it often seems engineered to exclude anyone who hasn't spent thousands of hours learning the secret codes built in to the music, you know, the subtle key change that occurs in the 197th bar that if you miss it eyebrows are raised. Boring!.

If you want further justification for not getting too strict look at the off-blues genre repertoires of Charlie Patton, Tampa Red, Robert Johnson, Broonzy, RGD et al. There is no way they would have segmented their choice of material so rigidly.

So I guess I'm in favor of the proposal and against it simultaneously. I have zero desire to sit with players who might scold me for launching into anything perceived to be somehow slightly off-genre. At the same time I'm all for promoting country blues to its rightful place in the hand-made music world. What to do.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on June 01, 2004, 09:10:50 AM
I think contests are okay, so long as people realize how nutty they are.? Can you imagine trying to judge an Old-Time banjo contest in which Hobart Smith, Fred Cockerham, Dock Boggs, and Will Keys were participants?? I suppose my other wish for a contest would be that the contestants play real music, and not a "contest style", created for the sole purpose of winning such contests.? The existence of such styles is a sure sign of a decadent contest culture.?

I totally agree.? I don't mind playing in a contest, but I'm not sure I'd ever want to judge one.? I know a couple of guys that are old enough to have participated in one way or another in the contest at Galax, VA when Wade Ward and Kyle Creed were alive.? I think I remember George Pegram's name coming up as well, but I could be getting that confused...? not an easy time at all for the judges, I guess.

I was actually mulling over playing Dock Boggs' False Hearted Lover's Blues? at one or two contests this year...? If I can get myself to where I can sing it, I may just go for it.

Contests are, frankly, utterly irrational, imo.? They can be a great opportunity to hear a bunch of good playing, though.  They can also focus attention on the style and what makes the style 'go' so to speak...  I won the fingerpicked category of an old-time banjo contest last year.  A few of the other contestants were really good bluegrass players, but failed to acknowledge what makes old-time music what it is (which is not a bunch of hot licks strung together to make everybody go 'ooooohhhh').  There was no way that I could be considered a better banjo player than those guys in any general sense, but the judges chose to reward me for what I knew & demonstrated about old-time music and old-time picking styles.  I *think* that's the way a contest oughtta work, but I guess that's easy to say when you win...

So I guess I'm in favor of the proposal and against it simultaneously. I have zero desire to sit with players who might scold me for launching into anything perceived to be somehow slightly off-genre. At the same time I'm all for promoting country blues to its rightful place in the hand-made music world. What to do.

I don't know the answer to your question...? for myself, I figure if I want to promote CB, I have to play it.? I may not play it to the letter, but I love trying to use the language of CB (and o-t music, too) in different ways, different contexts.? I'm not as good at it as some are...? but the fun is there to be had.? I had a couple of dynamite sessions over the weekend that managed to include Elder Greene Blues - fiddle, guitar, mandolin and banjo-uke co-existed happily on that.? I also accompanied Pat Conte on R. Wilkins' Prodigal Son, but tried to imagine what it'd be like if Dan Sane was backing him up.? That was fun!? I heard Pat back up a fiddler on a number of composed tunes with a five-string, but using a bunch of different right hand styles, most of which are sadly neglected in old-time circles these days.? There was a bunch of other stuff played - Andrew Baxter tunes, the Lewis Bothers, Charley Patton, Will Batts.

When it came to blues, the main things to get right were 1) that the tune should have a definite melody (especially if there are no words!? This one becomes less important if #2 is satisfied) 2) if there are words, the person singing should be able to recall more than one or two verses.? That's usually where I fall flat...? Things that worked well also had little quirks about them - like the timing of the changes on Prodigal Son, or the timing of the turnaround riff on Pony Blues.? That kind of stuff keeps everybody's ears pricked up and looking for ideas.  And once everybody 'gets' those quirks, the tune starts to take on a life of its own.

If everybody involved is willing to try new things and to risk goofing up (and enjoy goofing off), then the session will be fun - simple as that.? Some stuff isn't going to work at all with any more than one other person - those tunes are best avoided once that becomes clear...? or maybe try and approach them some other way...? I dunno - there's gotta be ways to make it work.? It seems clear to me after this weekend that there's more to be gained in trying it than there is in not doing it...

I don't see this at all as attempting to exclude people who haven't listened to things a gazillion times.? Rather, trying to find ways to include people who, by all accounts, have invested a lot of time listening already...? If my playing encourages somebody to listen as well...? damn...? how cool would that be?
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Johnm on June 01, 2004, 10:14:41 AM
The session with Pat Conte sounds like a hell of a lot of fun, Frank!  I could use a few sessions like that.  I like the sound of the different banjo styles, too.  Similarly there is a lot of variety in Old-Time back-up styles.  I particularly like the guy in the Leake County Revellers.  Byrd Moore was kind of a hot shot, too.
It sounds like what you are shooting for will work, as long as you keep eyes on the prize--fun!
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on June 01, 2004, 10:40:20 AM
I particularly like the guy in the Leake County Revellers.? Byrd Moore was kind of a hot shot, too.

I got to play a bit on Sunday with Harry Bolick - he's been looking into the history of Mississippi string bands and plays all of that stuff, as you can imagine.  I needled him into playing Sullivan's Hollow - what a joy to play...  real simplicity in the guitar part, but I love pushing that tune along and articulating the pulse.

It sounds like what you are shooting for will work, as long as you keep eyes on the prize--fun!

Agreed - thanks!
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: waxwing on June 22, 2004, 01:31:10 PM
This thread has really brought up a lot of thoughts for me. I tried to post to it a while ago and couldn't really get out what I was trying to say, and then, having left the window open for a couple days, I lost it in a glitch. RRRRRRRR.
Anyway, I still think of myself as a pup in the world of music, specifically blues (prewar? country? you know). Due to my performance skills as an actor, I am able to perform a well practiced form with feeling and dynamic, but I don't really think of myself as a musician, especially after seeing the kind of depth and communication that happens between people like Del and Steve and Susie and others, as I did last night. Or just sitting around afterwards with a local player, J.L.Stiles (young enough to be my son) and hearing him just pick out something that he heard them play, knowing the changes, and throwing down a credible treble line over chords and a bass line, in minutes. It really brings home to me the years of immersion that people like John M. and Frank have had to have the ear and the hands (ear/hand coordination?) to be able to play together with others so creatively. I'm humbled and inspired.
I was fortunate at my first PT to fall in with the lads from Sitka from the get go. Having a band that plays together, like Belly Meat, as the core for a group jam is indispensible when you have a lot of folks like me barely ably to noodle around the pentatonic scale (never mind chordal forms or the actual melody). Gary and Lee and Ernie and the others not only have a lot of experience playing together (i.e. repertoire) but also a very open spirit that really makes room and encourages eveyone else in the jam. I think having a core is key to the larger jams that happen at PT.
On another front, something that has been suggesting itself to me quite a bit lately is the idea of blues duets. I have become more aware of how many duos were recorded in the prewar era. Two guitars, guitar and fiddle, guitar and mandolin, guitar and harp, guitar and piano, guitar and washboard. This format really appeals to me because the guitar is still utilized to its full capacity. As I recall, it is discussed above, that, as more instruments are added, the guitar no longer needs to be responsible for bass line and melody, and is simplified to the role of rhythm. But, then again, maybe this is a good place for me to learn about the dynamics and to learn to feel the changes. Nonetheless, having had a taste of playing with a harp player, I'll definitely be looking for opportunities to do some duos at PT. I really like the description Lindy posted where it started out as a song circle, people taking turns playing solo, and then maybe one or two folks joining in. Lots of listening goin' on, but also lots of learning, for the likes of me. And the workshop John M. mentioned, doing duos with Susie, sounds perfect for where I'm coming from at the moment. Jeez, along these lines, it'd be good to recruit some other instruments to Weenie Campbell, eh? I know we do have some multi instrumentalists, but it'd be cool to have a harp board or a fiddle board.
So I seem to be all over the place here, but I guess I'm realizing that I'm just experiencing the tip of the iceberg. I'm realizing that my ear is developing a bit and I'm beginning to slowly be able to transcribe the songs I'm interested in. But at the same time I can now see more clearly the depth of some of the players around me. Seems like there's no better place to be than here on the WCB and at PT. And the direction Frank is going with this idea gets my vote. Just hope I can reach some of the places I can see before arthritis starts limiting my capabilities. Should be quite a while yet, especially if I keep usin' my fingers like I have been lately.
Can't wait to get together with you guys.
All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on July 29, 2004, 12:48:36 PM
I'm going to be getting ready for Clifftop over the weekend...  even though I've got a mean case of poison ivy, I'm stoked about meeting up with TC & his buddy.  I've run into a few people at smaller festivals who have expressed some interest in playing blues & such in a little session, so with luck, things will work out well.  Just gotta remember the words, the words!
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Johnm on July 29, 2004, 04:25:39 PM
Have a good time, Frank.  I hope I can make it to Clifftop one of these years.  I have heard nothing but good things about it.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 01, 2004, 01:08:33 PM
A chance of a little rain over Tuesday & Wednesday at Clifftop, but not too bad after that:

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?High/
? ?Date? ? ? ? Outlook? ? ? ? ? ?Low? ? ? Precip.
==========? ==================? ?=======? =======
Tue Aug 03? Isolated T-Storms? ? 82?/65?? 30 %   
Wed Aug 04? Scattered T-Storms? ?77?/61?? 40 %
Thu Aug 05? Partly Cloudy? ? ? ? 74?/59?? 20 %
Fri Aug 06? Mostly Sunny? ? ? ? ?74?/55?? 20 %
Sat Aug 07? Partly Cloudy? ? ? ? 73?/55?? 20 %
Sun Aug 08? Partly Cloudy? ? ? ? 74?/60?? 20 %
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 10, 2004, 12:47:32 PM
Clifftop...? what a nutty thing...? I had the best time ever this year, even with a blistering case of poison ivy that didn't subside until pretty late in the week.? The kids were a little more autonomous this year, so I had more chances to play.? The best thing about Clifftop for me this time around was playing lots and lots of guitar - almost all of it country blues or ragtime.? Todd's guitars were incredible - a real hit.? The triple-O sized six string Stella copy that he brought along was like lightning in a wood box.? What a voice in that guitar!? I succumbed to the temptation of the twelve, sold my Delphi and picked up one of his jumbo 12-string repros.? Man...? what a guitar!

