Snake River Reel

There’s little I enjoy more than playing one-on-one with a fiddler.  This tune I think is a Midwest tune that was composed by Peter Lippincott.  Ambrose and I performed this in Ossining, NY last week at the historic Jug Tavern.  When two musicians listen to each other musically and respond and react musically, it becomes a wonderful type of tw0-way communication.  Future and past time seem to recede to leave only the present.  There’s something great about leaving news and politics behind and only experiencing the present second-by-second and note-by-note.

very inspirational on a lot of levels…

Old Time Party

jon_waterBlogger Jonathan Bekoff died at home in the night between June 14-15, 2015, after a 3-year illness. He loved this blog and asked some friends to help maintain the site after he died.

Jon was born May 8, 1959 in Staten Island, NY. Raised in Montreal, Canada, he also lived in Ohio, Virginia, Oregon, and Vermont before settling in Greenfield, MA in 1996. He attended the University of Oregon, and was a gifted middle school math teacher for 27 years, mostly in Guilford and Brattleboro, VT. As his former principal at Brattleboro recalled, “Jon was a gentle soul and loved to connect with people, especially with the kids. He came into himself in the classroom; he explained things so clearly. His students loved him. Everyone loved him.”

Jon had strong passions for studying, collecting, playing, mentoring, and sharing roots music of the world, particularly American Old-time and music of Africa…

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I love it when there’s one person on stage with an instrument and a microphone. The artist is raw and exposed and vulnerable. After seeing a bunch of these shows, you start to get a feel for a performance that has the ring of truth about it. Recently I saw a really “true” performance. The artist’s name is Rich Podgur. Everything about him screams “authentic”- from his left-handed Guild guitar to his corduroy sport coat.

His songs have working-man imagery and feel. At different times I was reminded of other songwriters whose delivery also feels honest and gritty- like John Prine and Townes Van Zandt and Neil Young. Full disclosure- I’m trying to figure out how get hired as a sideman in his band. I feel like I’m getting a sneak preview of something really great. It reminds me of time when songs had integrity and life.  Good songs make us feel and remember and think- they take on a life of their own.  They have the ability to travel with us and comment and connect with us when we least expect  it.

I’m really looking forward to a recording from this guy.  I want the ability to read and listen to the lyrics and gain some new traveling companions.

Before you start playing be familiar with the hierarchy of good band manners.

First, be in tune. Everybody’s uncomfortable when something sounds sour and is out of tune.

Second, play in rhythm. Groove with the bass. When in doubt, pause and listen for the next down beat. Play as little as possible. I’m not sure of the author of this quote but it’s made a lot of sense through the years “It’s not what you play, it’s what you don’t play”. The less you play, the easier it is to play on the beat.

Third, play the right chords. Do your homework and be prepared. Learn the chord chart before you come to rehearsal.

Fourth, learn the notes of the melody- they’ll come in handy at a bunch of different times and on different levels.

After you start playing follow these rules when possible:

First- Start together and end together. Beginnings and endings frame the song you present on stage. It’s the first and last thing that the audience hears and remembers. If these are tight, other “discrepencies” will be forgiven.

Next, when someone starts singing, play softer so that the singing is featured. Create a sonic support/safety net for them. The vocalist is is the most exposed member of the band- make them sound good. In general, build volume in the chorus.

Lastly songs are cycles of repeating musical ideas. Try to add something different each time you play through a verse or chorus or bridge. Something simple- an extra note, a different voicing, a rhythm motif. Add interest to the performance.

Be kind to your band members. Support them musically. Make sure everyone gets a chance to shine. Playing music can be as challenging as it is rewarding. We are at our most vulnerable when on stage. Make it fun for your bandmates and they just might return the favor.

