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I don't like to play this but once in a while, you know, but sometimes I get the Blues - Napoleon Strickland

Author Topic: Sitting and thinking: festivals  (Read 14960 times)

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Offline frankie

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Sitting and thinking: festivals
« 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:

  • Country Blues
  • Lots of jamming
  • A few workshops (generally short)
  • Possible contest (with prize money)

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...

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #1 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   

Offline Rivers

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #2 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.

Offline lindy

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #3 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

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #4 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 :)
« Last Edit: May 23, 2004, 08:54:27 AM by uncle bud »

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #5 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

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #6 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.

Offline lindy

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #7 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

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #8 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!

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #9 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.


Offline Cambio

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #10 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.


Offline uncle bud

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #11 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

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #12 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... 

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #13 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   

Offline Rivers

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #14 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.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2004, 11:56:04 AM by Rivers »

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