There were lots of musical highs for me and a bunch of cool contexts for country blues.? I got to meet MotMot who made this his first festival experience.? We had a nice session that was mostly blues with some jazzier stuff thrown in.? We were accompanied by Drew Smith, a champion autoharp player from Northern New Jersey - his rendering of St. Louis Blues on the autoharp had me damn near in tears...? I'm not exactly a huge autoharp fan outside of Kilby Snow, but Drew is great - can play anything...

I also ran into Nate Layne from Richmond.? If you like guys that are obsessed, you'd like Nate.? He sings like Clarence Ashley, is crazy about Gwen Foster, plays a banjo-guitar with a 16 inch head and plays harp in rack.? I had one session on a rainy morning with Todd and Nate both playing harp in a rack with my plunking along on my National soup can.? Some Sheiks, some Papa Charlie Jackson, lots of stuff out of Nate's bag, which is deep and weird!

A word about Todd - he's a great guitar player and an absolutely killer singer!? He's got great taste in tunes, like Lottie Kimbrough's Lost Lover Blues or the? Carter Family's Forsaken Love.? Getting to play with Todd was really inspiring and makes me want to focus more on my voice in general.? One of my favorite memories was of a late night session with me, Todd, Kim, and fiddlers Randy Johnson and Paul Tooley.? Todd and I mixed up songs between the fiddle tunes - songs like Pallet on the Floor, Take Me Back, Elder Greene, Lost Lover, Lonely One In This Town...? for most of the session, we were free from the yoke of banjo-derived key oppression, so we were free to range over a number of keys & styles.? It was just a brilliant time - having the two guitars supporting each other and providing this great rolling accompaniment for the fiddling...? wow...? what a sound!

I came by my campsite one afternoon to find a guy named Adam Tanner sitting there playing Bo Carter tunes.? Now I'm not the biggest Bo Carter fan (at least I *wasn't*), but playing BC tunes with Adam made me realize that those songs can easily support more than one person.? It was a blast accompanying him.? Later on, we played some Blind Lemon, Mississippi Sheiks and Charlie Patton.? His fiddling is really great - he's got a CD of fiddle rags and blues which you can check out at his website (http://www.old97wrecords.com).? He plays mandolin, too, and has a fine singing voice.

At one point, a fiddler named Alan Kaufman stopped by and had the idea to play some blues in the traditional band contest.? What we ended up doing was playing Dock Boggs' Old Alcohol Rub Blues (splitting the difference between blues & old-time, I guess).? For a band that got about seven minutes of practice time, we sounded pretty good!

There were a bunch of other sessions large and small - those are just the highlights.? I came away from it feeling more certain that blues really can be a "session" music, especially if you've got a couple of strong players in the mix.? The rules of old-time music don't necessarily apply, but the spirit is certainly there!
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: MotMot on August 10, 2004, 07:09:08 PM
Clifftop...? what a nutty thing...? < . . . snip . . . >
 I got to meet MotMot who made this his first festival experience.?

Indeed it was my first.? (I don't think being a spectator at past Merlefests compares in any way with the amazing scene that is Clifftop).? My thanks to you for inspiring me to go in the first place.

We had a nice session that was mostly blues with some jazzier stuff thrown in.?We were accompanied by Drew Smith, a champion autoharp player from Northern New Jersey - his rendering of St. Louis Blues on the autoharp had me damn near in tears...? I'm not exactly a huge autoharp fan outside of Kilby Snow, but Drew is great - can play anything...

It _was_ a nice session.? I had a blast fiddling on "Bamalong Blues" (and was interested in the bystander's suggestion that the lyric really should be "Ain't gonna be in the second Babylon . . ."), and the Sheiks tune or two we tried.? I'm newly inspired to keep at those flat keys for more Sheiks tunes.

Drew Smith was amazing.? "St. Louis Blues" has stuck with me, as has "Grinnin' in Your Face."?

Who was the mandolin player who did "Alimony"?

A word about Todd - he's a great guitar player and an absolutely killer singer!? He's got great taste in tunes, like Lottie Kimbrough's Lost Lover Blues or the? Carter Family's Forsaken Love.? Getting to play with Todd was really inspiring and makes me want to focus more on my voice in general.?
One of my favorite memories was of a late night session with me, Todd, Kim, and fiddlers Randy Johnson and Paul Tooley.? Todd and I mixed up songs between the fiddle tunes - songs like Pallet on the Floor, Take Me Back, Elder Greene, Lost Lover, Lonely One In This Town...? for most of the session, we were free from the yoke of banjo-derived key oppression, so we were free to range over a number of keys & styles.? It was just a brilliant time - having the two guitars supporting each other and providing this great rolling accompaniment for the fiddling...? wow...? what a sound!

Sorry I missed that one.? My one session with you and Todd and Drew et al has prompted me to work on a bunch of things, from guitar-playing to fiddling to singing.?

You are correct about Todd.? Another of his tasteful tunes was Ma Rainey's "Black Eye Blues," which sounded great on that 12-string.

I came by my campsite one afternoon to find a guy named Adam Tanner sitting there

Funny how like-minded people find one another.? I got Adam's CD and promptly pestered him into giving me fiddle lessons.? He's a wonderful musician and teacher.

At one point, a fiddler named Alan Kaufman stopped by?

Was it the same one who wrote the book? (I think it's "Beginning Old Time Fiddle.")

I came away from it feeling more certain that blues really can be a "session" music, especially if you've got a couple of strong players in the mix.? The rules of old-time music don't necessarily apply, but the spirit is certainly there!

It may be up to us to keep the spirit there.

Cheers,
Tom
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 11, 2004, 05:40:39 AM
I had a blast fiddling on "Bamalong Blues" (and was interested in the bystander's suggestion that the lyric really should be "Ain't gonna be in the second Babylon . . ."),

That was interesting - I'm not sure I'm convinced, though.  I always heard it as if it was the name of a military regiment:

I ain't gonna be in the Second 'Bama long

Meaning the 2nd Alabama <insert your favorite military unit designation here>.  Dunno, though...

Who was the mandolin player who did "Alimony"?

His name is Mike Resnick, from Suffern, NY.  He's a lot of fun to play with.

At one point, a fiddler named Alan Kaufman stopped by?

Was it the same one who wrote the book? (I think it's "Beginning Old Time Fiddle.")

I think so, yes...

It may be up to us to keep the spirit there.

Of course!
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Cambio on August 11, 2004, 06:57:38 AM
I think that a great time was had by all at Clifftop and I think that we proved to ourselves that a participatory Country Blues festival is a viable pursuit.  Certainly alot more fun than playing along with a bunch of banjo and fiddle players in the same key for the entire night.  If you have good musicians, there's nothing they can't follow.  I think that we were all able to play any songs in our repetoire and people were able to play along, and there were lots of surprises, Drew Smith on the autoharp being one of them.
Frank and I also talked to Nate Lane, who is an incredible singer harmonica/guitar player in the Clarence Ashley, Charlie Poole, Gwen Foster tradition who has an immense repetoire of songs, about the possibility of more of a CB festival and he was really excited about it.  He said that he would rather do something like that than Clifftop where fiddle tunes rule, and songsters are kind of an outcast.  I took a quicktime video of Nate and Frank playing Raise a Ruckus that is absolutely fantastic.  Everyone I've played it for can't believe that he can actually produce the sound he does.  He sounds just like an old record.  If I were more technologically savvy I'd try to post it so that you could all witness it.   A sight to behold!
I really think that some sort of gathering would be a great thing.  It's certainly alot more fun than playing in the basement for the dog.  If it just has to happen within the confines of Clifftop, I suppose that'll do.  It would be nice to have something independent though.
Thanks for all the compliments on the singing, playing and the guitars.  That stuff keeps me energized all year long.  Especially when it's coming from guys who can play, sing and know a thing or two about a thing or two.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Slack on August 11, 2004, 08:20:03 AM
Very interesting to read about the CB Revolution within Clifftop.  And who would have thunk it - a Country blues Autoharp! (Washington Phillips potential there).

I have no doubt that a participants Country Blues festival is a viable pursuit.  It's one of the reasons the WeenieCampbell group got started, we pursued different housing when playing in the dorms was not allowed (actually we played in the dorms anyway)... and there were enough strong players in the group to carry the playing on.  We've always said that if Centrum's Country Blues workshop ever went under (and there have been some lean years), we'd get together anyway as we learn a lot from each other and have a helluv good time.  In fact we had some preliminary plans to get together in the Spring one year -- a weenette had a family cabin at Lake Tahoe that slept a dozen or more (an unusually luxurious circumstance).

In any case, if you guys are serious, all it takes is time and effort.   :D  But it seems to me that it would not be too difficult to get going if you keep things modest at first, shoot for a long weekend, with 20 or so particpants, a place that is easy to get too and has some low cost lodging.  You have a great pool of participants to draw from right here on this forum.  So, hope you keep thinking about this.

cheers,
slack




 
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 11, 2004, 09:11:29 AM
One nice thing about doing it in the context of a larger festival is that there's a large pool of musicians to start with.  The impression I got from a lot of people that came by is that they would seek me out when the needed a break from the regular fiddle-tune drill, so that kinda worked out well.  On the other hand, doing some CB on its own terms is a great idea - even if it was only five players who showed up for a weekend somewhere mutually accessible...

