Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Hot Seats, The Green Boys or The Bumper Jacksons This Friday?

I don’t get out to see live music that much any more, but this Friday June 28 there are three different live music opportunities begging for attention.
The Hot Seats
First and foremost, is the occasion of The Hot Seats playing at Balliceaux.  I’ve seen The Hot Seats many times over the last 8 or 9 years, although full-band local performances are rare these days.  The Hot Seats are playing with the Two Man Gentlemen Band, another live act that I’ve seen multiple times.  Usually this would be a no-brainer, but…
The Green Boys
Over at The Camel, The Green Boys are playing on the same night.  The Camel is one of my favorite live venues and hangouts, and I’ve only seen The Green Boys a couple times so far.  Making this an even more enticing option, the traditional Irish band Kind Stranger is playing at the Camel that evening from 6 to 8pm as part of Beers and Banjos; a great lead in to The Green Boys (Elby Brass is also on the bill).  Some of the rotating members of Kind Stranger play in the local Irish session(s), so I’d like to support them.
The Bumper Jacksons
Balliceaux and The Camel are both in Richmond, about a 20 minute drive away.  On a much more local basis, the DC/Baltimore-based band The Bumper Jacksons will be at Ashland Coffee and Tea this Friday – a place that I can walk to (and stumble home from).  The Bumper Jacksons play trad jazz, ragtime and pre-war country...pretty much the same kind of audience draw as The Hot Seats and The Green Boys.  I’ve never seen The Bumper Jacksons live, but I’ve been wanting to for a while, and I actually had this show on my calendar first before I knew about these other events on 6/28. 

It’ll be a tough choice.

A Transcription Project

I would say that my play-by-ear abilities are about a 2 or 3 out of 10.  Pretty dismal for someone learning play traditional music.  So, earlier this evening I put together a playlist of tunes that would be good to learn, but are ones that I have not yet looked at the sheet music for.  My typical way of learning a tune is to listen to the recording paired with the sheet music, and then figure it out that way.  Although I find looking at the sheet music helpful, it makes a visual, not aural, connection in the brain that I can't shake.

For this project I have specifically chosen recordings for which I have the matching sheet music, but am resisting the temptation to glance at the dots.  I've selected some chestnuts that have been on my "to learn" list, with the goal of listening to them in the car, on the stereo at home, and on the iPad, until the melodies become very familiar.

I'll play along with the tracks from this playlist, eventually attempting to transcribe the tunes by writing out the notes I'm playing.  Once I have my transcription where I want it, I'll compare it to the actual sheet music to see how far off I was.  I'm hoping this proves to be a good practice method.  I can definitely move my fingers along with a fast recording, but making the notes I am playing match the music is another story.

Some of the tunes on my list include Campbell's Farewell to Redgap, Hollow Poplar, and Green Castle Hornpipe from The Mandolin of Norman Blake DVD.  For lack of a better idea, I pointed the digital recorder at the speakers and made MP3 recordings of these tracks straight from the DVD.  This turned out well, and now I have the audio on CD and on my iPad.

Another oldtime tune I'll be working on is Shady Grove from Alan Jabbour's A Henry Reed Reunion album. It's not the same as the bluegrass Shady Grove, but almost every single time this tune has come on when I've been listening to this CD, I've had to check and see what the title was because I liked it so much. Each time it was Henry Reed's Shady Grove, so that made the list.  I have the book of Alan Jabbour's transcriptions for when I'm ready to compare my attempt at an interpretation to his.

I also included Stay All Night, which is similar to Waterbound, and Lost Everything, a fiddle tune written by James Leva.  These come from the Portland Play Along Selection...not my favorite source for tunes but these particular recordings are OK to work with and the notes are in the Portland Collection books.  That covers the oldtime tunes.

For Irish jigs, I first selected the medley of Farwell to Gurteen/John Joe Gardiner's off of Angelina Carberry's An Traiisiun Beo CD simply because I happen to have a photocopy of her personal transcription of these tunes.  Angelina is my favorite Irish tenor banjo player, and if this experiment proves to be fruitful, I'd like to figure out additional tunes from this album, sans the sheet music.

