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There stands a fellow, over yonder, he looks just like he wants to ponder - Uncle Dave Macon, I've Got The Mourning Blues

Author Topic: Sitting and thinking: festivals  (Read 14961 times)

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Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #45 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!
« Last Edit: August 20, 2004, 05:07:27 AM by frankie »

Offline MotMot

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #46 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


« Last Edit: August 20, 2004, 06:25:45 AM by MotMot »
... but it's a slow consumption, killing me by degrees

Offline Cambio

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #47 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. 

Offline MotMot

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #48 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 . . .
... but it's a slow consumption, killing me by degrees

Offline MotMot

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #49 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
... but it's a slow consumption, killing me by degrees

Offline frankie

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #50 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!

Offline MotMot

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Re: Sitting and thinking: capos, oldtime John Hurt
« Reply #51 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)
« Last Edit: August 26, 2004, 09:24:31 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 #52 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...

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #53 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

Offline MotMot

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #54 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
« Last Edit: September 15, 2004, 07:17:27 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 #55 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!

Offline crookedtune

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #56 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

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #57 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

Offline MotMot

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #58 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
... but it's a slow consumption, killing me by degrees

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Sitting and thinking: festivals
« Reply #59 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.

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