Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgving 2010

Thanksgiving found us here at our place in Floyd County this year. We had both our grown-up kids Ben 25 and his new wife Lisa and Hanna 22 and her boyfriend Dan share our 17 pound fresh free range turkey for a wonderful traditional family reunion. The beautiful weather continued. While the turkey was cooking Hanna and Dan helped out with the progress on the rock springhouse for our spring fed water system. Jenny and I started this back in early October when we had the area around the spring excavated by backhoe so we could proceed with the upgrade of the spring. This job has been needing to be done for years. Such a great watersource deserves a bit of protection from the elements. We hope to have a roof on it before 2011 weather permitting. Rocks of all sizes from our property and from our neighbor's have been coming together to make a permanent fixture to our property. We can't help but think that our efforts with the rocks could last forever.

After dark while the turkey was still cooking, a new Mac- banjo was born in the shop on Thanksgiving as well. Hanna and Dan helped out on this as well. They installed the tuners while I made a nut. Strings were put on and Hanna gave it a good try-out. She made it sound pretty good for the first tune on it.

This one is #53 and is bound for New Zealand. It has been in the works since I got the order back in the summer. Abie Horrocks will be the proud owner. This banjo is made of apple wood / birdseye maple and a black material made from recycled paper call "paperstone'.

Another one recently was 'born' but is staying close by. It is made of curly maple and paperstone for the fingerboard . It was made for Tom Deceasar who just turned 60. Such a milestone deserves a special gift. Tom's wife, Mindy, was instrumental in getting me to complete the banjo on November 19th. When other shop work is slow, the banjo making gets more attention.

More banjos are in the works for other deserving people with milestone birthdays. Keep checking back for a progress report.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall 2010

Last Sunday PM October 10th was our last real gig for the season which was a hour long set on a small stage in the Roanoke Mt Campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke Virginia. We performed as a duo as we have done at this location for the past 4 years in October. It was at the end of a beautiful Fall day so there was a big crowd present with lawn chairs positioned for a mini-concert. Like a house concert we used no microphones and simply stood while we played to project our vocals better to those in the back of the crowd. One reason we especially like this gig is that folks really come to listen and see to really enjoy the music. There is always someone in the crowd we discover who has a link to a person or family whose music we are familiar with.
One year there was a relative of the awesome old-time musician Hobart Smith who was from Saltville, Va. Another year there was someone related to the musical Kimble family of Laurel Fork, Va. whose music we revere from our home area in the Blue Ridge. This year there was renown banjo picker Gene Parker who had toured and played with the local Franklin County bluegrass band, The Lost & Found. So we always feel great after doing our performance for people who have such a love and connection for the music and its traditions. So at home we are hard at work to get our place ready for anyone who may find us through the "Round the Mountain" program which features our home and crafts. We hope to have a nice website for anyone to visit and find out more about us as artist and farmers which is what we do more for a living than music. So keep checking us out here and we'll mention it prominently when we have a better website that will encompass our music, banjo making, cabinetry, artwork and gardens. 2011 should be a big year for us here at home.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-time Music Association

MBOTMA is the acronym for the big festival that happens every August at a beautiful location west of the twin cities in the "Land of 10,000 lakes". This was the 30th annual event for the organization of almost 100 bands or groups throughout the state. Having been booked for about 18 months in advance, the time came and we went and did our 'Professional' gig of the Decade. Shay Garriock met us there having flown from NC. Jenny and I elected to drive instead of flying so we could bring more of our instruments and comfortable. We spent the best part of two days driving completely through 5 states to get there.
We visited our music friends Doug and Jean Herr near Battleground IN the first evening. Along the way we saw hundreds of miles of cornfields and occasionally a modern wind mill farm of 50 to 100 units. With a big sky and rare sight of land forms, we got a feel for the effects the ice age on the topography of the mid-West by the time we got there.

The MBOTMA festival itself is on a large tract of land with facilities for RV campers complete with a bathhouse and large lake. It seems to be someone's horse farm who happens to love string music and people. There were open fields with RV and trailer campers as well as wooded areas for so called 'rough' camping. The summer temperatures felt like the Deep South. On Thursday evening a tornado watch was issued making for some anxious excitement. Rain did come and soak the festival site ripping up the circus tent used for the showcase events. Unlike our last time playing at this festival in 1997 there were fortunately NO MOSQUITOS. The place had been sprayed a few days earlier. ugh.