I have a nice recording of Leitrim Fancy that I converted to MP3 from YouTube.  I figure this tune is universal enough that this version would generally match any notation I have for it.  The other jig I included was The Rambling Pitchfork, from the Dusty Banjos Live at the Crane CD.  There's an excellent tunebook called "10 Years of Tunes" that goes along with the Dusty Banjos CD, so I've got the notes to Rambling Pitchfork when I need it.

For Irish reels, I'll start with The Green Mountain.  Again, this tune is ubiquitous enough that almost any version would work assuming it's in the right key.  I went with the one off the Mick O'Connor and Tony Mac Gabhann CD Doorways  and Windowsills.  This tune has been calling out to me so now is my chance to work on it.

Additional Irish reels include Rolling in the Ryegrass (Dusty Banjos' Live at the Crane), The Concertina Reel (Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann), and Golden Keyboard (PJ Berthoud's Irish Mandolin Playing guide).  Finally, in the miscellaneous category, I have Stack of Barley from Joe Carr's School of Mandolin - Irish Mandolin, Top of the Maol, as played by Dan Neely on his Mighty Augusta Ceili Band repertory page, as well as Maggie in the Wood and Ballydesmond Polka No. 2 from Brian Connolly's Play Tunes on the Irish Tenor Banjo.

I don't always know beforehand what key these tunes are in, so that in and of itself is a challenge to begin with.  Identifying the tonal center, then getting the general shape of the tune, figuring out certain progressions or patterns, and taking it from there.  I'll be curious to see how close my transcriptions come to the actual notes being played!

Down the road there are two tunes on the Norman and Nancy Blake/Boys of the Lough album Rising Fawn Gathering that I'd like to learn - Castleberry's March and Joe Bane's - but since there's no sheet music to refer to for these I'm going to put off attempting to learn them until I get a little bet better at replication.  I'll start with ones that I have the notation to match the music, so that I can actually compare my transcription to the proper one.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

I Won't Be Getting A Concertina Any Time Soon

I decided overnight to get a tenor banjo back in 2006, and, save for one year-long hiatus, have been at it ever since.  It was about a $350 initial investment to find a vintage 4-string banjo, have new tuners installed, and have it set up left-handed.  There were a few other costs involved - lessons and such - but it was a fairly reasonable cost to start with.  When I got a similar impulse toward concertinas a week or two ago, I assumed that it too would be something I could jump into on a whim.  I had no idea that the world of concertinas was so complex and expensive.  I don't think I'll be getting one straight away.
Irish concertina player Mrs. Elizabeth Crotty
If I were to get a concertina, it would be to play in the melodic Irish style.  Clare is the region of Ireland I first visited and fell in love with, and it just so happens that no other part of Ireland, or perhaps the world, is more strongly associated with the concertina than county Clare.  The type of concertina best recommended for Irish music is a 30 button, C/G Anglo concertina.  Problem is, you need to spend at least $2,000 for a high-quality one.

There is a decent entry-level 30b c/g Anglo called the Rochelle by Concertina Connection that typically sells for between $325-$385 used, and $415-$499 new.  It's priced low to act as an introductory instrument.  Some sellers like The Button Box in Massachusetts offer a full refund when you trade the Rochelle back in for a new, upgraded concertina.  I've seen the Rochelle in action and it's much larger in size than a typical 30 button Anglo concertina, and it also seems to be cumbersome.  Not really what I'm looking for.

Then there's the Stagi W-15, which sells for between $695 and $900, but I haven't seen many glowing reviews for this mass produced instrument. Getting it into good playing condition usually requires setup work by a skilled technician.  You're better off with a Rochelle than a Stagi from what I can gather.  I suppose I could try the the vintage route.  Refurbished 22 button, 24 button or 26 button Lachenals are in the $800 to $1200 range when you can find them, but there may be an adjustment needed for the fingers when moving to the 30 button.  And, for that cost, why play one of those at all if your ultimate goal is to play a 30 button?

