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Author Topic: Sitting and thinking: festivals  (Read 14981 times)

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Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #15 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?
« Last Edit: June 01, 2004, 10:26:48 AM by frankie »

Online Johnm

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #16 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

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #17 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!

Offline waxwing

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #18 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.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #19 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!

Online Johnm

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #20 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

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #21 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 %

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #22 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.? 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!

Offline MotMot

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #23 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
... but it's a slow consumption, killing me by degrees

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #24 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!

Offline Cambio

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #25 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.

Offline Slack

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #26 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




 

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #27 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.

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #28 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!

Offline MotMot

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #29 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.
« Last Edit: August 11, 2004, 01:23:34 PM by MotMot »
... but it's a slow consumption, killing me by degrees

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