Monday, April 29, 2013

Banjo for the Adventurous

Our weekend workshops  venture has been slowly getting off the ground but had a major
lift in our workshop on the weekend of April 18th - 21st.    Entitled 'Banjo for the Adventurous',
we sought to offer a unique experience for intermediate to advanced players that were willing
to take a chance on what we had to offer in the way of claw hammer banjo instruction.  We had
six players (our class size limit) participate for  the weekend  beginning with a jam on Thursday PM following a wonderful pizza and salad supper.  Both pizza and mixed greens/ raw veggies salad were made from scratch by Jenny.

Being a banjo player who also plays OT fiddle,   I  fiddled many tunes familiar to the
participants in the Thursday jam while Jenny played her usual strong back-up guitar.
 It was hard to quit for the evening but we knew we'd better
save our energy for the Friday activities starting with breakfast for those who stayed here on the farm
that night.  One even camped in his old Volvo Station wagon.  Mac's cabinet/banjo shop became the center of musical activity for jams, classes, and private sessions for the weekend.

The first class on that rainy and windy Friday morning began with everyone tuning to double C for a couple of local tunes that could have just as easily been played in double D.  With my personal banjo I prefer to not use a capo and in general prefer short scale banjos that can be easily tuned up to double D even with medium guage strings.  Being that the class was going to get the opportunity to play for the flatfoot dancers by sitting in with Mac's OT group at the Floyd Country Store that evening we concentrated on learning some local favorites.   Old time versions of Tommy Love, Saro, and Sally Ann were presented and sailed through and even remembered after the coffee break.  Banjo student extraordinaire, Skip Slocum, stepped in to lead the class in nailing down the one part tune 'Saro' while Mac unexpectedly had to rescue Jenny who had a flat tire on her way to Floyd for some last minute lunch items.  Thanks Skip !!!  Rain, Rain, and more rain.

Following a gourmet lunch  students were free to relax, practice, go to town or just hang out while Mac
gave a series of individual instruction to each participant.  What better to do on a rainy Friday, huh.
All were encouraged to leave after their session to check out Floyd, shop, hike etc. and meet at the Floyd Country Store at 7:30 PM  for a warm-up with Mac and his group who would be playing for the dancers starting at 9 PM.  Mac's group TBA (Twin Banjo Attack) consisted of Mac- fiddle, Andy Buckman - Banjo, Skip Slocum - Banjo,  Sam Linkous - bass  and George Slusher -  guitar.
So after a warm-up session upstairs we all headed down and ended up on the stage before the crowd
of dancers who happened to be pretty good at throwing some rhythm back at us as we played our local favorites at a pace above 120 BPM.   All the banjo players hung on through the waltzes and country two steps that are good to play for contrast at a real country dance in the Blue Ridge.  The adventure continued when we played a tune called Carroll County Breakdown for a mountain style square dance lead by local caller Shirley Ferris. 10:30 arrived and we weren't asked for an encore which was no
huge surprise as we had earlier filled the place with banjo sounds and the owners Woody and Jackie Crenshaw were ready to clean-up and go home.

Saturday morning class started with a warm-up with the classic one part tune in G  'Groundhog' for the hard core banjo songsters.  The adventure continued into the uncharted territory of alternate G tunings for some beginning with a ballad classic "Willie Moore' tuned in gDGAD  followed by the  common
tune 'Shortning Bread'  in eDGBD after a coffee break and before lunch.  

After a good midday break, we took a walk around to check on Mac's cows and calves,  ate a ramp walked more then returned to Mac's shop.  Those interested  witnessed  a "Banjo Birthing' as Mac finished putting the strings, set the bridge, and played the first tune on his  elaborately decorated 75th banjo.  See photos of this and other banjos made in Mac's shop at   gallery.   Mac lead the afternoon session  playing #75  after showing all how to tune from standard G tuning into
the 'cool' tuning eEABD.  All were shown how to play the Hammons family classic  banjo version of "Sugar Babe'.   Since  we had tuned up our banjos above standard to play 'Sugar Babe' we adjusted more strings and spent the rest of the afternoon session  learning a couple of A Tunes with no capo.  All banjos were able to make  it up to A with the option of going to G first then capoing.  No strings were broken luckily by the truly adventurous.    Tunes  in A
presented were Merry Mountain Hoedown and Sal's Got a Meatskin  aka  Russell Higgin's Sally Ann.

Saturday supper was a treat with great cooking by Jenny again.  As scheduled  after supper we relaxed to  enjoy listening carefully to some samples from a unique banjo music collection CD that Mac presented to everyone  for their listening enjoyment and inspiration.  We  also watched some short video clips of
80+ yr old Rhoda Kemp who is a native  of the region and has a rhythmic and flamboyant claw hammer style.  The adventure continued with a lively jam again in Mac's shop/ classroom until everyone faded out.

Sunday 9:15 AM  class resumed  (with coffee nearby)  knowing that a huge brunch would be ready at noon.  Starting in the now familiar double C tuning , the classic banjo tune Old Jake Gille was presented and was caught  on by all fairly easily.  Lastly, we explored the key of F which can be used for some G tunes  when capoed up two frets.

 Finally,  the adventurous participants all learned the Hobart Smith classic 'Last Chance" and the standard G tune "Sandy River Belle".  Following a fantastic French Toast and real Maple syrup feast with fruit galore for the Brunch,
we adjourned and headed to Floyd for the optional Old-time Jam at the Floyd Country Store.  By 4 PM
the adventure was concluded and those still left were finally ready to get home.  We hope to do this again so please check out for our schedule.   Contact us anytime for more information.