Tedrow Zephyr concertina
I love the sound of concertina, but another part of its appeal is the diminutive size.  It's a very compact instrument that fits in a little case.  These starter instruments are often larger than the well made ones, and it's the traditional smaller size that I envision myself having.  I also like how anti-cool people look when playing concertina.  Unlike the posturing of a rock n' roll bassist or guitarist, concertina players sit fairly still in a chair, casually pushing and pulling on the little free reed instrument with buttons on each end that is held across one knee. Very nondescript.  I'm surprised they even included concertina in Riverdance!

The demands of an Irish sessions require a fast and responsive concertina.  With over a thousand parts involved, a truly adequate concertina cannot be mass produced - it has to be hand made and that's going to cost you.  The lowest I've seen for a hand made concertina is about $1800, and they go up from there.  Some builders make "hybrids" using accordion reeds; others make their own custom concertina reeds.  North American makers include Herrington, Tedrow, Morse and Edgley.  I particularly like the Zephyr model made by Bob Tedrow.  At 5-5/8" across the flat sides, it's a bit smaller than usual.  But that one sells for around $2750.
Tony Dixon Trad Irish Whistle - my concertina alternative
To top it off, concertinas are very hard to learn to play.  I'd be going from a symmetrical, logical, instrument (tenor banjo tuned in 5ths), to one with no logic whatsoever to its "system".  It's sort of a catch-22.  I don't want to start with a large, clunky entry-level concertina, but at the same time I don't want to spend $2,000+ for an instrument that I'm not even sure I'm going to want to play!  For this reason I have just ordered a $30 tuneable, Dixon Trad D Brass Whistle.  It's nothing like a concertina, but it meets my need for having a compact repertoire instrument for Irish tunes!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Whew! Now, what to work on next?

It's been a busy last couple of days...playing in Petersburg on Friday evening, Ashland Saturday morning, and Midnight Brewery Saturday afternoon in a four hour session that was one of the best I've ever taken part in.  I'm going to take today to rest and recuperate, and think of some things to work on next.
Petersburg performance, 6/14/13.
Me, Margaret, Kathy, Ken and Mark (L to R). Photo by Willie Graham.
For the last week or more I was pretty focused on better learning the tunes in the Petersburg set list.  Still some work to do there, but it allowed me to get better acquainted with a dozen or so standard Irish tunes that I should have already known.  Now that that's done, I can turn my attention to a few other things.

These of course include continuing to work on various trebles, triplets, hammer-ons, small chords/double stops and arpeggio variations, along with scale exercises.  Enda Scahill covers this really well in his Irish Banjo Tutor and the concepts can be applied to all tunes once you grasp them.  Another good exercise to transposing tunes to a lower or higher octave, and/or transposing certain phrases or tunes into other keys or modes.
Mighty Session at Midnight Brewery 6/15/13!
15 musicians and counting! Photo by Rick Sanderson.
I'd also like to direct my attention to improving my play-by-ear abilities.  It could just be playing along to midi files of common melodies such as When the Saints Go Marching In, or I might just jump to playing along with actual recordings.  For example, I just started listening to a great album by Norman and Nancy Blake with the Boys of the Lough called Rising Fawn Gathering.  It's got some nice tunes on it that I haven't heard before.  I don't even want to know the names of the tunes, what key they are in, or anything about them. I just want to listen and play along with a couple of them, trying to figure it out by ear.

I dig it when fiddlers get into Liz Carroll or accordion players get into Jacky Daly, for example, and then learn a lot of their tunes.  I'm almost ready for an influence like that.  Mine would be Angelina Carberry's An Traidisiun Beo CD.  I'd like to eventually make it a ritual of trying to soak up the tunes on that album, in her style.  For Oldtime, I could do the same type of thing with the Alan Jabbour and Ken Perlman album Southern Summits.
Now that I have a mandolin, it may be time to watch and learn from Norman Blake's oldtime mandolin DVD as well as Carl Jones' mandolin DVD, and Mike Seeger's CD/book on oldtime mandolin.  Anything I get from these can be applied to tenor banjo, my main instrument.  But it might be easier to initially learn on mandolin...the instrument the instructions are intended for.