We arrived a day early to be instructors in a one day music camp with folks who wanted detailed instruction on how to play old-time fiddle and clawhammer banjo. Although the turn out was small we loaded the participants up with lots of tunes from good old Southwest Virginia. We were hosted for a meal by the coordinators of the music camp: Doug Wells banjo and Katy Olsen - fiddle. We appreciate all they did to make it a success.
The duet singing showcase that we prepared for was canceled unfortunately. Our Friday evening performance on the mainstage just before dark was well received. The late afternoon sun lingered long on the summer evenings. We sold several CD's which wound up paying for the gas we used on the trip. Our other main stage set was on Sunday afternoon in which we did all gospel songs from our large gospel song repetoire.

Among other things, I participated in a banjo builder's demonstration on Saturday afternoon. Builders of banjo from both ends of the spectrum ( gourds with skin heads and fretless necks to super modern space age designs) were represented. My antique Victorian era -inspired designs fell some where between which made for an interesting contrast. Many questions were asked and answered by all three of us who participated. I brought a work in progress which helped demonstrate my method of building better than just a working model did.

Shay Garriock and I participated in an old-time fiddle showcase along with Garry Harrison, Bruce Molsky, and Rafe Stefanini.
We played tunes from our various influences. We did our best to represent the Blue Ridge area of Southwest Virginia's under- recognized traditions of old-time fiddling.

Shay caught a flight early on Sunday having elected not to ride with us due to time factors and logistics.
Jenny and I spread our return trip over 3 days taking a slightly different route which led us into the backwoods of Ohio.
We were awed by the major rivers we encountered on the whole trip including the Kanawha, the Ohio, the Scioti, and even the Mississippi. We saw so much of America as we passed through that was rural but not Appalachian. The low elevation, high heat and humidity and the serious lack of mountains and forest help kindle a new appreciation for our home in Floyd County. If you read this you are invited to stop by sometime and check us out. Let us hear from you!!!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Swanannoa Gathering 2010

Wow! We just returned from a SUPER gig The Swanannoa Gathering held annually at Warren Wilson College near Asheville NC. Our daughter Hanna went with us and assisted in beginning level banjo class as well as playing for a flatfooting class. She made lots of new friends and started to get recognition for her fiery clawhammer banjo style. For just two years of learning and playing around her current homebase of Harrisonburg Va., Hanna is a dynamic force and has helped start up a couple of regular jams in the area. Of course, we love to play the old mountain tunes with ourselves on fiddle and guitar with her on banjo. We have already made it to you-tube. We hope to be active with her when we can but we just aren't next door so its tough.

Shay Garriock also had never been to Swanannoa Gathering before and had the duty of teaching two levels of old-time fiddle. He impressed many people with his style of fiddling rooted in Southwest Virginia. We had a great concert experience although only a 10 minute set before the 300 or so participants. It was good practice for our next super gig as a trio at the MBOTMA festival in Minnesota in a couple of more weeks. I will write about it when we get back so check back!

Swanannoa was a great getaway for us as we had been working so hard in our other professional lives of gardening and cabinet making.
We got to reconnect with and know better several old-time musicians of our generation many of whom we go back with to the 70's and 80's when we were Hanna's age (mid 20's). Jenny and I had a great duet singing class with 20 participants. We taught several songs including some that we have wanted to perform but never had quite worked up to that point.
I had a great level 3 banjo class with players who were quick and even in their playing ability. I was able to challenge them with some great tunes and tunings from the mountain traditions I so dearly love. Jenny was challenged as a teacher with an afternoon Level 1 guitar class with a wide range of abilities. I helped her out as she taught the students how to make simple transiton runs as one keeps time and changes chords in the course of backing up a song or tune. It was tough but we felt
like we made good progress. What one makes of these courses at a music camp is up to them. Recording devices are vital and developing a love for the music of old masters is essential.