I'll be thinking about this alot over the next few months, that's for sure.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 11, 2004, 01:15:27 PM
And who would have thunk it - a Country blues Autoharp! (Washington Phillips potential there).

Drew is totally amazing - he plays a bunch of jazz standards, too - Avalon, Sweet Sue, Dinah...  you name it.  Drew and Mike R. (the mandolin player) get together regularly through the year and Drew asked me if I'd like to get together too - I think it'd be cool to play along on the twelve string.  All those double courses!  I'm looking forward to doing some WP with them - you must have read my mind, Slack...  it's the first thing I mentioned to Drew as potential session fodder!
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: MotMot on August 11, 2004, 01:19:16 PM
Very interesting to read about the CB Revolution within Clifftop.

< ... snip ...> we proved to ourselves that a participatory Country Blues festival is a viable pursuit. ?< ... snip ...>
If it just has to happen within the confines of Clifftop, I suppose that'll do. ?It would be nice to have something independent though.

One nice thing about doing it in the context of a larger festival is that there's a large pool of musicians to start with. ?The impression I got from a lot of people that came by is that they would seek me out when the needed a break from the regular fiddle-tune drill, so that kinda worked out well. ?On the other hand, doing some CB on its own terms is a great idea - even if it was only five players who showed up for a weekend somewhere mutually accessible...

"Revolution" is a strong word, but there was at least a ripple, maybe even a presence, but as a first-timer at Clifftop, I don't have much to compare it to.

How about pursuing both options: CB on its own terms, even if for only a weekend and only on a small scale ...

And, because frankie's point about the large pool (and thus, possible converts) is a good one, also making a definitive effort to have a self-designated and self-proclaimed "CB playing ground" within larger festivals like Clifftop...

I mean, couldn't we, with some planning and effort ahead of time, have set up at Clifftop a tarp and hung banners or art that suggested "Country Blues Played Here," and then we could have hung out there and played what _we_ wanted to, and then see who ends up being drawn in by it, and where that might lead. 

As Todd says, all of that is better than playing in the basement for the dog.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: jed on August 11, 2004, 02:46:27 PM
Just horning in here:

Dunno much about old-time festivals (nor most others lately, now that I think about it), but another venue that has crossed my screen is the Mississippi Delta herself.  I've been running to Helena, Arkansas, for the King Biscuit Fest since the 20th century, and not only does the Biscuit have a strong campground-music contingent, but there's plenty of opportunity to procure lodging in the off-season (which is most of the year).  Memphis, a 90-mile drive, is the airline (Northworst) hub, and the local food can't be beat.

Clarksdale itself also has the Sunflower River Festival (generally late August- hot and steamy), which can include a workshop or two on music and cultural history.  They could use some serious CB influence (think Britain bringing blues to the U.S.), and might just be approachable about such a thing.

Just another thought for the mix.

Cheers,
Jed
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 12, 2004, 07:52:12 AM
That's an interesting idea Jed - I just worry that stage acts would be too much of a distraction from playing.  Sometimes the contest stuff at old-time festivals gets to be a real distraction, too...
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: jed on August 12, 2004, 08:26:42 AM
Yeah, I got your point after my post.  Jams in the context I described tend to happen around a single "campfilre" - the stage, and you're really talking about a different model.  Come to think of it, the Biscuit does provide a pretty good model.  There are a few solo, duo and trio acts gracing the streets of downtown Helena, busking away throughout the 3-day festival.  It's more performance-based (audiences walking by, stopping to listen, etc.), but still plenty open for at least half a dozen solos-to-string bands.  I remember one year when some kid was wailing away the whole time on his acoustic guitar (usually with bass and drums), running through an impressive repertoire of Blake, Funny Papa Smith and the like.  Also, while I haven't been to New Orleans in years (usually for "Jazz"Fest), the busking opportunities were great when I was there, with plenty of musical variety and plenty of spots.

Think about it - a bunch of CB diehards, on alternate streetcorners in the French Quarter, chugging away like multiple Weenie Juke-boxes - but live!

Whew,
Jed
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 17, 2004, 06:24:04 AM
I came by my campsite one afternoon to find a guy named Adam Tanner sitting there playing Bo Carter tunes.

I'm just reminiscing here about this session - I forgot a couple of interesting details.  The first is that we attracted quite a crowd around the campsite, and it was largely made up of young women, dancing enthusiastically...  if you didn't like Bo Carter before you saw that, you would've afterward...  then, another crowd came by, videotaping everything!  Weird...  for about half of the session, we were joined by a guy who played half the time on washboard and the other half on trumpet.  Pretty cool...
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Johnm on August 18, 2004, 10:48:13 PM
Thanks for the updates on how things went at Clifftop, Frank, Todd, and Tom.  A couple of things about how you describe it really appeal to me.
   * I like the extent to which the direction of the group music-making was a function of who happened to be around at any given time, their interests and their skills.  Sounds kind of like real life.
   * The degree of cross-over between African-American and White American traditions sounds both exciting and natural, much as it comes across on the recordings from the '20s and '30s.
   * The emphasis on songs and singing can't be beat.
Reading about the event really makes me want to go some time.
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Cambio on August 19, 2004, 09:10:34 AM
Welcome back John.  I think that the first time that I went to Clifftop I was very skeptical.  I wasn't a fan of old time stuff, I played guitar behind some fiddler friends but it wasn't very satisfying.  I had tended to be very pessimistic about music these days, mostly because almost everything that I heard was crap.  Last years visit really lifted a veil for me because, although most of the music was run of the mill fiddle and banjo tunes, there were some real gems there.  Guys like Frank, who really boggled my mind when I met him last year because we saw eye to eye on so many things, and Nate Layne, who is obsessed with Gwen Foster and Clarence Ashley, plays a banjo guitar with a 16 1/2" pot, harmonica on a wrack and has a voice that is beyond description.  The whole thing was very similiar to hunting for 78's, the majority of the stuff is so schlocky that it's junk, when you find something sort of cool you get excited and realize there is a little bit of hope, but when you find a real doozy that throws you for a loop, it gives you enough energy to keep on going for many years to come.
This years Clifftop reaffirmed last years experience, made me realize that I wasn't dreaming.  It was better because we did more playing and singing.  It also made me realize that a CB festival could really work, as I feel like somewhat of an intruder at an old time festival like Clifftop.  Nate Laye told a great story about the first year that he went.  He was really excited that he had found this place and that he was, as a songster, going to bring back singing to old time music.  He was playing and singing away in his camp ( he has a very loud and boisterous voice that really carries) and a crotchety old fiddler came up and said, "Are you going to be here next year?"  Nate excitedly replied, " Well yes sir, yes I will be here next year!"   "Well then I ain't comin'!" was the fiddler's reply . 
I think that a CB festival could have all the wierdness and eclecticism as Clifftop without all of that incessant fiddling, (except blues fiddling of course).  I think it would attract a variety of people playing a variety of instruments, some of the more open minded folks that attend other old time festivals, and would show that the music is alive and well.  It would keep people going for the the next year and the next.....  There would be schlock of course.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: MotMot on August 19, 2004, 10:32:45 AM
Thoughtful, and provocative (in a good way) post, Todd.

I blow hot and cold on the old-time "scene," or "crowd," or aesthetic, whatever you call it.  I've enjoyed (sometimes more, sometimes less) playing old-time music, and old-time jams did wonders for my instrumental skills. 

But having played guitar, fiddle & mando (and sometimes even banjo) at old-time jams, I've got to say that in my experience, instruments are not considered created equal in the old-time world.  Fiddle and banjo sometimes seem (again, in my experience) to rule the roost (you can argue which is on top, but I think they sort of alternate).  They're also the most satisfying instruments to play in a "standard" oldtime jam.  Despite the amazing bass runs Riley Puckett played on guitar, and that he played behind fiddlers who ought to have pretty good "oldtime" credentials, for example, fiddlers sometimes want to limit guitar players to strict boom-chang.  That can be boring, not to mention limiting. 

And depending on the crowd, it can be hard to get people to break into vocals, or even to "put up" with them for more than a couple of tunes.  There are "crotchety" people everywhere, and they play (and criticize) all kinds of music.

But I've also found some pretty open-minded types in oldtime circles, and those that I've found are more likely to be open to some CB influences now and then.  Sometimes people appreciate hearing Gary Davis "Hesitation Blues" verses added to a Charley Poole NC Ramblers-style string-band version of "If the River was Whiskey."   

Me, I'm skeptical of labels and categories that are considered airtight, or of rules that are set in stone.  I'd like to think that what's considered "CB" and "oldtime" can overlap, and that they can co-exist.  Grayson & Whitter and Narmour & Smith are pretty firmly in the "oldtime" firmament, but they can sound pretty bluesy, and for "CB" musicians, the Mississippi Sheiks tend toward "jazzy."  I keep trying to work out things like "Sally Where'd You Get Your Liquor From" on the fiddle, not to mention the Frank McGee "Buckdancer's Choice."  (I've also been known to play John Hurt and Joseph Spence tunes (and even Rolling Stones songs!!) on open-backed banjo -- but not in a jam -- yet!)  In short, I consider it all a pretty yeasty mix.