Finally, or maybe at the top of my list, is learning the reel The Green Mountain.  It keeps showing up on CDs I am listening to.  I'm not sure if people locally play it, but I've got so many great versions of it collected - completely by random - that the tune must be calling out to me.  Today however, I am just going to relax and watch the US Open golf tournament with my dad.  I might play a little bit this evening to keep my fingers moving and continue my pledge to practice every day, but I will start fresh and focused tomorrow ready to apply some of the above mentioned tactics.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Red Dunlop Tortex Pick

A lightly used Red Tortex pick
I have a lot of picks/plectrums laying around that I use to pluck/flat-pick my tenor banjo, but the one type of pick that I keep returning to is the Red Dunlop Tortex .50 mm pick.  It's flexible enough to feel really comfortable, while still being firm enough to provide a desirable amount resistance against the strings.  The .50 mm Tortex actually feels firmer than the gray .60 mm Nylon Jim Dunlop pick that a lot of Irish tenor banjo players use.  That gray nylon one feels too flimsy to me, and I don't like the grooved and raised up gripping area.

The Tortex picks have a smooth surface and seem to be very durable.  I think the Red one is the lightest pick in the Tortex line.  Some days the Orange Tortex .60 mm pick feels better to me.  I alternate back and forth a lot between the Orange and Red, but the Red is the one I use more often.  For a while I was trying out Tortex (and Clayton) picks in the larger triangle shape that bass players like, but I've since returned to the standard wedge shape.  

I also use these Red and Orange Tortex picks when I play mandolin, but I make contact with the strings using one of the rounded edges instead of the pointy corner.  It reminds me of the rounded corner "Dawg" style Goldengate mandolin picks when I hold it this way, but is not anywhere near as thick. The Golden Gates have a very mellow sound.  I like the bright sound of the Tortex picks.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Kirk Sutphin and Bertram Levy Duo - fiddle and concertina

Kirk Sutphin (L) and Betram Levy (R)
I saw fiddle and banjo player Kirk Sutphin give a performance recently, and during the set break he mentioned to me that he will soon be recording another album of tunes with concertina player Bertram Levy. This is great news because their first album together - "The Bellow and The Bow" - is fast becoming one of my all-time favorite oldtime albums.  This description of the music they make together comes straight from Bretram Levy's website.



Banjos, Bows and Bellows

The Sutphin and Levy duo is probably one of the finest and certainly the most unique old time duos performing today.

Kirk and Bertram share a special bond having both learned their music from the same luminaries in the decades of the 60’s and 70’s. They are deeply grounded in the original versions as well as in the history and source of the music they play, making their concerts a unique musical journey through three centuries of American Fiddle music. As Bertram likes to say, “Playing with Kirk Sutphin transports me back 50 years to the parlors of Henry Reed, Tommy Jarrell and Oscar Wright, when as a young man I learned this music.”

Kirk grew up in Walkertown, North Carolina and at age eight decided to follow his grandfather’s footsteps as a fiddler. As a teenager Kirk studied regularly with Tommy Jarrell and is now recognized as the reincarnation of the Tommy Jarrell style. He is also a masterful banjo player in the style of Fred Cockerham and Charlie Poole.

Bertram began playing the banjo as a fourteen year old and in 1959 moved to the South to immerse himself in old time music. He was one of the original members of the legendary Hollow Rock String Band which is credited with launching the instrumental old time music revival. Their original recording highlighted the music of Henry Reed which is now part of the basic repertoire of today’s old time musicians. During those years, Bertram developed his distinctive clawhammer style and recorded the enduring classic “That Old Gut Feeling “. Recently he published a second concertina tutor entitled “American Fiddle Styles for the Anglo Concertina”.

Together their duo arrangements are complex, adventuresome, and filled with variety using banjos, fiddles and concertina. Each tune is a tapestry on which layers of color and shape are woven. Their new CD “The Bellow and The Bow” has been highly praised for its refreshingly new perspective on the old tunes. As the review from County Records says: “there are 4 good reasons for us to carry this CD…… the fourth being that it is just good music!”

