More Agency Than Common Sense?

I woke up this morning around 8am, early by my standards, but maybe I had a subconscious premonition of what was to come. Around 9 I heard the rumbling and whine of a chainsaw and thought nothing of it at first. I looked out the window and noticed a tree care crew had chopped off some of the branches from the lovely tall maple tree across the street. “Oh, they’re pruning it up a bit before winter, that’s good,” I thought. But they didn’t stop there. They took the whole tree down to the ground, passed it through the wood chipper, and were on their way before 10. Later on my neighbor told me he had them cut it down because he was tired of raking the leaves and it had to happen sooner or later anyway, right? Sometimes it seems people have more agency than common sense. On the other hand, trees and houses are a tricky combination that will often lead to some kind of trouble sooner or later, right?

Happy Tree Appreciation Season, everybody. In this email I will attempt to catch you up on the following:
– Some stories from the road
– At least one pretty good video from the last tour
– What am I doing in Detroit nowadays
– Upcoming shows and plans for 2016
– A word about our new Corn Potato record
– Book report

The last time I wrote I was getting ready to go on a long tour with my Corn Potato String Band in the UK and Ireland. Well, we did it and it was a great success. Every show was met with a great reception, wonderful crowds and lovely hosts who were either dear old friends or delightful new friends. There were only one or two exceptions to this, and those were no worse than an average show in the US. (Sorry USA but it’s true!) One of the best parts of a tour is getting to meet other bands and hear them play. A few of our favorites (there are too many to name them all) are Dr. Bluegrass & The Illbilly 8The Bucket BoyzFoghorn LeghornSeven SonsBlue Dust, and of course our very favorites, The Ninetree Stumblers. Check em out!

I’m going to keep the ‘stories from the road’ part of this newsletter pretty short, in fact, I’m only going to mention one truly remarkable surprise gig we landed when another one cancelled on us short-notice. It was on the Isle of Arran at a sweet little pub/diner/restaurant called Fiddlers Music Bar, like it was made for us! Anyway, the Isle of Arran is breathtakingly beautiful and our hosts were incredibly generous and hospitable. Add this place to the list of places to which we can’t wait to return.

After the tour I performed in the Banners & Cranks Festival back in Detroit, which Lindsay organized. It was a big success, bringing in artists from all over the country and a record crowd in the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Now, I haven’t looked at all the videos from the last tour, nor do I even know where they all are — Please feel free to send me links to any favorites you may have found — but so far the best ones I’ve seen are from the Heart of Hawickand from the Moniaive Bluegrass Festival. Here they are, in no particular order:
– Russian Rag, from Heart of Hawick
– Poplar Bluff, from Moniaive Bluegrass Festival, with first-place Clifftop champion clogger Suzanne Ambrose
– Run Mountain, from Heart of Hawick

OK, here’s where it starts to get juicy. Since I will be in Detroit most of the time until May I am starting to try and attempt to get some things started. Here are a few things I’m doing (and I’m skipping the boring stuff about working on the house):
– Detroit Square Dance Society — We have successfully organized the first community (non-exclusive) square dance in Detroit since the seventies, and we plan to do another one soon. It was a great night at The Gaelic League, in collaboration with the regular Monday night Irish Set Dancers, who seemed to enjoy the Southern-style square dancing as much as the square dancers enjoyed the Irish set dancing. And the potluck was delicious!
– Old Time Tuesdays chez moi — Every Tuesday I’m hosting a jam or teaching a workshop. First Tuesdays of the month are fiddle tune workshops, third Tuesdays are clawhammer banjo workshops, and every other Tuesday is an old time jam. Get in touch if you’ll be in Detroit on a Tuesday, everyone is welcome.
– Ben Luttermoser Trio — This is a new project with my friend Ben Luttermoser in which I will occasionaly feature as soloist playing early jazz and swing music. So fun!
– Detroit Pleasure Society – This is a bigger band, seven pieces including myself, in which I get to play fiddle solos with a cool group playing hot jazz and swing. Also very fun!
That’s about all for now. Lindsay and I will play the occasional show as the Corn Potato Duo, and we are bringing Ben Belcher to Detroit again in March and in May for some bigger shows. I’m actively looking for people who want to play with me and people who want to take lessons with me. So far I have one really great student and I’m enjoying teaching very much.

Wednesday, 9 Dec – Tom’s Tavern w/ Ben Luttermoser Trio (BLT)
Thursday, 10 Dec – PJ’s Lager House w/Detroit Pleasure Society (DPS) – This is a benefit for Detroit Youth Volume, a great program that gets underprivileged kids in Detroit playing the violin! That’s a cause I can really support.
Friday, 11 Dec – Lo & Behold Records and Books w/DPS – This is also a benefit, for the ongoing project of keeping Lo & Behold open and running. This place is very supportive to local musicians and functions as something of a cultural hub. I took it for granted at first and then I realized there’s not much else like it around here.

And that’s about it for confirmed gigs I have coming up (gasp — how will I survive?)

In January I’m going to New York City to play some shows for a big music conference with Corn Potato, our first attempt at reaching for a higher level of whatever. I trust the guy who invited us and I know most of the other people who are performing on the same bill so even if nothing much comes of it I think we will have a great time. While we are there we will also do a couple of house shows in the area. I plan to update you on that before it happens but you can always check the calendar on my website or the listings on the band website for the most up-to-date information. In February Lindsay and I will play the Doctors Without Borders benefit on the 27th at the AOH Hall in Redford. In March Corn Potato will play a benefit for the Black Swamp Conserancy in Northwestern Ohio, and we’ll do a couple shows before and after that. In April we might go to Louisville to play their awesome square dance, and then in May we begin a big US tour that includes our first ticketed show at The Ark! More on that later…

This is the first you’ll hear of it. We recorded on the Isle of Jura with fantastic engineer/guru Giles “Explore The Space” Perring, and the results are still being processed. Sorry I don’t have anything to share with you yet, but I will probably keep talking about it in every email from now on until we make a new new record… Suffice to say that we got some really good stuff and I know that whatever we put together will be way better than anything we’ve recorded previously. So there. Get excited about it.

Congratulations! You made it (almost) to the end of my long rambling newsletter. Here’s the part where I tell you about what I’ve been reading, or not. Since I wrote my last newsletter I’ve only had time to read a little bit. In London my friend Helen lent me her copy of There but for the, by Ali Smith, which was beautiful and poignant, not without humor, seemed quite relevant for our time, and was a quick-to-read yet intelligently-written book. I’d recommend it! I also read a story or two from Birds of America, by Lorrie Moore. Intriguing characters and stories that drew me in. I didn’t read much of the collection yet but I bet it’s pretty good. And then the best of all was a book called My Secret Unicorn: The Magic Spell, by Linda Chapman. Sure, it’s written for kids but you know, it really got my imagination going. Maybe unicorns ARE real? And why not? You can only see them if you believe…

And so my friends, I was going to leave you with a slightly cynical thought I recently heard which I couldn’t help but agree with, from a fellow freelancer who said, “If I have to hustle to find work I’m not doing my job very well,” because this can also be taken optimistically, i.e., if I do my job well then I won’t have to hustle to find work. Instead, I am going to leave you with the image of a little girl patiently and persistently putting together the puzzle pieces that will unlock the secret to the magic spell that will turn her pony into a unicorn and then take her flying around the world on adventures that are all about doing good and helping people. And not cutting down those beautiful trees when they aren’t doing anything wrong except for making leaves!