I'd like to think that Blind Blake and Charlie Poole and Andrew Baxter, for example, would have jumped at the chance to jam together, and I'd have loved to have been there.  Meanwhile, I can try to imagine it in my head, and search for people who can help me try to play what it might have sounded like.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Johnm on August 19, 2004, 06:59:36 PM
Hi all,
I'm going to stick out my neck and stand up for the Old Time fiddlers in Old Time music.  I think if guitar seems de-valued in Old time in comparison with fiddle or banjo it's because it is in fact less important.  Fiddle has the whole dance music thing going for it, plus it's loud, plus it's vocal, et al.  It's also old--guitar is a relative johnny-come-lately in the music.  I think part of the problem of the role of the guitar in Old time music is that much of the music is pre-harmonic, with no real chord changes, and the guitar, at least as most people play it, is an instrument designed to deliver harmonic information.  I was talking with the Irish fiddler Martin Hayes about this, and he said a generation as recent as his Dad's has no concept of a fiddle tune having chord changes--he says his Dad's attitude would be, "What do you mean chords?  It has no chords--it's a melody!"
What is there to do about this?  You can accept a role as a rhythm/chord machine and concentrate on playing time so well that you reach that trance-state that makes people want to play tunes a long, long time.  Or you can adopt a style that relies more on linear movement and less on chordal movement.  Or you can do something like what the banjo does--offer a rhythmic shorthand variant of the tune with bits of incidental harmonic info tossed in for good measure.  This last idea seems like an interesting one, and I'd like to try it out some time.  If you want to do something really different, it's probably a good idea to cultivate a good playing relationship with a great fiddler who is also open-minded; and sometimes the best ones are also the most open-minded.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: waxwing on August 19, 2004, 08:10:05 PM
Disclaimer: I know about zero about the history of, or currently imposed rules for, old time jams.
That said, I'm gonna stick my neck out for the vocalists. Can it possibly be true that, historically these songs have no lyrics or is this an imposed phenomenon due to the fiddlers need to have the limelight for chorus after chorus? Certainly a good vocalist with a nasal style has all of the things you attributed to fiddlers, John, and then they've got something else: poetry. I find it hard to believe that square dancers, or whoever the original audiences of this music were, did not require that the songs be sung. I'm sure it's a question of my own particular taste, but to me, long extended vocal-less jams, in any genre, seem to be way more exciting for the participants than the audience. But that some fiddler would boycott Clifftop because one raucous vocalist was gonna show up? Yikes! I can see why Centrum calls it a fiddler's week and not an Old Time Music week.
I agree with you that, essentially, any time there's more than two instruments, the guitar takes the rhythm section chores, which, in many blues/jug band arrangements allows the guitarist to carry much of the vocal responsibility. Personally, even as a solo blues singer, I think of the guitar as accompaniment to the vocal except during the breaks, when I try to give my fingers their due. What interests me more than large jams would be duets, like the beautiful arrangements you and Suzy demonstrated for fiddle and guitar, or the many other combinations of guitar and... that make up a good portion of prewar blues recordings.
I can certainly see why Frank, Todd and Tom are frustrated with the OT scene. To be honest, I'd be hesitant to bring fiddlers from the OT scene into the blues scene. The few fiddlers that participated in jams during blues week at PT were very respectfull of the other players. Perhaps it would be better to cultivate from within than to try to convert?
All for now.
Barbecue John C.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: uncle bud on August 19, 2004, 08:19:36 PM
The few fiddlers that participated in jams during blues week at PT were very respectfull of the other players.

That's because they were surrounded by 150 guitar players, some of whom have been known to have a drink or two...

Wish I'd seen some of those fiddlers jamming. Only saw Suzy Thompson play. I'd love to jam with a fiddler on some Sheiks tunes.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: MotMot on August 19, 2004, 08:48:07 PM
I didn't mean to cast aspersions on all oldtime fiddlers in all oldtime music.? I'm a fiddler myself.

But I'm a better guitarist than fiddler, and thus have sometimes found myself "typecast" into playing more guitar than fiddle.? I've attained -- and thoroughly enjoyed -- that trancelike stae Johnm describes.

But I've had great satisfaction working at things like his other alternatives: the linear movement style, and the rhythmic shorthand with harmonic info.? It's endlessly fascinating to try that against the steady solid wall of sound that fiddles and banjos can put out.

I've also had the good fortune to have played with fiddlers who are not only tolerant of that, but encourage and support it. (I do have my limits: I wouldn't, for example, try Hendrix-style, up the neck snaky leads.)? And given the choice, those are the fiddlers I prefer to play with.

Johnm wrote that the best fiddlers are sometimes the most open-minded.? I'll go him one further: the better the musicians, the more open-minded the musician. (Maybe it's vice versa?) Anyway, I try to be more open minded than judgmental and prescriptive.? (Again, I have my limits.)

This thread started out about festivals, and there were all kinds of people at Clifftop.? Some had particular (and restrictive) ideas about what music should be played, and how it should be played ... and some others (camped next to me) kept me up very late one night playing things like Paul Simon's "Graceland" on banjo and bongos and washboard.

I wouldn't have been perfectly comfortable at either extreme.

I'm still hoping that Johnm will do another fiddle-guitar workshop that I can make: the Baxters and the Sheiks are some of my very favorite music.

(Incidentally: I haven't checked the liner notes on my old LPs, but didn't Suzy Thompson play those very tasty and bluesy fiddle licks on "Little Sadie" and similar tunes on an early John Renbourn album?? If so, she planted some very fertile seeds of this sound in my head way back then ... and I'm grateful to her for it.)

enough for a night...

cheers,
motmot
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 19, 2004, 08:56:54 PM
Easy there, waxy! ?I'm not exactly frustrated with the old-time scene... ?I like to be able to change keys, but if the music's hot, I'm gonna be the last guy to suggest changing. ?If I'm stranded in an A session and I'm getting cramped, I just capo 2 - there... ?all better! ?I can understand where Todd & Tom are coming from, although I'm not sure I entirely agree. ?Seems to me that the positions here are not quite so polarized as some of the language might lead one to believe.

In a little workshop at Black Creek earlier this year, a guitarist brought up the inevitable "boredom" question. ?Pat Conte's reply was that the guitarist in question should listen more: ?"If you're bored, listen to more music. ?There's lots of ways to play rhythm. ?It's all there in the old records. ?Listen." ?He's right. ?There *are* fiddlers who crave accompaniment that's responsive and dynamic, but you have to hold up your end of the bargain - have your ears on, think supportively and keep the pulse lively. ?Trust me, once a good old-time fiddler hits their stride, you won't care about how many chords you're playing, whether it's fancy enough - the last thing on your mind will be boredom! ?You just won't want them to stop!

JohnM - your idea of banjoid guitar accompaniment reminds me of the backup on the Carter Brothers records - Nancy Rowland, Cotton-Eyed Joe, Miss Brown... ?sketchy runs played in the bass register. ?It'd be interesting to apply that idea a little more broadly and see what sticks.

Waxwing - sorry if this comes out sounding cranky, but the reason fiddlers have the limelight in old-time sessions is because it's fiddle music. ?Even if the tunes have words, it's first and foremost dance music driven by the fiddle. ?There's an undeniable energy there, and it's worth exploring and contributing to. ? On the other hand, the energy in a blues or singing session is very different energy - blues is still dance music, but the girls who were dancing to me and Adam Tanner were *not* square dancing... <g>

The fiddlers who would be drawn to blues are going to understand that the rules of old-time sessions don't necessarily apply. ?That much was clear from the experience at Clifftop - and there were fiddlers expressly seeking me out because they wanted to try something different. ?To go into a defacto old-time session expecting to be able to hijack the session and sing a whole bunch or change keys willy-nilly is going to piss everybody off, especially the banjo players, who are probably the most key-centric. ?If you're in an old-time session, it's best to play by their rules - that way everybody gets along. ?If I was running a blues session, I'd make it clear to anyone who showed up with a key-bound instrument that the rules of old-time music were suspended and that key changes were imminent - might even include Bflat or Eflat!

Sessions of all kinds work best when there's an atmosphere of mutual respect and everybody's willing to play to each other's strengths - that's what makes ensemble playing fun, in my opinion.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 20, 2004, 03:25:55 AM
I should also add that in my neck of the woods, we have a number of strong singers that are also dynamite accompanists - thinking here of Pete Peterson and Kellie Allen.  If they're in the session, there's gonna be singing, it's gonna be good and the fiddlers generally love it.  Still, songs will usually be in the same key if there's a banjo player there besides Pete (or me), in deference to the amount of tuning that's required for a key change.  Also - the fiddlers that I generally spend a lot of time with prefer the keys of G and C - occasionally D but rarely A.  That tends to make the guitar player's job a little easier!
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: waxwing on August 20, 2004, 03:33:39 AM
Hence my disclaimer of complete ignorance. I was responding to what was being said, or what I was reading into it, perhaps. I have to admit it was partially my own frustration with the difficulties of collaboration that caused me to abandon my love of theatre and turn to primarily a solo blues idiom. I understand boundaries, it's what I found to be lacking in many theatrical exoeriences. But I understand the joys of successful collaboration, and I understand that those who "lead" best are those who incorporate all the parts. As an actor or as a musician. I fear it's still a long ways off before I can jam coherently in the prewar blues style.
All for now.
Barbecue John C.
P.S. Frank, are you just getting up? I just got in from my boat club gig and got a warning of a new post as I tried to post this. Well, good morning, then.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 20, 2004, 04:11:37 AM
Just getting up - almost awake now - good time for posting...? Kim was giving me a hard time about your disclaimer:? "he said he didn't know anything about old-time sessions!"? I know - sorry if I came off defensive...? the bottom line for me is that I love accompanying fiddlers - they bring a lot to the table.? Sessions that mix up fiddle tunes, blues, old-time songs and other stuff are a *lot* of fun.? Straight blues sessions are a lot of fun, too, but I'm not sure I'd want to be in one with eight guitar players and no other instruments.