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Choosing Which Instrument(s) To Play

I'm not sure how I knew that the tenor banjo was going to be the instrument for me.  Having never played any music or any instruments prior to getting a tenor banjo, I didn't know about its advantages or disadvantages, didn't really know how it compared to other instruments, and didn't yet know that Irish trad and oldtime would be the type of music that I would play on it.  It may have been when I figured out that GDAE tuned tenor banjo would be like playing a mandolin but with a banjo sound, that I decided to give it a shot.
London based Irish tenor banjo
player Mick O'connor
Tenor banjo remains my primary instrument, but I have since gotten a tenor guitar and a mandolin.  It might seem like that's three distinct instruments, but really it's not because I tune all of them GDAE.  The mandolin, being one octave higher, happens to have a shorter scale, requiring some different finger placements, but is still basically played the same way.  Eventually I would like to branch out to some truly different instruments.
Go-Guitar
One of those different instruments is going to be a guitar.  In fact, I already have a Go-Guitar on order.  I'm hoping this will be the only guitar I need for a while.  I'm not getting it because I have a strong desire to play guitar, but it's such a common instrument that I feel like I should at least familiarize myself with chord shapes and anything else guitar-related that I might need to know.  Although I'm sure it'll be fun flatpicking some fiddle tunes.  

At the risk of stretching myself too thin, eventually I'd like to go beyond just stringed instruments.  When I think along these lines there are two different directions I see myself being pulled.  One is toward the tin whistle.  I can't say that I'm particularly attracted to the tin whistle's sound and playability, but I would be drawn to its portability.  It would be nice to be able to make music on such a small, compact instrument.  Traveling would be easier than trying to lug around a banjo.  
Tin Whistles
Another plus is that tin whistles aren't that expensive.  The only con I can think of is I wonder if my life-long breathing and sinus issues would be a hindrance toward playing this woodwind instrument?  Another instrument I'd put in the portable, inexpensive category is the harmonica, but I'd definitely choose a tin whistle over harmonica.
Two-Row Irish style button accordion
What really calls to me, however, is something in the accordion or concertina family.  At the moment, I'm extremely ignorant when it comes to these types of free-reed instruments, so I don't know whether it should be the piano accordion, the Irish button accordion or the Anglo concertina?  I just know that I like the sound of all three.

I can probably rule out the piano accordion.  I've never played piano, so it wouldn't have any advantage there.  It's also bigger than the button accordion and concertina, and not as common in one of the styles of music I like to play - Irish trad.  
Dan Gurney, accordion
The Irish button accordion is the one - you guessed it - used in Irish music. One possible influence for me could be Dan Gurney of The Yanks.  He is one of the leading young players of this instrument and I'm already a fan.  Going farther back, the County Tipperary Paddy O'Brien is another accordion player that I admire.   Paddy composed many tunes as well.  I have his tunebook with the notation.
Oldtime concertina player Bertram Levy
The Anglo concertina seems cool too though.  It's more compact than an accordion, fitting into what looks like a little hat box or bowling ball case.  Niall Vallely is an Irish concertina player whose playing I am fond of.  Another big pro for the concertina is the fact that Bertram Levy uses it in oldtime music.  His "The Bellow and The Bow" CD with Kirk Sutphin is one of my favorite oldtime recordings.

It's more by coincidence than anything else that the instruments mentioned above - tin whistle, concertina and accordion - all happen to be instruments used in Irish music.  If I chose one of these instruments, I would certainly want to also bring to life suitable Appalachian melodies.  I love oldtime fiddle tunes, but most, if not all, of the common oldtime instruments are stringed instruments, and outside of getting a guitar I don't want to pursue any more stringed instruments.
Augustus Pablo on melodica
Actually, another instrument I may have an interest in is the melodica, and that's mainly because one of my idols John Medeski plays one and the Jamaican musician Augustus Pablo played one.  A melodica may encourage exploration into other styles of music.  Once again though, having never played piano, I wouldn't have that experience to base it on, and my breathing/sinus problems may be a hindrance.

Speaking of piano, I've been thinking for a while that an electronic keyboard would be a good instrument for ear training and the study of music theory.  I don't see myself actually wanting to play a piano, but a little keyboard might be a good practice instrument, to help increase my overall understanding of music and intervals.