The evenings were filled with concerts by all the instructors, square dances, and late night jamming. There was an open mike for anyone who wanted to perform a song in the honky-tonk style backed by a live honky tonk band.
All in all it was a great work party. We should be fully recovered soon.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spring music Tonic

Our daughter Hanna has become a force in the OT scene around Harrisonburg, Va playing her banjo and hosting a regular potluck jam at her place. We managed to attend one around the end of March as we were on our way to Ontario for a visit with Jenny's family. We took Hanna (and her banjo) for a week to the annual Maple syrup gathering where we had a bit of a reunion with family and friends. We were able played some tunes for one of the celebrations are are now posted somewhere on you-tube playing an old tune from our local area called Merry Mountain Hoedown.

After returning from the visit in Ontario on April 6, we came back to a vibrant Spring season at our Floyd County home. Of course, there are lots of projects to keep us busy and we've been working through an extensive list of mostly garden-related preparations and early planting. Getting potatoes in on Good Friday was a positive thing according to the old-timers and we managed to really do it this year.

Musically, we have been a bit inactive as a duet. Mac, of course, has attended several jams including monthly one at the Appalshop in Whitesburg KY and the weekly one at the Stringbean Cafe in Galax VA. He has played regularly at the Floyd Country Store's Friday Nite Jamboree this winter with various configurations of friends at different times. As for the future Jenny and Mac along with fiddler Shay Garriock are gearing up for some decent summer gigs in near and faraway places. see the updated calendar.

This past weekend we along with fellow Floyd musician, Tina Liza Jones, hosted a special concert of our peers from the traditional music world. Eric and Suzy Thompson from Berkeley California came to Floyd to be our guest at the wonderful space in Zion Lutheran Church. They are longtime professionals in the west coast music world and drew a decent crowd of live music supporters who the thoroughly entertained with their repetoire of roots music. Mac. unfortunately, had to miss the show since his band, The Mountain Boomers, were scheduled to play for the monthly dance at the Floyd Country Store. Several concert goers including Eric and Suzy came to catch the final set of mountain dance tunes and old songs that are the mainstay of any good dance band. The enthusiastic crowd stayed to the bitter end. Musicians in the band include Shay Garriock with whom Mac twin fiddles, Trish Fore on clawhammer banjo, Chester Macmillian on guitar, and Sam Linkous on bass. The after party at our place went on til 2:30 AM.

On the weekend of May 1 , Mac and Shay are scheduled to conduct workshops in Old-time banjo and fiddle near New York City. Jenny will stay home to tend to plants and animals while they go have a blast and get some perspective on life in a northern city area. It should be a fun to see our music buddies who we've met at the local fiddler's conventions who live up that way.

Enough for now but there'll be more to come so please come back...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Waiting for Spring

While waiting for Spring Jenny and I have gotten plenty of exercise shoveling snow on a regular basis. We had a house concert scheduled for us and Shay Garriock in the DC area that got cancelled due to the record snow that still haunts the area. Several other events featuring music of related genre were cancelled on weekend previous to and the one after February 13th when we scheduled. Oh well, there's always a chance of something weather related coming in to dominate the situation to the point of changing plans. We have been spoiled by several mild snowless winters but we never heard about El Nino's eminent return this year. If I would have read and heeded the farmer's almanac (which apparently was right on) then I wouldn't have had to cut more firewood to make it through the winter. Hind sight can make one feel stupid. Musically, February may turn out a couple of gigs after all. Jenny and I haven't done a restaurant gig in a long while but are scheduled to do a 3 hour time slot at a Giles county establishment called the Pallisades restaurant on the banks of the New River in downtown Eggleston. This place has been featuring live music on the weekends for the customers. Sunday nights have been featuring old-time music from a young group called Old Sledge who are unavailable and offered us to do the gig in their place. So we agreed to help out. It should chance to play some of our old and new repetoire. Check us out if you can.

We are also scheduled to play the following Friday Feb 26th in historic Chatham Virginia for the Dan River Region Bluegrass Music association. Shay will join us in some stringband numbers. The crowd that we played for in 2007 was very receptive and seem to understand the roots of Bluegrass music. NPR radio host of 'Back to the BlueRidge' on WVTF , Kinney Rorrer, has been associated with that group and for many years in the Danville, Virginia area.

In the meantime, I have played for dancers at the Floyd Country Store which seems to always get a crowd on the coldest nights. I will fiddle with a bunch of seasoned Galax players on Feb 19th and expect it to be a fun and easy time. Timing is everything as the saying goes.