One thing I admire about the old-time musicians I know is that most of them are multi-instrumentalists.? Being able to play more than one instrument expands your musical possibilities.? One of the things that rubs me the wrong way about CB is that everybody treats it as if to play it, you have to be some guitar virtuoso and play guitar exclusively.? A shame, really.? Granted - there's a deep, deep repertoire of guitar stuff in there, but there's a lot of fun to be had, say, on mandolin, ukulele, banjo, fiddle, bass....? of course harmonica - I think as long as you understood the basic language of CB, it wouldn't matter much what instrument you were playing.

The key to getting some of that happening is to play more with other people, though... just finding like minded people locally can be quite a challenge!

Nitey-nite, John!  Get some rest - hope you had a great gig!
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 20, 2004, 05:03:36 AM
waxwing wrote re: fiddlers

Quote
Perhaps it would be better to cultivate from within than to try to convert?

Maybe - but if you wanted to learn the fiddle, even if you were only interested in blues fiddle, I think you'd be better off if you were to learn a small repertoire of old-time tunes - in fact, I think you'd have to.? FWIW, I think the old guys probably learned that way, too - listen to Carl Martin play Liza Jane on the mandolin.  Old-time all the way!

You can develop some confidence on the instrument first with the old-time tunes.? There are some techniques in fiddling that cross over to blues fiddling - slurs, slides, ferinstance - and become a real core of the style.? They occur a little more sparingly in old-time music, so you can kinda work up to them.? Plus, you'll get used to how the bow works rythmically - it's a little more obtuse in blues fiddling, imo.  Not that it's always strightforward in old-time fiddling - the bow is an area of subtlety all to itself.

The fiddle is a real bitch...? they don't call it the Devil's Box fer nuthin!
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: MotMot on August 20, 2004, 05:34:08 AM
Great discussion!?

Again, I don't mean to cast aspersions on all of the oldtime scene; I've had too much fun being in and around and part of it in whatever small way I've managed to do that.? I found a very welcoming oldtime crowd about five years ago and it changed my (musical) life. Most were multi-instrumentalists, and most were pretty open to a wide-ranging idea of what was acceptable to play as "oldtime."? Playing and hanging with them taught me a great deal, about music, about playing music, playing music with people, and just about people, period.?

Then in August '03, I moved a couple hundred miles away, and then a couple weeks ago I went to Clifftop and reconnected with a lot of them, and hooked up for the first time with frankie and Todd.? ?And I also ran into some other musicians as well.

And I found myself thoughtful about the experience(s).

I agree with frankie about the joy backing up good oldtime fiddlers, and the importance of keeping your ears on and keeping up your end of the bargain, no matter what instrument you're playing.? And like Pat Conte's advice, as communicated by frankie: listen to more.? 'Cause it's a big world of music out there, and as somebody said there are really only two kinds: good and bad. (Where _those_ lines get drawn can be a real discussion!)

And the role of the guitar in oldtime, and with fiddles, has set off epic discussions on the fiddle-l list-serve, which I have no desire to participate in, or to recreate here.

As for cultivating from within or converting to learn the fiddle, I can only offer that it is, by far, the most challenging instrument I've tried (and I've tried more than a few).? It is a real bitch, and much of that is because of the bow.? One fiddler told me that God made the fiddle, and the devil made the bow.

gotta go? ... best to all


Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Cambio on August 20, 2004, 08:15:56 AM
I'd just like to start by saying that some of my best friends are fiddlers, but.....
As I type this I'm listening to Lonsome Blues by the Leake County Revelers, on  Mississippi String Bands Vol. 2 on County ( a must buy if you don't have any old fiddle music in your collection).  This is a great fiddle tune, and I mean great!  There are several things that make it great and the fiddle is one of them.  But the interplay between the guitar and the fiddle, as well as the constant beat of the banjo mandolin, are what cinch it as a classic.  I think that the same can be said for all of my favorite fiddle tunes.  The way the Strippling Brothers play together or Narmour and Smith, they're tight!  It's not just boom chang guitar accompaniment, the guys play parts.  They're parts that they came up with from playing with the same fiddler for a long time.  The guitar is as important as the fiddle, it's giving the beat and letting the listener hear the changes so that their ears don't have to work as hard and they can let loose and dance. 
Now, in my opinion, I don't think that much of the old time scene holds the guitar in the same regard, this is evident to me in the lack of really good old time guitar players.  Of all of the times I've heard fiddlers play Caroll County Blues (in my opinion the most perfect recording of all time),  I can't say that I ever heard a version that I liked, not because the fiddle wasn't good, but because the guitar player wasn't playing the right part, they didn't create the same tension and beat as the original.  Without the guitar, that song sounds empty.  I think the same is true for many other fiddle tunes.
I know that good fiddlers love good guitar accompaniment, and I love to play with and listen to good fiddlers (I'm not trying to imply that I'm a good old time guitar player), but "kind of" good fiddlers and okay fiddlers are not always so kind.  Either they are stuck playing in one key for several hours so that almost all of the songs sound the same, or they strut around and act as if they rule the roost.  I'll admit that there is an absence of really good fiddlers in my neck of the woods, but this is what has kept me from playing with them regularly.
I should add that all of the fiddle music I listen to is from the 20's and 30's and one could argue as to whether or not this is really to be considered old time.  Also, when I listen to music I hear the whole, then I pick out the individual intsruments or vocals, the ones that are in your face and the ones that are more subtle, consider how each of them is contributing to the whole, and then listen to the whole again. 
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: MotMot on August 20, 2004, 08:48:50 AM
I'd just like to start by saying that some of my best friends are fiddlers, but.....
< ... snip ...>The way the Strippling Brothers play together or Narmour and Smith, they're tight!? It's not just boom chang guitar accompaniment, the guys play parts.? They're parts that they came up with from playing with the same fiddler for a long time.? The guitar is as important as the fiddle, it's giving the beat and letting the listener hear the changes so that their ears don't have to work as hard and they can let loose and dance.
< ... lots of snip ...>
 the guitar player wasn't playing the right part, they didn't create the same tension and beat < ... snip ... >
but "kind of" good fiddlers and okay fiddlers are not always so kind.?

Yesss!  I like music that has dynamics and tension and release, on various levels, harmonic, rhythmic, etc.  Those Narmour and Smith and Stripling fiddle-guitar duets are, IMO, classics of that.  And I think the better the musician, the more attention is paid to the dynamics, and sometimes the more tolerant of the tension (whether by dissonance or syncopation, whatever) for the sake of the dynamics.  And the "kind of" good ones aren't so tolerant or kind.

(Honesty requires me to acknowledge that this may be me rationalizing what, to other ears, is my playing wrong notes and not keeping the beat ... but I have found some people that like what I play ... honest (smile).)

Ever hear the story about Lightning Hopkins, which may be urban legend?  I think I got it from reading a blues magazine years ago when I should have been studying.  Anyway, he'd go around with his guitar and an amp to various towns and play concerts, and somebody'd line up well-meaning people to try to accompany him. Sometimes they'd be neophyte bluesmen, or the like.  Once, one of them said, "Mr. Hopkins, shouldn't we change to a IV chord there?"  And Lightnin' looked at him and said, "Lightnin' change when Lightnin' want to change."  And that settled that.

I told that to one group at an oldtime jam, and not everybody got it ... and the ones that did get it, were the ones that I had more fun playing with . . .
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: MotMot on August 20, 2004, 08:54:17 AM
One more thought:
< ... snip ...>  I don't think that much of the old time scene holds the guitar in the same regard, this is evident to me in the lack of really good old time guitar players.

Indeed: in my experience, the oldtime scene can be more tolerant of fiddling that's "adventurous" than it is of any kind of guitar-playing that's adventurous (even in the, IMO, perfectly appropriate alternative styles suggested by Johnm and Todd). 

(I know that's a generalization, and I don't like generalizations ... but I've made alot in this thread, haven't I?)

again, enough, and cheers
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on August 26, 2004, 05:15:01 AM
One of the things that makes Carroll County blues cool, at least from a guitar angle, is that Shel Smith is capoed pretty high - say at the fifth fret and playing out of D.? Sounds pretty cool.? One of my favorite things to do for the key of G is to play out of Drop-D and capo 5 - something, frankly, I stole lock, stock & barrel from Pete Peterson, who's a great guitarist, banjo player and singer.? I do my own thing with it, but he was the first guy I ever ran across doing it.? Pete's got a great sense of how to be playful on the guitar and still support.? He also knows how to make room for another guitar player in the mix, which is a *very* valuable skill in any kind of session!

I guess I don't really pay attention to or play much with people that give me a hard time about how I play.? Gotta pick your battles!

On the other hand, none of this has much of a bearing on playing CB in a session, though, does it?? We'd be starting, more or less, with a blank slate - for better or worse!
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: capos, oldtime John Hurt
Post by: MotMot on August 26, 2004, 09:21:16 AM
Once saw Kenny Jackson and Joe Newberry at a house concert (opening for Scott Ainslie).? ?At one point Joe Newberry capoed a guitar to the second fret but capoed only five strings, leaving the low E string untouched.? He then played G chord positions which of course, sounded in A, but when he went to the V chord (D shape, sounding as an E chord), he could get that low E to really sound out.

I've had fun with that backing up fiddle tunes in A.

At that same concert, Jackson and Newberry did a great fiddle-banjo version of John Hurt's "Payday" ... which I took as confirmation of my instincts about the overlap, or at least cross-fertilization possibilities of, oldtime and blues, etc.

And along the same lines, it's my understanding that Scott Ainslie, before he got deep into the blues, played old-time fiddle, and has described himself as something like a recovering old-time fiddler who took up the blues.