Yamaha keyboard
I guess there's no reason why I can't pursue each of these instruments over time.  One thing that just occurred to me is that, as a lefty, all of my stringed instruments are made to be lefty with the strings reversed from normal.  But the non-stringed instruments I mentioned here are neither righty nor lefty - you simply play them the way they are without the option or need(?) for reversal.  That might be interesting in an ambidextrous kind of way.  Tenor banjo will likely always be my main instrument, but this music bug is making me want to experiment with other "exotic" instruments.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Accidental Purists at Midnight Brewery, Saturday June 15th, 2-5pm

This will be a busy Friday and Saturday!  On the evening of Friday June 14th I’ll be sitting in with some friends in the band Scalaheen to play Irish tunes as part of the Petersburg Area Art League’s monthly Friday for the Arts series.  That should be both fun and challenging.  Some of those same friends and I, plus a few more, will be at Midnight Brewery the very next day, Saturday June 15th from 2-5pm, to “perform” in an open jam under the name The Accidental Purists.  (This is in addition to the regularly scheduled Ashland Jam from 10am-1pm at Ashland Coffee and Tea, which I will also attend). 
This will be my 4th time hosting a session at Midnight Brewery.  I’m fortunate to have gotten to know several oldtime, Irish, folk and bluegrass musicians in the Richmond/Ashland/Petersburg area over the last few years, so whenever I am asked to assemble an informal group to play at Midnight Brewery I try and invite some of my favorite people to play with – all of whom happen to be better musicians than myself!  On tap this time we expect to have…

Kathleen Stover Whittle – A classically trained musician and teacher, Kathy is now diving head first into Celtic music.  She plays Irish flute and tin whistle in Scalaheen and co-hosts the Hiram Haines Irish Session every 2nd Saturday in Petersburg.
Kathy Whittle
Lee Owens is one of the regulars at our Ashland Jam.  A long-time guitar player, Lee might not know the names of many tunes but he can sure pick them up!  You can count on Lee to keep a steady rhythm, but he will sometimes surprise you with his flatpicking skills. 
Lee Owens
Harlan Williams - mandolin, guitar, fiddle, vocals.  Harlan is one of my favorite people to play music with.  His enthusiasm is infectious.  When I had gotten frustrated and gave up playing in 2010, Harlan was the one who motivated me to take it up again.  Harlan hosts a monthly oldtime jam at Rockwood Nature Center.
Harlan Williams
Stephen Rockenbach - 5-string banjo, bouzouki, vocals.  Stephen is a former professional honky-tonk musician now enjoying a career in academia.  A versatile performer, whenever Stephen takes part in a jam it is going to run more smoothly, have a higher quality, and most important, be more fun!  Maybe Stephen will sing a couple for us.
Stephen Rockenbach
John Ely – guitar.  John is another guitarist that I have gotten to know through the Ashland Jam.  John is always one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave.  I admire John’s adaptability and willingness to take on various types of tunes and songs.  I’m looking forward to having him with us at Midnight.
John Ely
Ken Hall – bodhran, bones and song.  Ken is a drummer extraordinaire, who honed his skills through years of playing along with Dervish and De Dannan recordings, before finally moving to an area where he could participate in sessions.  We are fortunate to have an open-minded bodhran player of his skill level joining us.  Ken seems to have a never ending repertoire of fantastic pub songs that he sings very well!  Ken also performs in the band Scalaheen.
Ken Hall
Margaret Graham – fiddle.  Margaret is one of those teenage phenoms that either makes you want to hang up your instrument forever, or practice like crazy so you can try and keep up with her.  The scary thing is she keeps getting better each time I hear her play.  Hopefully Margaret will take pity on us mere mortals who can’t always play at Liz Carroll and Ricky Skaggs speed!  Margaret also fiddles in Scalaheen. 
Margaret Emily Graham
Laura Fields - bodhran, baritone ukulele.  My wife Laura holds the rare distinction of being one of the only bodhran players to whom people say “could you please play louder?”.  Like me, Laura took up playing music recently as an adult and can sympathize with what a struggle it can be at times, albeit a rewarding one.  In addition to bodhran, Laura likes to play baritone ukulele on oldtime tunes, and, unlike me, started learning to play by ear from the start, so she is well on her way to being a very competent player after less than a year in the saddle. 
Laura Fields
Paul Willson – guitar.  Paul is a singer-songwriter and accomplished musician with a jazz background who I have gotten to know a little bit through the Rosie Connolly’s Irish session.  He is also damn good at traditional music.  Having Paul will add another element of professionalism to our very talented, Accidental ensemble.
Paul Willson
Finally, down as a “maybe” I have Andy Cleveland on fiddle.  Andy joined us last time at Midnight and instantly lifted the music to a higher-level.  A member of the band Handsome Molly, Andy is one of the best all-around musicians I have ever played with, and I feel like we all take a leap forward when he's around.  Andy’s playing is a reflection of his equally witty, snarky personality.  I hope Andy can be there if he’s not busy doing chores.  Who knows, we might even have a few other special guests as well.  
maybe Andy Cleveland
What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon…enjoying excellent craft beer and pleasant music on the day before Father’s Day!  