Banjo and Fiddle Duet

Tim and Mike at the Black Creek Fiddlers Reunion

Just banjo and fiddle playing together was the original rock band. From the earliest time of the banjo in America – the mid to late 1800’s, the music partner of choice was the fiddle. Here’s a list of some of my favorite duo recordings:

Banging and Sawing by Bob Carlin and Guests

Southern Summits by Alan Jabbour and Ken Perlman

Tommy & Fred  by Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham

Starry Crown by Rhys Jones and Christina Wheeler

The Time’s Been Sweet by Jeanne Murphy & Scott Marckx

Phil’s Patio by Aaron Jonah Lewis and Matt Ball

The Fun of Open Discussion by Bob Carlin and John Hartford

These recordings have all affected me on different levels.  They’ve inspired me to learn the tunes.  They’ve compelled me to seek out fiddlers and sit knee to knee and communicate musically.  I’ve shared tunes with my bands and we’ve learned them and added more instruments.

When I think back on wonderful musical moments through the years, many of them have been at festivals where two of us have searched out a quiet corner to sit and play together.  Starting with a tune we both know (or not…) and first developing the common ground to kind of establish the musical outlines of the thing that we are creating together then having fun and allowing new ideas to emerge.

The albums above all do this. Most of it is banjo and fiddle but there are some really beautiful fiddle duets on Starry Crown.  In the duet form I always love when the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Wildwood Flower

Wildwood Flower in a great tuning with compact chord forms.  Capo 2  tuning: gEADE

Inspired when Chip came to visit one afternoon and we where trading tunes and ideas.  I showed Chip the tuning that I was using to learn John Riley The Shepherd (from the YouTube video of Adam Hurt’s playing) and we started working through tunes and songs in G and Chip suggested Wildwood Flower


Twin Banjo D Medley

Last Sunday’s BBU-sponsored band scramble at the Real School of Music in Burlington brought out about thirty people who discovered talents many never knew they had. If you’ve never been to a band scramble, the idea is a cross between pickup baseball and the Hogwarts sorting hats: take a bunch of strangers who play bluegrass instruments, throw their names into paper bags. Draw names at random to create bands. Send each band away to rehearse for an hour and a half with a simple mission: create a 5-7 minute set of music on stage. Call everyone back, and put on a show.

The five bands that competed in Sunday’s scramble showed a range of talents. Every band had some people who had never played bluegrass onstage before. At least two people made their singing debut as well.

I can tell you from touring the rehearsal rooms during those 90 minutes that the energy level and enthusiasm was high. Everyone was involved in picking band names, repertoire and arranging. The atmosphere in every room felt like a really good band rehearsal. That spirit made it onto the stage, where all the bands, who were competing for an opening act slot at a local coffeehouse and a set of tuners, put on enjoyable performances and cheered each other on from the audience.

The comments were unanimously positive from everyone involved, and I really enjoyed the simultaneous spirits of cooperation and competition that extended from the selection of the bands through the concert itself. I think the first scramble was a complete success, and I’m looking forward to many more. Thanks to everyone who came out to participate, help out, or just watch!

Boston Bluegrass Day

Boston Bluegrass Day Mini-Festival this Sunday!

Sunday Jan. 2nd 2pm to 6p at The Real School of Music in Burlington, MA.
Performance by the Etienne Bluegrass Experience
Open Jamming and Slow Jam
Rich Stillman of Southern Rail to lead a Bluegrass Band Scramble.

When:  Sunday January 2nd, 2011 at 2pm
Where: 56 Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington, MA 10803
How Much:  $10 at the door. ($5 with flyer-print this page!)
Is there a budding stage musician inside you? Have you ever dreamed of standing on stage, with people you didn’t know two hours before, playing bluegrass in front of tens of screaming fans? (Dreams have to start somewhere.)
The Band Scramble may be for you!  If you’ve ever played in a jam session, or if you can play three chords in rhythm, come out to the Real School of Music on January 2 and try your luck. Musicians enter the Scramble individually, and bands are created by picking names out of hats – one for each instrument, so bands have the tools they need. You and your new bandmates then have a two hour practice session, with coaching from BBU and Real School instructors, to prepare songs and stage patter for a six minute turn on the Real School’s stage, in front of a sound system and a live audience.
Every band will need a name, so be creative! (sorry, the name Wabash Cannibals is already taken!) The winner will be chosen based entirely on audience response, so stacking the audience is strongly encouraged. Judges will be on hand to make the tough call if the audience response is close. A prize, consistent with the dignity of the event, will be awarded to the winning band.
Come Join us for a really fun bluegrass event!

Merry Christmas!