(afterthought: here's a link to Ainslie's description of himself: http://www.guitarpicker.com/Ainslie/Bio.htm)
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on September 13, 2004, 09:01:08 AM
Since Clifftop, I've been to a couple of other smaller festivals and parties.? One was Fiddlin' Bear, at a small commercial campground in the Poconos over Labor Day weekend.? It's one of my favorite festivals of the year - great people, great music and small.? Played a lot with Todd, who drove about 900 miles to get there, and Pat Conte.? One of my favorite sessions was a short one with fiddler Harry Bolick - Harry was playing some Mexican waltz or something.? Conte was playing bottleneck, Todd was playing a std tuned guitar and I was playing a 12-string.? There was all kinds of stuff going on every which way, but a great feeling.

Pat always brings some kind of crazy instrument with him - this year it was a mandolinetto.? Imagine an instrument vaguely ukulele-shaped with a mandolin neck, which Pat had tuned more or less like a mandolin, except that the two lowest courses were strung in octaves.? The octave courses didn't last too long, but they sounded pretty cool for a while!? It had a strange (but not unpleasant) bubbly kind of tone... punchy.? Another favorite session was just me on 12-string and Pat on mandolinetto - sort of like a soprano singing with a baritone...? neat.

Another instrument that came with Pat was a rather unremarkable Harmony 12-string...? except for the tuning...? a secret that I shall reveal a little later (after my own Top Secret experiments are complete).? Let me just say that if you ever wondered how Barbecue Bob got his sound, Pat has your answer!

Ari even showed up for a little while, just long enough to make everybody's jaws drop.? While he and Pat were playing and talking, a fiddler from Maine named Steve Austin stopped by.? The three of them eventually settled into a bunch of Charlie Poole tunes and songs - they sounded just perfect!? Exactly what I need to help me get dinner ready...

Just this past weekend, there was a party at a friends' house just up the road from me.? Lots of old-time musicians, but I managed to scare up a few blues-friendly souls for an "integrated" session.? We even had a dynamite banjo player from north jersey - great fingerpicker...? eventually, we were also joined by a friend of mine who plays fine mandolin and we all had fun accompanying Kim on her small but tasty repertoire.

One thing I discovered is that when I'm the singer, what I like in an accompanist is someone who essentially stomps all over me (within reason, of course, but just barely).? This works better in smaller groups - maybe just two or three people.? It obviously increases the 'risk factor', such as it is, I guess, but also opens up more possibilities and helps the session overall to get past the 'don't want to make any mistakes' attitude.? That's something I need to work on.

Now I'm looking forward to a festival in Virginia - Rockbridge.? The weather looks like it'll be nasty, but the music, I think, will more than make up for it...
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Johnm on September 13, 2004, 12:52:43 PM
Boy, those events you describe always sound so great, Frank.  It seems a fair percentage of them happen in my home state, too.  Some time I am going to have to see if I can go home again to coincide with one of these events.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: MotMot on September 13, 2004, 04:46:32 PM
Although it's not a festival, and not quite country blues, some of you may be interested in String Thaw, which you can find described at www.stringthaw.org.?

Andrew & James Baxter fans would be interested because two of the instructors, Wayne and Margaret Martin, have been known to appear as The Baxter Bros. Fan Club, and to play great versions of the Baxter repertoire.?

I went to the first two String Thaw events, when it was held at the Penland School here in the NC mtns.? I took a singing class from Alice Gerrard the first time, and a fiddle class from Bruce Greene the second.? (Also spent a great couple hrs playing and singing John Hurt songs and such with a mandolin player.)? After missing the next two, I'm thinking I might try to make it to this one.

(Standard disclaimers.)

best,
Tom
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on June 08, 2005, 11:10:31 AM
Got back this past Sunday from the fiddler's convention in Mt. Airy, N.C.  It was a blast - we had a great time.  Kim and I never got to bed before 4 am on any given day...  well, maybe we went to bed early on Wednesday - after having driven 500+ miles and having been on the road since the wee (and I do mean wee) hours.  There was plenty of old-time music, of course, but if you look hard enough, you'll be amazed at what (and who) you can find.

Highlights for me were re-connecting with friends (of course) and meeting new people, among them Ron Cole (North Carolina Jug Stompers) and Betse Ellis (the Wilders).  Kim got a much needed boost to her confidence - everyone who heard her seemed to have something nice to say about her fiddling.  Now *there's* something that doesn't often happen around town at home.  A friend of ours convinced Kim to back me up in the folksong competition on Curly Headed Woman (Burnett & Rutherford's take on Hesitation Blues) - she played great!

It was fun for me to get together with Ron and play Baxter/Sheiks/Eddie Anthony material - he really has it down and sounds wonderful.  Wow!  One of my favorite sessions with Ron included Randy Johnson on guitar and Kim also on fiddle - what a cool sound that was...  total magic!

Adam Tanner's guitar playing and singing was even better than last year, if possible.  Adam and Betse were doing duets on some Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon songs that were absolutely dynamite.  They both made me wish that I could bring more to the table musically, but I was happy at least to be able to play with them.  I do hope they record something together - that would be fantastic.  Kim and I got to spring Jazz Fiddler (MS Sheiks) on them - and later we finished up with That's It, with three fiddles.  That was fun...

Nate Layne was also there, so we played a bunch - he's one of my favorite singers and banjo players...  I can't wait to meet up with him again at Clifftop and play some more.  In fact, I find myself looking forward to the musical activities of the summer with a lot more anticipation than I had before this festival.  It's such an amazing thing to be able to connect with like minded musicians - what a blessing!
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: crookedtune on June 08, 2005, 11:35:48 AM
Frankie -

It was great to read your recap of Mt. Airy.  I've lived in NC for 11 years and STILL haven't made it to that one!  I do try to get to Clifftop, though, and hope to go this year.  I play both old-time and country blues, and managed to find plenty of both at Clifftop.  In fact, other than the driving distance to WV, I can't think of too many things I'd change about that festival!

Charlie
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Johnm on June 08, 2005, 12:51:13 PM
Hi Frank,
I'll second Charlie's comment on your report on Mt. Airy.  It's great to see this thread revived with some "going and doing" as opposed to "sitting and thinking".  It sounds like a wonderful time.  I will have to get back for some of these festivals soon.  There's really nothing like them out here.  Until then, I look forward to hearing more about the events from those in attendance.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: MotMot on June 08, 2005, 02:08:58 PM
Frank's post inspired me to come out of a long lurk status and report on similar bluesy sessions at Fiddler's Grove, a NC festival held the Memorial Day weekend.
I actually took the National EN I bought (last fall, from Adam Tanner, in fact) and wasn't booted out of any old-time sessions because of it.  Quite the contrary, it attracted like-minded souls and we had a blast ranging far and wide over a broad and adventurous repertoire.  (Even had some slide-fiddle things going here and there.)
These festivals are great fun (sorry I missed Mount Airy, and will probably have to miss Clifftop, but we'll see).
Tom
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: uncle bud on June 08, 2005, 06:07:52 PM
Good to hear from you again, Tom. I envy you guys all your festivalizing. Someday...

Frank, like others have said, great to hear about your experience at Mt Airy and good to hear you hooked up with Ron. For those who are so inclined, the Carolina Jug Stompers CD is on the Juke and requestable. Lots of fun stuff there for fiddlers, jug fans etc.

I tried ordering Adam Tanner's CD directly awhile back but being in Canada was told it's probably best to order through Elderly. Didn't get around to it, so thanks for tweaking my brain on that one.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: crookedtune on June 09, 2005, 05:35:18 AM
Well, the National EN just gave you away, MOTMOT.  Nice to be chatting with you again, although it's not the same as picking "Hesitation Blues" at Lex's summer place! 

Back to festivals, I did manage to hit the Charlie Poole festival (note the icon) in Eden, NC, a few weeks ago.  It was a small affair, but a great lineup of old-time, bluegrass and blues groups.  It was particularly sad to me that total attendence was only a few hundred over the two-day stretch.  Highlights included Tom, Brad & Alice, Hank Sapoznik and the Brooklyn Corndodgers, Debby McClatchy, and (drumroll, please) Norman & Nancy Blake.  There was also a very good Father-Son blues act from Philadelphia, whose name I've forgotten. 

My guess is that this festival, now ten years old, may not be around for too long. 

Charlie
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: MotMot on June 09, 2005, 09:51:28 AM
Charlie G!  Glad you found this place.  Sorry I haven't made it to Lex's summer place for those December sessions, but it's a long way from mountains to sea.  Maybe this time (if it happens again).

I second the positive thoughts on Adam Tanner's CD, and on the Carolina Jug Stompers: good stuff, especially for those trying to work that intersection of country blues and old time.
Tom
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Johnm on March 31, 2009, 07:18:34 PM
Hi all,
I"m not really adding anything new to this thread at this time but wanted to post to it to bring it to people's attention who may not have read it.  I just re-read it, and I think it is one of the most interesting threads ever at the Weenie site.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Rivers on March 31, 2009, 07:45:25 PM
Thanks for reactivating this. As we head into the festival season I was thinking about starting this as a new topic.

The only thing I have to add is when going to a new festival it pays to know someone who has been going to the same fest for a while, plays your kind of music and knows where the action is. Personally I stay away from the main stage most of the time, waste of energy. The real action is in the camp grounds, but you need to cultivate your connections to make the most of it.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: MotMot on March 31, 2009, 08:42:15 PM
Boy howdy: lots of tunes played and songs sung and lessons learned since this thread started.  Thanks, Johnm, for reactivating it, and jerking me out of lurk status.