Let these fine players take care of the tunes as you taste a pint or two of that awesome Midnight beer!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Oldtime Sunday - Norman Blake plays Whiskey Before Breakfast

Normally on a Sunday morning I'd be cramming on some oldtime tunes in anticipation of attending a great oldtime jam that I like to go to on Sunday afternoons.  I took a break from that today to sleep in!  Now I think we'll go do a walking tour of Fredericksburg, a city about 40 miles to the north.  Maybe go to a book store and stop in a brewery up there.

Norman Blake
Before I leave, I wanted to post this video of Norman Blake playing Whiskey Before Breakfast in the key of E-flat on guitar.  Norman has long been my favorite guitar flatpicker and one of my favorite mandolin players too!  Some would say his music is not oldtime.  I don't want to get in on that debate.  It sounds old timey enough to me!

As I type this it just passed from morning 'til noon, but there's still some time for a little Whiskey Before Breakfast, right?  Cheers.

Oh snap...it won't let me embed the video.  Here's a link anyways:  http://youtu.be/sYau7QfiiuM

Or try this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYau7QfiiuM

Friday, June 7, 2013

Will history judge The Grateful Dead to be a better band than The Beatles?

The Beatles did their best work in the studio.  Over a few prolific years, they produced a recorded output that has stood the test of time.  The Grateful Dead did their best work on the stage.  From the late 60's to the early 90's, the Grateful Dead reinvented their growing repertoire of songs on a nightly basis in front of a live audience.
The Beatles
Where you stand on the spectrum as to which band was "better" may hinge upon which skill set you find to be more worthy of adoration, but music critics have generally considered The Beatles to be the top dogs when it comes to rock n' roll.  A recent article by Steven Hyden suggests that this outlook might be changing.
The Grateful Dead
The topic of Hyden's article begins with the question of whether or not Phish is a great band.  In making the case for yes they are the author uses the reasoning that “Phish presented an alternative model in which memorable live experiences mean at least as much as iconic songs, and high-grossing tours measure an artist's reach as well as chart-topping albums do.  This is how Phish is good.  It could soon be how all music is good.”

"It could soon be how all music is good" is an interesting statement.  Hyden also offers an opinion as to why history could rate the Dead over the Beatles as the best rock band ever.  He says “Let's say it's 50 years in the future, and you're trying to figure out how and why pop music has arrived at its present permutation. Let's also say that recorded music still exists, but no longer as a product that artists attempt to sell. Like other forms of devalued currency, recordings have flooded the market to the point of virtual worthlessness. But music fans are still willing to pay to hear a version of a song that doesn't exist yet, and will only ever exist once. 

Because of this economic development, bands spend a lot less time making albums and devote the majority of their energy to honing their live shows. Over time, people gradually stop talking about fixed versions of songs and begin evaluating bands on their ability to perform and refresh their body of work. This creates a new paradigm for how we talk about music — pop historians start rating the Dead over the Beatles as the best rock band ever. Music is perceived less like film and more like theater or sports — as a venue for live events that lose their essential appeal if they're not viewed in the moment.”

Compelling.  Granted, I didn't need this convincing to know which band was better.