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Author Topic: Sitting and thinking: festivals  (Read 14937 times)

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Offline jed

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #30 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
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Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #31 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...

Offline jed

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #32 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
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Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #33 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...

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #34 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 

Offline Cambio

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #35 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.

Offline MotMot

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #36 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.
... but it's a slow consumption, killing me by degrees

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #37 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

Offline waxwing

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #38 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.
"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.”
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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #39 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.

Offline MotMot

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #40 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
« Last Edit: August 20, 2004, 05:11:43 AM by MotMot »
... but it's a slow consumption, killing me by degrees

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #41 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.

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #42 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!

Offline waxwing

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #43 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.
"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 #44 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!
« Last Edit: August 20, 2004, 04:12:53 AM by frankie »

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