I haven't made it back to Clifftop, but I have made it back to Fiddlers' Grove and others, and have had a blast. And the intersection of OT and CB is still a murky and odd place.  In short, the issues we kicked around in this thread lo those nearly five years ago are still alive and well. (Maybe they always will be.) 

I second Rivers' addition: if you go to a festival (or even a party), it helps to know someone who has been going, plays your kind of music, and knows where the action is ... and cultivate connections to make the most of it.  This came home to me at a party last weekend, where a few of us got off in a separate spot away from fiddle tunes, and mixed fiddle tunes with songs from Charlie Poole and Cofer Brothers and Blind Blake and John Hurt and Pink
Anderson.

I hope to get to Fiddlers' Grove again this May, and perhaps even Clifftop.  Wonder what the season will teach?
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on April 03, 2009, 06:24:04 AM
One thing that I think has increased my enjoyment of country blues as social music has been to expand to other instruments.  Ever been in a jam with just too damn many guitar players?  Only two solutions to that problem:

1) leave and find another jam
2) learn another instrument

You don't need to be a virtuoso on every instrument, but when you're conversant (more or less) on a couple of instruments - maybe one or another of the participants is, too - then you can switch off...  guitar on one, mandolin on another, harp on another...  this kind of multi-instrumentalism is pretty much de rigeur and understood in old-time circles, to the point that it's hardly noteworthy, except when pointing it out to people outside the community.

Why is it that CB enthusiasts seem to focus so squarely on solo guitar as the only expression of the music?  I don't often get to play with other guitarists, but when I do, I love to inflict a little mandolin or fiddle.  Does it sound like it's my #1 instrument?  Hell no.  Do I sound bad?  I guess I have my days, but the fun is in the playing, not in the criticizing.  I'll tell you one thing - if I continue to do it, I may never sound like Clark Kessinger, but I will have developed a very personal way of playing on those instruments.  That, friends, is all I really want.

A buddy of mine  - an excellent fiddler and singer - just started teaching himself piano and can really accompany himself well at this point - he's hardly an expert piano player, but can we have some fun with piano/guitar or piano/mandolin material?  Hell yes.

The really interesting thing is that since many CB nuts are already steeped in what you might call the musical "lingua franca" of the style, moving on to other instruments is just another way to express what you already know.  Even if you just focus on stringed instruments (and a lot of what you know on one stringed instrument will translate to another), you can really widen the type of enjoyment you can get out of social music situations.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: lindy on April 03, 2009, 09:40:49 AM

This isn't in direct response to Frankie's comments, 'though there are connections.

I spend a lot of time on I-10 going back-and-forth between New Orleans and central Louisiana/Acadiana for various festivals and performances. When I go, I always try to sit in on at least one of about five weekly Cajun jam sessions that go on in the area. Often there's one or three accordion players, one or three fiddlers, and nine or fourteen guitar players doing boom-changka-changka boom-changka-changka boom-changka-changka boom. Strength and safety in numbers.

Difference is, the accordion players and fiddlers are usually at a much higher point in their musicianship, they've had to put a lot more time and effort into mastering the form. We guitar players are just banging out C-F-G, C-F-G, C-F-G.

A few months before Katrina I participated in the Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Heritage Week, a Cajun version of PTCBW. I noticed that the late night jam sessions were segregated into the young hot players from town who traded places in groups of 4 or 5 (and who were more likely to trade off on instruments), then all of us out-of-towners who gathered under the picnic area roof and created mass Cajun cacophony: 10 guitars, 15 fiddlers, and (I hope you're sitting down when you read this) anywhere between 10 and 20 accordions. Heaven? Hell? Ville Platte?

I'm just rambling here, if there's any point to be made it's this: in my experience, acoustic country blues is still very much a solo or duo form. At a certain level of mastery it seems to me that individual styles just clash too much, and when CB performers do come together on a festival stage in a forced jam setting it seems to me they quickly gravitate to something they understand and share: E shuffles. There's a reason acoustic blues guys do a lot of traveling on their own. But in old timey and Cajun communities, to go off and play by yourself just ain't done, it's social music. if you want to take a break there's a pot of gumbo in the kitchen, watch out for the kids and dogs underfoot.

Whatever you do, just make sure you pass a good time.

Lindy

Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Rivers on April 03, 2009, 03:57:54 PM
Quote
We guitar players are just banging out C-F-G, C-F-G, C-F-G.

Speak for yourself!  ;D

Quote
I may never sound like Clark Kessinger

Or Henry Kissinger, for that matter.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on April 03, 2009, 06:20:54 PM
Hi Lindy - I'm in no way suggesting that multi-instrumentalism can happen without the requisite woodshedding and time in the saddle...  merely that the target need not be virtuosity - just the ability to noodle your way through a single tune might get you where you want to be.  If it increases the range and scope of your fun factor, I think it's a worthy effort.  When Kim decided to take up fiddle, she was often discouraged by how much experience the older musicians had, and by how much progress younger musicians could make (amazing what supple brain cells and huge amounts of discretionary time can accomplish) - I dunno if I helped, but I told her what I actually believe:  you can give in and stop playing if you want, or you can just continue to play in whatever way is fun and challenging for you, and by the time you're 60, you'll have about 25 years of experience with a fiddle in your hand.  The things that seem impossible now won't seem so later...  if you just keep playing.

I have to disagree about what constitutes acoustic country blues - lots of jug and string bands would probably disagree with you, too.  If the current vogue is the solo guitar player and occasional accompanist in the form of a bass, harmonica or washboard, I'd say that's more a "current" taste, and one that's been developing since the 60s or so.  The historical record is more varied than that, and...  there's no reason that what's to come should continue to reflect the solo guitarist model.  If those who currently play the music "own" it, then it's up to them to perpetuate it in the way they see fit.

There's certainly a healthy tradition of unaccompanied, solo repertoire for many different instruments in old-time music.  I'm less familiar overall with cajun music, but I'd be very surprised if there wasn't a highly developed repertoire of solo pieces there as well.  My point here being that a healthy tradition of solo performance within a particular style does not and ought not preclude more cooperative forms of musical expression.

There's no reason for CB collaborations to have a low common denominator - at least no reason that's inherent to the style or repertoire.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Cleoma on April 03, 2009, 09:13:37 PM
Very interesting thread, thank you John for reviving it.  I nearly always have a lot more fun in a smaller jam (not more than 5 people, and 3 is often perfect, sometimes even 2) because #1 you don't have to play loud to hear yourself, #2 you can hear and respond to the other musicians and #3 socially I do much better in a smaller group and I think this is true of lots of people.  With really, really good musicians it can even be fun with 10 people, but they have to really know how to listen and leave room for others and "ride the wave" -- by that I mean let the music itself rule, rather than trying to impose your own (or someone else trying to impose their own) groove upon it.  When this happens it is magical as I'm sure you all know.

With Cajun music I simply cannot play in a very large jam, it just is not fun for me.  In fact, my own band, the Aux Cajunals has been shrinking and shrinking and is now down to the classic trio (fiddle, accordion and guitar, or sometimes 2 fiddles and guitar or 2 fiddles and accordion) like on the old records from the late 20s and all 3 of us agree that it's the easiest, most fun, and musically the most satisfying, and the dancers dance like crazy and don't seem to miss the bass and drums at all.  Now, that said, I must add that my experience both in Louisiana and in other places has been that for most of the dancers, volume seems to equal fun, or at least they think that it does.  I can't even go to a zydeco dance, it's just too loud for me.  I think I OD'd on loud during the CCO years with 2 fiddles, accordion, electric guitar, electric bass, drums and washboard, and mostly with musicians who just wanted to be louder than the other musicians on stage, and you know where that leads...

For me the social part of playing music was the thing that got me interested in the first place and when I was younger, I enjoyed the big jams more -- that trancey thing that happens when you play the tune over and over and over again with a big group.  It can be great with old time music, I admit.

At a festival or party, even if you don't know other people who are interested in your kind of music, sometimes you can find people who will steer you towards those that do or introduce you.  This happened to me and Eric last weekend and we had the greatest session with Frankie and Kim, I just couldn't believe how much fun it was!
Suzy
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on April 04, 2009, 04:06:13 AM
Suzy, the musical well that you and Eric share is so deep and you're such talented people that any jam that includes you is starting with a leg up.  That was a great time...  Too Loose!  I only wish that the weekend had been less complicated for me and that I could have attended the concert on Friday and the workshop on Saturday - I know I would have got a lot out of your fiddle workshop (and I can use it, too).

I don't know what exactly has aligned over Hopewell, but the last couple of weeks and into the next couple have been and are shaping up to be really special - last week, we got to meet and play with Eric and Suzy...  I was still buzzing from that when we got a brief lunchtime visit from John Miller yesterday.  I have to admit, I totally took advantage of John's utterly superior guitar skills to wank away a little on fiddle and mandolin.  John is such a powerful musician.  He was passing through on his way to Stefan Grossman's house to make a few new videos that I'm sure are going to be excellent.

Next week, we're heading down to Virginia to visit Nate with the whole NJ crew (samjessin, too) and a likely complement from western Mass - as I understand it, we may see one or two North Carolinians while we're there too.  A certified Big Time is on the horizon.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: dave stott on April 04, 2009, 06:27:23 AM
Hi gang,

I attended "guitar intensive's" in Maine last year as well as the Poduck Bluegrass festival in Hartford CT.

Guitar intensives daily classes were great in learning new tunes, styles, etc....(heck, 1-2 hours a day for 5 days with Ernie Hawkins has to do something to your playing..!!)

The evening jams were as good if not better... There were folks there that wanted to do country blues, bluegrass and 60-80's music.... Tastes for everyone...

