Saturday, March 12, 2016

SMS at Winter Bluegrass Festival in Minnesota

The first weekend of March is not a typical festival time in the South but to the members of
the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-time Music Association (MBOTMA) it is a time for a great festival to beat the winter doldrums.  The annual event host several bands in the Bluegrass genre and allow for
an 'Old-time' Band to be hired to perform, hold workshops, and play for a square dance on one of 4 stages in the Crown Plaza Hotel just outside of Minneapolis.  The Sunny Mountain Seranaders were fortunate to be invited to come be a part of such an event.  It was through my past contact with local player and MBOTMA member, Adam Kiesling,  that such an invite came to pass.  It is always an honor to be considered worthy of an invitation to play our style of music in that part of the US.  I am no stranger to MBOTMA having made  5 previous 'music' trips to the Land of the Lakes since the late 1990's.  Mark and John, however, had never been to Minnesota for music  and were impressed even more than I was at the quality of the festival by the end.

Back in December 2015 we basically booked separate flights that arrived around the same time so we could be picked up by Adam and driven to
the Crown Plaza so we could get checked in.  The rooms were excellent and convenient.
 The Festival is  totally self contained with a first class bar and restaurant in addition to a lunch food service in another part of the facility.   With jams happening just about everywhere  we jumped right in after supper and jammed on Friday night  with several Minnesota
folks including veteran performer Bob Bovee  and filmmaker Craig Evans.  The Slusher Dolls were a hit as well.  Overall, it was quite a party.  No driving required once you got there.  Booking a room in the place was the way to go.

Saturday 3/5 was our workday.  After a super breakfast buffet, we did some planning of our 1 hour concert set and proceed to check out the 3 large space filled with instrument vendors. Lots of cool new and vintage instruments.  My favorite fiddle was only priced at $12,000.
Our workshops were separated into banjo, fiddle and guitar.  I had about 12 people show up.
I once again hammered on the attendees to work harder on keeping time and rhythm which I see is lacking in the world of todays old-time banjo players.  We learned the basics of the Virginia tune Sandy River Belle so we could jam on it later with the fiddlers from Mark's workshop.  John taught the basics of back-up guitar to similar number of people.
After the workshop period we led a jam with around 30 people.  It was odd in that  players were sort of in rows like an audience would sit to listen.  They played right along with us for the most part.
We were convinced that there is a lot of interest in old-time playing in the North mid -West.  Some of the best local players played dance tunes for the present day  Wild Goose Chasers, a clogging team with a link back to the South's Green Grass Cloggers.  They were as good as any cloggers I know about.  Several young musicians impressed us with their good taste and skills as well during the weekend.  AJ is an excellent fiddler and his buddy Aaron a banjo maker and player specializing on old-time 3 finger picking on a Kel Kroydon style  resonator banjo.

Our late afternoon concert was attended by maybe 60 people and well received.  Following a two hour break, we played for a square dance called by Julie Young formerly of the Wild Goose Chasers.
Around 50 - 60 people attended the dance which seemed lively and fun for  everyone.
A Cajun dance followed with an excellent local Cajun band.   Not bad for a "BlueGrass Festival".
We finished up our evening with a hot jam featuring young fiddler AJ  playing C tunes along with Mark.  Of course, they were lucky to have such back-up both banjo and guitar support from John and me that helped them play better.
There was still a lot of jamming mostly bluegrass going on when we turned in for the night around 2 AM.    Spring fever was starting to set in for some people including us.

And as luck would have it, I sold my banjo to Adam.  I had been hoping for such an outcome on the UK trip but no takers.  So with a little advance notice, I  put a bug in his ear and behold that sweet
11" birdeye maple raw brass tuba phone ended up in a home with a fine player.  It was great to come back home empty handed once again for the 9th time.

I am glad to be home again. Spring fever is brewing as March is so much warmer than normal.
 I doubt we'll ever top this for just a weekend of playing our music for a fine bunch of people in a foreign land.

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