The Podunk festival concerts were awesome... They reportedly also have tons of jams going on... The problem is that there are no maps or guides to tell you where they are... After wandering for almost an hour, I stumbled upon them in the middle of the RV parking lot. After getting there, the folks did not seem open to strangers joining in... they had their own clic's.... I went back to the concerts...

Dave

Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Johnm on April 04, 2009, 07:30:07 PM
Hi all,
Just to report on my brief session with Frank and Kim--from my own perspective, it was a complete treat.  It was so exciting to hear them play the material they have been working up, Sheiks material and the wonderful Joe Taggart song, "Been Listening All the Day".  It is great just to be around that kind of commitment to music, and to take part and join in was the icing on the cake.
One aspect of our brief session and my own participation in it that I think possibly pertains to this thread in the larger sense, is that playing with Frank and Kim reminded me of how, in jamming situations in Country Blues and Old-Time music, I would much rather play songs and tunes that the folks I'm playing with know, and that I do not know.  I think there are a couple of reasons for this.  It seems like a real luxury to be taught a tune by someone I'm playing with, while we are playing it (!), and to have my feel for the tune and understanding of it solidify and become more sure with each successive pass through the form.  I also like not having the sound of a recorded version of a tune rattling around in my head judging (not really, of course) the rendition that is being made in the moment.  The enthusiasm and excitement of the people teaching you the tune for that tune is infectious, too.  In addition, it's more fun for me to play something I don't already know how to play than something I know how to do already.
So, if a conclusion could be drawn from this, maybe it's that next time you're in a jamming situation, you might try deferring to the people you're playing with for the choice of tunes (especially if you know and respect their taste).  You may end up coming up with stuff that surprises you in a good way, and if nothing else, it's great for the musical reflexes.
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: uncle bud on April 07, 2009, 09:11:21 AM
I moved this topic over to the main forum as there is a lot of excellent discussion of country blues playing in it, not just old-time festivals.

Quote from: JohnM
it's more fun for me to play something I don't already know how to play than something I know how to do already.

 :D
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Slack on April 07, 2009, 09:33:43 AM
Quote from: JohnM
it's more fun for me to play something I don't already know how to play than something I know how to do already.
:D

Yeah, easy for YOU to say!  ;D
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: frankie on April 08, 2009, 07:59:00 PM
in jamming situations in Country Blues and Old-Time music, I would much rather play songs and tunes that the folks I'm playing with know, and that I do not know.

I totally agree.  It's definitely a pleasure to play a new tune, and to have that feeling of successively "getting it."  It's also fun from the other side - to teach someone a new tune, walk them through a couple of things, and then *let go* and see what happens.  The fun is there in the teaching, but the rewards are in the letting go.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Rivers on April 20, 2009, 06:48:12 PM
Well we just got back from four days in the tent at the Old Settlers festival outside Austin. The name would make you think it's old timey but that's only true in the campgrounds, on occasion.

The main stages are full on amplified music but that's OK, they're a long way from the camp site, and there were some very good sets. Would you believe the Traveling McCourys, Del's sons, red hot bluegrass outfit, jamming with a thunderous Florida Sacred Steel band, The Lee Brothers? Me either, but it was wonderful.

I played a lot of country blues at various jams but probably was the exception to the rule, people seemed to enjoy it though. We spent a lot of time backing folks doing their own songs and old favorites, and I enjoyed myself as pretty much the lone fingerpicking element, slipping in a John Hurt, Leadbelly, Mance or Travis tune that people might have heard, and doing some accordion / guitar duets Cheryl and I have going.

Anyway it was great seeing relatively old (as in 'met them in 2005' after I arrived here, feels like along time to me) musical friends from Louisiana, and meeting many new people. I've learned to let my expectations drop before I arrive, see what happens, and if I have a good time that's good enough for me. Plus I got a bit of a tan, after the rain stopped.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Annette on March 28, 2012, 12:13:06 PM
When I went to my first old time festival (Gainsborough) I was amazed to see so many musicians - having been to loads of blues festivals it seems 90% of the crowd were non-musicians whilst at an old time festival 90% were.

One interesting thing an acoustic musician did at a festival was to come of the stage and got on to the same level as the crowd - he said acoustic blues was not meant to played on a stage but at the same level as the audience - and I must say it worked - every one seemed so much more involved.

The last few times I went to Colne I only bought tickets for a few performances on the main stage (Steve James was one) - the rest of the time I spent in the Acoustic Cafe or Dressers Club.

Haven't been for ages though.

Will be at the Orwell Bluegrass Festival (don't personally like BG very much) but there are a lot of old time people there.

Might try and get to the Wallingford Beer and Booze festival this year - but not sure if there are any side-events these days.

Annette
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Rivers on March 28, 2012, 07:07:49 PM
My early love of bluegrass has faded. I will actively go out of my way to avoid it. Nothing against the musicians or the fans, it just doesn't interest me much anymore, it mostly all sounds the same to me.

Sometimes there's a jazz angle, blue notes, minor keys, and that will tend to get me listening. Otherwise, meh. Plus in a stand-up session the players have such sharp elbows, and in TX they're frequently bigger and taller than me.

Frankie had a good quote I can't resist replaying: "Bluegrass sounds better than it is. Old Time is better than it sounds". Old time also has its problems; it's really hard to guitar-accompany clawhammer banjo with finger picking, or at least I find that to be so. Don't get me started on trad Celtic diddley-i music. I love to listen to it occasionally, hate playing it. People get so pissed off when you inevitably miss the changes, since they themselves devote their entire lives to memorizing somebody's idea of the exact note perfect way the tune should go.

The big plus for country blues IMO is that people who play it are much less serious and puristic about it which leaves a lot of room for individuality and more generally inclusive to anyone who wants to jump in.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Gumbo on March 29, 2012, 01:57:44 AM
great post, Rivers. It made me smile and nod. :D
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: eric on March 29, 2012, 07:57:31 AM
I don't listen to much bluegrass any more as the style or at least a lot of what's promoted as bluegrass seems kind of ossified.

BUT...

I grew up where bluegrass was contemporary and on the radio a lot.  As a kid, it was what the old folks listened to.  Then, a friend convinced me to drive waaaay out in the country to hear Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.   The place was a cinderblock roadhouse with a big sign that said No Fighting (in case you forgot).  About 5 minutes before show time, the bus rolled up, the Boys got out, and proceeded to tear the roof off the joint.  It was electrifying.   Bill spent the intermission walking around smoking a big cigar and chatting up the patrons.   I got an autographed LP from Kenny Baker.  The next day, I bought a fiddle for $75. I still have both.

 
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: uncle bud on March 29, 2012, 09:27:18 AM
To slip into Facebook argot for a moment:

Like.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Annette on March 29, 2012, 10:04:23 AM
My early love of bluegrass has faded. I will actively go out of my way to avoid it. Nothing against the musicians or the fans, it just doesn't interest me much anymore, it mostly all sounds the same to me.

Sometimes there's a jazz angle, blue notes, minor keys, and that will tend to get me listening. Otherwise, meh. Plus in a stand-up session the players have such sharp elbows, and in TX they're frequently bigger and taller than me.

Frankie had a good quote I can't resist replaying: "Bluegrass sounds better than it is. Old Time is better than it sounds". Old time also has its problems; it's really hard to guitar-accompany clawhammer banjo with finger picking, or at least I find that to be so. Don't get me started on trad Celtic diddley-i music. I love to listen to it occasionally, hate playing it. People get so pissed off when you inevitably miss the changes, since they themselves devote their entire lives to memorizing somebody's idea of the exact note perfect way the tune should go.

The big plus for country blues IMO is that people who play it are much less serious and puristic about it which leaves a lot of room for individuality and more generally inclusive to anyone who wants to jump in.

The other two quips I like are:

Old time music is Bluegrass Lite!

and:

In bluegrass a musician uses the tune to show his skill - in old time he uses his skill to show the tune!

I also DETEST the way the bluegrass audience applauds every solo - often to the detriment of actually hearing the tune.

Annette
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Rivers on March 29, 2012, 06:28:07 PM
Cheers Gumbo, glad you got a smile out of it!

Eric, that story gave me goosebumps, I was right there while reading it.

Annette, we all agree then! We should stage our own festival.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Mr.OMuck on March 29, 2012, 07:47:37 PM
It wouldn't be called  "Weenie Roast"  however would it?  Weenie-stock?, Weenie-port?, Monter-weenie? ;),
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Mr.OMuck on March 29, 2012, 07:48:49 PM
Actually Weeniestock is growing on me...I know see a dermatologist.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Rivers on March 29, 2012, 09:25:21 PM
Hmm. weeniestock. Has a certain ring to it.

I totally failed to fathom the dermatologist reference though. Anyone? Oh wait, I just got it. Not 'it', I got the joke.
Title: Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
Post by: Annette on March 30, 2012, 08:31:07 AM
When I was 16/17 Chris and I went to a "rawk festival" near Clacton (Weeley?) and I remember us going crazy when Dr Ross come on - and we were going crazy when every one else around us were going "WTF". It was peeing down with rain at the time.

He came on and said "Hi there I'm Dr Ross - the Harmonica Boss!".

Aaaah - nostalgia - ain't what it used to be.

Two other stand out moments from those days are seeing Eddie Gtr Burns in Berkhamsted backed by the late Bob Brunning's Sunflower Blues Band.

And getting on the coach after the 1970 Blues Folk and Gospel Festival and getting everyone's autograph (except Rosetta Tharpe who was indisposed that night!)

In my never ending search for cash I sold this recently - it sold to the states for quite a bit!

Annette

PS The monogram in the corner is Walter Shakey Horton - I loved the way Sonny Terry smudged his ink stamp and did it again for me!

BTW the festival was in Hemel Hempstead and I had a long walk back from the M1 slip road before I was let off!


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